Apple iPhone 3G – Regular Smart Phone or Technology Breakthrough?

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Originally published – July 2008)

I’m a PC, as the Windows Vista-bashing commercials go, but I have always admired Macs and other Apple products for their style and quality. I do own an iPod Shuffle, but never switched to Mac computers due to the lack of games and gaming capabilities. But when the iPhone was first released last year, that changed everything.

I just had to have one, but alas they were not released in Canada. No, we Canadians would have to wait until version 2.0.

On June 9, 2008 Steve Jobs, the infamous CEO of Apple launched the next version of iPhone, at an even lower price than the first, stating that “Just one year after launching the iPhone, we’re launching the new iPhone 3G that is twice as fast at half the price.” The great news was, that the pricing would be the same in most countries – just $199 for an 8GB or $299 for the 16GB version.

Immediately after the launch, Rogers formally announced that the iPhone 3G would be available for sale in Canada on July 11, 2008. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

Because I still had my Telus phone until October, I decided I was going to hold out for as long as I could…besides the monthly Rogers pricing was quite expensive. In fact there was a public outcry and rumour that Apple itself had contacted Rogers directly to communicate their “disgust” in Roger’s proposed monthly charges. By launch time, Roger’s did in fact change their plan pricing to include essentially unlimited data for $30 to go on top of any regular Roger’s voice plan – but the deal would end August 31st. This was enough incentive for me to make the purchase!

The staff at the Rogers store in the Station Mall were very helpful in answering my questions, and setting up the phone. I had read about bad experiences by customers in the US, but I was in and out in about 20 minutes!

The first thing I did after leaving the store was try out some of the built in applications. The new model comes with built in GPS – so I fired it up and next thing I knew I was looking at a satellite image (courtesy of Google Maps) with a blinking blue dot showing my location. Wow, this was awesome! But the coolest part was watching the blue dot move along the map as I drove down the street! As it turns out there are a plethora of applications that utilize the GPS functionality.

One program called “TimmyMe” determines your current location, and then finds the closest Tim Horton’s locations to you. When you click on the particular location you are interested in, the program provides directions overlaid on a Google Map for you! Other examples include applications that show you the closest movie theatres along with current movie times, as well as restaurants, clubs and other attractions. You really can see the power and convenience of such information the minute you step off a plane in a strange city.

Next I touched the web browser icon and the Safari browser loaded. I typed in a few websites and they loaded up fairly quickly. The device can display full web pages (as opposed to most cell phones) although this sometimes takes a bit of time. Some websites will automatically detect that you are using an iPhone and load their mobile site which is optimized for the iPhone’s screen size.

Since we don’t have 3G (3rd generation wireless) in Sault Ste. Marie (it is currently only in major centres) I was curious to see how fast the pages would load using EDGE. I have to admit some sites do take a while to load, but overall I found it to be acceptable.

3G is supposed to offer download speeds twice as fast as EDGE. On a recent trip to Toronto, I was able to switch on the 3G and did notice an appreciable difference in web surfing and download speed. But this came with a price – with 3G on I noticed my battery drained surprisingly fast.

The phone has a number of other built in applications such as push email (think Blackberry), contacts and calendar, stock prices, weather, world clock, calculator, and more. Let’s not forget the built in 2.0 megapixel camera, iPod music and video player, YouTube application and other innovative features!

The next step was to check out Apple’s new “App Store”, filled with thousands of games, and programs – many of which are free. The first thing I did was search for the Facebook application. Within minutes I had downloaded and installed it and was checking out my profile. I decided to update my status to “using my new iPhone!”

Apple has always been the champion of user interface and user experience, and the App Store was no exception. Applications were broken down by category, featured apps, top 25, and you can also search for anything specific you are looking for.

I proceeded to download a number of applications both useful and useless. One application called “Drinks” has a fully searchable database of over 4,000 drink recipes! Imagine, you have friends coming over for drinks, and all you find in your liquor cabinet is a bottle of Southern Comfort…what to do? Load iDrink, choose ingredients, type it in and you will discover over 40 different drinks are possible! Wow, not bad for $3.99! Click the Drinks page and you have the entire database listed alphabetically — it might just make you the ultimate bartender at your next party!

So I have now been using the phone for almost two months and I really have no serious complaints. I’ve found the battery life to be decent on a typical day, but I’ve noticed that heavy texting or GPS use can drain the battery quickly. Under normal circumstances you can get over a day of use before recharging.

The iPhone has built in Wi-Fi so you can connect to your wireless network at home or your neighbourhood café (and avoid data charges). The Wi-Fi is much faster than using the cell connection, plus you can only use the iTunes store over Wi-Fi, something that hopefully Apple will change some day. I have downloaded complete music albums right to my iPhone, and then synced them to my PC at home later. The Wi-Fi does tend to drain the battery as well, so I shut it off when not using it, but if you leave it on you will be notified the next time you walk within a wireless zone (a pop-up asks if you would like to connect).

Apple likes to lock down their devices and the iPhone is no exception. When syncing your PC or MAC with your iPhone, everything happens through iTunes, including transferring music, videos or removing any applications. As well, Apple engineers test and approve every program that is placed on their App Store, allowing the company to monitor and control just what kind of applications and content is allowed on the device.

My monthly bill is currently over $100 (including taxes) including the phone, data and additional upgrades, about double my old cell phone bill. But so far I am very satisfied with my purchase. As I continue to use the device, I will tailor my packages to my needs, hopefully lowering the price over time. For example, on my first full-month bill I saw that I used only about 1.4 GB of data download, while my current package allows up to 6 GB of data. Rumour has it that Roger’s will be announcing some new all-inclusive plans on October 1, 2008 and the 2GB plan may indeed be more than enough for my regular use, and could save me money each month.

In conclusion, I am extremely satisfied with the iPhone 3G. While there are definitely some improvements Apple can make over time, it is really a remarkable all-in-one device. Essentially you’ve got a phone, music player, game device and wireless computer all in the palm of your hand.

While it’s certainly more expensive to use than a typical cell phone, if you can afford the roughly $100 a month in charges, I would highly recommend getting the iPhone 3G when you are looking for your next cell phone purchase.