What Smartphone Users Are Saying About the iPhone 3G S

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-06-10

What Smartphone Users Are Saying About the iPhone 3G S

It's not a scientific survey by any means, but a collection of comments from eWEEK readers who also are smartphone owners indicates that it's a mixed bag as to how many of them will buy a new Apple iPhone 3G S when they arrive in stores on June 19.

The consensus is that the technology itself looks very attractive. But there are some problems with the overall package that bother a number of people.

It also appears that most of the difficulties with the iPhone stem not from the device itself, but from the telco that comes with it: AT&T Wireless, which directly affects pricing.

Apple launched the new iPhone 3G S on June 8 and said it will be in stores on June 19. The new device, which runs the new iPhone OS 3.0 operating system, is more than simply a beefed-up version of the iPhone 3G-it is almost an entirely new product.

For newcomers, it is priced at $199 for a 16GB edition and $299 for a 32GB version. AT&T charges $30 per month for the data connectivity, and the phone plans range from $40 to $100 (nationwide coverage) per month. Text messaging and other features will bring extra charges.

For existing iPhone/AT&T customers, it's another story entirely. If those folks want to upgrade their phones to a 3G S, they will have to pay a $200 premium on each of the new models: 16GB ($399) and 32GB ($499).

Without an AT&T contract commitment, the iPhone 3G S costs a whopping $599 for the 16GB model and $699 for the 32GB model. That's what most people consider pricey for a smartphone, no matter what it can do.

When you buy an iPhone, the connectivity service is for a two-year period. In exchange for committing yourself to it for that length of time, AT&T provides a discount on the new phone. And it will give customers a second discount when the contract is up.

Before that contract ends, however, you're out of luck if you want to upgrade to a new phone; no discount allowed.

Thus, there is a huge disparity in pricing between what the newbies get as opposed to the loyal old-timers. It's similar to signing up for a broadband cable TV contract: There are always lower-priced, incentive-driven promotions for new subscribers that existing customers cannot get.

Upset commenters on AT&T's support forum had plenty to say about this. "If you are a loyal iPhone user like me, contact AT&T through e-mail, phone, whatever-let your voice be heard. Let them know you will not be quiet," one user wrote.

When it comes to device value, however, it's hard to argue with Apple about the iPhone 3G S. Just about everything inside it has been upgraded; one example is its spiffy new 3-megapixel camera/video recorder that appears to be only slightly lower in quality than an average SLR (single-lens reflex) camera. It does appear to be superior to most other phone cameras, especially due to its video-editing capability. That alone might justify the extra $200 cost for an existing iPhone owner, who won't have to purchase a separate camera.

The list of downloadable applications-Apple exec Phil Schiller said the iPhone App Store has more than 50,000 now-is startling. One example is new standard security software that enables the user to wipe all the data off a lost phone remotely. The list of options is long; go here for a listing of some of the new features.

There are weaknesses in the iPhone 3G S. For example, it still does not support Flash, and it still uses a proprietary USB-like connector instead of a standard brand. There's apparently lots of income in forcing users to buy specific Apple connectors to replace lost ones.

What People Are Saying

Here is what smartphone users around the country told eWEEK when asked if they would consider buying the iPhone 3G S fairly soon.

Lew Smith Jr., a data center virtualization consultant with Interphase Systems in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., admitted, "I'm actually using a hacked original iPhone on T-Mobile's network. I didn't want to pay for the outrageous AT&T data fees to use an iPhone, and I couldn't terminate my contract early without paying $250."

Smith said it was cost-effective for him to buy a used iPhone on eBay. "I'll actually be taking this opportunity to upgrade to a 3G, assuming the eBay prices drop somewhat on the unlocked 3G's," he wrote.

"If I was an AT&T customer, I would not upgrade. If I'm going to upgrade, I want something larger than what I have today (if I have an 8GB iPhone, I probably want to get at least a 16GB iPhone). But if I have a 16GB iPhone, I would want a 32GB iPhone. Did you see the price of the 32GB 3G S?  It's $699 for existing customers who want to upgrade! Check out the fine print."

Since the iPhone launched two years ago, the most requested features were tethering and MMS (multimedia messaging) support. Apple now has hardware support for both in the iPhone 3G S.

Tethering turns an iPhone into a wireless modem to connect laptops to 3G networks.

However, AT&T, the only official U.S. carrier for the iPhone, says that both new software features won't be immediately available, and it hasn't offered a date as to when they will be. The best it would say at the June 8 event was "later this year."

When AT&T does get its act together, there will be an additional cost. Users will have to upgrade their plans with a 5GB-per-month limit-and it will cost an extra $65 per month.

Francine Alfieri Brandt of Sherman Oaks, Calif., said: "Yes, I am definitely getting the new iPhone. The deal breaker for me is the new 'tethering' feature, especially for travel and other residences. This could potentially eliminate the use of cable or satellite services needed at home or abroad."

Tethering a Useful Feature

Brandt said she likes the tethering feature because it will enable links to her laptop via cable, for all the wider uses like printing, photos, video and communicating.

"My very first Mac laptop had a dock, and I loved being able to use it on the road, and then link it at home or work," Brandt said. "This is the next leap in technology. Higher-res photos (but still no built-in flash), video ... they finally, just about, have the ultimate communicator. Beam me up, Scottie!"

Daniel Drew Turner of Oakland, Calif., simply said he will probably replace his "failing first-gen iPhone" with a new 3G S.

August Sewell of Los Altos, Calif., told eWEEK: "The only real plus for me or what makes me interested in the new 3G S is speed. Although I will wait for at least another year before I maybe attempt to replace my current 3G."

Tim Preimesberger of Minneapolis said: "Though my BB [BlackBerry] is not Facebook compatible, it still works, therefore no iPhone. Also, it appears there are other cheaper options with the same or more features available now."

Kelly Brieger of Menlo Park, Calif., noted, "I'd have to say, in this economy, I'll stick with my regular 'old' iPhone 3G."

Brian Donnelly of Los Angeles wrote, "I have the current iPhone and will not get the new one. It's a love-hate thing ... love the phone, hate AT&T ... dropped calls, sketchy service (less bars)."

Matt Liotta of Atlanta was quite clear about his intentions: "As long as AT&T is the carrier, I will not buy an iPhone."

John Richard De Simio of Los Angeles had an unusual response: "Ask them [Apple] why they don't have an FM tuner built into the iPhone or iPod."

Well, Apple, why not?

Editor's note: This story was updated to add more detail about  the pricing for AT&T data and phone plans.

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