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It's been a long time coming. Sure, we've had the first-gen iPhone in India in some form or the other ever since it launched in the US, but hey, "official" is always better than "nothing official". Let's dive into Apple's coolness box and see what the iPhone 3G, which is available in India starting Aug. 22nd, brings to the table.
For your convenience, and to make it snappy, we've skipped the parts which are similar from the first-gen iPhone to the new 3G variant, you can read a review of the last iPhone here . We've split the review into four parts. First, we answer a few basic questions you might have, second, obviously, are the "Good Bits", then some "Bad Bits", and finally, the "whys" behind the Rating / Conclusion.
For those of you who are in a hurry to get a confirmation on the prices, our original article about the iPhone pricing was right. Yes, the iPhone is priced at a hefty Rs. 31,000 for the 8GB version, and Rs. 36,100 for the 16GB version. Obviously, that also means you get it without any contract or postpaid plan whatsoever. You can use it with either a Prepaid or a Postpaid SIM card, and pick absolutely any plan you like (though Vodafone and Airtel may also launch some iPhone specific plans as well).
Sadly, the phone is going to be operator-locked. So, if you buy an iPhone 3G from Airtel, you can't use it on Vodafone, and vice versa. It goes without saying that using it on any other GSM network isn't possible, so those of you on IDEA, BSNL or any other provider will have to wait a long time till you can get an official iPhone that runs on your network without any hacks.
The iPhone will be sold at Airtel and Vodafone stores nationwide, and some Apple Exclusive resellers may also stock it. From what information we've been able to gather, the quantity of iPhones coming to India is pretty small as compared to the demand that the operators have gauged with their Pre-Booking offers, so expect it to be sold out pretty fast, regardless of the price, unless Apple increases their shipments to India (which I am sure they will, once they see the demand).
We also have a confirmation on the fact that iPhone's cool value added, but operator dependent feature, Visual Voicemail, will not be launching in India. Also, the iTunes store will only work for Application Downloads (i.e. App Store), and will not allow users to buy Music, Videos or Movies just about yet. Obviously, you'll need an Indian credit card (Visa, Mastercard, or American Express) to sign up for iTunes to download applications, even those that are free.
That's enough of the FAQs, now let's get down to the good bits on the new iPhone 3G. Move to the next page to continue reading more.
iPhone 3G: What's Good!
First off, let's talk about the Design. The new iPhone 3G, though essentially the same format as the last iPhone, with exactly the same screen resolution (480x320px) and size (3.5 inch), and even similar button placements, is a major improvement over the first-gen iPhone. Gone is the shiny steel, and in is the new black plastic backplate (or white, an option on the 16GB version). It certainly looks better now than earlier (though the white version seemed a bit tacky at first glance). The back is slightly curved around the edges, which gives the phone a sleek feel, makes the phone seem narrower than it really is, and easier to hold.
For those of you who are wondering why Apple chose to go with a plastic back instead of the seemingly "upmarket" metal back which has graced iPods for ages, the reason is quite functional. There are a total of ten different frequency antennas that are put into the iPhone 3G (four for GSM, three for 3G, a Wi-Fi antenna, a Bluetooth antenna, and finally, that steel ring around the camera is a GPS antenna), so the plastic back was absolutely essential to ensure all those signals get through without any interruption, or reduction in signal strength.
All buttons on the phone sides are made of metal now, unlike the plastic volume up / down and ringer switch on the original. Also, the 3.5mm headphones socket now sits fully flush on the top, and not a bit recessed as it was in the first-gen iPhone, so you can use any aftermarket (read "better") headphones you want with it.
As for the other parts in the box, Apple includes a cool, tiny charger which lets you plug in the USB sync cable and charge the iPhone from a wall socket. Sadly, no dock is shipped with the iPhone 3G, so you'll have to spend a bit extra if you want to flaunt the phone on your desk. The box also includes a SIM removal tool, and a cleaning cloth (desperately needed), other than some small documentation.
Now, let's get down to the functional bits. First off, battery life. Since there is no 3G available yet, we were only able to test the battery life on GSM Talk time, Wi-Fi Browsing, and Music Playback. We tested the battery life with Bluetooth off, Display brightness set to high (with auto brightness sensor enabled), with the bundled headphones on 85% volume and managed to get a good three hours of talk time, almost 2.5 hours of heavy Wi-Fi browsing, and another 1.5 hours of music and videos mixed playback in a single charge from the phone, all this while running two email accounts (one push, one pull) in the background. Now, that is indeed better than the original phone, and honestly, quite good for a phone of this caliber.
Stay on a lookout; we'll do a more detailed battery benchmark as we've spent more time with the phone. Obviously, when 3G is available, we'll do another test to determine the battery life of the phone when using 3G data and voice.
