Built To Last Roughly Two Years, or, 21 Months With An iPhone 3G

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It’s hard to think of an iPhone 3G as “old,” but my white iPhone 3G is certainly aging, and this weekend, it took a turn for the worse. No, I didn’t drop it, lose it, or accidentally crush it; all I did was flip the ringer switch to off. Yet less than two years after I bought it—21 months later, actually—that simple flick of the switch turned out to be one too many, as its polished metal half fell to the floor with nary a sound. And thus the iPhone 3G, my primary means of voice communication, added yet another entry to its list of build imperfections.


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My iPhone 3G has been in a case for nearly its entire life, a result of having read one too many reports of problems, and the nagging feeling that it wasn’t as tough as I might need it to be. Despite the protection, cracks began to form around the headphone port after ten months or so, multiplying and spreading to the rear of the case in greater number after Apple’s one-year warranty had expired.


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They have since been joined by a sunken power button, such that it is difficult to lock and unlock the device, dirt that has crept in underneath the glass front plate and the screen, presumably through one of the ports, and now the missing ring/silent switch.


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Plastic never seemed like the right material for the iPhone family—the original iPhone looked and felt just right by comparison; it’s still in physically great shape three years later. So I’m looking forward to celebrating the arrival of a new iPhone form factor with gusto, and hoping that the new model—whatever form it takes—proves more durable than the easily-damaged iPhone 3G, which hopefully will stay in one piece long enough to be replaced in June.

  1. I don’t own an iPhone, but I’ve always hated the plastic backing. I think you’re right — the plastic doesn’t really fit with what Apple is currently doing with a lot of its other products.

    I also like the original iPhone’s back. I hope they do something similar for the next iPhone, or at the very least, abandon the current plastic. Aluminum would be fantastic, but I think that would wreak havoc with getting decent cell phone signals.

  2. Great pics! And i have the same with my iphone 3G. Always in a casing but still the metal on the 3mm jacket has almost totally worn off and i have a crack at the apple connector to roughly 2cm to the center, been there for 6 months now. In September i get to renew my contract and hopefully i can get an iPhone HD at that time…

    Thanks for sharing this story!

  3. For being in a case for it’s entire life, the phone sure looks heavily worn. I have owned all three iterations of the iPhone and have kept all of them in cases. None of my phones ended up being scratched, cracked or otherwise problematic. My partner has my original iPhone and it is still in great shape…

  4. I have to agree with #4. I briefly used a hard-shell case with my 3GS, which not only *added* a few scratches to the back, but also funneled more dust and dirt into the bottom connector than the phone by itself. A dedicated pants pocket is all the “case” my iPhone needs.

  5. I don’t use a case and my iPhone 3GS is still in perfect condition. I think having a case may damage the phone faster since you tend to be less careful with it.

  6. I’ve had this happen to my iPhone 3G, I now currently own the 3Gs but do not worry, for this is repairable. You have to be very very careful but all you have to do is buy some superglue with a super fine tip, cut the tip so the minimal amount of glue can come out and squeeze the tube very carefully. add the smallest residue of glue to the inside of the button, being careful not to spill over the edges of the switch, immediately press the switch back inplace and hold for a minute or two… fixed. This repair held for another 7 months till I sold it on eBay.

  7. Wow. I’m stunned your phone looks that bad. I have a 3G that has some scratches, but nothing like that. Mine is only in a case sporadically, as well. I’ve found phone to be really solid, and i’ve always been surprised at iLounge’s obsession with full protection cases. Now I see why. You all just really abuse your phones!

  8. Wow, I’m really surprised, I’ve had my 3G since the day they were released and it doesn’t show anything like the wear yours is showing. My phone is black but that shouldn’t be a factor. I carry mine in a belt case but nothing on the phone itself so maybe there is something to the issue of a full time installed case on the phone.

  9. I still am using my original iPhone (29 months in service) and it is still running and looking great. Like many others have said, I never really cared for the plastic back of the 3G/3GS. I am definitely upgrading this summer so I am hoping the rumors of the new cermanic/flat black are true.

  10. Knowing how hard I am with my cell phones, I bought an Otter Box case for my iPhone (Model A2141) and do not have any of the problems listed above. I take it out and give it a once over every other month.

  11. I have a black 3G that has been in service 16 months, since Dec. 08′ and it has a few cracks that until reading this article I’ve never noticed. It does stay in it’s rubber case 24/7 so I’m not surprised that I didn’t notice. Everything still works well on my phone EXCEPT the battery. Within the last 2 months or so the battery, when fully charged, will only last for 24 to 36 hours. Sadly, when this happens the phone in on stand-by with less than 45 minutes of talk and web browsing. I intended to get the “iPhone HD” when it comes out but now I’m starting to think Droid. And that makes me sad!!

  12. I’ve tried to take the best care for my iPhone 3G, and I can’t wait for the new iPhone. My volume down button hardly works, and my silent switch, while still moves, never enters silent mode any more. The closest I get to silent is making my ringtone as low as possible, that’s if I can get the volume down.

  13. My wife and I both have iPhone 3G’s. Her ringer switch broke similar to that shown above (except we didn’t find it).
    We took it to an Apple Store just before the 12 month warranty and the staff checked the phone, said it appeared to have been well looked after and replaced it on the spot.
    My iPhone is still in good condition as is my wife’s newer iPhone is too (no cases, just screen protectors).
    Having said that, we both took out AppleCare Protection Plans just in case.
    Would definitely be considering upgrade later this year to get full functionality of iPhone OS4.

  14. My ringer switch broke around month 14 or 15. Mine broke after I dropped it on its face. The Griffin hard plastic case it was in probably prevented damage to the screen, but based on the design of the cut-out, I suspect the case itself had something to do with the ringer switch breaking off.

    I think there may be something to the suspicions that some cases may do more harm than good. The first case I ever bought was a ‘rubber’ Speck ToughSkin for my iPod Video. After three months of use, I took the iPod out of this case only to discover most of the back had been scratched to hell by tiny dust particles which had found their way into the case. I think these cases can give you a false sense of security.

  15. I dont and never had a problem with my iPhone. All the components are there, not worn at all. I got a very good case though a Incipio Sycrilic case. I also put alot of care and concern into my iPhone. I have had it for almost a year (12 months in June I believe) and its one of the greatest gifts I have ever got. It changed my life. I used to run home to check my email, websites, etc. Now I can do it anywhere. Check out the best spots to eat, order Dominos from the living room couch, etc. LOVE THE iPHONE!

  16. I am glad that my 3GS is still in perfect condition after 10 months. The phone is always in a silicone case (Speck Pixelskin if it matters) but my trick is take the phone out of the case and rinse the case quite frequently. Also air blow all the ports of the iphone to avoid dust accumulation. I also have the screen protector as well as a body protection film. However, the Bodyguardz on my 3GS and the SGP shield on my gf’s 3GS are different story. They get heavy stains after 3 months. We have been travelling to a country for 3 weeks where the humid weather and a dusty environment which i think contribute to that.

  17. I had an iPhone 3G in white, and it developed those same cracks.

    However, Apple considers this a defect, and you CAN get a brand new one (well, a refurb) even though you’re out of warranty. They replaced mine twice, as both models eventually cracked.

    Frankly, the plastic 3G iPhone was a huge turnoff for me, and its cheapness (in comparison to the original which I loved dearly) combined with AT&T led to me heading to the Verizon Droid.

    I’m excited about the iPad though, it seems to return to the build that captured my fancy so much originally.

  18. Apple are very good at replacing defective handsets. So far they have changed my 3G 9 times. I have never been a fan of the plastic casing. And will be glad when the new model comes out.

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