Apple iPhone 3G and MobileMe – First impressions

iPhone 3g details

With a few days of enthusiastic testing (read: playing with my new toy) under my belt, I’ve had enough time to explore the new iPhone 3G and Apple’s push-data service, MobileMe, and put them through their respective paces. So, what do I think?

The iPhone 3G is a fantastic piece of kit, which probably isn’t all that unexpected. Whereas the original iPhone affected a user experience that was greater than the sum of its parts (EDGE data, huge multi-touch display, Safari web browser, iPod integration, etc.), the iPhone 3G takes the user experience to the next level. With a faster data connection (3G – HSDPA where available) and integrated GPS hardware nestled in between the iPhone 3G’s other communications hardware, the iPhone 3G essentially amounts to what the first-generation iPhone should have been.

From the first day of use, the iPhone 3G feels slimmer, faster, and really improves upon the original iPhone’s usability. No more drawn out waits for webpages to load. Google Maps isn’t just lickity-split quick, it also tracks your position in real-time with several-meter accuracy. The AppStore is amazing – incredible integration combined with massive developer support has resulted in a ridiculous number of iPhone applications that’s sure to keep me busy for the next couple weeks.

iPhone 3G look and feel
As far as the iPhone 3G feeling slimmer, it’s really just a clever trick. The iPhone 3G is, in fact, thicker than the original hardware. But, thanks to a more tapered edge-design (since your hand and fingers really only grab the edges of the handset), the new iPhone 3G feels incredibly slim and svelte. You really have to hold an iPhone 3G in your hand to understand the impact that those tapered edges have on the handset’s perceived size. The handset even feels more solidly built than the first (but that could just be due to my subjective bias).

iPhone 3g details

The glossy-black and glossy-white finishes on the iPhone 3G’s back-side are just sexy. The iPhone 3G has curves in just the right places and the little details, like steel-lined accents on the headphone jack and camera lens, really highlight Apple’s attention to design. And, don’t forget those metallic button and toggle switches – again, it’s the little things that make the iPhone 3G shine.

iPhone 3g details

The home-button has been revised with a shallower depression and smaller radius. While both aspects of the home-button’s new design might seem trifling, the changes add up to an improved user experience.

iPhone 3g details

iPhone 3G performance
The iPhone 3G boasts a 3G radio capable of humming along its partner-carriers’ data networks at cruising speeds of ~600Kbps (on the downlink). I’ve even recorded downstream data speeds in excess of 1Mbps on AT&T’s network – which is really fast for just about anyone in the US (at least as far as real-world speeds are concerned).

iPhone 3G speed test

The GPS radio locks-on to a satellite signal and serves up cellular network-assisted location data faster than you can type in your Google Maps search query. And, the GPS feature is as accurate as any casual user will need. As far as turn-by-turn, voice-prompted directions, the iPhone 3G doesn’t offer this feature, but I’m crossing my fingers for a third-party solution in the near future.

The battery time is on par with the previous-generation iPhone. Moderately heavy usage (which means I pulled out my iPhone 3G at every opportunity throughout the day) proved that battery life has been improved over the original iPhone. The same usage pattern with 3G data enabled proved that heavy data users are going to want to charge their iPhone daily – lest they wake up to a completely dead handset. Light to moderate users will find their iPhone 3G going for 1.5 to 2 days before needing a recharge – and that’s with 3G data enabled. Suffice it to say, the iPhone 3G battery (which is likely user replaceable with a minimum of elbow-grease) last just as long as the iPhone.

iPhone 3G and AppStore
The Apple AppStore is the true gem of Apple’s summer-blockbuster iPhone 3G launch. There are dizzying numbers and assortments of applications that offer the user all manner of options to help increase productivity, stay in touch with friends, and pass the time. If you’ve a need for a specific iPhone application, chances are you can already find a solution in the AppStore.

AppStore install processInstalling an application is as easy as selecting the app of choice and hitting the “Free” or “Buy” button, and then the “Install” button. Application icons are automatically added to the homescreen, where they are downloaded and installed.