Other improvements include louder, clearer incoming voice quality, and two tiny, but surprisingly loud ringer speakers at the bottom of the phone.
Now, let's dive down into the software. The iPhone 2.0 software, visually, is a minor upgrade from the last version. You get the ability to switch between multiple pages on the home screen to accommodate the expanding number of applications, and the new iPhone App Store icon is now present on the homepage.
Once you've created an account on iTunes, and synced the phone with your PC once, the App Store can work as a stand-alone application, allowing you to install free, or even paid apps directly on your phone using Wi-Fi or EDGE to download the apps. Obviously, you can also download the apps on your PC using a broadband connection, and when you sync the phone, all apps will become available on the phone as well. We went through the App Store and found hundreds of cool (and some productive, work) apps, some paid, and many free, and installed dozens of them. The App Store truly makes the iPhone the easiest phone to install software on, ever, and will go a long way in ensuring the iPhone's success as a platform to develop software for.
As for the built-in apps, there are a few minor tweaks to improve the existing apps. The Camera app allows you to Geo-Tag your photo with the GPS data, so you can figure out where it was clicked, and if you upload it to a photo sharing site that supports EXIF Geo-Tags, you'll automatically see your photos sorted by their map locations on a virtual map.
The calculator now switches to a scientific calc mode when you switch from vertical to horizontal view. The new Google Maps app on the phone is upgraded to take full advantage of the built-in A-GPS, and attains a lock in under 20-30 seconds in most outdoor locations, we'll talk about what it lacks in the "bad bits" part of the review.
As for other major improvements, now, the iPhone is a serious contented in the "Enterprise" space as well. Exchange ActiveSync push mail support is built right into the phone, so getting push mail for enterprise users is just a matter of getting their Exchange Server setup for Push Mail (out of the box on Exchange 2003 onwards), and an active data connection on the iPhone. No extra services need to be bought. You can sync your mail, calendars, and even contacts with your Exchange Server now.
Also, the big advantage is the fact that you can also add any number of your personal email accounts from Gmail, Yahoo, or for that matter, any other service that provides POP3 or IMAP email, and setup a time for how often your iPhone should fetch mail from those accounts. And if any Powerpoint, Word, or Apple's own "Work" suite documents come your way, you can view them in full glory on the large screen. Also, unlike Blackberry, or even a Nokia Mail For Exchange service, you get to see all your mails in full HTML format. If you're a Mac user, you can also use MobileMe, a paid service, to sync your Mac contacts, calendars and mail over the mobile, and get push mail as part of the package.
That pretty much brings us to the end of the "Good Bits", now let's get to the "Bad Bits" part.
iPhone 3G: What's Bad?
Well. Let's begin with the biggest bad of them all. The Price! Buyers had been expecting Apple to bring the iPhone to India at a price which is at par with the rest of the world ($199 for the 8GB, and $299 for the 16GB), but sadly, the operators don't seem to agree. Airtel and Vodafone believe the typical "Contract" system which works world over can't be enforced in India (despite a Reliance Comm having launched their services with that model, and make it work) and hence, you'll have to shell out the full price of the phone, sans any subsidies or "in-plan" charges (close to $699 for the 8GB version, $799 for the 16GB).
Now, as we mentioned earlier, the problem is that despite the fact that you pay the full price of the phone, and have no contract to go along with the phone, if you buy the phone from Vodafone, it'll be locked for use on the Vodafone network only, and same goes for Airtel, which is very unfair, considering the entire GSM market in India works with unlocked phones.
Other major provider-related bads include no support for Visual Voice Mail, and no ability to pay for downloads or other value added services as part of your bill (as it typically works on other handsets when you download a video, or a wallpaper, or a ringtone from the operator's network).
As for the hardware and design of the phone, though it is near perfect this time, some basic gripes still remain. The phone is still a finger-print magnet, and the plastic back gets scratched even more easily than the metal back. You'll have to wipe it desperately before trying to show it off to a friend, watch a video, or surf the web, and the moment you use the touch screen, it'll get dirty again. The phone still doesn't come with a user replaceable battery, so if your battery goes kaput, expect a fairly long trip to the service center to get the battery swapped. You can see two screws at the bottom of the phone to open the case, but don't even think about doing that, as you'll instantly void your warranty. One more thing we didn't like is the fact that Apple chose not to include the dock, or for that matter, something as simple as a wired handsfree as a standard shipment in a phone this expensive.
Functionality wise, you'll still miss some very basic things like the ability to record video, send MMS messages, or the ability to forward SMS messages, all quite important in the Indian context. You can't even copy-paste text from one place to the other, one of the most basic things for any Smartphone, especially one that needs to be used in the enterprise, where you may need to paste the contents of one mail into another one to send to a separate mail thread (quite a common usage pattern for me).
