IPhone 3G MID Review


An overview of the use and operation of the 3G iPhone

This document summarizes the experience of purchasing, using and learning about an iPhone when upgrading from a 2G iPhone and before that a WinCE mobile phone. The changes from 2G to 3G are discussed. My discussion of the 2G iPhone is located here: [ iPhone 2G Review]

Take this link for a page focusing on iPhone and iTunes problems and bugs: [ iPhone 3G and iTunes problems and bugs]

For a discussion of the UI on the 2G and 3G iPhone, see this page: [ iPhone UI overivew for 2G and 3G]

A discussion of UI specific issues to consider for MIDs and comparisons to things done on the iPhone is found here: [ UI Issues on MIDS and iPhone ]

Since much of this material is subjective, I will put my email address here as the author. If you have questions, comments or want to discuss an issue via email please write me at: dale.t.taylor@intel.com.


Contents

 


Purchase

The iPhone 3G is purchased directly from an AT&T store, or an Apple Company Store. With the 3G iPhone you activate it at the store before leaving. Because the price of the 3G phone is subsidized, you must agree to a new 2-year contract and all phones must be activated before leaving the store. You then have to setup additional things online.

The data plan for the 3G iPhone is $10 a month more expensive than it was for the 2G iPhone ($30 vs $20). The claim by those in the AT&T store was this is due to the speed increases which enable you to download much more data in any given month. As with the 2G iPhone, you MUST have a data plan.

As an Intel employee, with the 3G iPhone, AT&T does honor the pre-negotiated discount plan. This can get a little complicated if you have both a 2G and a 3G iPhone. You must make sure that the 3G iPhone is linked to the primary number on the account. Since I was upgrading from a 2G iPhone to a 3G one the discount was auto-applied when I made the change to the primary phone.

When upgrading from a 2G iPhone there were a few additional things that had to be done. The SIM card was removed from my 2G phone and placed in my 3G phone, this was to transfer my phone number over. The account was then updated by the AT&T person. The SIM card that came in the 3G phone was then put in my older 2G phone. Once this was done I had to take both phones home and activate them via iTunes. The 2G phone needed to be associated with a phone number on my account too, which was done just as with the original purchase online via iTunes.

At home, you launch iTunes and then plug in your iPhone. This is when you have to accept some statements, setup an iTunes account and make sure your account data is correct. In my case with 2 iPhones, I had to accept a new 2 year contract for the updated 3G phone but not for the 2G version as that contract carried over from the line it was previously on. I setup a different iTunes account for each phone though it appears I could have shared one. There is an option to click "none" on the credit card choices which I did as a safeguard to keep from auto-spending in case my kids use the phone or something. I can still use the iTunes store, but have to enter payment info if I decide to do so.

 


Sync - iTunes

All Syncing is done via iTunes, including your music, contact and calendar info.

In my case, I wanted to put music from my personal desktop on the iPhone, then sync with my work calendar and contact info via my IT laptop since I like to have the reminders and contact data on the phone. This is possible via iTunes since you can select which info to sync when you connect to a system. You have to be careful you check the right items to sync on the right system or you could lose data on the phone. It's simple to restore though as iTunes makes the process simple and also auto-backs up your phone each time you sync.

With 2 iPhones I wanted to be able to control which iTunes account is used on each phone (1 is a developer account, the other is not). This is done by logging into your iTunes account before the sync in iTunes. If you don't change the logged in user before syncing then the user associated with the phone will be changed. There are ways around this such as creating different user accounts on the PC.

Loading up 2 iPhones from songs in the same database was also possible using iTunes. It would recognize each phone and when you sync'd you could select which play lists and thus songs you wanted uploaded to the devices. I gave each phone a name such as "Dads Phone" and "Moms Phone".

 


Phone - Contacts

Since I had already cleaned up my Outlook and put contacts into folders I could select to upload to the phone, it was very easy to populate the information to the new 3G iPhone (I had to organize my contacts when I got the 2G iPhone). It worked seamlessly with no issues. The reason I use different folders is that on my work computer I have so many contacts that would be useless on my phone, rather than give more contacts for me to scroll through I only put those on the phone I have any chance of actually calling… current contacts, current businesses, current personal friends etc. This makes scrolling through the contacts list reasonable when the data there is applicable.

Negatives: There is no voice dial, you have to use your hands and select from the contact list, or a favorites list. I'm used to voice dialing with my BT headset while driving so this might take some adjusting.

