As long-time iLounge readers know, we devote considerable time and energy to testing new iPod and iPhone products, running hard-core battery, audio, video, and other tests prior to publishing our reviews. Since Apple handed out advance free units to its favorite reviewers, hoping to get the most favorable iPhone 3G reviews out in advance of the product’s release, we have decided to publish our production model iPhone 3G’s test results as we go through the process, starting immediately so that buyers can get as much accurate information about the new device before making a purchase.
You can find our test results, updated continuously, by clicking on the article’s headline above. We will also respond to reader questions as convenient throughout the process. Our Gallery of iPhone 3G unpacking and comparison photos is also available.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G Calling Test results:
With the iPhone on its standard network and the iPhone 3G on the 3G network, we made sets of two telephone calls simultaneously, keeping the iPhone and iPhone 3G in use at the same time, and asked a discerning caller to tell us how we sounded, while listening for how the caller sounded as well. We tested the iPhones this way in handset, speakerphone, and Bluetooth modes. Our caller said that the overall sound signatures of the two phones were the same; neither one possessed heavier bass, treble, or midrange emphasis.
In handset mode: With the iPhone being used as a handset, without earphones, speakerphone, or Bluetooth engaged, our caller described us as sounding virtually identical between the two phones. On our side, at similar volume levels, the iPhone 3G call had a slight, unimportant edge on clarity.
In speakerphone mode: On our simultaneous call, our caller told us that we sounded noticeably better on the iPhone than on the iPhone 3G. By contrast, our caller sounded somewhat louder at the iPhone 3G’s maximum speaker volume than on the iPhone. Contrary to comments made by Apple’s handpicked reviewers, we did not find the difference between old and new iPhone speaker levels in calling mode to be extreme. We suspect that this may be because Apple changed the original iPhone’s speaker at some point during production, diminishing its performance, as we have read scattered reports from readers that their iPhone speakerphone levels were too low, and saw no improvement when Apple released a firmware update claiming to improve speaker performance. A production change might explain this difference.
In Bluetooth mode: We paired the exact same Bluetooth headset, the multi-point, Bluetooth 2.0-capable BlueAnt Z9i, simultaneously with both the iPhone and iPhone 3G. This headset has the ability to switch between multiple Bluetooth devices on the fly, so we used it to compare wireless sound quality between both phones on the same phone call. Our caller told us that, unlike the iPhone in handset and speakerphone modes, the iPhone 3G sounded “noticeably” better than the original iPhone in Bluetooth mode, with superior clarity.
We did not experience any unusual echoing effect with the Z9i, again contrary to what one early reviewer reported; this may have been caused by an unfamiliar or problematic accessory. We’re going to continue testing for this.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G versus iPod touch Screen Comparisons:
As was the case with the iPhone and the iPod touch, the iPhone and iPhone 3G screens are not exactly the same as one another. Resolution and physical size are the same, at 480×320 and 3.5” on the diagonal, but color balance and viewing angles differ from unit to unit. In direct comparison to one another, the color balance on our iPhone was slightly blue relative to the iPhone 3G, which has a slight yellow tint. Our most recent iPod touch – our fourth replacement unit – by comparison has a slightly more pure white screen. The viewing angle on the iPhone appears to be a little better than the iPhone 3G and the most recent iPod touch we’ve tested, with more of a tendency to show negative blacks on certain angles.
Note, however, that these comparison results may not reflect the experiences of all users. Apple has been switching screen suppliers without informing customers, so both original iPhones and iPod touches have varied from one another in screen quality. We would describe iPhone 3G’s screen as a hint below the iPhone’s on viewing angle, a little better on color balance, equivalent on brightness, resolution, and size, and otherwise extremely similar.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G Camera Test results:
Though the iPhone 3G’s 2.0-Megapixel, fixed-lens camera was not dramatically changed from its predecessor from a hardware standpoint, Apple claimed prior to the iPhone 3G that software tweaks would improve its performance. To see whether the same software tweaks might have benefitted the original iPhone when updated to version 2.0 of its system software, we did comparison tests yesterday between iPhone 1.1.4 and iPhone 2.0 camera performance, finding no difference between them.
Our comparison test shots from the iPhone 2.0 and iPhone 3G cameras revealed very small differences. It should be noted up front that our test iPhone’s camera has been subjected to plenty of potential lens abuse thanks to the lack of really excellent lens protectors out there, and we’ve noticed over times that images are slightly less sharp than they were when the iPhone was fresh out of the box. Consequently, we don’t think that any tiny sharpness differences evident here are truly the result of the iPhone 3G being better; it’s just that the iPhone is older.