As for Exchange support, strangely, the moment you sync with Exchange, the iPhone asks to delete all your existing contacts, and keep only the ones that are there on the exchange server, and any contact added also gets uploaded to the exchange server. This would be quite a bad thing for most users, as they may not want their personal contacts going into their office address book, and vice versa. A modern Nokia E series phone would allow you to select whether the contact is a public, or a private one.
Then comes the iPod part. If you've got such a kick-ass media player phone, one thing you'd love to have is the ability to use a Stereo Wireless A2DP Bluetooth headset, sadly, you can't do that on an iPhone 3G. You'll have to be tethered to the wired headphones only.
Another complaint is the activation process. Despite the fact that the iPhone is anyways bought operator locked, you need to take the phone home, download and install iTunes on your PC (which might take quite a long time if you have a poor connection), plug and sync the iPhone with iTunes while connected to the net, and then, your phone is ready for use. This is quite a cumbersome process for something that shouldn't really be so complicated. We got in touch with the operators, and a few dealers, and have been told that some stores may offer in-store activation as well, so that might reduce the headache for some users.
Then comes the GPS functionality. The iPhone isn't half as good as a Rs. 9,000 Nokia Navigator phone with Maps 2.0. Google Maps can't even do route finding in India, forget things like voice navigation, and turn-by-turn guidance, which are now a basic part of any navigation device. This is a really disappointing part, as that high res display, and a fantastic GPS that acquires signal in seconds is all laid to waste by incomplete software.
That's pretty much it from our "Bad" side, please feel free to add to this list by posting a comment if you feel we've missed out on something.
Now, let's get down to rating this thing.
iPhone 3G: Rating / Conclusion
As you can see on the ratings scale above, we gave the iPhone 3G an abysmal 2.5 stars out of 5, here's our rationale behind this decision.
Let's assume the iPhone is the best thing since sliced bread. Let's consider it to be the greatest phone of all times, and give it five stars, to begin with.
Then, chop off one star for the horrible, horrible pricing. At Rs. 31,000 for the 8GB version, and Rs. 36,100 for the 16GB version, it is more expensive than pretty much every single phone ever touted as an iPhone killer, with a spec-and-features-sheet a mile longer than the iPhone. Four stars left.
Let's take off quarter-a-star for the fact that 3G still isn't there in India yet, and you'll have a tough time finding Wi-Fi hotspots at most places, so that swanky Safari browser is going to suffer a lot due to lack of bandwidth, especially considering you can't really browse basic WAP sites with it. And hey, what's with no flash support? Even a Rs. 12,000 Nokia phone supports that. Three and 3/4th star left.
Another quarter star deserves to be cut for the fact that despite paying full price, you get a phone which needs to be activated via the Internet, and is locked to the operator, despite no contractual obligations to do so. Three and a half star left.
A half star more is gone as the iPhone lacks A2DP stereo Bluetooth headset support, and as a music phone, that's a major disappointment, as you can't use it with any of the hundreds of cool mobile, or for that matter car or home entertainment accessories out there in the market that support Bluetooth music streaming. Three stars left.
And that last half-star is cut because the iPhone 3G fails to deliver as a navigation device, despite having such a great screen, and an awesome A-GPS. Two Point Five Stars Only!
Now, remember this. The iPhone still remains one of the most innovative phones, and even more so, the most innovative UI and application development platform ever made, and the coolness factor is off the scale with this one, but till these basic niggles are fixed, and all of them are fixable by a price drop, or a software update (and we've seen both of those tools being used by Apple quite effectively in the past), it fails to deliver on the promise of being the phone that will change your mobile experience forever.
Let us know what you think about the iPhone 3G, and what you think Apple should do to make it even better.
Also, don't forget to look at the next page for a list of what comes in the box, and specs of the iPhone 3G.
iPhone 3G Box Contents
- iPhone 3G handset
- USB docking cable
- USB power adapter and cord
- Earphones (with mic)
- SIM card extractor
- Cleaning cloth
- User manual and product documentation
iPhone 3G Technical Specifications
|Network ||GSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G Tri band UMTS/HSDPA 850, 1900, 2100|
|Connectivity ||Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, 3G, EDGE, A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.0, USB 2.0|
|Physical Attributes ||115.5 x 62.1 x 12.3 mm, 133g|
|Display ||320x480, 16m colors, 3.5 inch |
|Memory ||8GB and 16GB options avaialable |
|Media Supported||AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP4, MOV |
|Camera ||2 megapixel cam with Geo-Tagging |
|Battery ||Lithium-Polymer (not user replaceable) |
|MRP ||Rs 31,000 for 8GB, Rs. 36,100 for 16GB |
Check out the iPhone 3G review by Varun Singh on Tech Guru show (Hindi) on CNBC Awaaz on 21st August at 7:30pm and 11:30pm.
You can watch the review in English on CNBC TV18 on 22nd August at 6:30pm.