Review: Apple iPhone 3G (8GB/16GB)
Pros: A faster and more capable version of last year’s breakthrough mobile phone, preserving the world’s best cell phone operating system, a strong combination of voice and data communication features, and iPod-class audio, video, and photo functionality, while adding impressive third-party software expandability and features for business users. Offers enhanced compatibility with international telephone networks, including high-speed towers, as well as keyboard and language support for users in most of the world’s countries. Now includes GPS for limited purposes, and superior sound quality, particularly through its redesigned headphone port.
Cons: Overall cost of ownership is higher than prior model, despite regressing from last year’s stunning design, screen quality, and pack-ins. Battery life for key phone and data features is significantly worse than before, such that users will likely require inconvenient mid-day recharging. Service contracts require additional payment for 3G data services, despite inconsistent or unavailable regional coverage and performance; callers reported certain in-call sound inconsistencies. New model further decreases compatibility with past iPod accessories, including popular ones, while both camera and screen now have noticeable color tints. Defects and battery replacement will likely require Apple Store or other warranty attention during period of use; purchasing and activation can range from simple to confusing or nightmarish depending on your local service provider.
By the standards of its predecessor, which was wildly hyped and impressive, but also too expensive and slow—two of several reasons it was ultimately less successful than originally predicted—the iPhone 3G has taken several steps forward and several steps back. It is unquestionably more impressive overall than the original iPhone was last year, thanks to its added 3G and GPS wireless antennas, new software, and improved iPod audio quality, but it is saddled with mediocre battery life, small screen and camera color issues, more onerous contract obligations, highly variable data speeds, and a case design that is not as sharp as its predecessor’s.
The latter issue can almost be put aside, assuming you don’t mind the near constant presence of fingerprints on things you use every day, but depending on your needs, the other issues are serious: do you really want to have to recharge your phone all the time? Do you mind a slightly yellow screen or a slightly blue camera? Given what AT&T has put even loyal customers through to get this year’s model, do you really want to buy in now rather than waiting for the inevitable sequel? And is your local 3G network coverage good enough to merit paying a $10-$15 premium over last year’s data rates?
Whether you’re a past iPhone owner thinking of upgrading, or someone new to the iPhone family, our advice regarding the iPhone 3G is very straightforward. Since Apple doesn’t sell an alternative to this phone, and you presently have no option but to accept the 3G data plan regardless of whether the service works well where you live, we’d advise prospective buyers to stop by a local store at some point after Apple has resolved its activation issues, see how the floor display iPhone 3Gs look, and if all seems good, try one for a week or two. If the speed, battery life, or contract terms aren’t totally satisfactory, return it and get a refund. Unlike the prior iPhone, which worked pretty much the same for everyone who bought it, the results you’ll get from the iPhone 3G will vary a lot on where and what type of user you are; a hands-on test with the ability to return the phone is the safest way to see if it fits your needs. If it doesn’t, even as good as the iPhone 3G may be for some people, the speed of its release should help you rest easier that a better sequel is just around the corner.