In September of 2007, I reviewed Apple's iPhone classic. Although it was a beautiful piece of electronics by any standard, it didn't have the expansive software library I'd come to rely on in my Palm Treo. It was with a heavy heart that I returned it to AT&T and went back to my loyal Swiss Army Knife.
Come July of 2008, I tried again with Apple's new iPhone 3G. The 3G has a number of upgrades over the classic version, most importantly the iTunes App Store. It was a whole new experience. The iPhone 3G took everything that was great about the original (covered in my original review, so I won't repeat them here), patched up a few oversights, and fixed almost everything that was lacking. When version 3.0 of the software was released, the iPhone could even finally copy and paste! This feature was long overdue. The iPhone proved itself to be every bit the workhorse my Palm Treo was, but sleeker, faster, and, yes I'll say it, sexier. The one single feature the Treo had the iPhone 3G did not was the ability to capture video with the camera, but this ability was finally included in the next generation, the iPhone 3GS.
The iTunes App Store was the revolution that brought me back to the iPhone. No longer chained to the internet for functionality the phone didn't have built-in, the App Store took the previously closed-off device and turned it into a full-blown pocket computer. An army of 3rd party developers that makes the Palm Treo's look pitiful by comparison continue to pump out apps of admittedly varying quality; but the store's search, review, and ratings systems makes it possible to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The App Store works very much like buying music on iTunes. You authorize up to five computers to make purchases for your iPhone (or the App Store app on the iPhone allows you to directly purchase apps under 10MB on the phone itself), and the apps are backed up on your computer when it's synced (although they cannot actually be used except on the iPhone itself). Buying an app gives you the right to delete it and re-install it later if you want, and the store alerts you when free updates and bug fixes are available. Unfortunately, many developers appear to rely on bug reports from users and frequently release problematic apps that need to be fixed with a sort of "release early, release often" mentality. Many apps are free. Even most paid apps tend to be 99¢ and very few are over US$5.
What the apps are capable of is unfortunately limited by Apple, as they're trying to maintain strict control over what they will and will not allow on their phone. Apps must go through a screening process, and ones that slip through have been known to be recalled. No porn is allowed, and apps are subject to a number of restrictions such as not being allowed to run in the background (battery issues, apparently). Although this has raised concerns about Apple's draconian level of app control, it apparently hasn't bothered the developers too much, as there are currently over 100,000 apps available, and growing. To handle these new Apps, the iPhone 3G supports up to 16GB of storage, twice that of the original. Due to these restrictions, and the iPhone still only being available over AT&T's network, Jailbreaking iPhones is still popular.
Patches (as of v. 3.1.2)
The 3G fixed a lot of the irritating oversights the first version suffered from. For one thing, the calculator has a freakin' square root button now. The calculator at first appears to be identical to the original version, but now you can turn it into landscape mode for a scientific calculator (I find this to be the best quick demonstration of the accelerometer for people). More of the apps can now access the landscape keyboard as well, although to be honest, I've gotten so used to the standard keyboard I can use it much better than the wider, supposedly more comfortable landscape keyboard. The Notes app is also integrated with the Mail app, allowing you to actually get your notes off of the phone now.
Various upgrades have added other great features too, such as a search function in both the home screen (for apps) and the Notes App (which searches both titles and content), and the ability to send MMS messages (Apple has apparently admitted that you can't send email to most other cell phones). And, this cannot be stressed enough, the iPhone 3G can now copy and paste!
The phone itself is a little better now, too. In my iPhone classic review, I mentioned the phone was a bit of a weak spot, but no weaker than most other smartphones. This appears to have been tweaked a bit as well, as the 3G seems louder and more clear than the original, allowing me to use it in the noisy factory where I work. And people have told me that they don't even notice when I put them on speakerphone. The silent ring vibrator, which was a little weak in the original, seems to be a bit stronger now too, unless I've just gotten used to it.
The 3G features the same 2.0 MP camera as the original, which Apple claims has been improved due to software tweaks. It still can't capture video (the 3GS can). Surprisingly, it's one of the most popular digital cameras on Flickr, with over 5,700 users uploading 30,000 pictures daily as of this writing.
The 3G in "iPhone 3G" refers to the 3G cellular data network, which provides a much faster internet connection than the EDGE network. Unfortunately, as AT&T's 3G network is only available near major cities, the iPhone also still supports the EDGE network, which is what you'll be using outside of AT&T's spotty 3G coverage areas. The excuse for not including 3G support in the first iPhone was battery life, but this doesn't seem to be a big problem. Despite all the new features, the battery seems to last about as long as the original's, but keep in mind this means you'll still need to plan on charging it every night with moderate to heavy use.
Finally, the 3G also has a built-in GPS receiver, which interfaces seamlessly with the Maps app and is available for use by 3rd-party apps as well (although the app must get permission from the user before accessing it). A small blue dot will follow the iPhone's location on the map so long as it has a good signal from the satellites, making it almost impossible to get lost. The map can be set to follow the blue dot around, and Google-supplied directions can be highlighted and followed using "next" and "prev" buttons. Although this isn't quite spoken turn-by-turn directions like a (safer) full-fledged dedicated GPS unit, rumor has it 3rd party developers are working on it. Long periods of GPS use will drain the battery faster than anything else I've done with the iPhone 3G, so it would probably be a good idea to invest in a car charger for long trips.
The iPhone is a surprisingly durable piece of electronics. Although I wouldn't suggest subjecting it to the sort of abuse I have, it's survived scrapes, drops, fumbles, and other general mishandling with nary a complaint. The scratch-resistant touchscreen is still flawless over the display/input area, with only a small crack in the lower-right, well away from the interface area. The touchscreen itself is still amazingly hard to scratch and easy to clean, but it still can't be used with a stylus. It only senses contact with flesh.
Due to its revolutionary design and well-deserved fame, the iPhone has become the smartphone to beat. A number of other smartphones have marketed themselves as the so-called "iPhone killer", but most of them have failed to match the intuitive interface, compact design, and plethora of 3rd party apps. So far, the Droid (running the Google Android smartphone OS) has emerged as the only real standout in the crowd, and it looks poised to take a chunk out of Apple's marketshare. Whether or not it will be able to overtake the iPhone, however, remains to be seen, but Verizon's expanded 3G coverage and Google's lowered restrictions on App development will certainly help.
Meanwhile, the Blackberry is watching from the sidelines, content with its position as the executive smartphone. Largely because it hasn't rested on its laurels, the Blackberry continues to do what it does best, seamlessly integrate with Microsoft Outlook, and will likely remain entrenched in the corporate world as the smartphone of choice so long as it continues to pay attention and stay competitive.
As a response to Apple's lack of 3rd party development in the original iPhone, hackers eventually figured out how to install their own custom apps with a procedure known as jailbreaking. This is completely unsupported by Apple, but can be easily undone (unless something has gone terribly wrong) by restoring your iPhone back to its default settings in iTunes. Even on the 3G, Jailbreaking gives developers the freedom to access otherwise inaccessible areas of the iPhone's system, allowing them to change the interface and run programs that Apple would not allow them to sell in the iTunes App Store. After Jailbreaking, an iPhone can also be unlocked, which could allow you to use the iPhone with other cellular providers, such as Verizon Wireless, but with reduced capabilities. Jailbreaking is reported to be safe and effective, but I don't feel the need to do it myself and have stuck with Apple and AT&T's admittedly limited services.