iPhone 3G: The First 48 Hours

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I was lucky: My iPhone 3G activation went about as smoothly as could be. I was up and running within 30 minutes. I've been stopped countless times by breathless passersby ("Is that the new iPhone?").

I've spent the past 48 hours reacquainting myself with the joys of using an iPhone: A mobile operating system that's visually attractive and brilliantly easy to maneuver with; the iPod player with Cover Flow and finger-flick navigation; the slide-and-glide of the photo viewer; YouTube on demand; and graphical Web browsing (though viewing content using Adobe's Flash is still problematic).

I've also become accustomed to being frustrated--an experience I'm not used to associating with Apple. Of course, my frustration emanates as much from the inadequacy of the AT&T network as it does from the iPhone's issues.

Whither 3G?

I've yet to experience AT&T's 3G network the way it's meant to be. I've driven a nearly 2-hour stretch on Long Island, New York--a stretch that is clearly marked on AT&T's coverage map as being 3G capable. Along one stretch of the major highway I achieved wildly varying data rates, spanning from 96 to 350 kilobits per second. Not once did I get above 400 kbps on the iphonenetwork.com bandwidth test. Assuming that test is accurate--and from the looks of how slowly Web pages loaded, it was--those results are highly disappointing.

I found it humorous on that first day that when I asked AT&T Store employees whether they were achieving 3G speeds, they really didn't have an answer. Instead, they kept saying that "everything" was down because "everyone" was activating their phones at the same time. Forty-eight hours later, though, the AT&T 3G service continues to be slow.

Now, this is only one metro area, but my experience makes me wonder about the strength of AT&T's 3G service and whether its network will be able to handle the iPhone traffic load.

It also makes me wonder about the iPhone itself. Sure, I saw it auto-sensing and switching between 3G and the slower EDGE service, but plenty of times the phone would register as being on 3G when it was connecting at pokey speeds of 192 kbps or less. I'm guessing that the phone is sensing that I'm on a 3G network, just a slow one. But if that's what I'm going to get, then why buy an iPhone 3G in the first place?

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