The iPhone, Rehashed

The new iPhone can surf the Web faster than its predecessor, but it doesn't offer a lot you can't get on the old phone.
The new iPhone can surf the Web faster than its predecessor, but it doesn't offer a lot you can't get on the old phone. (By Alan Diaz -- Associated Press)
Thursday, July 17, 2008; Page D03

A year ago, Apple's iPhone made most competing cellphones look like stone tablets with antennas. But the new iPhone 3G, introduced last week, doesn't make quite the same leap forward.

It's not that the iPhone 3G isn't an exceptional smartphone. It's just that this new model doesn't constitute a mandatory upgrade from its predecessor.

The iPhone 3G shares its single best feature, the ability to run add-on programs, with the older model. Its faster Internet connection, however, suffers from AT&T Wireless's limited coverage and exacts a price on battery life.

And while the iPhone 3G costs much less upfront -- new customers pay $199 for a model with 8 gigabytes of storage or $299 for a 16-gigabyte model -- it costs about $15 more a month to use. So if you've been pondering trading in your old iPhone, wait.

If you've been using some other smartphone, though, the iPhone 3G is harder to resist.

The 3G refers to AT&T's mobile-broadband network. In time trials, the 3G delivered download speeds two or three times as fast as AT&T's older EDGE data service on the original iPhone.

Like the first model, the iPhone 3G can connect to WiFi wireless networks for even faster downloads. You will need that WiFi option, considering the limits of AT&T's 3G coverage. Many not-so-distant suburbs fall outside of it, including most of Southern Maryland and large chunks of Loudoun and Prince William counties.

The 3G eats away at battery life, too. Instead of the 10 hours of talk time the first iPhone allowed, this one only lasted for about 4 1/2 in one test. When set to keep reloading a couple of Web pages on a 3G connection, its battery -- sealed inside its case -- lasted just under five hours.

AT&T's voice and data bundles start at $69.99 for unlimited Internet use and 450 weekday calling minutes but do not include any text messages, making the service cost $74.99 with 200 monthly messages. That beats Verizon's rates but exceeds those of Sprint and T-Mobile.

The 3G also includes a Global Positioning System receiver, allowing more precise navigation than the older model. But it still only offers driving directions, not ones for walking.

Apple's software sets the iPhone apart from the look-alikes those other carriers have rushed to sell. Its smart, simple, "multi-touch" interface lets you run most of the phone's features with one- or two-finger swipes, while its on-screen keyboard does an amazing job of correcting most mistakes.

Its Web browser makes full-sized pages even pleasant to read. But it can't play Flash multimedia besides YouTube videos, which open in a separate program.

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