By July 31, 2008

iPhone 3G Review

imageI have held off jumping into writing a review of the iPhone 3G deliberately because of all the euphoria and hype surrounding it’s launch you can so easily get carried away with it, so now nearly 3 weeks after getting my hands on one it is time to share my thoughts on the good the bad and the ugly sides of this years most anticipated phone.

image Externally

From the outside there are hardly any differences to the untrained eye, looking a bit closer, the switches on the left hand side of the phone are now metal and the rear of the iPhone 3G is now all plastic instead of the much classier looking aluminium of the previous incarnation. The rear of the phone is the only stand out difference and it can be had in a black finish on the 8 Gig and 16 Gig versions and all white in the 16 Gig flavour only. The plastic is not a cheap type of plastic but does look very nice although it attracts finger prints. The back is also curved as the iPhone 3G is slightly fatter but the way the rear is tapered it is very hard to tell that this is the case.

Everything else appears to be the same from the outside including screen size and resolution, however the external speakers have definitely been beefed up as listening to music with them is much louder and clearer than the original iPhone model, I tested this last night with two identical songs playing and the iPhone 3G totally drowned out the original iPhone and was still crystal clear where the latter was distorted.

What’s all the hype about this 3G then ?

Well as the iPhone is a connected internet phone in all senses, 3G is a major addition to the device, to get the most from the iPhone involves web surfing, email gathering and many other data intensive tasks happening quickly, over Edge or GPRS this was at best slow but mostly painful, over WiFi it was a great experience. Now imagine having a WiFi connection with you all the time and that is what 3G can give you, once you have it, you cannot give it up, its fantastic. I did a few speed tests and I was getting some pretty fast speeds as you can see below, the downside is 3G coverage is by no means brilliant and can be very patchy but when it is available it works great.

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Onboard GPS

Another new feature of the iPhone 3G is integrated GPS, you know the technology that powers TomTom and other satellite navigation systems to give you turn by turn directions to where you need to get too, unfortunately it does not work like this as of yet on the iPhone 3G, what you do have is a very accurate GPS chip that on average pin points you to within 10 feet of where you are, you can then use this with various social networking tools to show your location, handy yes but not really what we need GPS for. The other option is to run it with the Google Maps application. This application needs a connection to the internet whether it’s mobile broadband or whatever is applicable to your iPhone as it downloads the map data on the fly and does a great job, but again no turn by turn navigation or voice prompts so for me the GPS in the iPhone is not very good at all. It is a wasted bit of technology and we do not know if we will ever see a proper application to offer what full GPS should be. Google maps does fill in some of the blanks but on my visit to France if I used it, it would have cost hundreds of pounds in roaming data charges just to see where I was going. For now a separate TomTom is still needed so a big cross next to GPS for now.

Battery Life

Having the 3G and GPS switched on totally blows your battery, I think it has come as a big shock to people who haven’t used a 3G device before, but be prepared to charge your device every day and probably more often than that. When you first get the iPhone 3G give it at least a weeks worth of charges and discharges before panicking as the battery needs to work its way up to full capacity. If you are in a weak 3G area the phone will be constantly switching between 3G and GPRS \ Edge coverage which can really eat the battery, I would suggest turning 3G off in this case and only switching it on when you need it, Apple really should have had easy access to this with an on screen icon or even an on/off switch similar to the ringer switch, this would have been a great addition, same for GPS too. Once you are conditioned to how the battery performs you will be able to live with it, although for me a car charger is a necessity.

Compatibility with previous iPhone accessories

The only difference hardware wise that will cause problems with older accessories is that Apple have removed the pins from the iPhone 3G that allowed charging via FireWire. Not a big problem you might think but a lot of manufacturers actually used this charging method in docks and especially car integration kits as it worked on 12V and the USB pins work on 5V. I have a Dension Gateway 100 which charged my original iPhone and transferred music to the car speakers through the iPhone dock port, when I connect my iPhone 3G to the kit, it will not charge but does work for transferring the music, not a great solution due to the battery problems already mentioned. Dension are working on a replacement model but this means spending more money on a new system.

The next parts cover the iPhone 2.0 software, which is available on the iPhone 3G and the original iPhone through a software upgrade via iTunes.

The App Store

The App Store is a breath of fresh air, we all know about the iPhone SDK and what it would bring, well here are the fruits, either downloading through iTunes or over the air Apps are now available for either version of the iPhone. At launch and up to this point however it has to be said they are nothing to write home about, sure on the application side we have a few decent Twitter Apps, talking language phrase books and quite a few totally useless applications but nothing substantial. I think it is totally unfair to judge the iPhone platform at this stage on the App’s that are available, Windows Mobile fans have jumped on the limitations of the App Store and I agree in comparison at this stage it is inferior, but give it 6 months and I believe we will see a lot more useful applications and a lot from the big mobile software houses to push the iPhone into the big league.

Games wise the iPhone is going to be an important platform, at launch we already have Super Monkey Ball and Crash Nitro Kart, both of these games show the power of the iPhone and what we can expect in the future and that is a great gaming platform without a doubt.

