iPhone 3G review

It's the second coming of the iPhone, and this time it's 3G. Some say it's the ultimate phone, but is it truly fit for business?

IT Pro Verdict

The iPhone 3G is an excellent smartphone and packs a great array of business-compatible features. However, aside from 3G and GPS, users of the existing iPhone should not expect to find anything other than that can’t be found on a 2G handset with the latest firmware.

Making the iPhone more business friendly was a big challenge for a device that sells largely on the basis that it is an iPod Nano with a smartphone grafted onto it. That doesn't necessarily make for a winning combination for the enterprise.

Nonetheless, Apple has taken significant steps in tweaking and upgrading the iPhone to not only appeal to a wider consumer audience, but also to make it more relevant for business users, at the same time addressing the concerns of many IT managers about the lack of secure integration options between an iPhone and the enterprise back-end.

In a nutshell, the iPhone 3G is a major facelift of the original iPhone rather than a new product designed from scratch. This makes sense; the original was a sound piece of engineering and worked well. What it lacked was functionality rather than needing any major flaws in its design and operation changed.

With this in mind, Apple has set about improving and expanding the capabilities of the iPhone. There are two models, one with 8GB of flash storage, the other with 16GB the same as the two models they are replacing. A new build of the iPhone firmware, known as iPhone OS 2.0, is installed on the iPhone 3G as well as being available to existing 2G devices.

The biggest hardware difference is the inclusion of Tri-band 3G, with both standard UMTS and HSDPA data services supported, the latter delivering a significant improvement in download speeds for web pages and other data.

With the exception of hardware-specific features like 3G support and a GPS receiver for location and navigation applications like the Google Maps app pre-installed on all iPhones, the 3G and 2G devices are functionally identical.

At a hardware level, the 3G models still have the same 2-megapixel camera as the original, and there is still no flash, mirror or auto-focus.

The back of the iPhone 3G has an all-plastic curved back in place of the grey metal case used on the original. This slightly reduces the weight (by just 2g) but has mainly been done to reduce cost , to accommodate the larger battery fitted in the 3G unit and to help improve reception. The switch to 3G has increased the power consumption of the iPhone, so a slightly bigger battery is necessary in order to offset the impact.

One other minor cosmetic tweak has been made, the headphone socket is no longer recessed, allowing you to use the headphones or wired headset of your choice, rather than using only Apple's own headphones or having to use an adapter to access the 3.5mm socket with normal headphone jacks that won't fit into the recess.

Moving on to the software, the enterprise features are a welcome addition, with support for Microsoft Exchange push email as well as ActiveSync, which allows for over-the-air synchronisation of calendar entries and global address lists. ActiveSync support also extends to a number of centralised enforced IT policy and security measures including remote wipe, remote configuration and WPA2 Enterprise and 802.1x wireless security protocols.

For ensuring that remote connections between the iPhone and the enterprise backend are secure, the handset now supports Cisco IPsec VPN protocols with support for two-factor token authentication, as well as conventional password or certificate authentication.

There is a clear improvement in call quality on the 3G device, whether the phone is on a 2G or 3G network, suggesting that some work has been done to improve the audio handling.

The core software set on the iPhone has not really changed, but rather has experienced a series of tweaks to enable more efficient processing of information. For example, the email client can now move and delete multiple messages at a time.

The standard software set is no longer a restriction for users wanting to do more or perform custom tasks without resorting to unauthorised software hacks, thanks to Apple opening up the iPhone platform to legitimate third party software development.