Unfortunately, the iPhone-based AppStore doesn’t allow any purchases to be made with gift-cards or Apple store-credit. But, with most applications ringing-up for under $10, this particular AppStore bungle is more an inconvenience than a deal-killer. The iTunes-based, desktop version of the AppStore happily dings your iTunes store credit for any application purchases – so, if you have a good deal of iTunes credit, use your computer’s iTunes-based AppStore to buy applications.

MobileMe
So, the iPhone 3G is great. But, how does Apple’s new .Mac revamp, MobileMe, measure up against other push-data services out there? It’s decent. As a push email service, MobileMe is amazing. As a full-featured push-data service, MobileMe falls a bit short.

First, the good. Emails get pushed to my iPhone 3G nearly instantly. I can’t attest for MobileMe’s reliability under extreme server-loads, but push emails work like a charm – as long as there’s less than frenzied-demand on Apple’s MobileMe servers.

Now, the bad. With the deluge of new iPhone 3G and MobileMe users hitting Apple’s push-servers hard and heavy, MobileMe has proven to be an initial let-down. Only a few hours ago did my MobileMe emails start pushing to my iPhone 3G. That means I’ve been frustrated with MobileMe for a couple days now – not a good first impression. My Contacts and Calendar data literally started pushing a moment ago, and all my Bookmarks and Keychains are finally sync’ed up.

While changes to my MacBook Pro’s Apple Mail client are almost immediately reflected on my iPhone 3G (and vice versa), changes to Contacts or Calendar events on my Mac computer do not push immediately to the cloud. Only a forced synchronization will push my changes to the cloud and then down to my iPhone 3G. A true push data service would have all data pushed to the cloud. But, it seems that MobileMe’s push services are more focused on email. Only changes to email data on my iPhone or Mac computer are instantly pushed – changes to any other data require a forced synchronization Whether or not this is an inherent flaw or an initial glitch is not yet clear. What is clear, however, is that there are going to be a lot of iPhone users thumbing their nose at push-emailing BlackBerry users.

Overall

iPhone 3G lines

So, if you braved the multiple-hour lines at various Apple around the globe or AT&T stores in the US, you’ll likely already know that the iPhone 3G is amazing. The iPhone 3G’s user experience, complemented with faster data connectivity and GPS integration, is even more satisfying than with the original iPhone. It’s indisputable that the iPhone 3G is handset that Apple should have launched a year ago, and it apparent that Apple learned enough from their original iPhone to make this latest iteration what it is today. The iPhone 3G proves that Apple is a mobile handset manufacturer to be reckoned with.

As far as MobileMe. The jury is still out. Push email is great, but MobileMe’s full suite of push data services leaves much to be desired. Here’s to hoping Apple gets it right in the next few months.

  • JonnyBruha

    So… it’s a hit for adding all of the features the N95-3 had back when it was released in October?

    Despite your huge attention to detail for the physical changes, you didn’t mention anything about saving images in the web browser. Did you not notice this yet?

  • Dan

    So I’m getting confused from various reports…a lot of places are reporting that the iPhone 3G has GPS and then others are reporting that it has aGPS (which is basically location finding based on cell tower reception). Which does it really have?

    As for me, once they add A2DP to it I think I might break down and actually buy an Apple product. Until then, I’m staying with my Touch Cruise.

  • Will Park

    As the title says – first impression. If I were to talk about details like saving pictures from the web, I would have posted in more depth – a proper review of sorts.

    And quite frankly (and not to be inflammatory), comparing the iPhone to the N95 is getting old. Yes these features are not new to the N95. If you need fantastic hardware go with the N95,… If style, user experience and a decent grab bag of features is more your style, then get an iPhone. But please, no one is comparing the N95 to the iPhone anymore – game over, it’s old news.

    agps is cellular assisted gps – it is not cellular triangulation alone

  • mark

    You forgot to point out that unless you already have, or are planning on changing your email to one that ends in @me.com all the ‘push’ features are pretty much useless.

    Apple forgot to mention in their incessant marketing that they were planning on taking an iron curtain approach to allowing other email accounts (gmail, hotmail, etc.) to be pushed. You can do all sorts of jerry rigging that would take too long to explain here and get things to ‘kinda’ work, but all the trouble is hardly worth a hundred bucks a year.

  • Will Park

    Mark, I agree. Unless Apple has plans to make their push data service more than just a fancy push email service with some wonky push calendar, picture, and contacts support (although, to be fair, contacts do push after a considerable lag), MobileMe is a definite let-down.

