Australia: Hands on with iPhone 3G

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The iPhone is, for want of a better word, fun to use. And that can be a good thing and a bad thing.

For one thing, the cost of mobile data is very hard to pin down. At time of writing Vodafone and Optus have published their plans, but Telstra still has not outlined the cost of data on its NextG network. The temptation to use the iPhone heavily—to look up web pages on a whim, check e-mail every fifteen minutes to sort of replicate the BlackBerry push service, and to download maps from Google just to prove you can—is very high. Some users may well find that 250MB or even 500MB plans don’t make the cut. And that might mean some very expensive surprises.

My recommendation: whenever possible, use Wi-Fi and switch off 3G (in Settings > General > Network). You’ll save some money on data, get faster access, and the batteries last longer.

Speaking of batteries, the 3G network eats them like popcorn. And since you can’t swap in an extra battery as with pretty much every other phone ever made, you need to be a bit conservative. In normal usage (not when I was deliberately trying to run the battery down) I found I could barely get a working day out of a single charge. I ended up with the included charger plugged in next to the bed and a USB cable plugged into the Mac on my desk, so it could be plugged in and charging whenever possible. The BlackBerry doesn’t require anywhere near such vigilance.

I also found I sometimes had a hiccup or two when roaming from one network to another. Going from 3G to WiFi, for example, I sometimes found the phone couldn’t connect to my e-mail server and I had to shut it down and restart in order to get things working again. It may well be that this was because of the pre-release software I had on board, so it may not be a problem in general availability.

And the elephant in the room is of course the third-party applications that aren’t yet available as I write this. I have had a brief play with some of the applications on a pre-configured machine Apple had on hand for demonstrations, but not in-depth. The fact is the App Store will expand the iPhone’s horizons virtually infinitely. With the App Store the iPhone becomes a genuine computing platform. I’ll have much more to say on that in the coming weeks.

The bottom line

I like the iPhone 3G. For all its quirks and things that it could do better, it’s a pleasure to use. It’s as good a phone as I’ve ever used, a better internet browser than I’ve yet seen on a mobile device, and of course as an iPod it’s, well, an iPod. Its weakness is in its e-mail client. Hopefully either Apple will either improve that soon or let someone else step in.

Will I dump the BlackBerry for the iPhone? Reluctantly, yes I will. I have nothing against the BlackBerry 8300—and its e-mail handling is clearly superior to iPhone’s—but the iPhone just beats it on so many other counts that it becomes an easy choice.

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