updated 03:55 pm EDT, Fri September 12, 2008
iPhone 2 1 Impressions
Apple's iPhone 2.1 update has been under early testing by MacNN and Electronista staff on iPhone 3G units, and at this stage appears to be a definite upgrade over the 2.0.x releases. The software's defining trait isn't a new feature but rather its speed. Where 2.0 was frequently choppy while entering text or even just in some transitions, 2.1 appears to be seamless and smooth -- that is, what Apple had originally promised and delivered with its 1.x software.
Installing apps and backing up the phone are also definitely faster. Previously, some apps would take a very long time to install and would sometimes appear frozen in place. In a few test cases, 2.1 saw small apps install completely in less than 20 seconds, with larger apps expectedly taking more time but still loading at a reasonable pace; while backups were never especially slow for our particular group, they now run noticeably quicker, at least after the first post-upgrade backup.
The paradox of the update is that its new features are strictly secondary. Genius is appreciated, but on the iPhone or iPod touch is essentially a 'controlled' shuffle that prevents out-of-character songs from appearing in a playlist. More track information is also available while browsing a non-album list, although this is more practical for owners who often get single songs rather than whole albums. Its primary purpose appears to be avoiding confusion between similarly-titled songs or to remember the album name to download other tracks at iTunes.
Sound has also been given a minor, helpful boost: there's more control over which events trigger notification sounds, and the phone will repeat the notice for a new SMS message up to twice after the initial alert if the user misses the message. This is potentially annoying, but also handy for those of us who miss an important message by ducking into another room or going to sleep.
Some of the other improvements are difficult to gauge at this point in time: none of the editors have reported serious reception issues or have had enough consistent use to determine how much more battery (if any) they receive. Still, the improvements in behavior are enough to make 2.1 seemingly a must-have for iPhone owners, even if we wish that background push or a new app would have made the update more exciting on its own.
Let us know if you've discovered any hidden features or different experiences in the comments.