    Of course you can jury rig your other email accounts to use me.com as their IMAP email server, but not all services support such a setup.

    I love push email. I plan to use my @me email address as much as possible. But, if Apple doesn’t get their other push services up to par, I’m not going to pay another $70 (discounted price with iPhone 3G purchase) for MobileMe, let alont the $99 they are asking at retail price.

    Still, I do love me some iPhone 3G. :)

  • Sebhelyesfarku

    The iPhone is for dumbass Mactards and gullible fashion lemmings.

  • Ben

    Sebhelyesfarku, while I’m not a fan of the iPhone myself your comments only make you look stupid rather than having any actual negative impact on people who buy or own iPhones.

  • Jojowasaman

    Seriously, I don’t get you people who hate mac users. Why? What do you care if I actually get some joy from using macs and nothing but frustration when dealing with Vista? Am I forcing you to use apple products? For that matter, did anyone force you to look at the articles about apple products? Just buy what you think is better and shut up. Geez.

  • Jeremy

    As a business user, it is very difficult to use the mobile me push email. Blackberry’s push allowed my work email address to appear automatically as the return address when I sent or replied from the phone. While it is easy to have my work email forward to my @me.com, and therefore push to my iPhone, there is no real way to reply without it coming from the @me.com address which I cannot use professionally.

    Hopefully a fix will come!

  • blob

    WTF? My Blackberry Curve has push email for ANY existing email account. And, it is free of charge. Is Apple insane? To charge $99 for a quirky service that their competition (Blackberry) includes for FREE?

    iPhone is an amazing piece of technology. But, the service continues to lag behind the Blackberry in many aspects.

  • Steve

    Windows mobile phones have free push email from SEVEN, which has contracted with the big three (gmail, hotmail,. yahoo) to provide instant relaying, pushed directly to your phone, using the stock outlook mobile. You can also push from any email account but it’s not instant, taking a few minutes for the relay to come in to their servers. Free, reliable, and no need to create a new email, which I’d say majority of users would find distasteful to do.

  • Dimeon

    I have a friend who is pro Mac, although he is a bit indecisive on buying a Mac due to the high price tag. I’ve used a Mac with Leopard on it. I’m a tech guy who’s quite computer competent. I cannot quite seem to understand why people are so mind-numbingly crazy over Apple this and Apple that products. I have an iPod, and absolutely hate the way iTunes works on Windows. I’ve used iTunes on a Mac, and yes, it does open faster, but I just hate the way it works. I would not go buy a Mac just get a faster response to opening iTunes. And what’s this whole business of iTunes not letting you copy/move your music off of your iPod back to your computer? Shouldn’t be able to do anything you want with the music you’ve purchased? Sharepod does everything that iTunes does, and more, including moving/copying music to your computer. Everyone is in such a frenzy over the new iPhone3g. For what? A device which is nothing more than a PDA or handheld notebook computer. $500? Are you crazy? Gas is $4/gal, people are losing their homes to foreclosure, our mainstream industries are outsourcing like crazy, and people are just going nuts for overpriced hardware. As I mentioned, I’ve used a Mac, and quite frankly, I don’t want Apple or Steve Jobs telling me how deep the rabbit hole is or that my computer should work the way they think it should. They preach anti-Microsoft crap at ever Mac World shindig, but go grab a copy of Leopard and throw it on whatever hardware you can round up and see how “The World’s Most Advanced Operating System” “just works”. It doesn’t. You have to pay $3k, for the “Genuine Apple Experience” of being able to do only as much as Apple says, or you’re violation of some fine print in the EULA then your crap get’s iBricked!

  • Root

    Steve, Jeremy and Mark – maybe check the facts before posting? For business users the iPhone has free push via Exhcange. If your firm is one of the few not using Exchange servers, Zimbra, Communigate and a flock of the other major mail/collaboration server providers are adding, or in the case of Communigate/Stalker, have already added push for iPhone as a server feature.

    And for ‘private’ push, of course you don’t have to change your email address to use the Me.com features, don’t be so silly.

    Actually, it’s a bit like the opposite: This page comes up as the second Google hit for a search on how to use Me.com push for another email account… Tihi… :-)

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