Still the champ among consumer smartphones. (July 13th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Apple
Price: $199 (8GB, two years), $299 (16GB, two years)
- Still the best mobile OS for web browsing and media playback.
- 3G is much faster and changes the nature of what the iPhone can do.
- Improved audio quality going in and out.
- GPS is useful for both first- and third-party apps.
- New design is easier to hold and finally allows most earphones.
- iPhone 2.0 software greatly expands the phone's feature set.
- Lower price for some customers.
- Using 3G shortens battery life; usually need to plug in every day.
- GPS is purportedly limited in hardware; Google Maps no stand-in for full navigation.
- Still no MMS, voice dialing, or improved camera.
- Black model too easily shows fingerprints, and may show scratches.
As tremendous as the original iPhone's impact was, the iPhone 3G is arguably Apple's most important iPhone ever: it not only has to fix as many of the first-run problems as possible but also represent Apple in new but notoriously unforgiving markets such as Japan. With that kind of burden on its shoulders, the company is in the unenviable position of trying to please everyone on just its second try. A full review of the iPhone 3G shows that Apple has come a long way in just a year and has one of its best products yet, but also that it still has a ways to go -- and has made a few sacrifices to overcome its earlier hurdles.
As the iPhone's design is essentially just a canvas for its touchscreen and audio, Apple hasn't been under much pressure to rework the iPhone's shape, and from the front it appears Apple hasn't touched the iPhone 3G: the new cellphone is unnoticeably wider.
At the back, however, Apple has been busy. To accommodate its 3G and GPS hardware, the new iPhone is about four hundredths of an inch thicker, but now uses a curved design that is actually thinner at the edges. It's now also completely plastic -- a concession to the need for better wireless reception now that the iPhone depends even more heavily on wireless signals than it did before, using them both for faster Internet access and for GPS mapping.
The combined effect is a tangible overall improvement. The original, aluminum-shelled iPhone was at times slippery and not exactly reassuring for a phone that was once priced at up to $599; the plastic arc of the iPhone 3G not only puts more of the surface in contact with your palm but also produces a grippier texture than smooth metal. Some will complain that the plastic cheapens the look of the iPhone, but a pretty, broken device is never as attractive as a slightly plainer but secure equivalent. The new model always felt safe during calling, and both the solid build quality as well as the one-piece back still give off the impression of a premium device that some rivals still lack.
The change isn't uniformly positive for at least some owners. Apple's choice to gives its most common iPhone models a glossy black finish invariably creates problems for less-than-immaculate owners: it shows every single greasy fingerprint or other smudge. Unless it's regularly sheathed in a case, black iPhones are likely to move from pristine to grimy in a matter of weeks, if not days. It's nothing a lint-free cloth won't remove, but it's an unfair tradeoff for those used to the relatively rugged aluminum of the 2007 model. If the budget exists for a 16GB model, pick up the white version or else wait for additional colors. In testing, a white model would still pick up visible lint in some cases but made it virtually impossible to see fingerprints or palm prints.
Scratches are also a possibility, though reports received early on suggest the casing is resistant (though likely not immune) to incidental damage; nonetheless, anyone putting the iPhone 3G in a pocket with keys should consider protection for at least the back of the device.
Beyond the hand feel, the new model finally makes the headphone jack flush with the rest of the case. For many, this alone may be worth the price of admission. Audiophiles or those simply unhappy with the stock earphones have chastized Apple for forcing them to wait for iPhone-friendly accessories, and now it's no longer necessary to give up a favorite set of earbuds just to enjoy music.
One small, but appreciated, change is the switch to metal for the ringer, volume, and sleep buttons. They don't change the functionality, but they both give off a greater impression of quality and feel better to the touch in most cases.