• 3G iPhone Review - Full and Detailed

    Apple has done well with this one. I’ll hit this review in two sections - one for the official 2.0 software release, and one for the hardware side of the 3G iPhone.

    The Hardware

    The iPhone 3G is a beautiful piece of engineering. Just a few tenths of a millimeter thicker than the original iPhone (12.3 mm/0.48 in vs 11.6mm/0.46 in), the slightly curved back of the newer iPhone actually feels a little better in the hand than the previous version. The plastic back (so the 3G signals and radio waves can be better received/sent) doesn’t get as cold to the touch as the metal back of the original iPhone, lending the 3G a more natural, warmer feel. I got the white version, and haven’t noticed the smudging that folks are saying the black version gets. I haven’t seriously scratched it, but it feels solid and well put-together. You can tell its plastic, and not metal, which feels a bit cheaper, but it doesn’t feel cheap, if that makes sense.

    The side buttons are now metal, and are essentially the same form and functionality. The mute/silent slider seems a little tougher to slide, but also gives a more solid click once moved. I had no problem at all with the volume buttons, they are pretty much the same as the original iPhone, and make perfect sense ergonomically - they are where they should be. Same with the Sleep button on the top of the iPhone.

    A non-recessed headphone jack makes for a WAY easier time for me - I got real tired real fast of lugging around a random Belkin adapter before, forgetting whether it was in the car, my guitar case, pants pocket, etc - it never seemed to be where I needed it, and just looked ghetto to have some wire hanging out of my iPhone when I handed it to someone to plug in. Don’t need that anymore - the new headphone jack works like a headphone jack should. Plug stuff in, listen. I use my iPhone as an iPod all the time, lugging it to practice, play tracks off it, in the car, through a system, etc, and this works beautifully now. Who knows why they never did this in the first place.

    Audio in general has been much revamped in the 3G iPhone. The speaker/mic on the bottom look different now, with a tiny metal grill covering them instead of the plastic in the original model. And they’re MUCH louder. Still doesn’t compare to those Nextel phones that could wake Elvis from his grave from two states away, but definitely loud enough to hear from my pocket in a crowded bar or room. Speaker phone also is actually usable now because of the volume increase. Way to go, Apple. Call clarity because of this is leaps and bounds above the previous iPhone. With the original iPhone, I always found myself having to step out or at least put in headphones while talking in crowded/loud places, but so far the 3G iPhone has been much much improved - I can hear just fine, and so can the person on the other line, even in a busy restaurant.

    When it comes to the actual screen, we’ve got the same resolution and size as before, with 3.5 inches of 480x320 pixel 163 ppi goodness. The warmer tone that’s been talked about, complained about, and discussed all over the web is definitely noticeable, but unless its side by side with my original iPhone, I don’t notice it as much. The screen is noticeably brighter. The warm tint was a purposeful move on Apple’s part to create a more enjoyable user experience and a brighter overall screen, and it works well, at least on the brighter front. Side by side with the original iPhone - neither looks white. The original is obviously bluish, and the newer is a warmer yellow in comparison. To each his own there - the warm tone doesn’t bug me at all. And of course, the touch-screen is the best out there in a mobile device.

    GPS on the 3G iPhone works without a hitch. I tested it out by driving around town, and was able to see the pin-point pushpin on Maps moving accurately with me as I drove. Grabbing the location takes less time than some of my previous GPS devices - just a couple seconds. I’ll discuss more about the GPS when I get to the software section of the review. All in all a great implementation of GPS - no issues here.

    Data speeds are MUCH improved, my results in Tampa showed between 515 and 600kbps on 3G, with EDGE speeds of roughly 160kbps. Not quite the 5x numbers some have touted, but easily over 3 times faster. The speed increase makes the iPhone much more appealing as an actual mobile browsing device, whereas I used to use it purely to get email, and emergency info while I was connected to EDGE. Or if I was extremely bored and patient. 3G makes the browsing experience much less taxing on the patience. MMi loads in under 5 seconds while on 3G. I also noticed a stronger reception on WiFi with the 3G iPhone compared to my original iPhone.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that battery life seems to go quicker for me - not as much because it gets worse battery life, but because I have been browsing and using the Maps much more than I would with my previous iPhone. I still made it all the way through yesterday without having to charge up til the evening, and have done the same today, but it was low by the time I plugged it in around 11 pm last night, and is getting low as I type this at 9 pm today. I was up at 8 today and 930 yesterday, so that’s still a solid 13 hours of heavy talk, data, GPS, and texting without getting the “20% remaining” message. I’d say battery life is great, but I’ll let you know more as I use it and settle in to a routine - right now I’m still in honeymoon mode, playing on this thing all day long. I wouldn’t advise taking it on a weekend trip without your charger, though.

