By January 15, 2009

Apple iPhone 3G review

The iPhone. You may have heard about it!?


Here at TracyandMatt, we’re always quick on the uptake, so wasted no time getting o2 to send us an iPhone. Hmm. Anyway, here it is, and I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by the added features. It’s not a major leap forward, but is their enough to warrant an upgrade?


The Apple iPhone 3G

What’s in the Box?

I’ll not go into too much detail but in summary, it’s typical Apple. By typical Apple, I do of course mean that plenty of effort has been put into making the entire product, including the packaging, a design marvel. OK – it’s a box, but it sure looks nice.


So, a little history lesson. iPhone was released 29th June 2007 in the USA, and worldwide launches followed soon after. The iPhone 3G was released July 11th 2008 with a lower pricing structure, and more features.

I reviewed the original iPhone for TracyandMatt around a year ago and tried to cut through all the promotional stuff associated with it, and find out if it was any good. It was.

So to the iPhone 3G. At 115.5mm x 62.1mm x 12.3mm, its slightly bigger than its predecessor, but doesn’t really feel it. The black plastic back is actually an improvement over the scratch-happy shiny metal finish. As it’s curved, in the hand the 3G variant feels smaller with no noticeable difference in weight either.

Little has changed design-wise, but we’ll start with the usual tour around the device. The front is still taken over by the excellent widescreen display, which when turned off, appears as a complete blank surface. At the top there is the speaker/earpiece, and at the bottom the single ‘home’ button takes its customary place, just like the original.


iPhone 3G front view


The back of the phone, as I’ve stated already, is in black plastic, with a silver apple logo, and iphone designations. The 2mp camera is also in the same place – top left.


iPhone 3G back view


Things changed a little when we take a look at the top of the iPhone. The main silver power button is similar, as is the sim card slot, but there is now a none-recessed 3.5 earphone jack – woo!


iPhone 3G top view


On the bottom of the hand set you’ll find Apple’s proprietary sync/charge cable socket. This is exactly the same as the previous iPhone and other iPod products. Either side we have a loudspeaker which plays audio when then headphones are not connected.


iPhone 3G bottom view


The left hand side of the device has a toggle switch at the top – used to turn vibrate mode on and off. Below that we have some VERY welcome hardware volume controls – a rocker switch system which works very well.


iPhone 3G left side view


iPhone 3G right side view



In truth, outside of standard firmware updates, small improvements etc, there isn’t a lot added in terms of standard software.

The first row of apps – SMS, Calendar, Photos and Camera are all pretty much identical to the original iPhone release, and the same goes for the YouTube and stocks apps. Maps – powered by google, has probably seen the most change, and now supports the new built in GPS module, as well as traffic information where available, and Street View.

Continuing through the menu – with the Clock app, Calculator and Notes all seeing little change. The settings area again has seen minor changes, but the App Store is where the real excitement happens. While it may have its faults, the App Store is the new gateway to ‘real’ software on your iPhone. Bye Bye web-apps? I hope so.

I could spend all day talking about the useful software available in the App Store, it is huge. I found a (London) tube status program MASSIVELY useful on a trip to the capital, and the National Rail Enquires application is also a must-have for the traveller!

You’ll also find a large supply of free and paid-for games, and the most poinless-yet-genius app yet – iPint.



  • 3G – Yes it should have been there in the first place, but ignoring that, it’s a must have.
  • GPS – I could just repeat myself – but at least its here now. Seems to work well enough in Google Maps, and ‘local’ apps.
  • It’s an iPhone – As John stated in his HD Touch review, whether other phones are better or not, you still get to tell people you have an iPhone.
  • App Store – Its simple, quick, and fairly cheap. Possible the best install experience of any device. Ever.


  • Battery Life – its still not quite enough. I have a background of using really terrible early Windows Mobile Smartphones, and I don’t mind charging every night. But these days… surely Apple can do better than this?
  • It’s an iPhone – No not a copy and paste mistake, but you are locked to Apple, to what they want to allow you to install. Well… unless you are extremely naughty and break it out of jail!


