The iPhone 3G is mostly what we were hoping for in the second version of the too-popular-for-itself handset. Apple addressed call quality concerns, as well as demands for a faster Web experience via 3G and corporate email support, already making it a worthwhile upgrade for many first-gen iPhone owners. And while the addition of stereo Bluetooth and Assisted-GPS are mere catch-ups to other smartphones, the new App Store boosts it way ahead. We’re a little disappointed that the iPhone 3G still lacks video recording, and we’d like a user-replaceable battery and expandable storage, but overall it’s a thoroughly satisfying phone and iPod.
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Look at it / What’s New
The back of the iPhone 3G is now glossy plastic and is contoured, providing better ergonomics than its predecessor’s aluminum back but also giving it a more slippery feel. The 16GB model comes in black or white, while the 8GB model is black only. The physical volume and power/lock buttons and ringer switch on the side and top are now polished aluminum. The original iPhone’s recessed headphone jack (which sprouted a mini-market of adapters and headsets) is thankfully gone in favor of one that’s flush with the phone’s top.
Everything else is held over from the first iPhone, including a 3.5-inch multi-touch display (480 by 320 tightly packed pixels), speakers on the bottom, a SIM tray on top, and a 2-megapixel camera lens on the back. The front is interrupted only by an earpiece and a physical Home button.
Overall, this is a wickedly sexy phone. It gets completely covered in fingerprints, so Apple included a cleaning cloth. We’re big fans of the shrunk-down AC power adapter, but the stock iPhone headset and USB cable remain unchanged, and there’s no dock or dock adapter.
The iPhone is quad-band on GSM/EDGE networks, but the major addition is tri-band 3G support (UMTS/HSDPA) for better call quality and faster data throughput in the US and abroad. Another key addition is Assisted GPS, which tracks your location via cell towers and WiFi networks as well as GPS satellites. The feature is tightly integrated with Google Maps, but it also supports third-party apps.
Image Courtesy of Apple
Navigating the Interface
The iPhone 2.0 software is simply excellent. The multi-touch interface lets you swipe, pinch, expand, and tap around very quickly with no lags and top-notch accuracy. Rearranging icons on the home screen is now a piece of cake, which is important since you can add tons of apps and Web pages to it.
The intelligent virtual keyboard pops up when you need it, and over the last year or so of living with the previous iPhone, we’re able to type way faster on it than we ever have on any phone’s physical keyboard. That’s partly because the iPhone’s keyboard adjusts for the way you type on it, dynamically resizing touch zones for keys based on usage patterns. The predictive text feature works great, though you can disable it.
Ultimately the iPhone is a phone. The original iPhone took a lot of heat for poor call quality, and thankfully the iPhone 3G’s call quality is very good. The earpiece ad speakers could be a bit louder, but the clarity in both incoming and outgoing audio is excellent, especially via 3G.
As with the original model, the phone’s accelerometer and proximity sensor respond very well, locking the screen at the appropriate times to prevent accidental button presses. And visual voicemail is still one of our favorite features.
The updated email client works with IMAP and POP3 accounts and has presets for Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, and Apple’s MobileMe accounts, but the big story is Microsoft Exchange support, making the iPhone a viable business phone. MS Exchange ActiveSync also lets you wirelessly sync contacts and calendars, and you can receive email on the phone as soon as it hits the server. Setup is simplest if your company uses Exchange 2007, thanks to an Autodiscovery feature that automatically finds the server address for you.
The email client now lets you trash or move multiple messages at once, which is a big plus, but you still can’t search email, which is often a major pain. (You can work around this by using your email provider’s web-based client instead.) At least you can search you contacts, which is handy if you’ve got hundreds to choose from. Attachment support is solid: You can view PDF, JPEG, Word, Excel, and PPT files right in the email client.
The iPhone’s threaded text-messaging app is easy to use and conveniently lets you pick up threads where you left off. Oddly, you still can’t send picture or video messages; this is one of the features that we expected but never appeared. The again, we’re just as happy sending our pictures directly from the camera app via email.
The iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera appears to be identical in quality to the original, which is to say pretty good outdoors and somewhat iffier indoors. The GPS chip enables third-party apps like SnapMyLife to geotag your photos and share them locally.