    The Software

    iPhone firmware 2.0 is a huge improvement in stability, features, and usability compared to the previous firmware versions. I’ll go over some of the stuff we all knew was coming, and some tips and tricks you may not have caught yet in the new firmware. There are a few major pushes (pardon the pun ) to the new firmware. Push Email/Data, the App Store, Exchange support, and better Location support are the major improvements. I’ll go over each in detail.

    Push Email/Data works great. I sat my 3G iPhone side by side with my laptop and iPhone 1st gen, and sent myself an email from the wife’s laptop. The 3G iPhone beeped with the new email almost literally as the email sent, whereas both my laptop with Mail and my iPhone 1st gen took a couple minutes before they picked it up. Changes made to my calendar in iCal on the laptop appear immediately on my iPhone (and in MobileMe - which is so cool, but a separate review). I’m looking forward to seeing more application developers make use of the push technology in the 3G iPhone, as it could make for some great apps. Especially with some of the location based apps, which I’ll talk about later, like Whrrl or Loopt - once updates are made, having the app receive the push data and flash a badge could negate the need for apps running in the background, which is currently an annoying issue.

    I haven’t tested Exchange yet, since I don’t have an Exchange server to test with, but reports say it works well.

    Location support is a really cool addition to the new software, and also works very well. When you open the Camera, for instance, you get a pop-up asking if Camera can use your current location - and all images are geo-tagged if you say Yes each time.

    The Maps application is hugely improved by the GPS ability in the 3G model, with pinpoint accuracy, and real-time moving with you. It takes a few feet to update, so while walking you sometimes have to let it refresh, but while driving it works perfectly. The tracking moves smoothly, Maps pull up and don’t look blotchy or like they’re loading slowly - so it must be pulling some cache as well, since it was nice and smooth.

    The AppStore is a well implemented feature which is full of both flaming crap and some rockin apps. Once you initially open it, its got a look reminiscent of the iTunes app, but a little on the dark side - which is strange, Apple is usually great at UI design elements.

    At launch, the AppStore has over 500 applications downloadable, 134 of which are available for free. There’s some familiar names in there, from Erica Sadun (flashlight) and Mauvila Software (Dactyl, OmniTuner, TyroTuner) to major corporations like EA and Sega. Functionality is easy just like you’d expect from Apple - open an app’s page, click the price, then buy, and it integrates directly with your iTunes account. A pop-up comes up and asks for your iTunes account password (unless you’ve bought something in the past few minutes and already authenticated). Once you’ve put it in, AppStore goes away and it pops back to SpringBoard, where you see the new icon of the app you’re buying/getting with a status bar showing the download/install progress. Most apps take a minute or two to install. AppStore works fine on 3G as well.

    Here’s some of the nifty tips/tricks that are new in the 2.0 firmware:

    Password fields now show the last character you input. No more hoping that last character was an a - the password field shows you.

    Safari is updated - YouTube links on pages now show as a clickable link with a preview instead of the previous incompatible flash object button. Tapping the preview launches the video in the YouTube application. EDIT: Also, looks like holding down the .com button gives you a choice of .net, .edu, and .org as well now. Big plus.

    Also, and thankfully, there is now an easy way to save images right from Safari to your Camera Roll - simply tap and hold the image in Safari, and a menu pops up asking you if you’d like to Save Image of Open Link. Thanks, Apple. edit: Oh, and some users have pointed out - this also works in Mail now. Screenshot updated.

    edit: As a HUGE bonus, Apple has finally let us move/delete multiple emails at once. (thanks, rkisling, for pointing that out)

    edit: The calculator now includes a new feature - turn the iPhone sideways while in Calculator.app, and you get a scientific calculator.

    The Settings menu has some cool updates as well.

    Fetch New Data menu shows push as an option as well as manual settings for non-push accounts.

    Under the Mail, Contact, Calendar menu, Apple quietly added an “Import SIM Contacts” button - which is great. The previous firmware had no way of doing this, so you had to sync with an Address Book software or use a third-party SIM importing application.

    The General menu also has an option to turn Location Services on and off.

    As a final nifty trick - pressing Home and Sleep at the same time on any screen will flash a white screen and take a screenshot of whatever your iPhone screen is showing. The image shows up in your Camera Roll.

    I won’t get into the hundreds of applications available through the AppStore, but suffice it to say - the new 3G iPhone and 2.0 firmware are a huge improvement in user experience, stability, and overall pure Apple goodness. Buy it.
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