While the iPhone 3G has been covered to death, here’s my review of the iPhone 3G.
The iPhone 3G comes in 2 sizes and 2 back colours. The 8GB comes with a black back while the 16GB comes in white or black.
When you glance at the 3G, you can easily mistake it for the original one. Once or twice I grabbed the wrong iPhone when I put them side by side.
Like the original iPhone, the 3G feels very solid in your hand. While I miss the original’s metal back, the 3G’s plastics are still very high quality.
As you can see, the front is dominated by the large 3.5″ touch screen. It’s a multi-touch screen so you use it with your fingers. If you try using a stylus it won’t respond.
At the bottom there is a speaker and a microphone (hidden behind the mesh) plus the data connector. The speaker isn’t very loud but it does sound pretty good when used for music.
There is a power button, headphone jack plus a SIM card slot at the top. To remove the SIM you need to use a paper clip (Apple includes a paper clip like SIM ejector). In the original iPhone, the headphone jack was recessed so you couldn’t plug most 3.5mm headphones in without using an adapter. The headphone jack can now be used without an adapter.
On the left side, there’s a silent mode on/off switch and a volume button.
As far as menu goes, the iPhone 3G is virtually identical to the original one.
There’s a button on the front that you press to return to the main menu.
It’s pretty intuitive to use – as long as you’re using 2 hands. It works with 1 hand too but not as well.
One thing about the iPhone’s touch screen is that it doesn’t respond to stylus taps.
The gestures feel familiar and the sounds really help. I’m not crazy about touch screens but the iPhone’s is really good.
I handed my iPhone to my wife but she can’t seem to enter text properly because she has longer nails than me.
Now, while the gestures are quite intuitive to use, there has been some sacrifices to make them possible. You can’t select/copy/paste text since you can’t really use a stylus. Also, positioning the cursor when entering text is a little slower.
Are the iPhone’s touch features worth sacrificing copy/pasting and the text positioning awkwardness? It’s hard to say. Most of the time I don’t care. When I do care it’s excruciating.
Speaking of text… text entry is accomplished via the on screen keyboard. If you’re using Safari, the keyboard will change orientation. One thing I dislike about on screen keyboards is that they’re not very precise.
While I am pretty good at entering text on the iPhone keyboard, I still hate using it. There is this nifty feature which corrects your spelling mistakes as you go – that’s alright. It does a really good job of hiding the iPhone’s keyboard’s shortcomings. What really sucks is when you’re entering names because there’s no auto correct.
Really, out of the box, the iPhone is about two things: Safari and iPod. While far from perfect, if you have two hands available, Safari probably provides the smoothest browsing experience out there. It can handle multiple windows relatively easily. You can zoom out of the website by moving two fingers closer together. Moving them further apart zooms in. It’s pretty intuitive to use.
If you have a lot of browser windows opened in Safari and switch to a different application Safari will silent close in the background (to free up RAM I presume). When you switch back it will automatically open all the pages you were last looking at though it won’t preserve your browsing history. I found Safari would crash from time to time. When it does crash it will automatically relaunch and load the last pages you were looking at – neat.
The only problems I spotted with the browser were that there’s no Flash support so some websites won’t work (most phones don’t have Flash support). I also noticed that with the new HSDPA support, the iPhone sometimes has trouble keeping up when it comes to rendering pages. It’s still better than most phones in this regard.
The iPhone has a built-in iPod feature which is exactly like the iPod Touch’s. You use iTunes to load music from your library onto the iPhone. You can browse your music by Artist, Song, etc.
When listening to music, the iPhone will display the album cover. If you rotate the iPhone, the screen will also rotate and display the album cover from the next/last couple of songs to the left and right.
Music will still play while you’re using other applications. You can quickly access the music controls by pressing the menu button twice.
Sound quality from the headphone jack is good. Sound quality from the built-in speaker isn’t very loud but it does sound pretty good (if you can hear it).
iTunes let’s you download songs to your iPhone. It only works over WiFi.
