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Living With an iPhone 3G, Part 2

Last week, I described the e-mail problems I've had with my Apple iPhone 3G. This week I'll give you my take on some other complaints that consumers have raised, including dropped calls, sluggish network speeds, and short battery life.

Last week, I described the e-mail problems I've had with my Apple iPhone 3G. This week I'll give you my take on some other complaints that consumers have raised, including dropped calls, sluggish network speeds, and short battery life.

Complaint: Dropped Calls and Sluggish Web Browsing
Some users are complaining the iPhone 3G's reception isn't nearly as good as it should be. The phone too often drops calls and delivers sluggish Web browsing even when it's within a 3G network service area, or so go the complaints.

The source of the problems, as of this writing, hasn't been officially pinpointed or acknowledged. Some argue that the iPhone's new radio chip, from German chipmaker Infineon, is to blame. Others point to AT&T's 3G network as the culprit. Apple said the iPhone 2.0.2 software update, released August 18, would deliver "improved communications with 3G networks." But many iPhone owners say that's not been the case.

I've experienced dropped calls both at home in San Francisco and in my travels. But I've had calls drop on every other cell phone I've ever owned, too, and I can't say the iPhone 3G is any guiltier than they were. As for sluggish Web browsing, I've experienced that on occasion as well. But it's usually when I've roamed off the 3G network and am using AT&T's slower, EDGE network.

Complaint: Brief Battery Life
Short battery life is another complaint I've frequently heard. Though I've not conducted any specific battery tests, I, too, wish the iPhone's nonreplaceable battery lasted longer on a charge.

For example, on a recent 3-hour car trip, I used the iPhone 3G's GPS to track my location for about 30 to 45 minutes. I also left two voice mails, checked e-mail a couple of times, and listened to three brief podcasts. (I wasn't driving the car, in case you were getting concerned for my safety.) By the end of the drive, the battery was almost drained.

Given such lackluster battery results, I highly recommend two power accessories: Griffin Technology's $20 PowerJolt for iPhone, an auto power adapter for recharging; and Kensington's $50 Mini Battery Pack and Charger. The Kensington product not only extends your iPhone battery's life but can also recharge it when you're away from a power outlet.

Complaint: Cruddy, Unstable Apps
Apple's App Store, the only legal source for third-party iPhone and iPod Touch native applications, is an ever-expanding motley crew of software. I've heard complaints that too many of these new applications crash way too often or are useless and not worth the money. (Some apps are free, others not).

Since acquiring my iPhone 3G on July 18, I've downloaded and used 29 different iPhone apps. I'd say probably half have crashed at least once, which is a high percentage. I've found only one program I've installed, the $30 TravelTracker, to be largely useless. The apps I like include:

Urbanspoon, a free restaurant review guide with a fun interface, which I reviewed.
AOL Radio and Pandora Radio, two free programs that let you listen to tunes you don't own. Of the two, I prefer Pandora Radio because it lets you create your own "radio stations" based on music preferences.
FileMagnet ($5), which lets you copy documents over a Wi-Fi network from a Mac onto your iPhone, where you can view (but not edit) them.
Now Playing (free), a guide to current movies and theater show times, plus links to trailers and an option for buying tickets.
For more iPhone applications, read "Free IPhone Apps You Need Right Now."

Worth It?
No mobile phone is perfect, of course. They all deliver aggravation along with convenience.

Also, it's worth remembering that expectations for Apple's iPhone 3G were huge, and I doubt any device could have met or exceeded them. However, Apple is at least guilty of overhyping its latest smart phone. And there are scores of unhappy (and angry) iPhone 3G users out there.

While I'm at it, there are things the iPhone doesn't do that the majority of smart phones have done for years. The iPhone can't record video (though some third-party apps may offer this in the future, according to rumors). The built-in camera has no zoom. Remarkably, you can't snap a picture and easily send it via MMS to someone else's cell phone; you can, however, send a picture via e-mail. Receiving pictures sent from other mobile phones is such a laborious process, it's hardly worth it. And why the heck can't you sync your iCal to-do items onto your iPhone? Given that iCal is Apple's own calendar program for Macs, this oversight is downright baffling.

Faults aside, I still believe the iPhone 3G is the most amazing smart phone currently available. The new GPS feature, though not as sophisticated as GPS mapping on other smart phones, works well and has helped me find specific stores and restaurants in unfamiliar areas. I really enjoy carrying around photos and videos to show friends on the iPhone 3G's big, beautiful screen. I listen to my music much more often when I'm on foot, because I was loathe to carry both a cell phone and an iPod. The iPhone 3G's speaker is stronger than the first iPhone's, and the audio quality of phone conversations is good.

In short, most of the time, the iPhone 3G is a joy to use. It certainly has room for improvement, but I don't regret buying it.

Kodak's Pocket Camcorder: Kodak's Z16 is giving the Flip Mino (both list for $180) pocket camcorders some serious competition. The Z16 can record video at 60 frames per second at 720p and 16:9 aspect ratio, while the Mino can shoot video only in the lower-quality VGA format. The Z16 also takes still pictures, which are of pretty good quality; the Mino can't. You can see a picture I took with the Z16 on my blog. However, unlike the Mino, the Z16's LCD screen is difficult to view in bright sunlight--a major drawback. Also, the Z16 lacks a flash. For most people, the Mino is probably the better choice. Worth noting: We gave the Mino a PCW Rating of 91 (Superior).

Copying Movie DVDs to Your Laptop: Real Networks' RealDVD ($40) breaks new ground by being the first mainstream software program for legally copying commercial DVDs (such as movies and TV shows) to a hard drive, along with the DVD extras. This could be attractive for travelers who want to store their movies on their laptop's hard drive for viewing during long flights. Unfortunately, RealDVD comes with several major caveats. Among them: DVDs copied to a hard drive are locked to that drive and can't be copied to another, even for backup purposes.

Best Software and Tools for Small Business: Our recent roundup includes mini reviews of software and services of interest to mobile small business professionals, including Skype for Business, a VoIP service; LogMeIn, for remote access; and Syncplicity, for syncing and backing up multiple computers.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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