iPhone 3G ready for government service

New version has the bandwidth and features to make it useful on the job

Let's face it: Most people would like to have an iPhone. The problem is that, until now, most people couldn't use it for work, making it a rather expensive toy instead of a true business investment. However, Apple has changed the landscape of handhelds by releasing a work-friendly version of the phone everyone wants. The new iPhone combines the latest in cellular service bandwidth technology with a network-friendly architecture. And it does it for a fraction of the cost of the original.

The $199 iPhone 3G pushes the technology envelope by offering users a new level of bandwidth service that provides faster access to the Internet and e-mail over cellular networks around the world.

The iPhone 3G is so fast it makes it possible to do more work, even in places that used to provide little or no service. Now you can surf the Web, download e-mail, get directions and watch video, even while you're on a call. I found myself often surfing the Web while on long conference calls, something that was not very productive for me but could be great for feverish multitaskers.

The 3G technology replaces the old 2G of the original iPhone. The 2G technology began in the 1990s with features such as digital voice encoding through the use of Code Division Multiple Access and Global System for Mobile Communications technology.

Since its inception, 2G technology has steadily evolved to include an increase in bandwidth and service, which led to the introduction of multimedia in the cellular services. But it could only do so much.

The 3G technology includes capabilities and features such as enhanced multimedia (voice, data, video and remote control), usability on all popular modes (cellular telephone, e-mail, paging, fax, videoconferencing and Web browsing) and bandwidth upwards of 2 megabits/sec, plus roaming capability throughout Europe, Japan and North America.

Most reviewers are going to write ad nauseam about the iPhone's features and performance, which include mobile e-mail supporting POP3 and IMAP4 messaging protocols, data features such as PDF support, Microsoft Word and Excel support, standard voice mail capability, Short Messaging Service, Internet browsing and General Packet Radio Service. All of them are great features, and as I expected, the 8G of built-in flash memory was more than enough to operate the OS X-based interface.

But I don't want to harp on the iPhone's features because my favorite one has little to do with performance. The 2.4 by 0.5 by 4.6-inch form factor is by far the greatest attribute of the phone, and one that hasn't changed much from the previous version.

The shape and its 4.7 ounce weight bridges the gap between a phone and a handheld computer. Better placement of the headphone jack is also a welcome new feature of the chassis.

I used nearly every application for the iPhone 3G and in every mode in which it's supposed to operate, from mobile phone to media player. No matter what I used the iPhone for, it didn't let me down. I found it suitable as a Global Positioning System device, an e-mail client and a simple Web browser. The unit never seemed to get hot in my hand or on my ear, and it never felt cumbersome.

The iPhone 3G includes the new iPhone 2.0 OS and comes with the iPhone software development kit (SDK) and key enterprise features such as support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. You can now perform Microsoft operations such as over-the-air push e-mail, contact and calendar syncing, and remote wipe. You can also use the Cisco IPsec virtual private network for encrypted access to corporate or government networks.

The SDK allows developers to create applications that use the Multi-Touch user interface, animation technology, accelerometer and GPS technology on the sleek 3.5-inch LCD screen capable of a resolution of 480 x 320 pixels.

The iPhone 3G also includes the new application called App Store, which provides iPhone users with native applications in a variety of categories, including business, news, health, reference and travel. The App Store works via cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so it's accessible from just about anywhere, whether you're in a coffee shop or in your office. I found that I could purchase and download applications wirelessly and start using them instantly, even in areas where my regular cell phone didn't get a signal, a true plus for the AT&T network's grade, even though that is the only cell service you can get for the phone.

What's best about the App Store is that some applications are free, and the App Store notifies you when application updates are available. Additional features available with the iPhone 2.0 software include the ability to do real-time mapping and tracking of your progress on the road in the GPS application.

I took the iPhone on a road trip to test its application features and bandwidth capability in a remote part of the United States ' St. Simons Island, Ga., a small island off the coast, nestled between Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla. Located next to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, this remote stretch of marshland is well known for having large gaps of little or no cell service.

I tested the GPS features and bandwidth of the new iPhone at a spot on the northern part of the island that has been an area of little or no service for previous tests I've conducted with cell phones. To my surprise, I was not only able to get service ' albeit barely ' but I was able to get enough service to make a phone call and send an e-mail message. The GPS was also functional and accurate enough to guide me through this part of the remote marshlands and back to civilization.

One wish I had for the GPS tool is that it came equipped with voice-activated turn-by-turn navigation. Although the GPS was smooth when I was walking around St. Simons or Brunswick, a small town near the training center, it became choppy when I started using it as I drove up Route 17 to Darien, Ga. As times, it seemed to freeze for several seconds before it caught up.

Despite some of these kinks, the additional features on the iPhone left me wishing I owned the unit I reviewed. The ability to move and delete multiple e-mail messages simultaneously, search for contacts, and even turn on parental control restrictions for specified content made me feel that Apple had thought of just about everything.

Another example of the iPhone's ability to make our lives easier is its ability to save images directly from a Web page or e-mail them to your iPhone so that you can easily transfer them back to your photo library on your Mac or PC.

My test iPhone 3G, which is backwards-compatible with its predecessor, delivered a decent 10 hours of talk time when using a 2G network. On a 3G with enhanced features, I got about five hours, even though at one point I had to reboot.

Out in the field I got six hours of Web browsing before the battery started to give low-power warnings and about six hours of video playback. The audio playback lasted all night long and into the next day, about 24 hours altogether.

Aside from minor design issues, the iPhone offers great features at a fair price.

Just make sure you keep a clean cloth with you because the sleek design gets dirty easily. And unlike its predecessor, the iPhone 3G ' with its business slant and fast features ' is ready to report for government duty.

Apple, 408-996-1010, www.apple.com


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