Now the downside, Apple have made the iPhone App Store a closed shop, in other words without their approval you cannot get an application out, great we thought this will ensure the quality of the applications and prevent the problems we have seen with Windows Mobile, like system freezes and regular soft resets, well from my experience this is not the case, running firmware version 1.4 even jailbroken with a few third party applications I never had to reset my iPhone, since the 2.0 firmware I am resetting at least once every few days and in between I am thrown out of applications back to the home screen regularly, it is not the greatest experience so far and needs to improve, maybe Apple rushed a few things out so they w
ould have some applications available at launch. The good news is, if you buy an application or download one of the many free applications and there is an update available then it shows up straight away and you are able to update it straight from the iPhone or through iTunes, nothing like that is available on Windows Mobile.

Which brings us nicely round to how Apps are installed on the iPhone, two options are available. The first via iTunes on a Mac or PC, you can browse the App Store exactly how you would the music store, the software is categorised and easily searched through, click an App you would like to install, download it then just sync your iPhone as normal and that’s it. If you want too, you can also just load up the APP Store on your iPhone home screen and again you are given various options to find applications by category or search by name or description. The Apps can be downloaded and installed over the air by cellular network or WiFi but there is a limit on size for his method, any App over 10 MB must be sourced through the iTunes store on a Mac or PC. To uninstall Apps you can just delete them as normal on the iPhone home screen or removed them from iTunes and sync, it is as simple as that. It really is a seamless experience.

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Exchange Activesync

If you have ever used a Windows Mobile device with an exchange server then you will be well aware of how good Activesync works over the air, don’t be fooled for one moment that this has anything to do with the horrendous Windows program for the PC as it doesn’t thank god. This is the service that allows full push email, which means when an email arrives in your exchange email account it is automatically pushed straight to your iPhone, I have tested this since day one and it works absolutely perfectly. Add to this contact and calendar synchronisation too and it  really becomes a fantastic solution. You put a new contact into your iPhone when you are out and about and it immediately is pushed to your exchange account so when you get home, fire up outlook on your Mac or PC and its there in your contacts already. Similarly appointments, two way sync and no need for any docking or cable connections, a brilliant addition to the iPhone firmware.

If you do not have an exchange account they are a couple of alternatives, the first being a hosted account through a company like 4Smartphone or Apple themselves are offering a service called MobileMe which is supposed to offer exchange like functionality for a yearly cost. The latter has suffered with a few teething problems so far so it would be worth reading up on these before making any commitments.

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Calculator

The calculator Application has had a bit of a makeover too, it looks the same in vertical mode, but turn the iPhone to a horizontal position and calculator flips to reveal a full scientific calculator, very smart.

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Safari

Not a lot of changes with the Safari browser although it does seem to render pages much faster now and has the added ability to save images which we never had before, but we still can not view any flash animations or videos within Safari, click a Youtube link for example and Safari is left behind and the Youtube video will play in the specific software player, a bit of a shame as it is touted as having the “Full Internet”.

Screenshots

As standard we can now take screen shots and save them directly to the Camera Roll in pictures, simply hold down the home button and press the top on/off button and the screen will go blank then return and then you have the screen shot, a handy feature.

Camera

Nothing physical has changed, it is still the lowly 2 megapixel lense although Apple do claim to have improved the quality through software, I haven’t noticed any change and if you want a phone with a good quality camera this is not for you, personally I don’t care for cameras in phones I have a stand alone camera that will always produce better pictures than any phone camera I have seen so it is not an issue. One glaring omission though is lack of video support, another simple application that we need in our phones.

Bluetooth Connectivity

Rubbish best describes what is available on the iPhone and the iPhone 3G, you can connect to a headset or a car kit and that is your lot, where the heck is A2DP, this is a music phone after all and this should be standard, come on Apple, also why can I not connect to my laptop via bluetooth or with a cable and share the 3G internet connection, Windows Mobile has had this feature for years and how come I cannot do any file transfers either, it really is poor that these simple things are missing.

Messaging

Email is as near perfect on a phone as you can get with the iPhone in my opinion, no complaints at all, but SMS lacks the simple function of being able to forward a text message, or for that matter send a contact to someone else, all features seen in the most basic phones as standard. MMS, why is MMS still missing from the iPhone, again it is available on most cheap phones these days and whilst not a critical application it is handy to have when you need it, it should be there as standard.

Lack of Copy and Paste

This one for me is totally unforgivable, it totally cripples the iPhone and the potential of future Apps, whilst writing this an Application has been launched for WordPress, it is a great App but unusable for me without copy and paste, could someone please explain why this is not a standard, unbelievable omission again.

Conclusion

The iPhone 3G is a fantastic phone, brilliant user interface, now with the added benefit of 3G speeds, third party applications and GPS but it is still the little things that are letting this phone down badly
. Until Apple wake up and listen to what people want then this phone will remain a flawed genius. Potentially brilliant but when will we see the simple boxes ticked off to meet that potential, if we do then this phone is a real winner and will be a keeper for a long time, if it doesn’t happen then Windows Mobile 7 could overtake the iPhone quite easily with the right user interface matched to it’s already superior feature list.

Positives

Multi Touch Interface and usability

3G speeds

Music playback and storage

The App Store

Safari Browser

Email integration

Negatives

Battery Life

GPS functionality

Poor applications at launch

Too many missing simple functions

No copy and paste

No tethering

Posted in: Phones

About the Author:

Seasoned tech blogger. Host of the Tech Addicts podcast.
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