IPhone 3G
Courtesy of Apple
The new iPhone 3G, which goes on sale Friday, features an App Store as part of its 2.0 software.
updated 7/9/2008 7:19:43 PM ET 2008-07-09T23:19:43

The new iPhone 3G is “worth the wait,” “mostly keeps its promises,” but is “not so much better that it turns all those original iPhones into has-beens,” according to reviews published Wednesday by USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

The phone, which goes on sale Friday, a little more than a year after the original iPhone was launched, is being lauded for its improvements, including a faster Web-browsing experience and built-in GPS receiver.

But one of the most important improvements to Apple’s device is not in its hardware, reviewers said, but rather the 2.0 software that comes with it, which will also be available at no cost to current iPhone owners on Friday.

While the iPhone 3G still does not have voice dialing, video recording or copy-and-paste features used in many other smartphones, it does have “one towering tsunami of a feature” that should silence “Appleholics” who have “expressed dismay at how little the handset has changed,” wrote David Pogue of The New York Times.

That feature is the iPhone App Store, part of the 2.0 software, and “a central, complete, drop-dead simple online catalog of new programs for the iPhone,” he said.

The iPhone 3G, so named for the faster, third-generation wireless network it runs on, instead of 2.5G used by the first-generation iPhone, is definitely faster for e-mail and Web access, reviewers found.

‘Mostly keeps its promises’
Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal wrote that the new iPhone “mostly keeps its promises.” In his 3G tests done in Washington, D.C., and New York, he saw data speeds “mostly ranging between 200 and 500 kilobits per second,” between three to five times faster than with the original iPhone, he said.

Edward C. Baig of USA Today, who said the new iPhone “is worth the wait,” wrote that it generally took him “10 to 30 seconds to load popular Web sites through 3G, a lot zippier” than with the first-generation iPhone.

AT&T Wireless, the exclusive provider of the iPhone in the United States, says that 3G service is available in 280 “leading” metropolitan areas in the country, and should be in 350 metropolitan areas by the end of the year.

“But as I discovered in my own greater New York City neighborhood, there are still holes in 3G coverage areas,” Baig wrote.

Pogue noted that 3G “means that you can talk on the iPhone and surf the Internet simultaneously, which you couldn’t do before.”

However, he added, “you don’t get that speed or those features unless you’re in one of AT&T’s 3G network areas — and there aren’t many of them.”

Baig noted that using the phone’s Wi-Fi, where available, “is still the fastest method for downloads.”

The new iPhone, Pogue wrote, is “not so much better that it turns all those original iPhones into has-beens.”

Hidden costs
All three reviewers praised the new iPhone’s improved audio quality.

And while all three noted the phone’s price drop — to $199 from $399 for an 8-gigabyte model, and $299 from $499 for a 16-gigabyte version, they also made it clear that AT&T’s monthly service plan increase of at least $10 will offset some of the savings.

The current lowest-priced iPhone plan is now $59.99 a month for unlimited data, up to 200 text messages and 450 voice minutes.

Those who purchase the iPhone 3G will have a minimum monthly plan of $69.99 a month for unlimited data and 450 voice minutes, plus an additional $5 a month for up to 200 text messages.

“There are two big hidden costs to the new iPhone’s faster speed and lower price tag,” wrote Mossberg. The higher monthly service plan is one, and the other is the iPhone 3G’s battery life.

The new phone’s battery “was drained much more quickly in a typical day of use than the battery of the original iPhone, due to the higher power demands of 3G networks,” he wrote. “This is an especially significant problem because, unlike most other smartphones, the iPhone has a sealed battery that can’t be replaced with a spare.”

In daily use, Mossberg wrote, “I found the battery indicator on the new 3G model slipping below 20 percent by early afternoon or midafternoon on some days, and it entirely ran out of juice on one day. I overcame this problem by learning to use Wi-Fi instead of 3G whenever possible, turning down the screen brightness and even turning off 3G altogether, which the phone permits.”

The new iPhone has a built-in GPS receiver, but “unfortunately, there’s not much you can do” with it, wrote Pogue of The New York Times.

“According to Apple, the iPhone’s GPS antenna is much too small to emulate the turn-by-turn navigation of a GPS unit for a vehicle, for example,” he wrote. “Instead, all it can do at this point is track your position as you drive along, representing you as a blue dot sliding along the roads of a map.”

USA Today's Baig said he was “pretty impressed by the accuracy” of the GPS as he drove in his car, searching for nearby pizza parlors and seeking directions.

“Alas, the feature begs for the audible turn-by-turn directions found on Samsung’s Instinct (phone) and others,” he wrote, adding that he hopes a third-party developer “will fill the void” with a software program that will work with the iPhone’s GPS.

In all, the new iPhone is “not so much better that it turns all those original iPhones into has-beens,” wrote Pogue. “Indeed, the really big deal is the iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store, neither of which requires buying a new iPhone.”

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