A weekend with the iPhone 3G S

A few rainy days were spent moving from the Apple iPhone 2G to the 3G S

Even though my order status showed a delivery date of June 22, my new iPhone 3G S arrived on Friday morning as promised. Points to Apple for that, but equal points deducted for the oddness of the shipping notification and dates. But anyway, there it was, and naturally I had to set it up immediately. (Note: I wrote a business-tuned preview for the 3G S as well.)

I plugged my 2G into my laptop and synced it, then unboxed the 3G S and plugged it into the same system. At that point, I was prompted for my billing ZIP code and the last four digits of my SSN, and iTunes registered and activated the new phone in about 90 seconds -- talk about painless. I then restored the backup of my 2G phone to the 3G S, and everything was there: apps, settings, email, call logs, and so forth. Since I had used another Mac to sync music to my 2G, that didn't come across, but everything else did. I was up and running with the new phone in about 10 minutes, all told, from opening the box to making a call and checking e-mail. Frankly, this is how it should be done.

[ Find out InfoWorld Test Center's verdict on the new iPhone in "First look: iPhone 3G S is evolution in action" | For more iPhone reviews and analysis from InfoWorld, see "First look: iPhone OS 3.0 is better for business, but IT won't be satisfied" and "Your next iPhone: iPhone 3.0 update or iPhone 3G S?" ]

My first impressions were somewhat negative, but then again, after so many years of testing IT products, I tend to look for the bad things first. What I noticed was the screen is "warmer" than the 2G. The whites aren't quite as white. It's only really noticeable side-by-side, but it irked me. I've had friends say that they like it, but I am a fan of the 2G screen. Also, the screen on the 3G S has a several-pixel border around the edges that wasn't present on the 2G. It's quite noticeable in the sunlight, and I swear that the screen is slightly smaller than the 2G's screen due to this border. I've found the border to be quite annoying. I've asked a few others with a 3G S if they've noticed, and the results were inconclusive. Anyone want to corroborate?

Another annoyance came when I wanted to sync 20GB of music to the iPhone. This music is stored on a NAS and fed to iTunes via DAAP. Unfortunately, there's no way to sync an iPhone from a DAAP share. That meant that I could either copy 20GB of music to my laptop just to sync it to the phone or repoint my iTunes Library to the NAS share and let it catalog 80GB of music over several hours. I chose the latter and eventually got music on the phone. Note to Apple: This really, really, really needs to be better. There's no reason that this pain-in-the-ass method should be required simply because I want to store my expensive music collection on a redundant NAS device rather than a laptop hard drive. Seriously -- change this.

Other than the cosmetic issues, the rest of that package is fantastic, especially moving up from a 2G. The 3G S is definitely faster -- far faster in most applications. Whereas the 2G would hang for a bit when digesting lots of inbound e-mail or other similar high-CPU tasks, the 3G S is right there. The fact that it has double the RAM doesn't hurt much either.

The camera is finally usable, and the video functions are pretty neat. I hear plenty of people saying, "You should bring a real camera if you want to take pictures," regarding the iPhone 2G and 3G cameras, but that's nonsense. Most of the time I wasn't planning on taking a picture at all, but the situation presented itself, and gee, I can use my phone for that. The 3-megapixel camera and autofocus on the 3G S make that a no-brainer now. The video functions are very useful too. The camera on the 3G S isn't going to win any awards, but it's quite a bit more functional than the previous models.

On the apps side, the maps are far more usable, the GPS locks very quickly, and the magnetometer integration is extremely useful, allowing the maps to revolve around the orientation of the phone. The voice control is actually better than I had initially thought, after using it a bit. I have yet to have it miss a name when using voice to call contacts, including some odd names that other phones have had problems with. In addition, the fact that you can say "play artist Charlie Hunter" and "Fistful of Haggis" starts playing is quite cool.

I also tried the MLB at Bat 2009 app, which offers streaming video of a few live games a day, in addition to streaming audio and tons of info on MLB games past and present. In fact, I got to watch the Yankees lose by one with two on in the bottom of the ninth on my phone. I think there's room for improvement on the video streams, which can be blocky at times, and occasionally rebuffer, even on Wi-Fi with a 20Mbps downlink, but that'll come.

I'd love to say that I tried tethering and MMS, but I won't (even though I just might have). I also may have jailbroken it. Possibly.

I'm quite underwhelmed with the iSkin screen protector. The iSkin Solo case that I bought is fine, I guess, but the screen protector is pretty bad. It smudges and "whites out" easily. I don't know what screen protector I had on my iPhone 2G, but it was absolutely fantastic -- you'd never notice it was there.

All in all, I'm happy with the device. It's quite a step up from the 2G, but 3G owners who can live without the compass and speed boost should probably wait until their contract ends and upgrade to whatever Apple releases next year. That said, as soon as iPhone 3G S-only apps start hitting the App Store, waiting may become more difficult.

And so here I find myself, only a year after writing "Why the iPhone isn't for me," with a new iPhone that addresses many of my points in that piece and no plans to head elsewhere. Times, they do change.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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