Surfing the Web
Web surfing is noticeably faster with 3G than EDGE, and the network type the iPhone is currently using is displayed in the top left corner of the screen. AT&T’s coverage isn’t always consistent, but in New Orleans we usually got between 2 and 4 bars of 3G, only very occasionally running into EDGE territory.
With 2 to 3 bars of 3G, we experienced load times of 5 to 10 seconds for sites like CNN Mobile, Apple.com, Amazon.com, and Craiglist.org. Sites with lots of pictures on the front page, including DigitalTrends.com, NYTimes.com, and BBCnews.com took a bit longer, at 15 to 25 seconds. We haven’t run into any site compatibility issues yet, but let us know in the forums.
Our favorite enhancement is the ability to touch and hold a picture on the Web and save it to your iPhone. Alas, there’s still no cut and paste feature.
The App Store is definitely a standout feature, offering about 1000 apps at the time of this writing. Although we wound up spending about $50 on apps just in the first day alone, about 200 of the apps in the store are free. The sheer number of developers combined with Apple’s screening process lots of customer reviews make this the platform to write for.
Our favorite apps so far include Apple’s own free Remote, which lets you control iTunes (and AirTunes) on your computer wirelessly, Pandora (an Internet radio service), Air Hockey, and Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D, a maddeningly addictive driving game that uses the iPhone’s accelerometer. And they’re easy to manage, showing up in iTunes as its own icon in the left pane, as well as in the new Applications tab when your iPhone is connected. We did, however, run into a few apps that wouldn’t install, wouldn’t load, or crashed the phone.
We’re looking forward to seeing developers integrate the iPhone into multiroom audio systems, home theater systems, DVRs, game consoles, and other networked gear.
The Assisted-GPS feature uses data from satellites, WiFi networks, and cellular towers to locate you with very good accuracy. In our testing, the iPhone located us far more precisely when we had a clear view to the sky (and thus the satellites) than when we were indoors and it relied on cell and network data.
We found Google Maps and features like live traffic reliable in New Orleans and New York City, but accuracy may vary depending on where you are. You can also visit the App Store and pick up a third-party app like Where, which is a location-based social networking tool, or G-Spot — a GPS-based utility to help you remember where you parked.
Multimedia Playback and Bluetooth
The iPhone 3G is a killer iPod, with excellent browsing and playback capabilities. Audio format support includes WAV, Apple Lossless, MP3, AAC (protected and DRM-free), and Audible, while video is still limited to MP4, M4V, and MOV (all using either the H.264 or MPEG-4 codec).
Apple hasn’t added much to this part of the interface since the original iPhone. The only significant enhancement is Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, which is important since the original iPhone lacked this feature unlike just about every other smartphone. We used several Bluetooth headsets with the iPhone 3G, and all worked fine, with no lag in the audio/video sync, and music pauses when a call comes in.
Unfortunately, 3G guzzles power, cutting battery life for talk time in half when you’re talking or browsing — 10 hours of 2G versus 5 for 3G. Most iPhones will last around 12 hours with moderate use features like browsing, GPS, texting, and talking. If you’re using a Bluetooth headset, WiFi, 3G voice, push email on your Exchange account, and the camera, you’ll burn through the battery in about half a day.
The iPhone’s battery is frustratingly not user-removable; you have to send it in to Apple for a total of about $85. If you’re planning on using all of the phone’s features heavily, consider an external battery pack — they should start hitting the market by August.
Who Will Dig it and Who Won’t
We’re hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t want the iPhone 3G — a situation that has led to global shortages that are likely to continue for a few more months. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, it’ll be well worth it for personal use given its versatility and extensibility. Just make sure you can live without video recording.
Business users should to check with their IT department about deployment, but the infrastructure appears to be solidly in place for the iPhone to start stealing market share from RIM’s BlackBerry. Business users are also far more likely to run down the battery in less than a day, so keep that charger handy
• Very good call quality
• Faster Web browsing
• Excellent 3rd-party app support
• Improved email support
• Broad feature set
• Still no video recording or native MMS
• 3G drains battery quickly
• No expandable memory
• Battery isn’t user-replaceable