UPDATE: 3G iPhone's Battery Life Beats AT&T Rivals--But EvDO BlackBerrys Run Longer

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The battery life on Apple's new 3G iPhone isn't great, but it beats that of other AT&T 3G smart phones we've seen. However in our tests, the iPhone 3G's performance fell short of that achieved by BlackBerry models that support EvDO, the 3G technology used by Sprint and Verizon Wireless.

PC World's Test Center ran the iPhone 3G through our standard talk-time battery life test, and found that on average it ran 5 hours, 38 minutes, a running time that we consider earns a Fair rating.

That's a big tumble from the superior performance of the original iPhone, which ran on AT&T's slower EDGE network and lasted the maximum 10 hours of our testing time. But the 3G iPhone, which uses AT&T's HSDPA/UMTS network where available, still beat out most of the rest of the current 3G smart-phone pack--with the noteworthy exception of three Research in Motion 3G BlackBerry models we've tested.

Two of them, the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 and the BlackBerry 8830, edged out the iPhone by 4 minutes, with average talk times of 5 hours, 42 minutes each. But the BlackBerry Curve 8330 lasted 6 hours, 8 minutes--a solid half-hour longer than the iPhone. All three handsets also earned Fair ratings for performance.

RIM has announced, but not yet released, the BlackBerry Bold--its first direct competitor to the iPhone in terms of support for AT&T's 3G network. The BlackBerry Bold, which will support global HSDPA networks, is expected to appear later this summer, and we'll be interested to see how it fares in our battery tests.

Most other smartphones we've tested fell shy of the 5-hour mark that's the cutoff between a word score of Fair and one of Poor in our performance ratings.

PC World Test Center battery life test results for 3G smartphones.
Of other handsets that support AT&T's HSDPA/UMTS network, only the HTC Touch Dual came close, with an average talk time of 5 hours, 18 minutes. The AT&T Tilt pooped out at 4 hours, 47 minutes, trailed by the Pantech Duo at 4:46; the Motorola Q9 Global at 4:43; and the Palm Treo 750 at an abysmal 3:53. The iPhone 3G also beat out non-BlackBerry competitors on Sprint and Verizon's EvDO mobile broadband networks, including the Palm Centro (4:19) and the Samsung Instinct (5:33).

Power-Hungry Networks

3G networks in general are notorious power drains, but the network type used by AT&T is particularly power-hungry because voice calls use the same mobile broadband network as data tasks. In contrast, the EvDO technology on which Sprint and Verizon base their 3G networks supports data only; voice uses older CDMA networks, which (in theory at least) use less power.

The good news for AT&T and other HSDPA/UMTS customers is that they can make voice calls while using their phones for data (that is, tasks such as browsing the Web or downloading e-mail); Sprint and Verizon users cannot simultaneously do both.

And the good news for 3G iPhone owners is that they're probably better off than most other AT&T 3G smartphone owners in terms of battery life. But that won't help when your 3G iPhone stops running at the end of a long and busy day.

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