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August 15, 2008

iPhone 3G Review

For Business Travel

The iPhone from Apple has changed the landscape of mobile devices. Some of you couldn't wait, and bought one when it first came out. Others, like me, wanted to wait until the early adopters debugged it for you and held out for the second generation. And even if you aren't using or even desiring an iPhone, you're still benefiting from other manufacturers having to keep up with iPhone advances.

One thing is certain - no other mobile device has ever had the success the iPhone is enjoying at getting users to access the Internet (see above story).

But, that's not all we want. If you're like me and travel for work, you've at least entertained the idea of having a mobile handheld device capable of replacing your laptop computer. Well, I jumped in, bought the iPhone 3G (I waited for a fast cell connection to be available as a minimum laptop replacement requirement), and am about to embark upon my first business trip without my laptop.

I'm preparing for this as if I might need anything I would normally use my laptop and old cell phone to access, and here's what I've found:


The email component on the iPhone is incredible. I have access to my work email through a POP3 account that was easy to set up. There are also options to connect to an Exchange server or have direct access to Gmail, Yahoo Mail or AOL mail. You can set up multiple email accounts, read most attachments, and set important options such as signatures, auto-replies, etc.


Through too many years of networking, I have amassed over 10,000 contacts (no, I don't keep in touch with all of them the way I should). Two issues kept coming up with the several Windows Mobile devices I've used. First, contact notes would be truncated, and with that many contacts and my far from photographic memory, I use notes to remember everything about my contacts. To have them truncated is similar to a lobotomy for me. Second, there simply was never enough memory in Windows Mobile devices to store that many contacts and still have room to run programs. An iPhone with 16G of built-in storage is extremely appealing. But, I still had to test it, and have yet to have a contact's notes truncated on my iPhone! Additionally, the search function is quick, and making contact with your contact is as easy as tapping their phone number or email address.

Cell Phone:

I think we sometimes forget how important call quality is for a cell phone. I have the same provider, AT&T, that I've always had, but my call quality is far better than from my Windows Mobile devices. It's still not quite as good as my wife's RAZR, but it's close. I have read the reports of calls dropping for other iPhone users when moving from 3G to Edge, but have not experienced the problem myself. Still missing is integrated voice dialing. While I could forgive the first iPhone for not having this feature, I can't understand why the iPhone 3G still lacks it.

Internet Access:

Along with the amazing user interface, real Internet access to rival a desktop is the primary reason I got the iPhone. Our Marketshare service has shown the incredible gains in Internet usage market share the iPhone has achieved, but it's still a treat to experience it for yourself. Currently, the only major feature lacking is support for Flash, but hopefully Apple will solve that through a software upgrade or third party application.

Office Documents:

Reading, editing and sharing Microsoft Office documents was my primary reason for using Windows Mobile devices over the years. It's not just a nice feature, but a requirement for any serious business traveler. Apple touts the ability to view Office attachments in emails. I held out hope for more, but that is absolutely all you can do on the iPhone on its own. Any Office attachment is converted to HTML, and viewed through a browser type window. You can't edit it (I can accept that), and you can't even copy and paste text from it (that's difficult to accept).

There is hope, though! I tried every method I could find through the App Store and online, and could not come up with a solution that resided on the iPhone to edit Office documents. I did finally solve this issue (and others) by setting up a VNC connection to my laptop at the home office. A very useful App Store application, Mocha VNC, allowed me to have my iPhone take over my laptop. I can now access and do anything I could from my laptop over an Internet connection through my iPhone. This is not the ideal solution, and it has risks (power outage at the office), but it will have to do for now.

GPS Directions:

OK - I never had true GPS services from my laptops or old cell phones, but I did expect some level of GPS services from the iPhone. I've used GPS dedicated devices, and they're an amazing technology to get you from point A to point B. The iPhone comes with satellite-assisted location services. I hoped it would perform nearly as well as GPS dedicated devices, but that has not been my experience at all. Unfortunately, the iPhone usually identifies my location somewhere between 1 and 2 miles from my actual location. Again, I'm hoping for a software or third party application fix here.


A 5 hour plane ride requires some form of entertainment. My laptops have usually advertised 3 hours of battery life, but I always felt fortunate if I only missed the last 15 minutes of a 90 minute movie. Entertainment is another big iPhone advantage. With 16G of storage, I have plenty of room for my 10,000 contacts, Sudoku, Chess, Simulated Blackjack, pictures, several movies, and it has a built-in iPod with my entire music collection on it. I may not be able to access my Office documents on the plane, but I will finally finish a movie.


Apple doesn't talk much about the camera on the iPhone. You can't record video with it, and it only takes 2 megapixel still photos. Other mobile devices offer camera features that rival dedicated cameras. That being said, the iPhone photos are of far better quality than I expected.


The iPhone user interface is incredible. I will never miss a stylus, or the finger cramps that came from using it too much. The iTunes App Store is another huge success. No mobile device has ever had so much third party support. Battery life is OK, but not great. I wouldn't even take a 24 hour trip without a charger.

Why can't I print from my iPhone? WiFi based printers are fairly common, and most of us at least have a printer hooked up to a computer on a network.

Here's a big beef I have - why doesn't the iPhone support a bluetooth keyboard? I believe by not supporting printing, a keyboard and editing Office documents, Apple may be attempting to make sure you still need a MacBook.

There are some shortcomings with the iPhone 3G, but the positives far outweigh them.

- Vincent Vizzaccaro