We held both devices next to each other when taking these images, attempting to keep the shots as close to one another as possible in exposure and shakiness. Most of the shots appeared more or less identical, however, the iPhone 3G’s camera appeared to produce outdoor photos with more of a blue tint, versus the more naturally colored iPhone’s, as shown in the plant shots here. Both sensor resolution and actually captured detail appeared to be the same between them, as did the graininess users always experience when trying to take photographs in dimly lit rooms.
Neither camera seemed more responsive in previewing or taking pictures, and neither seemed better than the other at reducing shake or motion blur; note that we did shake a little because it was hard to grip and shoot pictures with both cameras at once. Our impression is that, contrary to Apple’s claim, there’s no tangible improvement to the iPhone 3G’s camera, and in some conditions, you may find its color rendition a bit worse. Both cameras now geotag their results with current latitude and longitude coordinates; the iPhone 3G’s tag is more likely to be a little more precise thanks to its integrated GPS, a generally unimportant difference.
iPhone versus Black iPhone 3G: Physical Differences
We would normally be reluctant to use the word “nauseating” in a discussion of Apple products, but the way that our iPhone 3G looked right out of the box—covered in the fingerprints and smudges of the AT&T employee who opened the box and activated it—was just that disgusting. These are photos of how the iPhone 3G looked straight out of the box when we went to photograph it; we had wanted to purchase a white one to avoid these sorts of issues in our photography, but Apple apparently didn’t ship anywhere near enough white units, so we were stuck with a black one.
With the original iPhone, Apple’s matte finished plastic and metal rear shells may have picked up scuffs, dings, and minor discolorations, but they didn’t show fingerprints and smudges unless you literally ate fried chicken with your fingers before touching the device. iPhone 3G may well be Apple’s most easily smudged device to date, outdoing the original iPod nano and iPod video in ease of glazing. We fully expect to have to towel it off before every round of pictures we take, and as previously noted, protective film or cases are most certainly in its future. It’s obvious why Apple was so afraid to let people photograph it after its WWDC unveiling.
The only good news, sort of, is that the included cleaning cloth can bring the device closer to cleanliness—assuming you carry it around. Unfortunately, our chrome Apple logo was already permanently scratched by the time we opened the package ourselves; expect the same thing to happen if your phone, like ours, is left on a hard surface during an in-store activation process.
iPhone versus White iPhone 3G: Physical Differences
When the fifth-generation iPod and first-generation iPod nano were discontinued, it looked like the end of white as a color for Apple’s pocket devices, but the iPhone 3G’s white version has rejuvenated the color.
Simply put, the white version doesn’t show smudges to anywhere near the extent of the black one. While it still gets marked up fairly easily, you won’t notice fingerprints unless they’re from something other than finger oils.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G: Music/Non-Calling Audio Differences
Though the iPhone 3G’s newly metal-grilled bottom speaker and microphone didn’t make a profound difference in telephone calling, the speaker is a little more powerful than the original iPhone’s, which makes music or the audio portion videos a little easier to hear over ambient noise. The audio sounds slightly more full-bodied on the iPhone 3G than on the iPhone, as well.
However, the major difference between these two devices isn’t the speaker, but rather what comes out of the headphone port. Everyone knows that Apple has fixed the first iPhone’s incompatibility with common 3.5mm headphone plugs, but what hasn’t been widely reported is that the iPhone 3G most certainly has a new audio chip, quite likely the same Cirrus Logic one that made it into the iPod classic. Direct comparisons between the iPhone 3G and original iPhone showed that the new model has an almost completely clean noise floor, just like the iPod classic, rather than the comparatively noisier iPhone, which used a similar Wolfson Audio sound chip to the iPod nano, 5G, and touch products. We have more testing to do on this front, but what we can say is that the iPhone 3G sounds hugely cleaner with a high-end pair of earphones than the original model.
