iPhone 3G first impressions

I mentioned after this year’s MacWorld in January that I was holding out for two things before buying an iPhone. My first requirement was 3G data instead of the slower EDGE, and the second was simply the end of my T-Mobile contract so I don’t have to pay early termination fees. Serendipitously, both my requirements were met last month when the iPhone 3G was unveiled literally the day before our contract ended.

They weren’t actually available for sale until last week, July 11, and I wasted little time, picking up a matching pair of black 16 GB models for Sarai and myself on Thursday the 17th. After using it for a few days I’m ready to write up some of my first impressions.

iPhone 3G


My first impression was a negative, unfortunately. This whole AT&T thing has really left a bad taste in my mouth. From the mandatory in-store phone activation, which makes the purchase process much more time-consuming than it needs to be, to the two-year contracts, to the locked phones, to things like SMS messaging costing extra — pretty much everything to do with the service, as opposed to the phone itself, sucks. I’ve always hated the US cellular phone model, in which lock-in is the standard practice, but this experience really drove it home. In order to get an iPhone I had to cancel the month-to-month T-Mobile service I was perfectly happy with in exchange for a contract with AT&T, with whom I get a noticeably weaker signal at various points around my neighborhood. Not to mention packing up our unlocked GSM phones in exchange for locked ones.

It could be worse though. Current AT&T customers are even more screwed because they not only have to renew their contract terms, they have to pay twice as much for the phone. This is the customer service I have to look forward to with this company. Wonderful.

The iPhone itself

So AT&T is the big problem here, but other than that I couldn’t be happier with the iPhone. I’ve used other peoples’ iPhones over the past year so I knew what to expect, but using them once in a while doesn’t compare to actually having one. The hardware is nice — I thought I liked the old aluminum cases better than the new plastic, but I’ve warmed up to it. I may get a cover for it though. I wasn’t planning to but this thing is pretty slippery and I see it getting dropped a lot. A cover will help with that.

Killer Features

iPhone 3G screenshot

The hardware is nice but the software is what makes it. The killer features for me are GPS/maps and Mobile Safari. The big feature for a lot of other people, primarily Blackberry users, is push e-mail, but I really don’t get it. The last thing I want is to be interrupted every single time I get mail; that sounds incredibly annoying. The first thing I did when setting up mail on my phone was to make sure it only checks mail when I tell it to, not automatically.

Maps, on the other hand, are something that I’ve been wanting for a long time. I’ve had my eye on a Garmin nüvi GPS unit for a while, and may still get one before my next trip to Europe, but in the short time I’ve had the phone I’ve already put the built-in Google maps to good use. This will probably be my most-used feature.

Mobile web browsing is the other big one. I keep pretty much my entire life in Backpack and am forever wishing I had easy access to the stuff in there when I’m out. Now all I need is for 37signals to make a better iPhone interface or a dedicated Backpack client application.

App Store

And speaking of iPhone applications, we now have the App Store and access to lots of other software to make the phone even more useful. I’m a pretty heavy Yelp user and was happy to discover that not only do they have a free iPhone client application available, it actually works better than their web site, using the phone’s location-awareness to allow you to search for things close to you, where ever you are. And there’s Cocktails, an application by the people who run CocktailDB. 1,500 cocktail recipes in my pocket — just the thing I need the next time I have to remind a bartender how to make something.

Aside from a Backpack app, the application I most want to see at this point is a Wikipedia client. I have it on good authority that one might be coming, so I’m looking forward to putting that to good use once it’s available.


FrontPocket is now available in the App Store. It’s the first iPhone app for Backpack. http://frontpocketapp.com

Kenn says:

I saw this mentioned on the Backpack customer forums a little while back. Good to see that it’s launched! I’ve installed it and it looks good so far. Thanks!