Review: iPhone 3G - What's Not to Like?

Apple's iconic iPhone 3G may be the only mobile device you'll ever need - heck, the only device, period. (Until Apple comes out with a 4G version, of course.)

The new iPhone, released in July, is available from AT&T for $199 with a two-year voice-data plan ($70 - $130 a month), and from Rogers in Canada for the same price with a three-year plan ($60 - $115).

If you bought the original iPhone last year, the new one offers significant inducements to trade up, especially for enterprise users. Chief among them is broadband-speed Web surfing, downloading and e-mail on the mobile network - the new iPhone works on UMTS/HSDPA networks as well as GSM/EDGE, including overseas.

If you somehow missed iPhone mania last year or earlier this summer (off the planet perhaps), but you're now in the market for an electronic swiss army knife, this is the deluxe model, but without a deluxe price.

It does everything, and most of it well: voice, e-mail (including push), 3G and Wi-Fi Web surfing, music, video, 2-megapixel still and video photography, GPS navigation. And it features a brilliantly designed touchscreen user interface, the hands-down coolest of any smart phone we've seen.

What else is new in the iPhone 3G?

Improved sound quality - Apple says. Support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, which means secure push e-mail, contacts and calendars for enterprise users. Built-in VPN (virtual private network) with strong two-factor authentication.

And access to scores of new applications written by third-party developers, and available at the wildly popular new Apple App Store.

What's not to like about the new iPhone?

In truth, very little, although the non-corporate e-mail experience - at least in our testing of a Rogers iPhone - isn't a patch on BlackBerry. The onboard navigation software and GPS is definitely nit-pickable. And the absence of a physical keyboard or keypad does present some constraints.

Some of these are more than quibbles, but none comes close to being a deal-killer.

Let`s start with the good, though. The big thing is 3G connectivity. So what does it mean in real life? We tested the iPhone on the Rogers HSDPA network in Canada.

A dedicated You Tube application, linked by default from the iPhone home page, was our first testing ground. With a moderately strong connection (three bars of five according to the phone) at off-peak hours, the video was pretty good: motion smooth, audio more or less synced.

Images were a little fuzzy but clear enough in most cases to be able to make out what was going on. With weaker connections and at peak times, images got fuzzier, but video never hiccuped.

YouTube is a good test because the application automatically adjusts video quality according to bandwidth available in order to avoid pauses for rebuffering. When we switched to Wi-Fi connectivity over a home office network with multi-megabit Internet service, video was sharp as a tack - well, as sharp as it would be on a PC - and smooth as silk.

We also tried two online Internet speedometers, one operated by McAfee, the computer security software company, and one operated by DSLreports.com, an online telecom journal. The DSLreports speedometer is designed specifically to measure iPhone 3G performance.

(Note: many other online speedometers won't work because they're based on Flash, which is still not available for iPhone, although Adobe says it will be.)


iPhone, Apple, app store
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