It’s hard to think of any other device that’s enjoyed the level of exposure and hype that Apple found in the launch of the first iPhone. Who could forget it? Everyone got to be a gadget nerd; even those completely disinterested in technology seemed to come down with iPhone fever. But the original device was still far from perfect: its limited capabilities (especially in the 3G department), high price of entry, and the small number of countries in which it was available kept many potential buyers sidelined. Until now — or so Apple hopes.
The wireless industry is a notoriously tough nut to crack, and it’s become pretty clear that the first iPhone wasn’t about total domination so much as priming the market and making a good first impression with some very dissatisfied cellphone users. With the iPhone 3G, though, Apple’s playing for keeps. Not only is this iPhone’s Exchange enterprise support aiming straight for the heart of the business market, but the long-awaited 3rd party application support and App Store means it’s no longer just a device, but a viable computing platform. And its 3G network compatibility finally makes the iPhone welcome the world over, especially after Cupertino decided to ditch its non-traditional carrier artnerships in favor of dropping the handset price dramatically. $200? We’re still a little stunned.
No one will have any trouble recognizing the new device from its face — it’s essentially identical to the original iPhone. Thankfully, the bright, high quality, high resolution 480 x 320 3.5-inch display that’s just so easy to love, hasn’t been changed a bit. Unfortunately, it’s still every bit as much a magnet for smudges and fingerprints — in fact, even more so now that the rear of the device has dropped its chic matte aluminum in favor of black (or white, optional on the 16GB model) plastic. Hey, at least now it’s more symmetrical.
The move to plastic seemed almost inevitable now that the iPhone has so many radios, frequencies, and antenna needs (GSM, EDGE, HSDPA, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS), but while we do prefer the original aluminum, the plastic does feel pretty solid and not at all flimsy, which is more than we can say for a hell of a lot of handsets. There’s no doubt about the fact that we’d have preferred a matte or soft-touch finish to the glossy plastic, but that’s all a matter of taste.
The body of the phone is slightly thicker at its center than its predecessor, although the edges are tapered and thinner than before, which is always a good way to make a device feel smaller than it actually is. (Palm learned this a long time ago.) There are a couple downsides to the body shape, though: first, when you’re tapping off-center on a hard, flat surface, the phone wobbles (but only a little, oh well).
Second, the new shape means you won’t be using it in your original device’s dock. This really wouldn’t be all that bad if Apple included a dock with the 3G like they did with the first iPhone, but now they want you to buy that separately. Did we mention they’re asking $30 for it? Way lame. That absurdly small power adapter kind of makes up for it, but only a little.
One thing Apple was keen to talk up is the vastly improved call quality of the iPhone 3G. Those in the know understand that 3G call quality is often better than regular GSM — but it turns out Apple made a huge improvement on both sides. iPhone 3G calls made over 3G and GSM both sounded significantly better than calls made on the original iPhone. If you’re upgrading your device iPhone you may not necessarily notice it, but on a side by side it was pretty obvious.
Of course, call quality most often depends on coverage, and coverage varies between 3G and GSM networks depending on where you are. 3G calling also requires more battery power. Where are we going with this? Well, despite many of the painstaking measures Apple’s taken to preserve battery power, the iPhone 3G doesn’t do any real time signal detection to help determine whether you currently have better 3G or GSM voice coverage. If you suspect you might get better coverage either on or off 3G, it’s up to you to dig down through a few settings menus to flip the switch. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it’d make for a welcome fix.
Apple’s numbers on the iPhone 3G’s battery life peg it at 10 / 5 hours talk on GSM / 3G (respectively), 5 hours 3G data, 6 hours WiFi, 24 hours music and 7 hours video. Pretty much everything we’ve found in our testing jibes with Apple’s claims, if not exceeds them. (Our early results testing video early on skewed low because we had mistakenly left on push and fetch data, which dropped the battery life by almost 25%. After re-testing, they’re back up to spec.)
All our tests were conducted with 3G on, WiFi on (not connected), Bluetooth off, no data fetching enabled (unless specified otherwise). Media tested with stock headphones, medium volume, and medium screen brightness, auto-brightness disabled.
- Music (continuous playback, large library, occasionally turning on screen): 31h 23m
- Video (continuous playback, no push/fetch data): 7h 5m
- Video (continuous playback, with push and 15 minute fetch data): 5h 24m
- Daily data use (browsing, email, and GPS / maps): ~6h 30m
Those numbers definitely are not bad, but if you’re anything like us and you kill time on your phone reading feeds and checking email like a fiend, by 3 or 4pm you’ll likely be wondering if you’ll even make it home with any power left — especially if you leave on the 3G data. So be warned, because the kind of prolonged usage you used to get away with on the original iPhone probably isn’t possible with the iPhone 3G. For some, this may be an issue. Others may never notice.
There have been a number of other fixes to better the device as well. For example, the phone now has two proximity sensors to better detect when it’s held to your ear. We also found that while the camera was essentially identical, we were getting images that were ever so slightly sharper and crisper than the original iPhone on 1.1.4 (check it out below). Still, knowing that HTC’S TOUCH DIAMOND– which features a 3.2 megapixel sensor and mechanical autofocus — could pack such a great camera in an even smaller form factor than the iPhone’s left us pining for something a bit more than the same 2 megapixels from the first time around.