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It's finally here...
- Multi-touch navigation, HSDPA bandwidth, Exchange and MobileMe support
- Poor GPS implementation, no physical keyboard, poor battery life
The iPhone 3G improves on its predecessor, refining its strengths and eliminating some of its flaws. On the way, however, it picked up a few more flaws. Exchange and MobileMe support are appealing, but poor battery life and substandard GPS implementation will deter some people.
After selling more than 6 million units in other countries, the iPhone is finally here (officially). Australians can now get their hands on the iPhone 3G, Apple's second-generation mobile.
The phone's hardware is fairly standard for a high-end smartphone. Tri-band 3G HSDPA and Assisted GPS (A-GPS) are both common in the iPhone 3G's competitors, although the phone's 2-megapixel camera seems like a token inclusion.
As always, Apple is about design first and foremost. The iPhone 3G builds upon the basic case of the original iPhone and the iPod touch, but it has a tapered, more professional feel that is much easier to hold. It uses a plastic backing rather than aluminium, but it's surprisingly resistant to scratches and fingerprint marks. The phone's glass face is also resilient and scratch-resistant, although it will get dirty.
The screen's 480x320 pixel resolution pales in comparison to the VGA resolution of Sony Ericsson's XPERIA X1, but its colour range and brightness more than make up for this. Pictures are extremely sharp and easy to view. However, there is a distinct yellow tinge to the screen, which Apple claims is a deliberate decision in order to make colours look more natural. We prefer the original iPhone's more accurate, albeit colder, colour calibration, but this isn't a major issue.
The iPhone 3G's OS X–based operating system works wonderfully, recognising and responding to finger touches with ease. A lack of physical keyboard will probably deter some people, but the phone's 'soft' keyboard remains one of the best we've used. We would have liked a landscape mode for the phone's SMS function to be available.
3G HSDPA is the second-gen iPhone's new party trick, and it doesn't disappoint. The iPhone 3G has tri-band 3G radio with HSDPA bandwidth, as well as a GSM fall-back baseband. The iPhone 3G will favour its 3G radio over GSM, but will switch if it can't receive a 3G signal. Importantly, the iPhone 3G has markedly improved on the signal and call quality of its predecessor.
Internet browsing is also much improved. We loaded the Good Gear Guide Web site in 41 seconds over Vodafone's 3G network, a bearable speed and a definite improvement on the painstakingly slow 1min 48sec we suffered with the original iPhone on the Virgin Mobile network.
There's no real faulting the A-GPS. Tracking isn't smooth at low speeds, but the handset was able to pick up our position within 10 seconds of activating it. Our main concern is its implementation — Google Maps is a decent mapping system, but it isn't properly integrated with the A-GPS module. The software doesn't provide turn-by-turn navigation, and the map won't shift automatically to track the GPS signal, requiring users to follow it themselves. Often the blue blip representing the signal would leave the road when we made a turn according to Google Maps. Until a third-party company releases software capable of making full use of the phone's GPS module, the iPhone 3G is simply no rival to dedicated GPS units.
Apple is keen to tap the enterprise market, and the inclusion of support for Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync reflect this. Users can sync calendars, contacts and e-mail with Exchange servers, but not tasks. Our experiences with its implementation are largely positive, integrating well with the iPhone's user interface and assuming its familiar look.
Apple's own syncing service, MobileMe, provides similar functionality. Dubbed by Apple 'Exchange for everyone else', the company's renamed .Mac service provides users with an easy-to-use central server for e-mail, files, contacts and calendars. After minimal setup, we were easily able to sync contacts, bookmarks, mail and calendars between a Mac, a PC and the iPhone 3G. Disappointingly, there's no way to access MobileMe's iDisk storage service from the iPhone, meaning that users are unable to listen to shared music or view their documents while on the go.
The biggest advantage of Apple's MobileMe service over services like Gmail is its push e-mail functionality. Like Microsoft Exchange and Blackberry servers, MobileMe pushes email to the iPhone, rather than the device fetching it from a server. The same can be accomplished with Yahoo Mail on the iPhone 3G, but conventional POP3 and Gmail services are restricted to 'fetch' e-mail. This should be rectified when Apple's central ping server comes online in September, but for now it's a drain on battery life if the handset has to keep checking for new e-mail.
Apple blamed the delay of a 3G iPhone on poor battery life. Thanks to an extra year's worth of engineering and design, the company has managed to solve this issue — to a degree. We tested the iPhone 3G with 3G radio and location settings on, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi both off. Under fairly heavy 3G data usage — Web browsing, mail use and YouTube — and viewing H.264 video, the iPhone 3G lasted almost four hours. Given that the original iPhone was capable of lasting over five hours while performing the same tasks, the impact on battery life is noticeable but not drastic.
For those upgrading from the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G will offer better Web browsing outside of Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as the benefits of A-GPS. For those new to the iPhone, the device offers a simple, easy-to-use mobile phone with excellent functionality, but it isn't without its flaws.
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