Is the iPhone 3G Buggy or Just Broken?

These days I’m feeling a little guilty. A little over a month ago I praised the iPhone 3G for its zippy data speeds in our full review. Since then complaints have been pilling up from iPhone 3G owners about spotty reception, seemingly random switching from 3G to EDGE data, and frustratingly sluggish Web surfing. What the hell is going on? Did we review a different device?

No. But the iPhone 3G I hold in my hand right now certainly feels like a different smart phone than the one I initially praised. And, yes, I’ve updated to the latest firmware, 2.0.2, which supposedly fixes bugs that haven’t been detailed by Apple.  I’m not quite ready to take back our Editors’ Choice award, at least until we’ve had a chance to test the next firmware update Apple promises in September, but I would certainly recommend holding off on buying an iPhone 3G until these issues are fully resolved. How dramatic is the difference between my experience with the iPhone 3G on July 9th and today? Night and day. Take yesterday, for example. I usually start off my morning commute (about an hour and 20-minute bus ride into Manhattan from the Jersey burbs) reading the news on the NY Times app. Before my only complaint about this app was unexplained random crashes. Now my biggest complaint is that it sometimes takes forever just for the front page to load. To make sure that the app wasn’t solely to blame, I fired up Safari and tried surfing over to the New York Times homepage, ESPN, and our own site during an evening and morning commute to and from Manhattan from Freehold, NJ. Regardless of whether the data icon at the top of the iPhone 3G’s screen displayed “E” for EDGE or “3G”, the browser took its sweet time loading these pages. In some cases, these pages loaded in about a minute (tolerable but not nearly as good as what you see on TV) and in other cases I gave up after a minute and a half (really not good). Last but not least, I tried streaming some music in Pandora for the remainder of my trip, and just as I feared, the audio cut out several times (compared to about two or three times just a few weeks ago) and twice lost its connection entirely. I finally put the iPhone 3G away and used the Sprint data connection card on my notebook instead to surf and stream tunes. Critics and pundits have cited several reasons for the iPhone 3G’s wonky connectivity, ranging from a bum communications chip made by Infineon, to AT&T’s patchy 3G network, to the sheer number of iPhone 3G’s online at any given time in densely populated areas. Despite the fact that I’ve found both Sprint and Verizon Wireless’ 3G data networks to be more reliable in the Northeast, I’ve tested many other AT&T 3G-enabled smart phones without encountering these types of problems, including the Samsung BlackJack II and AT&T Tilt. And although there’s no question that iPhone 3Gs likely use more data than any other type of smart phone, this doesn’t explain the sheer erratic nature of the iPhone 3G’s behavior. It certainly won’t hurt when AT&T frees up more of the further-reaching 850 MHz band for 3G data, as has been promised. As for the reports that the latest firmware has made things worse, I’m inclined to agree, at least when it comes to the GPS connection. Last night I tried three separate times in the iPhone 3G’s Maps application to pinpoint my location and gave up after 45 seconds. About 15 minutes later, my attempt was successful within just a few seconds. It’s this kind of inconsistency that has we wondering what it will take to fix the iPhone 3G. At this point I’m not sure yet another firmware update will cut it. We need a full-scale intervention from Apple. Fast. Are you frustrated or happy with your iPhone 3G’s data performance? Sound off in the comments.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Glenn Says:

    although i do love my new 3g iphone, I do agree that it seems to still have its weird quirkiness even after loading the most recent firmware update. My original 2g iphone seemed to be more reliable.

  2. Ken Says:

    Same here. My 3G locks up, gets incredible sluggish, restarts when playing songs in ipod mode. I’m seriously thinking about taking the thing back.

  3. Bill D Says:

    My first generation iPhone works fine, or rather as slow as usually on the Edge network. According to Businessweek’s sources, this problem MIGHT stem from an issue with Infineon’s chip that manages wireless communication in the phone.

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_34/b4097000494697.htm

  4. Joe Says:

    couldn’t agree more!! Aple should do something soon. Feel so bad with the decision going out buy the 3GIphone.

  5. Brian Says:

    I definitely have a horrible case of buyer’s remorse! I loved my iphone 3g for the first couple days, but it’s inconsistencies with 3g service, crashing, etc. are growing increasingly annoying. why can’t these ridiculous issues be solved? apple already made their money so i guess they don’t care.

  6. Marti Says:

    My husband and I both got 3Gs and we’re both frustrated by the “No Service”, the delayed voicemail receipt, and other unreliability issues. We are also considering taking the them back. My previous phone was a Razr (which I supplemented with a Palm PDA), so I thought having it all (and more) in one device would make me more efficient. While that SHOULD be the case, the dang product is just not living up to its promise. It’s actually slowing me down! Shame on Apple for not testing the bugs out before releasing this version.

  7. Peter Says:

    About a month after I got my new iPhone 3G I managed to drop it and crack the screen. I thought I could surely take it into the Apple store and have it replaced. Little did I know I would be told that it would be $199 for the repair and the repair could take up to a week just to complete. I then found http://www.iphone3gscreenrepair.com. They offered the same repair for only $69.99. I sent my iPhone 3G in and had it back within 3 days. I was very impressed with my repair and would really recommend it to others looking for a great fix.

    -Peter

  8. James Says:

    I’ve had an iPhone 3GS for a couple of weeks and have already had to erase the phone 3 times. First it became impossible to open any 3rd party apps – resetting the phone did not help, a complete erase was necessary. Then my iTunes music/video collection became corrupted while syncing and erased a purchase from my iPhone without copying it to my laptop – once again, an erase was necessary to fix the problem. I’ve had audio drop out completely in both the speakers and headphones, requiring a phone reset. I’ve had a ‘this accessory is not designed for iPhone’ message constantly appearing when no accessory was plugged into the device at all, once again resetting the phone does not help.

    I think the iPhone is great almost all other aspects, but the high degree of buginess is very disappointing.

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