Initial tests of the Dock Connector output from the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPod classic suggest that the iPhone 3G and iPod classic’s line-level output is extremely similar, with the iPhone sounding more or less the same. One interesting difference between the units: TDMA noise, also known as iPhone cell phone interference, isn’t exactly the same. When the iPhone 3G is in EDGE mode, it’s just as annoying as the iPhone when you’re near unshielded speakers. But if it’s on a 3G network, the interference changes; it becomes much quieter, and sounds like a low laser buzz instead of a chirp. In fact, the 3G interference is low enough in volume and pitch that some people won’t even notice it when using older, unshielded speakers.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G: Maps and GPS
One of the only well-publicized hardware changes from the iPhone to the iPhone 3G was Apple’s addition of GPS to the new device, but the exact functionality of the feature has been obscure up until now. When Steve Jobs demonstrated GPS in an unusually dry portion of the device’s WWDC keynote speech, he made clear that the device was capable of tracking your location, but stopped short of saying that it could actually be used for what people really wanted – turn-by-turn driving directions with the Google Maps feature.
How well does the GPS actually track your location when you’re using Maps? When we tested it in a convertible with the top up, the answer was “pretty well,” but qualified by a few realities: first, the iPhone’s Maps software doesn’t use typical GPS techniques for locking your current position to what’s on the map. Instead of assuming that your little blue dot needs to travel on the white lines on Google’s maps as you drive, the dot inaccurately ducks off to the left and right sometimes, and if you’re rounding a corner, the dot sometimes goes off the street onto what would be a yard, driveway, or parking lot. Typical GPS software makes educated guesses as to how you’re traveling on the streets, rather than grass, dirt, and lakes, and queries a bunch of different satellites to get accurate positional data. On curvy roads, it seemed like the iPhone was either getting less satellite data, or making less intelligent decisions about where you’re likely to be at a given moment, perhaps both. That said, we noted that it was surprisingly accurate on straight roads, properly pinpointing our positions relative to various intersections as we drove through them.
A second issue is that Apple has done nothing to automate Maps’ movement in ways that would make the GPS feature truly useful. When your blue dot moves on or off the Map, the screen doesn’t automatically move along with it, either via recentering or zooming. There’s also currently no way to switch from the fixed map position to one that rotates with compass movements. It is unclear whether the iPhone’s GPS hardware is going to remain limited by its software, or whether the problem is in the opposite direction; in any case, buying an iPhone 3G over a Garmin unit for GPS navigation purposes would be a huge mistake.
As a third issue, the iPhone’s lack of built-in map data—and corresponding need to query the Internet for current position information—is both a blessing and a curse. At any given moment, you could conceivably have the most up-to-date map information possible, with new roads, restaurants, and addresses added in realtime rather than waiting for a “Navigation System DVD Update.” However, during our test drive, the iPhone lost connection with a 3G network tower and the map went blank, needing to reconnect to acquire map data again. When it did re-acquire the map, though, it quickly knew our precise location better than the original, semi-location-aware iPhone.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G: Accessory Compatibility Testing
Another difference Apple snuck into the iPhone 3G is the latest change to its ever-shifting definition of Dock Connector accessory compatibility.
Last year, Apple broke video accessory compatibility with the iPhone, then the iPod classic, nano, and touch. Virtually every previously released third-party video dock, cable, and portable display accessory just stopped working properly; Apple left developers with huge stocks of products they couldn’t sell, and consumers were forced to go out and buy replacements for accessories that were supposedly iPod-compatible. This time, Apple has quietly discontinued support for certain types of charging accessories, namely ones that used the FireWire standard rather than USB. Unlike the video accessory change, developers should have known that this one was coming for a long while, so you’re less likely to be affected if you’ve made a recent purchase.
Because of this change, in addition to old accessories such as Belkin’s Auto Kit and Bose’s original SoundDock—identified by one of Apple’s hand-selected reviewers as no longer capable of charging the iPhone 3G—you’ll find that more recent accessories such as XtremeMac’s RoadShow have also stopped working in any way. They’ll bring up a passive screen that says “Charging is not supported by this accessory,” then a new nag screen that says “This accessory is not made to work with iPhone – Charging is not supported.” For RoadShow, which only did two things—AV-out and charging—this change kills any last vestige of utility the old accessory might have had, requiring the purchase of at least a new charger.
iPhone versus iPhone 3G: EDGE vs. 3G Data Speeds
The single most notable feature of the iPhone, and the one that was changed to make last year’s device more palatable to international customers, is its inclusion of “3G” networking capabilities—the ability to use higher-speed cellular networks that have been taking the place of older GPRS and EDGE towers. Apple has pitched the 3G functionality as offering “twice the speed” of the prior iPhone, a statistic that has been alternately repeated and questioned; 3G networks are theoretically capable of far more than twice EDGE’s speeds, but in practice, some buyers will find that their 3G performance is good, some will find it weak, and some will find it entirely non-existent where they live. By creating the iPhone 3G and then allowing AT&T to require all customers—including those in many U.S. states without 3G coverage—to sign up for the more expensive $30 data plan rather than the $20 EDGE plan, Apple has put some users into a comparatively poor economic situation without giving them any performance benefit.
