Carefully carried through the office like an unopened birthday present, the Apple iPhone 3G gently made its way to our desk. Floppy-haired co-workers eagerly huddled around, waiting for the screen to turn on and display all the new goodies the iPhone 3G has in store. Questions echoed around the room: would 3G be that much faster than EDGE? Does GPS make it a more useful phone?
There was simply no doubt that this is an exciting product, but after the hype dissolved and people went back to their desks, we had some important questions of our own to answer. If anything, Apple knows how to hype its products and for the most part it delivers, but the original iPhone wasn't perfect and we were determined to see whether the iPhone 3G had enough to offer over its predecessor to justify an upgrade.
The iPhone 3G is available to buy from Apple, Carphone Warehouse and O2's online and high street outlets. You can buy it on a monthly contract, starting at £30 a month with a £99 upfront charge for the 8GB model, or £159 for the 16GB. You can get it for free if you pay more than £45 a month. Alternatively there's a pay as you go option too, if you'd rather not be on a contract, but Apple hasn't yet announced the price.
When you open the lid of the iPhone 3G's compact box, you'll think it's not really that different to the original iPhone. The front section is indeed very similar to its predecessor -- the screen is the same size, the ear speaker and home key at the bottom look the same and the silver rim around the edges is the same as the old one too.
It's when you take the iPhone 3G out of its box that you start to see the differences. The back section features plastic instead of metal and curved edges similar to the MacBook Air's. Technically it's thicker than the original at its thickest point, but the curved edges genuinely make it feel thinner. You'd expect it to feel more flimsy, but the type of plastic used makes it feel quite solid -- we do expect it to get scratched though.
Something else completely different in design to the original iPhone is the headphone jack. The original iPhone features a recessed jack, which only allows you to use headphones with pins that fit through the gap. The iPhone 3G's headphone jack is flush against the edge, meaning you can plug in any headphones, which will make a massive difference to the sound quality you can enjoy.
Overall, the feel of the iPhone 3G is, as expected, superb. It feels every inch how you want a smart phone to feel. It's neither too heavy nor too light, it feels solid without being overly bulky, and the screen -- almost identical to the original iPhone's -- is a joy to look at.
When the iPhone first came out, many people were disappointed to see that it lacked 3G, among other things. As you may have gathered, Apple has fixed this -- in fact, it's gone one better and included HSDPA, which is an even faster version of 3G. And it makes a massive difference. Browsing the Web and watching YouTube videos is lightning fast compared to the old iPhone, which was hamstrung on EDGE. We loaded the Sky News homepage on the original iPhone in 1 minute 40 seconds. The iPhone 3G took just 40 seconds to load the same page -- over 2.5 times as fast.
GPS is another addition to the iPhone 3G's artillery -- and it blows the old model to smithereens. Compared to the original iPhone's cellular and Wi-Fi triangulation, using GPS on the iPhone 3G is far more accurate. GPS pinpointed our location to within metres rather than kilometres. For the time being it only works with Google Maps, which doesn't do voice navigation. Some pundits have suggested Apple isn't keen on third-party developers creating navigation apps, but we'll have to wait and see.
As for other apps, you'll be glad to know that the App Store is live and already features over 500 programs. You don't need to use the badly implemented Web-based apps anymore, or unlock your iPhone. Some of the apps come free, while others you have to pay for.
Apps range from simple games to Internet radio stations and it's extremely easy to download them. All you have to do is click on the desired app and it pops up in your iPhone 3G's menu, installing relatively quickly, depending on the size of the file. Most of the free apps aren't very useful, and some are frankly bizarre (such as an alarm that doesn't have a timer), but as the App Store increases in popularity we're sure much better free apps will appear.
As an iPod, there's little difference in sound quality between the original iPhone and the new 3G version. And that's through studio-grade reference headphones -- through bundled and inexpensive earphones, the difference between the two phones is all but non-existent. This is a good thing, since the sound quality is certainly impressive.
The iPod classic, for example, offers a slightly warmer sound, and is certainly the preferable performer to our ears. But listening to rock, folk, metal and pop, the iPhone 3G proved itself a smashing music player. And although its memory is limited, supporting lossless audio formats means it's capable of handling vastly superior audio when compared to almost every other phone ever made.
If you're not a big fan of listening to music, browsing the Web and downloading apps, then aside from wondering why you've bought an iPhone 3G, you may be pleased to know that it supports Microsoft Exchange. This lets you synchronise all your office emails, contacts and calendar entries over the air. You can also view Microsoft Office documents, but you can't edit them, which is frustrating.
While there are plenty of improvements on the iPhone 3G compared to the original iPhone, we're still disappointed to see that not all of the old problems have been resolved. The iPhone 3G's 2-megapixel camera isn't an improvement on the old one, there's no flash you still can't shoot video. MMS messages are still no go and there's no stereo Bluetooth to let you listen to music wirelessly.
Some of the above issues may be resolved with third-party apps, but the lack of movement in these areas is disappointing to say the least. In our opinion those are basic features that should come as standard on a high-end smart phone. On a similar note, given the iPhone 3G's spec, we also think that a VoIP client should have come with the new firmware as a cheaper way of making voice calls.
The iPhone 3G vastly supersedes the old iPhone when it comes to audio quality during calls. You can hear people loud and clear, with no noticeable distortion. The iPhone 3G's loudspeaker is also louder than its predecessor, but still not as loud as we'd like. Compared to the Nokia N82, the iPhone 3G operates at a whisper, and isn't great for sharing YouTube videos, for example.
We haven't had the iPhone long enough at this point to properly test the battery, but from our usage so far, we think it should last for around a day with moderate use of 3G and GPS. We'll update this section when we've exhausted the battery. There is an option to turn the 3G off if you want to save power. It's annoying that the battery cover still can't easily be removed, however.
The iPhone 3G is still hampered by a few minor problems that may or may not annoy you, such as the inability to send MMS, but overall we found it a joy to use. You don't immediately think, "Isn't it a shame it doesn't do that?" because what it does do well is so far in advance of other phones you almost forget its downsides.
If you're not tempted by the iPhone 3G, you could opt for the similarly specced Nokia N82, which also comes with HSDPA and GPS. If you're after a more affordable touchscreen phone, the Samsung Tocco has a responsive screen, but isn't as feature-rich as either the iPhone 3G or Nokia N82.
Edited by Nick Hide