Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the label that Apple has chosen for the second version of its popular smart phone sums up the unit awfully well. The iPhone 3G is more or less the same device as the one Apple launched in June 2007, with the addition of a faster, so-called third-generation cellular radio.
However, the iPhone is better positioned to take advantage of a cellular speed-up than most other smart phones, as Apple’s device boasts an excellent Web browser, an uncommonly large display and an effective mechanism for zooming in and out of Web pages and other content.
Toss in the new features included with the iPhone’s 2.0 firmware-such as support for Exchange ActiveSync and for Cisco Systems’ VPN appliances, and for natively running third-party applications (see our story, iPhone 2.0 Raises Device’s Enterprise Profile)-and the iPhone 3G easily qualifies as the most impressive smart phone I’ve ever tested.
Still, the iPhone 3G falls short of earning eWEEK Labs’ Analyst’s Choice designation, due to a set of enterprise management shortfalls, including the iPhone’s reliance on Apple’s music store front end, iTunes, for device updates, and the relatively immature state of Apple’s device management tools.
Management warts aside, Apple’s iPhone 3G is well worth considering as a business tool, as it provides a compelling mobile portal both to Web-based applications and to the emerging crop of iPhone native applications.
The iPhone 3G comes in a $199 model with 8GB of storage capacity and a $299 model with 16GB of storage. Both models require a two-year service contract with AT&T, which includes a voice plan along with a $30-per-month unlimited data plan or a $45-per-month enterprise data plan. AT&T broadly defines enterprise access as “access [to] corporate e-mail, company intranet sites and/or other business solutions/applications.”
iPhone 3G in Action
It’s up to the 3G’s namesake 3G and 802.11b/g radios to keep the device tethered to the cloud, and the radio duo performs this task fairly well, even if AT&T’s spotty 3G network coverage means frequent fallbacks to the slower EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) technology.
During my tests of the iPhone 3G from various locations in and around eWEEK’s San Francisco offices, I clocked transfer rates of between 90K and 164K bps in EDGE mode, and between 300K and 747K bps in 3G mode. I also recorded a significant improvement in latency between the EDGE and 3G modes, with an average ping response of 476 milliseconds on the 3G link, compared with 779 ms on EDGE. I conducted my tests with DSL Reports’ iPhone-optimized Web test tool.
There have been reports of voice call drops and related unreliability with the iPhone 3G, but in my tests of the 3G, I’ve found its voice performance was unremarkable. As I moved through the city, I would sometimes encounter holes in coverage, and could see the iPhone move between its 3G and EDGE modes, but the experience was similar to that with other cellular handsets I’ve tested.
In addition to the new radio, the iPhone 3G sports a GPS receiver, which supplements the cell station and wireless access point-based location awareness facilities present in the earlier iPhone. I tested GPS along with the copy of Google Maps that ships with the iPhone while driving and noted that my position on the map changed as I moved along the interstate. The driving directions I’d generated, however, did not update-Apple’s iPhone SDK (software development kit) bans developers from designing or marketing real-time route guidance applications.
I look forward to seeing what application developers make of the GPS receiver, but wonder whether Apple’s restrictions and the absence of GPS in the earlier iPhone version will slow the availability of GPS-oriented applications for the 3G.
The iPhone 3G has slightly larger overall footprint than the Windows Mobile-based Treo 800w that eWEEK Labs recently reviewed, but the 3G is thinner and weighs a bit less than the 800w. The 3G measures 4.5 by 2.4 by 0.48 inches and weighs in at 4.7 ounces, compared with 4.41 by 2.28 by 0.73 inches and 5 ounces for the 800w.
As with the previous-generation iPhone, Apple has set aside the bulk of the unit’s area for a relatively large, touch-sensitive 480-by-320-pixel display, at the cost of a physical keyboard or keypad. In my experience, the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard is not as effective as a dedicated keyboard device, like the one that graces Palm’s Treo devices. This is a matter of personal taste-my colleague, Andrew Garcia, takes the opposite view. However, keyboard quality aside, I find mobile devices more useful for information-viewing than for entry, which is why I hold that the limited real estate on the device is better devoted to the unit’s 3.5-inch-diagonal display.
The 3G is reportedly (Apple doesn’t publicly disclose this information) powered by a Samsung 620MHz ARM processor and packs 128MB of RAM. I found that the iPhone 3G handled its Apple-provided and third-party application load well and performed responsively. During the course of my testing over two months, I did experience a number of unexpected reboots, but nothing like what I experience with my own Treo 650 handset.
The iPhone 3G ships with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, but offers no option for storage expansion. Storage cards can be useful for deployment, for moving data around and, in some cases, for helping with authentication. It would be great to see Apple offer an expansion slot in a future iPhone model.
Also relegated to the “I would like to see” category is the oft-requested removable iPhone battery. As in the previous model, the 3G’s battery is not user-replaceable. However, Apple has drastically reduced the size of the iPhone’s wall outlet adapter, which, along with the product’s iPod-standard USB sync cable, makes for a pocketable charging package.
Apple rates the 3G’s battery for 5 hours of talk time in 3G mode or 10 hours of talk time in 2G (EDGE) mode, and for up to 300 hours of standby time. In my tests, the iPhone’s battery lasted through around 7 hours of talk time. In daily use, I found that the iPhone ran short on power toward the end of the day-heavy iPhone 3G users will find a combination of diligent home, car and office charging essential for staying connected via the device.
eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]