Can I Resist the iPhone 3G?

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July 14 2008 12:31 PM

Can I Resist the iPhone 3G?

An Apple obsessive confronts the company's shiny new bauble.

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As I was listening to music and following the dot, I suddenly noticed that the battery was wearing down super quickly. I didn't run any fancy tests like Walt Mossberg, who found that the 3G network sucked out the iPhone's energy at an impressive rate, but that was my strong impression as a veteran iPhone user. Since I was borrowing Peter's iPhone and didn't want to leave him dry, I panicked and switched from 3G to Wi-Fi. If I knuckled under and got one of these 3G phones, battery drain would be a constant worry.

Of course, it wasn't as if my original iPhone was perfect. My main beef is that AT&T's voice network is so awful that my phone conversations generally consist of me saying, "What? Huh? Wait, let me run to the park across the street so I can hear what you're saying." Still, when I first got the iPhone, I liked it so much that I briefly considered moving to a new apartment in the hope of finding better reception. Ultimately, I decided that I liked my house too much to leave. Rather than abandon the iPhone, though, I held out hope that the next model would look cool and allow me to talk to my friends and family. Indeed, everything does work more smoothly on the iPhone 3G. Everything, that is, except talking to people. The reception in my humble abode remained miserable to nonexistent.

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After returning my loaner iPhone 3G to Peter (thanks, man!), I had a lot of thinking to do. It occurred to me that the most exciting new iPhone development—the App Store, with its games and mapping utilities and shopping programs—didn't actually have anything to do with the new phone. It was part of a free software upgrade that I could get for my 2007 model. I also reflected on the fact that the only reason the App Store is exciting is that Apple previously tried to shut down anyone who created neat new programs for the iPhone, treating them and anyone who used their non-Apple software like crooks. While I'm excited to get these new apps on my phone, I'm not about to give Apple a cookie for behaving like a reasonable company would have in the first place.

Next, I drilled down into the new AT&T service plan. Because 3G networks don't grow on trees, I get that AT&T is charging $10 more per month. Considering the gain in speed, that's probably worth it, and I could probably save some money by buying fewer Anytime Minutes, given that I barely use the iPhone to make calls because I can barely get a signal.

I'm not proud to say that I decided to call New York's 24-hour Apple Store (from a landline) to see if it had any 16-gig units available. It did! Hooray! I arrived close to 10 p.m. and made my way to the back of the line—where an Apple employee told me I'd have to come back at 7 a.m. I left, and this time I'm pretty sure I'm not going back.

Apple sells some pretty great computers, and the iPhone 3G is a great smartphone, but I can take only so much abuse. Perhaps in a year's time, when my contract runs out, Apple will have gotten a clue and signed up with a better mobile network. For now, though, I think Whitney Houston said it best: Steve Jobs, you can't take away my dignity.

Reihan Salam is a columnist for Slate.