In Depth News Feature: iPhone 3G: what we really think, one week on

The Feedster

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Jun 26, 2007
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It's been just over a week since we first got our hands on the second gen iPhone (though not everybody's been so lucky). As we said in our official review of the device last week, it isn't a major sea-change, nor will it seem a whole lot different to those with a first-generation iPhone.

Crucially though, to new purchasers the iPhone will seem an awesome device, with an unrivalled user experience.

So with the benefit that only an elongated week-in-the-pocket test period can provide, let's look at the best and worst bits of both the hardware and Apple's iPhone 2.0 firmware (which has locked on us a couple of times).

And yes, we have dropped it, but it was in a case and bounced off the floor of the train. And no, we're not dropping it properly - you need YouTube for that kind of reportage.

Battery and charging

Firstly, let's look at battery life. True, the first charge we gave it ran out remarkably quickly, but that was mainly because we were running amok downloading various apps and showing everybody that wanted to have a peek at the new device. thinks the iPhone's battery life "drains juice faster than a toddler in the desert" though we don't completely agree - if you're used to an older Nokia N95 or first-gen iPhone you won't find it out-of-the-park thirsty.

We believe with non-excessive data/GPS/Wi-Fi use you'll be looking at recharging every 2 days. And by the way, recharging is pretty speedy, so you can give the handset a reasonable amount of juice in, say, 30 minutes.

However, if you're using the new iPhone for Exchange email and internet on business for several hours of the day, you'll be needing your charger alongside your lunch box.

One thing Wired also picked up on which we didn't mention in our review is voice dialling - again absent and making use while driving a very big no-no.

Texting needs more work

Talking of talking, since the iPhone 3G is such a good device for internet and email, it's easy to forget that the phone function itself takes a bit of getting used to. Thankfully though, Apple's addition of a new Contacts app means getting to your numbers to actually call them is much, much easier with the 2.0 firmware.

We've also come round a little to texting. While we'd still really like Apple to add a numerical keypad to the texting app for thumb-use, the keyboard is fine to use - unless, that is, you're in a car (as a passenger, obviously). Want to text someone when en route? Stop at the next Moto.

Our iPhone 3G has some difficulty locating 3G networks from time to time, but we wouldn't go so far as to say that O2's coverage is patchy. In fact, data access is now lightning quick, and while it doesn't have HSDPA level-access, you won't be downloading huge amounts of data like you would possibly be with a laptop.

GPS humdrum

There have been a few reports lauding the iPhone 3G as an excellent GPS advice. It isn't. We tried to get to a meeting with it in Central London the other day and it didn't keep up with our position very effectively, though we did find our curry house over the weekend.

It also locked on us once ending in a reset, while it's not always obvious when a GPS lock has been obtained. Yes, a blue blob appears to pinpoint your position, but the whole user experience is a bit like taking a pee in a pitch-black bathroom.

Of course, Google Maps itself is now of an excellent standard for UK-specific directions and route-mapping, but it's still limited in terms of usefulness for pedestrian navigation while the screen also doesn't orientate to your direction of movement - both features within Nokia Maps.

More work needed then, but don't expect Apple to fill this gap. However, with continued rumours of a TomTom app for the iPhone, the solution can't be too far away.

Short back and sides

While we're on a slightly lower ebb, it's also a good time to talk about the camera, which remains poor. While having a basic camera for direct image emailing is a good idea, many will say that Apple shouldn't have bothered.

However, the general look of the iPhone's back and sides has been improved, and the black/chrome theme is carried throughout - the look and feel has been improved a lot, just by the addition of the hard plastic back (though we bet you'll scratch it a lot more) while the standard headphone jack should have been the plan all along.

Apps and the App Store

Apple's App Store and implementation of applications within the iPhone 2.0 firmware has stood up to our consistent testing despite one major problem: there aren't the number of productivity apps we'd hope for - even the Google app is simply a portal page to its services - clicking on Blogger within the app simply launches Safari and opens the standard Blogger homepage.

Fun stuff abounds, with Bubble Wrap and iPint hilarious, while Shazam's app takes the music-recognition tech to new heights (useful last Saturday) and Apple's remote software controls iTunes over Wi-Fi.

So, while there's been some good work from some developers, we're very surprised at the low level of participation from many of the bigger industry names.

However the good thing is that, like the iPhone's 2.0 firmware itself, the standard of apps can only improve. So the one thing that disappoints is the GPS then, while yes, the battery life could do with improvement.

Would we still recommend the iPhone 3G after its days of hard worn use? Undoubtedly. Despite foibles remaining and the plethora of competitors it's still head and shoulders above all other smartphones. And it will be for some time to come - unless the Nokia Tube was designed on.