The 3G iPhone: 3 Weeks In

There are 3,000 iPhone 3G reviews floating about from mega-blogs, but I know that you're curious about my take on the subject. So what do I think of the iPhone 3G? I'm glad you asked. I'm going to skip all of the iPhone 3G 101 that you might find in a standard review and focus on my opinion of the particulars.

Introductory Thoughts

I've been in the market for a new phone for several months. Because of the advanced capabilities of modern smart phones, this genre appealed to me. I was previously rolling with a two-year old Samsung T509 candy bar phone on T-Mobile service with no text-messaging plan. Almost any new smart phone would have blown away my old gear, so take this review with a grain of salt if you're a smart phone veteran. However, my overall opinion is that this little piece of glossy black goodness kicks a lot of ass. It does 100 different things, some of which I've always wanted in a phone and some of which I love but never expected from a phone. Furthermore, it does them well and it does them simply. The iPhone 3G strikes me more as a mobile computing platform than a phone, and it's awesome to have a computer in your pocket 24/7.

What's Awesome?

Text like iChat

Stores text messages as a conversation, much like Gmail or iChat. SMSs from me are bubbled in green on the right side of the screen. SMSs from my contacts are bubbled in gray on the left side of the screen. I can see conversations from days ago simply by scrolling with my finger.

Touch-screen interface

While I've never owned a smart phone, I have used smart phones with both click wheels and directional pads. The iPhone's touch screen is better than both, and by a fair margin. Scrolling with your finger is intuitive and just works. The gestures for zooming in and out are also clutch.

Assisted GPS

While there is currently no voice assisted turn-by-turn directions (promised to be in the works) the existing aGPS functionality is 95% of what I want. I can plot a route, see my current position in Google Maps as it moves, and easily mark locations and addresses. All I really want from a GPS is to orient me to unfamiliar areas, give me a map to plot a route, and give me street information as I approach. The aGPS of the iPhone 3G performs that function admirably.

iPhone maps

Applications, aka “The App Store”

I've got access to a ton of applications, many of them free, that directly enhance my mobile experience. I've got easy access to Facebook, Twitter, all things Google, weather, movies, and even 13 versions of the Bible. I don't have to navigate a web browser to use these functions, just a custom-designed touch screen interface.

This is how easy and fast we're talking.

In 94 seconds I just:

  • Checked my friends' statuses on Facebook.
  • Tweeted on Twitter (didn't actually hit the send button to keep from spamming)
  • Checked weather radar for my location
  • Pulled up my current location in Google Maps
  • Looked at a picture and synopsis of the four most recent news stories on the New York Times.
  • Checked the high bid on an item I currently have listed on Ebay.
  • Activated a station on Pandora, which I'm now listening to.

94 seconds. I didn't run the test multiple times to get a fast time. I didn't game the applications to already have the information available. I just started my stopwatch and winged it.

What's Pretty Cool?

3G and Wifi data speeds

At home I get 1M/133k from 3G and 4M/500k from Wifi.

User interface

Apple apparently knew that I don't keep a magnifying glass handy at all times so they made icons, buttons, and options big enough both to see and to hit with my fingers. Kudos. Phone, Mail, Web Browser, and iPod buttons are conveniently located in an ever-present task bar at the bottom of the screen.

Music to phone and back again

When I'm listening to music and receive a call, the iPhone mutes the music until the call is over, after which the music resumes.

Multi-tasking while on a call

I can easily access contacts and other functions while in a call. I now have the much sought after yet highly elusive ability to enter contact information on the iPhone while I receive it from someone via the iPhone. This has been a frustration for years.

Quick and painless setup

Setting up both my corporate and personal email was a snap. They each took about two minutes.


What's Par for the Course?

2.0 megapixels

Camera is adequate for my needs. I don't mind that it's just 2.0 megapixels.

Sound quality

Sound quality and volume are both good, even in speaker mode.

Contact syncing and email

Contacts system is easy to use and thorough, but I wish I had a native module within iTunes to edit and sync contacts. Email is user friendly and easy to use.

Flash media

Like most other smart phones, mobile flash media doesn't work natively within the web browser. There is a standalone YouTube application to satisfy this common need.

Lack of keypad

Touch screen keypad works fine for me. I vastly prefer the ability to have a large screen 100% of the time rather than a physical, tactile keypad that I use 25% of the time.

What Could Use Improvement?

Buggy apps

Finding quality applications on the App Store can be a chore. The “Top Apps” section of the iTunes store is essentially the only resource other than manually browsing and reading reviews.

Furthermore, some apps are buggy, quirky, or just don't work. All of the top apps have great functionality, but some of the oddball apps don't have much quality control. The volume bar at the bottom of the screen for Pandora is very difficult to “grab.” I don't know if this is a hardware or software issue.

More landscape

Most applications don't make enough use of landscape mode. So far I've only been able to use landscape mode in Mobile Safari and the NY Times application. I want to type SMSs using the slightly larger keypad.

Occasional reboot

Sometimes unexpectedly starts to lag while typing or refuses to regain a signal after loosing it. A reboot fixes this, but it's a minor annoyance.

What Stinks?

Battery life is atrocious

I have yet to get two full days from a charge. The iPhone goes dead about 3-8 PM on the second day, depending on frequency and type of use. A car charger and consistent charging plan is an absolute necessity.

Rate plans are uber-expensive

A “somewhat expensive yet still reasonable” family plan with shared minutes and family unlimited SMS was the deciding factor that made me bite. An individual user is in for hefty monthly charges to the tune of $100 per month should he go this alone.

Parting Thoughts

There you have it. While not without flaws, the iPhone 3G is a wonderful mobile computing platform that also happens to be a wonderful phone, GPS, web browser, and general communication device. Some opponents view the iPhone and its acceptance as an almost political issue. Apple's structuring of iPhone Apps and draconian rules about sharing information between developers has caused considerable and understandable outrage in the tech community. However, I found long ago that if I only support companies/artists/individuals that agree with my world-view then I will have a very boring life. I have yet to find a product that offers better functionality, price, and ease of use than the iPhone 3G, and that is what ultimately matters. I think if I base my consumer electronic decisions on that criterion then the free market will work out the rest.

Have an iPhone? Thinking of getting one? Continue the discussion in the comments.

Jeff Barnett

Jeff Barnett is an entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast, and former Marine. He has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. When you don't find him wakeboarding, writing, or eating meat off the bone, he's at his startup, CrossFit Impulse.