The phonebook syncs with your computer. When you’re browsing it, you can quickly jump to the first letter of a name by pressing and holding your finger on the screen – an alphabet will appear on the right side which lets you jump.
If you’ve missed a call, have a new email, new SMS, etc., the icon on the menu screen will display the number of calls, emails, messages, etc. which is a nice touch.
SMS is handled by the SMS application. It automatically sorts your messages so you can see previous messages that have been sent to/received from the same sender making them easier to read. There is no MMS support.
The Calendar can sync with your computer. It has a list, day and month view.
The Photos program is pretty simple. You use it to view your messages plus it lets you send messages (via email, not MMS). It can rotate so that your photos fill the entire screen. There’s a slide show application or you can move between pictures manually. It’s simple but slick.
The Camera app is very basic. It takes pictures using the single 2 megapixel camera on the back. That is all – there’s no video recording. Picture quality looks okay on the screen (like most phones) but it’s nothing special if you download it to your computer (like most phones).
Since the iPhone doesn’t support flash there’s a built-in YouTube program. It works well, especially since the iPhone 3G has 3G support.
Google Maps is built-in. Google maps is a nice program but it’s not that great if you’re using it for navigation. The iPhone 3G now has apps so Google maps is much more accurate than it used to be.
You can set multiple alarms with the Clock program.
The calculator now adds some scientific functions if you rotate it.
You also get a Stocks program (it’s delayed by 15 mins.), Weather app and notes.
While there have been a couple of physical changes to the iPhone, the most notable new feature (besides the 3G support) is probably the App Store program. With App Store, you can download programs straight to your iPhone. It’s tied with your iTunes account so you can pay for programs too.
App Store transforms the iPhone from a fairly closed device to a fledgling smartphone.
The problem with the App Store is that all apps have to be approved by Apple. While there’s nothing wrong with this, I find the idea conflicts slightly with the image Apple tries to project of itself. It’s akin to the idea that they want you to “think differently” but really they want you to tell you what to think.
Anyways this isn’t that big a deal plus if you’re trying to get people to download apps to their iPhones, this is probably the best way to do it.
There are a number of features missing from the iPhone that other phones often have. Features like MMS, Bluetooth A2DP, Bluetooth OBEX, the ability to use it as a mass storage device, voice commands, etc.
Voice commands would have been really nice because the iPhone is tricky to use when you’re driving.
Battery life is horrendous. For a device with such a great web browsing experience, it’s important that the battery can keep up and in this regard the iPhone can’t keep up.
Sound quality is alright for both incoming and out.
Maximum earpiece volume is acceptable.
The speaker phone isn’t that loud so it’s only useful in quiet environments.
I found the iPhone 3G worked very poorly with my car’s Bluetooth – other phones I’ve tried such as the Nokia n95, Motorola RAZR2, etc. have worked okay. I found I had to use the iPhone to take the call because people on the other end couldn’t hear me.
In the end I liked the iPhone 3G – mostly because I’m an internet junkie. If I wasn’t hooked on the net, I’d probably still think the iPhone 3G is pretty nice. The UI is pleasant to use and the device feels nice in your hands. If you enter a lot of text or email a lot you probably won’t like the 3G (or any other touch screen only device).
One thing about the iPhone is that it’s still a fairly new device so while it has a lot of features, it’s not overloaded with them. So while the camera app doesn’t have any additional features, it’s sort of refreshing in a way because it’s simple.
The sound quality is alright so it makes an adequate phone. If you talk a lot you might grow to hate the touch screen only aspect.
Missing features aside, the worst thing about the iPhone 3G is it’s horrible battery life. Part of the blame of this goes to the terrific browser which encourages you to use it more.
In the end, either you love or you hate the iPhone 3G – some things it does well and some things it doesn’t do at all.
Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
Written by Howard Chui 07.31.2008
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9 comments July 31st, 2008