What about where 3G works? The iPhone’s performance appears to vary considerably from location to location. In our East Amherst, New York office, the results of two different web site iPhone speed tests placed the iPhone and iPhone 3G at very comparable speeds even though the iPhone 3G was on the more expensive, newer 3G network. We saw a speed of 172kbps for the iPhone and 175kbps for the iPhone 3G, with another site showing 106.7kbps versus 106.8kbps—basically no real difference. Then we tried a third site, and saw the iPhone 3G receive a 3G network speed slower than the EDGE one. Shocked by these numbers, we tried to load four different web sites on each device at the same time, and came up with the following results:
CNN (original site): iPhone 3G – 1 Minute 49 seconds, iPhone – 2 minutes 4 seconds. iPhone 3G was 14% faster.
Apple.com: iPhone 3G – 29 seconds, iPhone – 36 seconds. iPhone 3G was 24% faster.
iLounge: iPhone 3G – 52 Seconds, iPhone – 1 minute 6 seconds. iPhone 3G was 27% faster.
iHomeaudio.com: iPhone 3G – 38 seconds, iPhone – 53 seconds. iPhone 3G was 39% faster.
Overall, the average speed difference we saw across these four sites was an improvement of only 26%. Notably, both our iPhone and iPhone 3G are showing two or three bars of signal strength, and it is quite possible that bigger gains are evident when 3G signal strength is higher; then again, it is possible that a stronger 2G signal could be of similar benefit. For reference, we also ran tests using the iPhone 3G’s Wi-Fi mode, which was several seconds faster at rendering web pages than the original iPhone’s Wi-Fi, for whatever reason. Here are those results.
CNN (original site): iPhone 3G – 1 Minute 49 seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 30 seconds. Wi-Fi was 363% faster than our 3G result.
Apple.com: iPhone 3G – 29 seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 10 seconds. Wi-Fi was 290% faster than our 3G result.
iLounge: iPhone 3G – 52 Seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 22 seconds. Wi-Fi was 236% faster than our 3G result.
iHomeaudio.com: iPhone 3G – 38 seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 5 seconds. Wi-Fi was 760% faster than our 3G result.
On average, Wi-Fi offered 4 times the speed of the 3G connection here. We are running tests elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, and will try elsewhere in Western New York, and will report the results when we have them. Our suspicion is that the numbers will vary considerably from place to place, depending on the location and quality of 3G network towers.
This evening, we added additional testing results from Orange County, California. Here they are.
CNN (original site): iPhone 3G – 31.6 seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 26.6 seconds.
Apple.com: iPhone 3G – 14.4 seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 11.6 seconds.
iLounge: iPhone 3G – 38.2 Seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 24.4 seconds.
iHomeaudio.com: iPhone 3G – 13.5 seconds, iPhone 3G Wi-Fi – 5.3 seconds.
These results show fairly consistent Wi-Fi times, but major differences in 3G performance – two or three times faster than the exact same phone operating in a different city. In other words, even if you live in a place with 3G coverage, you may wind up with performance only slightly better than the prior iPhone, but then, you may see substantial performance gains. While you should not expect the iPhone 3G to beat Wi-Fi speeds under any situation save for a really slow Wi-Fi network, under some circumstances, speeds may come close.
On Saturday morning, we added additional testing results from Las Vegas, Nevada. Here they are.
CNN (original site): iPhone 3G – 36.2 seconds.
Apple.com: iPhone 3G – 16.0 seconds.
iLounge: iPhone 3G – 38.3 seconds.
iHomeaudio.com: iPhone 3G – 15.6 seconds.
Headphone Port Problems
During phone testing of one of our two iPhone 3G units, we were surprised to discover that phone calls would spontaneously end when the headphone plug was pulled out of the port. We were able to reproduce the issue over and over again with that unit, our white 16GB model, but found that our black 8GB unit had no such problem. Just for the sake of testing, we also tried the same test with the same headphones on an original iPhone, which didn’t have the issue; this appears to be a limited defect rather than a general one.
More details to come shortly…