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.
3G: a (mostly) large improvement
The very selling point of the new iPhone is its Internet access speed; much of the phone's reason for being evaporates without it.
Thankfully, in terms of raw bandwidth, the iPhone 3G is dramatically faster for data on a cellular network than it ever was on EDGE (2G) networks. When using DSL Reports' iPhone speed test, most original iPhone users net an average of just 133Kbps, or just slightly more than double what dial-up access would offer at home. By contrast, tests on 3G using Rogers Wireless have produced speeds ranging between 800Kbps and 1.1Mbps, or up to ten times faster. These speeds will vary from region to region and provider to provider; many AT&T customers have seen averages below Rogers' speeds. Still, the difference is real and very significant.
In practice, latency (often at 250 milliseconds or more) and the sites themselves mean users rarely see that level of increase in speed for actual apps, but the performance jump is enough that accessing most sites is no longer an exercise in patience. Subjectively, web page loading times in Safari did indeed feel much closer to Wi-Fi than to EDGE, although it was just slow enough in loading large graphics for us to remind anyone that this isn't a a multi-megabit home connection.
That speed is enough to open the floodgates for many other apps. Downloading e-mail, even with attachments, is almost indistinguishable from doing the same at home over a hotspot. It was also noticeable in third-party apps (more on these soon) that chiefly rely on an active Internet connection; social networking tools like MySpace Mobile or Twitter load photos without much hassle. There's likewise a raft of programs that will virtually require the newfound speed, too: mobile uploading tools like ShoZu and video streaming tools like Sling Media's expected SlingPlayer Mobile simply won't work very well outside of Wi-Fi on a 2G-only iPhone, while 3G makes them useful nearly anywhere a good signal is available..
Apple's implementation nonetheless feels somewhat hobbled, in no small part due to carriers. Without native video capture support, there's no ability to upload video or stream it outwards. Companies such as Qik are developing custom-made solutions, but it remains to be seen whether these will ultimately ship or work as well as on other smartphones where video is a given. Apple has also consciously limited 3G downloads from the App Store to programs smaller than 10MB -- which is, admittedly, most of them -- and bars access to the iTunes Store entirely when not on Wi-Fi. It's understandable that providers aren't keen on passing dozens or even hundreds of megabytes at a time from each user without an extra fee, but the potential for truly wireless downloads is still wasted in this update.
3G also has an unfortunate side effect on battery life. With the sheer amount of extra data sent through the air, current 3G technology significantly cuts back on battery life for calls: Apple estimates just 5 hours of calling when voice is allowed on the 3G network, with Electronista tests and others' suggesting less. This isn't out of line with other 3G phones and is impressive for a device with such a large display, but it virtually guarantees that the phone will need to be recharged at least once a day for frequent users.