Sunday, August 3, 2008

Apple's iPhone 3G is speedy, but lacks the 'oomph' factor

The iPhone 3G supports the third generation of mobile phone standards (UMTS/HSDPA) and GPS navigation. Matthias Kremp, of the news website Spiegel Online, says users will see the biggest benefit in the iPhone's internet access speed.

"A HSDPA mobile from another manufacturer needs a lot longer to download the same page."

Kremp attributes the phone's speed to its Safari browser and its quick start-up speed. The phone outperforms its peers in GPS mapping. It does not rely on GPS input when determining a location, but also measures proximity to nearby mobile telephone masts and surrounding wireless LAN networks.

Nonetheless, because of some software shortfalls, the iPhone is not ready to function as a full-fledged navigator. The phone's Google Maps application can pinpoint its location and give basic directions. But a special program will be needed before it can be used as a real-time navigator.

Prior to iPhone's release, a company specializing in navigation software called TomTomannounced that it would release such software. However, it has yet to be decided whether Apple will license the software for the iPhone.

Apple does offer applications from third parties on its "App Store," accessible on the iPhone via the iTunes application. The store started off with 560 programs, 200 of which were games. Offers included an AOL chat provider, an eBay program and several productivity applications. About 140 are free. Most of the others cost less than 10 euros (16 dollars).

Along with the UMTS and GPS hardware, the iPhone also updated Version 2.0 of its software. First generation iPhone users can download the system free of charge. IPod Touch users can download it for a fee of 8 euros.

Business people may find some of the system's features appealing. Apple has licensed Microsoft's "Active Sync" software so the iPhone can access Microsoft's ubiquitous exchange server. "It's child's play to set up and the offers are pretty solid," commented Michael Spehr of the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The jury is still out on the iPhone's touch screen keyboard. Spehr said he found the virtual keyboard "cumbersome and an acquired taste," noting that he preferred the Blackberry's physical keyboard. Others said they found that the iPhone's virtual keyboard meets user's needs and, after a while, becomes easier to use than the Blackberry.

Reviewers were critical of the iPhone's battery life. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal said he found it difficult to make the battery charge last an entire business day. He only managed to control the iPhone's power consumption after discovering its energy saving function. Mossberg and Edward Baig of USA Today recommend swithching off the iPhone's 3G functions when not in use.

Most testers said they would either want a longer battery life or a back-up battery. Some also called for a more integrated camera with video functionality. Fees levied by T-Mobile in Germany have been criticized as too costly. Even though the sale price has dropped significantly, a lifetime of T-Mobile fees could add up quickly, they note.

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