Apple iPhone 3G review

4.5 out of 5
dependent on contract

For

3G, GPS inclusion, App Store, interface

Against

No improvement on the camera, O2's 3G coverage not great, no search in email, no "read all", no cut and paste, GPS fiddly to use

So the mobile phone everyone has been clawing for since the launch of the last iPhone is here. But it is any good? Is it an improvement on the first version and has the time finally come for the Apple to dominate the mobile phone industry like it has the MP3 player market? We get dialling to find out.

Bulbous is one way to describe the new back. While the front remains unchanged the back of the handset shifts from being silver to black (or white) and is curved to give the handset a thicker, yet strangely thinner appearance. The curved back allows Apple to perform the same trick as with the MacBook Air, i.e., make it look thinner while allowing it to pack in more tech, namely a 3G and GPS chipset.

Addressing that annoying recessed headphones socket on the first model, the design is now flush although the battery, like the iPod, still isn't replaceable and there is no microSD slot to expand the memory beyond the 8GB or 16GB models available.

Around the front and it's business as usual with a single button and that large 3.5-inch display. While the display is the same, rather than getting a QVGA increase, it's still the best thing about the device giving you a gateway to your personal world be it the Internet, music, video, email and of course calls.

The software interface is basically the same although the latest software updates, version 2.0, brings with it a number of new features such as the ability to do basic search in contacts, push email, and the App Store amongst others.

But what of the feature that we've all been crying out for since day one, 3G? In use, when you can get a 3G signal the download times are considerably faster than the first version of the iPhone. Pocket-lint loaded up quickly and browsing on the go without a Wi-Fi connection certainly isn't the chore it once was. We like 3G. The catch, of course, is that using 3G gobbles up your battery life quicker than a man eating hog dogs in Coney Island and its clear that this is going to be a charge everyday handset rather than one that will get you through the week. That said, if you are a surfer, that battery is worth recharging.

Web surfing is like surfing on your computer. You get Safari as before, so you can visit your favourite sites as well as accessing information via the plethora of widgets now available in the App Store. The 3G connection also means your emails won't take decades to download.

On the email front there is now Apple's own MobileMe support, Microsoft Exchange and of course Google Mail and support for POP3 accounts. Hoping to steal some of the BlackBerry market Apple has included a Push email client that pushes you your mail rather than pulling it at a desired time. The service is very impressive and certainly one that will make BlackBerry work hard to justify its approach. The iPhone has, at times, even beat our email client on our desktop in our tests.

However where BlackBerry don't have to worry is on the email functionality front, while the iPhone now offers Push, it doesn't offer search, cut and paste or a read all button.

There's also no flashing red light that BlackBerry users are so fond of so you'll have to pick up the handset every time to check.

They aren't deal breakers we know and for the average consumer probably not an issue, however Apple, since the announcement of the new handset has pushed hard that this is a phone for business, however on an email front, I can't see crackberry users kicking their habit just yet.

But 3G and Push email isn't the only new addition. The iPhone now features GPS, although our experience thus far hasn't been that great. GPS isn't something you have the power to switch on or off, merely access when you load Google Maps or any other applications that use the hardware.

In Google Maps, the software the phone ships with, pinpointing your position is simply, giving you an exact location rather than one that's somewhere in your vicinity and the blue dot moves along the road as you do.

Google Maps might be great for finding that office building you're looking for, but don't expect it to replace your TomTom any time soon. Well until TomTom comes out with some iPhone software perhaps.

The possibility of getting TomTom software on the iPhone is down to the App Store, probably the best thing to come out of the new phone and one of the best things to hit the older model as well thanks to the iPhone 2.0 software update.

Working like the iTunes store only for applications, it is the killer element and one that is likely to convince more people to buy the device than 3G alone. In fact it might have been 3G that we all craved but having had some time with the new feature it would be the reason I would buy a handset as it allows you to customise your phone to make it do things that are important for you.

Don't get me wrong, you've been able to get third-party apps for other mobile phones and operating systems for years, but as Apple always does, it has taken an old idea and given it a new lick of paint that works, and works well.

Firing up the App Store and you are given a series of apps to suit your needs. There are currently over 500 on offer (it's still only day one) and these range from the useful to the ridiculous.

Spilt into a number of different categories, prices range from free upwards with games costing £5.99 and more advanced apps coming in around £50.

With a good chunk of the apps free, Apple has made sure getting those is easy and there is a Top 25 Free queue so you can download them straight to your phone.

Apps of course range is size and you'll be able to download anything via a Wi-Fi connection, although you won't be able to download any app that's bigger than 10MB on the phone over the network.

So far we've played with the Facebook app, the new iRemote that turns your phone into a remote control for iTunes or your Apple TV, Shazam, iLight (yes you guessed it a app that merely shows a white screen you so can use your phone in the dark) and of course the stupid and pointless beer app from Carling (a nice bit of marketing guys).

There is more to the iPhone, but its worth pointing out that the camera is still the shockingly poor 2 megapixel variant we saw first time around and it still hasn't got a flash. The iPod music and video player options are still the same and bar the 3G and GPS additions, not much as been added on a hardware front, which as far as upgrades go, is decidedly lame.

Verdict

So should you?

Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Apple has raised the bar on the interface front. It might not be the tech spec king compared to the likes of the HTC Diamond but from a usability point of view for the consumer it is hard to beat.

As for that BlackBerry user looking to transfer, you'll miss search, you'll miss "read all", you'll miss cut and paste.

Despite the downbeat tune it is a thumbs up from us, but if you've got an old iPhone and aren't fussed about 3G or GPS, the iPhone 2.0 software update will mean the "buzz" phone of the moment is all but virtually in your pocket already.