3G for thee

It’s 2008.  Despite the Glorious Technofuture I was promised in my youth, I do not yet possess a jetpack or a hovercar.  I don’t have a cadre of sexbots to please me, or a robotic Jeeves-like manservant to dress me and manage my day and keep me out of trouble.

What I do have, courtesy of my good friends at Clusterflock, is a sleek and shiny new iPhone 3G.

There are a million reviews of the iPhone 3G out there already, two of the best being this very in-depth review by Cheng/Chartier/Ecker at Ars Technica, and this great analysis by Jason Snell at Macworld.

If you’re looking for objective information by pros who know how to do tech product reviews the right way, then I suggest you read one of the aforementioned articles.  But since I promised Deron that I’d let him know about the phone once I got it, better late than never, here are a few subjective observations of my own.

The purchasing experience.
Yeah, I stood in line for at least four hours like everyone else.  And yeah, the activation systems kept crashing and crashing, resulting in a lot of standing still.  Eventually I got my phone (16gb black, to be exact), but by that time the iTunes store had completely overloaded.  They were able to activate my phone in-store, but I wasn’t able to connect to iTunes to reload all of my information onto it until the next day.  Annoying, but not a big deal in the long run.  Overall the Apple Store employees were well-trained, handled the downtime like professionals, and kept everything running as well as they could.

The software.
One of the biggest draws of the iPhone 2.0 release is the availability of 3rd-party apps.  I’ve already downloaded and used (and deleted) several of them, but two of my favorites are Craig Hockenberry’s Twitterific Premium client app for the Twitter service, and Frasier Spears’ great Flickr client Exposure Premium.  I spend a lot of time on the Twitter1, and previously used the Hahlo web-based service.  It was OK, but not ideal, and the Twitterific iPhone client is robust and full-featured.  The Exposure client is the best implementation of a front-end to Flickr that I’ve seen for a mobile device, and one of its coolest2 features is the use of the Core Location function of the iPhone to show you photos on Flickr that were taken nearby wherever you are.  That’s neat on a 1st gen iPhone with only loosely triangulated location info, but add the 3G’s GPS in there, and you can get pretty precise.  The first time I used the feature, I was in a neighborhood bar, and the first photo that popped up was taken right inside that same bar near where I was sitting.  Neat.
Apple has also made plenty of changes to the core software on the phone, which are all well-covered elsewhere, but I did want to mention Apple’s new Remote app, which lets you remotely3 access and control your iTunes library and/or your AppleTV with your iPhone.  I’ve used this extensively, and it is a killer app.
The software still lacks a copy/paste function4, which is annoying but tolerable.  And while it works very nicely with MobileMe and push services, it still does not synchronize text notes, which is annoying and intolerable.

The hardware.
Okay, here’s where I’m going to gripe just a little. Yes, I’m admittedly an Apple fanboy, and yes, I loved my 1st generation iPhone, and yes, I also love my brand new one.  But I can’t help but feel that the build quality of the unit isn’t exactly what it could (or should) be.  I got my first iPhone on Day One last year, and loved it.  I never put it in a case, and it always stayed in my front jeans pocket.  For almost an entire year, it stayed in great shape, provided that I blew the speaker holes and headset jack out with compressed air from time to time, and polished it with a dab of cleaner and a soft cloth.  The edges of the phone were all perfecly flush; it felt like one whole piece of hardware carved out of something else.  But the new unit has some sharp edges on it – the new metal buttons feel sharp and rough, and there is one continuous sharp edge where the polycarbonate back meets the chrome front bezel.  Overall it makes for a much less smooth tactile experience in my hand.  This new phone feels like a manufactured device, rather than an organic thing.  I know that’s being somewhat nitpicky, considering the volume of iPhone production now must be orders of magnitude beyond what it was for the very first phones to roll off the lines last June.  But I guess I expected a little more attention to the physical quality of manufacture, even if it is now a commodity item.

Overall impression.
All that being said, I must say that the iPhone 3G is in every conceivable way the best piece of telephony hardware I have ever used or owned5.  I’ve used a lot of SonyEricsson phones and even a [cough] BlackBerry at one point, and while they each did some things well, none of them did anything consistently well.  The 3G doesn’t do everything for everyone, but it does everything I need and want it to do.  I’m not an enterprise user, so I’m not going to be one of the BlackBerry users who bitches that the iPhone doesn’t have this or that business app available.  As a freelancer it’s a device that I can mold to my work style, rather than the other way around.  Also, Mobile Safari is simply the best browser implementation on any mobile device, which in my opinion makes up for any other shortcomings.  Need I say more?

  1. whereby “a lot of” I mean “way too much”.
  2. whereby “coolest” I mean “creepy and Orwellian”.
  3. “remotely”, provided that you are on the same network as the machine running iTunes, the same way the AppleTV works – i.e. you can’t access your iTunes library at home from, say, the coffeeshop down the street.
  4. See Gruber’s analysis of that here.
  5. Yes, believe it or not, it is even better than the powder blue wall-mounted rotary-dial phone with the 6-mile long curly cord that I had to use when I was a kid. It is that good.
posted 7/17/08 at 10:02am to Mac nerdery · 1 reply · permalink