I have to admit I was pretty impressed with the original iPhone, despite being of a Windows Mobile background. Apple are truly masters of the UI experience, and the iPhone OS’ look and feel is unchanged from the original. The new plastic back panel could have ended up looking cheap, but Apple have in fact improved on the original instead. The iPhone still looks expensive, still feels well built and still attracts attention from friends/colleagues when you feel like showing off (with a review device you don’t own perhaps!)

At first glance, besides the minor handware mods, you might think there isn’t a lot to see here over the original, but you’d perhaps be wrong. 3G and GPS are features that many people would say should have been on the EDGE iPhone, but that could well be said about phones released by Nokia and HTC. The GPS chip was reported early on as being very weak, but in my experience was pretty reliable. I don’t know whether this is down to a software update since launch, but I really can’t complain at all.

The 3G is interesting. Unfortunately in most of my experiences, I felt the iPhone was still pretty slow to download webpages, despite having a seemingly stable 3G connection. My Nokia N95 8GB sat next to the iPhone was much quicker. I’m not sure why this was the case – or whether it was a fault. On wifi I saw no such slowdown, and struggle to explain why I struggled on 3G.

The major software upgrade on the iPhone 3G, or rather software version 2 for both 3G and original, is the App Store.

The App Store is effectively a new area of the itunes store, just like Music, Videos, TV Progammes etc. Apps are downloaded for free, or paid for, on the same apple ID account that you use for other areas, and if you have credit card details saved, you can quickly download applications on the device. You can also run up a nice bill!

Despite this being a review device, I put my hand in my pocket and took one for the tracyandmatt team in order to test the whole process. As I already have an apple ID, I started up the app store client onboard the iPhone 3G and quickly found a sort-of-but-not-for-legal-reasons Mario Kart clone. I think the whole game was around £1.29, which seemed reasonable when you consider the cost of java games on other platforms. I was asked for my password, and the app started downloading – literally onto the main menu screen. A progress bar appears on the menu icon, and when complete, the icon becomes coloured and the process is complete. Tapping the icon launches the game like any other app.

It’s a shame that Apple couldn’t have improved some of the existing apps though. SMS is still threaded, which is nice, but it’s also still extremely limited. No MMS, no copy/paste and no forwarding etc. It’s a nice experience, but needs more options and features – and fast.

The onscreen keyboard is identical to that of the original software, which works well enough, but is a little bit squashed – and hard work if you are typing out an email or text in a rush.

The landscape does make an appearance within the Safari browser – and it’s a revelation. I found myself able to type much much quicker, and with a lot more reliability. Please Apple – allow us to use the landscape keyboard in the email and SMS applications. There is a free application available on the app store that allows a user to type out a message with the landscape keyboard, and then copy it into the mail app to send. A useful workaround, but this is really something Apple need to get on top of, and give users a proper solution.

As an iPod, it’s still the best you can buy – barring storage space issues. The screen is still lovely, and for playing video’s its pretty much unbeatable. The new built in speaker actually performs quite well – especially for listening to online radio where quality is not always great anyway. It’s also great for playing this weeks favourite track to mates etc. Compared to other ‘loudspeaker’ options its very good – which is amazing considering the size of the iPhone vs, for example, the N95 with its stereo speakers.



In summary – I love this, like I loved the original. I’m a sucker for design, but I need usability as well – which is why (and I can hear the abuse already) – I don’t like mac’s. However the iPhone has both in buckets, and when my contract expires in a few months time I have a tricky decision – iPhone 3G or HD Touch.

The iPhone 3G is most definitely the most desirable, and probably the most polished. The HD Touch though fixes nearly all the items on my missing-from-iphone list. It’s a tricky one, but there is no doubt in my mind – the iPhone 3G is a great phone, and a good update. I await this years iPhone HD(!?) with interest.


Review by: Mark

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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