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07. 15. 2008

iPhone 3G- is it worth the fuss?

After 5 days now with the new iPhone 3G my feeling is, "Well done, Apple." Well done on the hype, the expectations, the ability to get people to line up day after day for fear that iPhones will soon become extinct, even though more and more get "unexpectedly shipped" each day. Do I sound bitter? Actually, I did very little waiting in line, although I gawked a lot, because it was a hot, hot weekend and I saw people looking near death as they waited for hours in the sun.

The lines were spectacular, and all made possible by the in-store activation that was required for each iPhone sold, a procedure made interminable by the overload on the iTunes servers. Last year, when the iPhone came out, I decided to wait until the fanatics all had theirs and there was no wait, and that turned out to be about 2 hours after they went on sale. Well this year, there are lots of people still pining for an iPhone, and many red "sold-out" notices on the iPhone availability site. If you're planning on stopping by the Apple store for your iPhone, thinking the craze has died down, I'd strongly advise you check the site to make sure your store has stock first. The list is only live while the store is closed so you have to check the night before.

On to the phone itself . . .

The iPhone 3G is nearly identical to the original model. The back of the phone is now a shiny black plastic which collects smudges as easily as the screen. The phone is very slightly wider but a tad thinner. This difference is really only discernible if you try to use one of your old iPhone cases for the iPhone 3G. It's like trying to fit into jeans from high school- you can get it over your hips, maybe even zip it, but then you're not very comfortable, and may not even be able to sit down. My leather case-mate cracked after holding the 3G model for a couple of hours.

The differences, in features and performance, are somewhat subtle. If you've upgraded your iPhone to the 2.0 firmware, you may not even notice the difference. The biggie, actually, is something that hasn't been emphasized very much - the iPhone 3G, finally, is a good phone for making calls. With the older iPhone, I rarely used it for calls because the sound quality was so bad, it sounded like people were talking while having seizures, all strange vibrations and gurgles, even when I had a 5-bar signal. Now the call quality is pretty clear, and the speaker is much improved too.

The much vaunted and wanted 3G? I am having serious problems. And I'm not the only one. See here, here, and here. I have another AT&T 3G capable smartphone, the Windows Mobile-powered 8525, and in the same spot where I have 4-5 bars of 3G signal on the 8525, I will have barely one bar on the iPhone 3G. In bandwidth tests, I'll get 500-600 kbps on the 8525, and about 100 kbps on the iPhone 3G. When I go someplace where even the iPhone 3G shows a 5-bar 3G signal, I still get the same speed results. If I turn off the 3G (the option to do this is buried under settings-general-network), and use the EDGE connection, it's slightly faster. And this is with 5 bars on 3G. So far, the 3G is actually slower for me than EDGE, consistently.

The GPS function is cool, definitely. When the GPS gets a lock on your location, your spot becomes a glowing blue dot on Google Maps. When you drive, the dot follows you, so even without turn-by-turn directions, you can see if you're going in the right direction. Unfortunately, the data speeds are so, so slow for me, that the maps take forever to load, and so far only work well over Wifi, when I'm unlikely to be driving.

The App store? Hurrah - no more fake apps through Safari. I've been downloading like a maniac, and while there's a lot of junk, there are some very good things too - like Movies on Tap, which finds your location, brings up the nearest theatres and movie times, and can connect you to reviews and trailers. It's definitely a lot of fun to be able to customize your phone like this, with applications that aren't dependent on a fast, stable web connection (because I can't get one!).

For anyone who's been using the old iPhone for a while, the most welcome new feature (also available in the free 2.0 firmware update for the non-3G iPhone) is the ability to delete or move multiple email messages. Now, when you hit "edit," you can select as many messages as you want, and hit "delete" or "move" just once, to get rid of the whole lot. It used to take me 10 minutes to delete a day's worth of spam, what with all the accidental opening of messages I was merely trying to select to delete, and now it can all be done in a fraction of the time. It's very satisfying, but then again, it merely corrects a huge problem, rather than being anything innovative.

Oh oh, one thing was very, very exciting for me. As a longtime user of the Palm OS and Windows Mobile, I had a ton of E-reader books. I was sad to let those go. E-reader now has a free app for the iPhone, and you can download books from your account, even over-the-air. Reading ebooks on the iPhone is terrific, so much more tactile and fun than doing it on a Kindle where you have to press a bunch of buttons.

I have to hold out on an absolute verdict until I figure out if my phone actually has an antenna problem, but so far, I'd say that the iPhone 3G presents a modest improvement, and for people happy with their old iPhones, get the 2.0 firmware and at least wait until those manufactured "shortages" are over.

Posted by Mia    Category: cell phones | feature | portable media
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