 


Voice mail

When I changed the SIM cards on my phone, my previously existing voicemail messages carried over to the new phone too. It took a few minutes but eventually they were migrated and popped up on the phone. I did have to enter a voicemail password and setup my greeting. That information must be on the phone as it did not carry over. Things such as recent call lists did not carry over either.

 


Calendar

With the new 3G iPhone and it's v2.0 software, my calendar items along with meeting reminders and all were uploaded to the phone with no issues. They have worked well and it's been very nice to have those available on my phone which I always have with me. It keeps me from needing to check my laptop on occasion for a number.

I've found that it's quicker even when in a work conference room to grab the iPhone to look up a bridge number than it is to open up a laptop.

 


Dropped Calls

When I first got the iPhone there were occasionally issues with dropped calls. As best I could determine it happened when I was changing cell towers on the freeway during my commute to and from work. When I took my phone to the AT&T store to ask if there was a fix, they suggested I upgrade the SIM card saying the phones were shipped with a bad batch. I was hesitant to believe that would help as I knew I had the same SIM card as my previous 2G phone. I went ahead and made the change and while it does seem to be better, I still have more dropped calls with this 3G phone than I had with my previous phones, including the 2G version.

My advice is to get a new SIM ca rd if you are having any dropped call issues as it did seem to help some. I am hopeful that Apple will issue a software upgrade that might address this. It seems to somehow be a handoff issue when changing towers, perhaps involving 3G and edge switching? When looking at the specs for the radios, it's no wonder that possible switching issues exist. There are 4 2-way radios on the iPhone, and a 5th receiver.

Update with 2.02 software: I upgraded last week to the new software and have given it a try. If anything the issues have become worse now, as almost any call of length or where I am moving such as on the freeway will have a drop or two now. In fact it's really become annoying. Fortunately there's a redial button on the "call failed" screen.

These are the 4 2-way radios, along with the frequencies they can use for the 2G and 3G phones

  • UMTS/HSDPA (850, 1900, 2100 MHz)
  • GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • Wi-Fi (802.11b/g)
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR

 

The 5th receiver is for the GPS.

 


3G Speeds

I have not tried any scientific approach to measuring this but the 3G speeds do feel faster than the Edge system used to give me. It's nice to have the faster speeds but you are still limited to how fast the websites respond. The feeling you get when first connecting to the 3G network is one of a delayed connecting process and then it picks up once you have the connection. In my area (Salt Lake City) the connection feels faster than the Edge network was but if you let the connection sit idle for a few minutes you feel there's a reconnect overhead with too short of a timeout.

 


GPS

The GPS works well and is a great addition, especially when used along with the map application. It appears that the GPS is off when the phone is in normal usage, as it takes a few seconds to get a lock once you go into the Maps application. The GPS is more accurate than the triangulation methond that was used formerly on the 2G version and updates quicker. I was impressed with the GPS because once I had a strong signal I could hold the iPhone with the MAP up and it would move quickly and accurately as I drove down various roads, including high speed freeways in my area. The map stayed accurate and updated nicely. Given what I had heard about Apple not alowing turn by turn apps, I had worried perhaps it was a slow GPS, yet it seems to be fairly responsive.

When an application wants to use the GPS data a prompt comes up asking if it's ok to allow XYZ application to access the location data. Once you select yes, the location data becomes available to that app. A handy example is the camera. The camera has the ability to geo-tag the photos but asks you first if that's ok. The geo-tag info is placed in the EXIF data and automatically used by many applications such as Flickr and even Google Maps and others. This is very handy and something previously only available on high end cameras.

Concerning the GPS performance, it's going to take a dedicated GPS application to give me some actual measurements as this is a fairly subjective test. I will still use my dedicated moving map GPS for driving but it appears that eventually the iPhone will be able to perform this functionality as well.

 


EMail

There is one new feature that t he v2.0 software includes now, the ability to edit multiple emails at a time. In the email preview screen there's an edit button that has been added in the upper right of the screen. When selecting this a radio button is added to the preview of each email. You can then select multiple emails to perform an action on such as delete or move. This can be handy when deleting junk email that can fill your inbox.

 


Camera and Photo Browser

The camera works well and takes decent pictures for sharing with friends, email, and even for use online such as via Facebook. I don’t consider it close to high quality though but I am a photograph fanatic and take tens of thousands of high quality pictures a year. Still, it has been nice to have this camera on me when I see something and don’t have my Nikon handy. There has been one slight negative; I can’t take this phone in court with me because they don’t allow cameras. You can take a phone, just not one with a camera.

The Photo browser is a great thing to have handy. I’ve selected nearly a thousand images to keep on my phone for sharing. I have them in main level folders by topic which makes it easy to select the ones I want to share when the time comes to share something. iTunes dues a great job of managing the file sizes by editing the image and creating a version sized just right for viewing on the iPhone.

One thing I would suggest as an improvement to the Photo Browser would be the ability to support sub folders. The main level is nice but if you put in sub folders in a folder they are not copied to the phone.

 


Facebook Application

The Facebook application has turned out to be rather fun to use. The app lets you set your current status message easily and of course lets you browse others. There’s a very simple interface for sharing a picture online and it has become a fun way of checking in on friends while I am otherwise bored at an airport, doctors off and so forth. Reading and browsing status, messages etc are all reasonable on the app. About the only thing I haven’t been able to do that I wanted to try from a phone based app was comment on an image. The buttons along the bottom are:

  1. Home
  2. Your Name
  3. Friends
  4. Chat
  5. Inbox

 

These are the main sections you have access to, but you can't do much in each compared to the browser based version. One feature I really enjoy is the camera button on the top right of the Home screen. Using this button you can easily upload a mobile phone image right to your FB main page. It's very simple and makes sending pictures of whatever very easy and fun.

Facebook now has a preview online of an updated version that will support tabs along the top of their main 5 screens and greatly enhance the features you have access to from your iPhone.

 


iPhone 3G and 2G in a VW with iPod adapter

I thought some might find this information useful.

I have a 2008 VW GTI (2.0T) with an iPod adapter. It gives you the ability to plug your iPod into a base unit in the center console and then control your iPod using the radio interface on the dash. When the iPod is plugged in, you access it as if it were a CD player. You press the C D button once to play CD's in the 6-disc CD player, and a second time to access the songs on the iPod. The interface is the same as for playing a CD. Unfortunately the song names do NOT display on screen. If you play songs on the 1st CD it plays songs from your first play list. You can one button access your first 5 play lists using the first 5 CD buttons. The 6th CD is an alphabetical playlist of every song on your iPod. This gives you relatively easy access to every song on your iPod, but as I said earlier you can't see the names or titles so it's not quite as cool as it really could be.

If you have steering wheel controls they can also be used to control your iPod. When you have the driver information system set to audio, the iPod info is also displayed in the center screen right in front of the driver (in addition to always showing on the radio screen).

iPhone differences. When using the iPhone in the same setup there are a few differences. The first difference is a warning that comes up on the iPhone display when you plug it in. It says that this device was not designed for the iPhone, that it won't charge the phone and won't allow you to make or receive calls. I found that you could control the iPhone just as if it were an iPod, the UI is the same. In my case the iPhone also charged as it was plugged in. This is nice because it means I don't have to keep an iPhone charger in my car now. As far as calls go, IF you have the ringer on, and you get a call while you are listening to the iPhone, the ring will come over the car audio system. This is nice because then you can simply reach over pull up the phone and take the call.

Suggestions for VW to make this better! This really is a great first step but with a few improvements this would be an incredibly nice combination.

  • First and easiest, please show more than 99 songs in a playlist. I am sure most people have more than 99 songs in their play lists and certainly in the alphabetical mode of addressing all songs on the device. At least go to 999 but of course 9999 is better yet.
  • If you could see the song titles on screen it would really help.
  • If you could use the steering wheel controls to change to album or artist mode that would be nice too.
  • I would also like to be able to select a random play mode for either a given play list or for all songs on the current device.
  • For the iPhone the ability to make and receive calls from your phone all while leaving it in the console would be one REALLY big step forward.
  • Hands free with the Caller ID showing up on the console is a big win as far as I am concerned.
  • Bugs in the current system. When using the iPhone (this does NOT happen with an iPod) and you change to the next song, there is a quick partial play of the current song during the skip. It's not really terrible or anything and the next song plays as expected, it's just the small perhaps half second of music that plays during the skip (otherwise quiet time) that makes you wonder just what changed in the iPhone API to make this happen when it doesn't happen on the iPod.

 


iPhone 3G and iTunes problems and bugs

The iPhone 3G review has become overloaded by the sections covering problems and bugs so I decided to split them out into their own page.

Take this link for a page focusing on iPhone and iTune's problems and bugs: [iPhone 3G and iTunes problems and bugs]

 


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