We have been putting the Apple iPhone to the test ever since it was launched in the UK. Here’s our verdict on Apple’s mobile phone and iPod, couple with the contract that O2 insists you take out.
Living on the EDGE
Money aside, the iPhone also faces several technical hurdles in the UK. It doesn’t work with O2’s UMTS 3G data network, let alone anything forward-looking such as HSDPA or - God forbid - a pre 4G UMTS Revision 8 standard. Instead it uses a little-known standard called EDGE. This offers performance well below that of 3G.
The iPhone does, however, enable you to access WiF-i so when you’re at home, or in the office, or near an open WiFi connection it produces speeds close to those of a laptop computer. This, however, is of little comfort when you’re standing at the railway station in the morning waiting over a minute for the BBC News home page to load.
We decided to time the results from three popular websites. We tested the iPhone using The EDGE connection found in the PC Advisor office, a home Wi-Fi connection and a GPRS connection in south-east London. The speeds were as follows ('min:sec:milli')
Apple’s reasoning behind the lack of 3G is that it is a power-hungry resource, whereas EDGE is energy-efficient, and Apple didn’t want a phone that lost power constantly - a statement that has some merit. However, EDGE is ubiquitous in the US while 3G is a relatively scarce resource; the situation is reversed in the UK with 3G being commonplace and EDGE coverage limited to 30 percent of the country.
When you’re outside an EDGE coverage area the phone resorts to using GPRS for internet access. In speed tests GPRS proved to be glacial compared to EDGE, although in everyday usage we found little discernible difference. Both are gratingly slow.
We can’t help feeling that the lack of 3G is more to do with Apple deciding to make one phone for the world market and waiting for the US network to beef up. We would bet good money that a 3G phone will be out in the US, and therefore the UK, at some point in 2008. Perhaps with some power-saving technology, or a simple 3G on/off switch.
In the meantime O2 is looking to expand the EDGE network in the UK. One interesting note is that we have found EDGE to be scattered throughout most major cities and towns, rather than having blanket coverage in certain metropolitan areas. So you’ll find it switching seamlessly between EDGE, GPRS and Wi-Fi while maintaining a constant connection. The only problem we found is that it finds it hard to maintain a connection when the device is moving, and connecting to EDGE proved difficult when on a train.
One other aspect that shouldn’t go unmentioned is the access to The Cloud Wi-Fi data network. This comprises some 7,500 areas throughout Europe, including whole districts such as The City and Canary Wharf in London. We found access easy enough, simply click on The Cloud network in Settings and enter your telephone number on the homepage. It then connects and starts counting how many minutes you’ve used.
You are restricted to 60 minutes of usage, which is fine if you’re an occasional user, but a bit poor if you’re lucky enough to work in a Cloud enabled area. You’ll need to remember to keep disconnecting or you’ll break the limit within a few days. We can’t help feeling that Apple and O2 have missed a trick by limiting The Cloud access. After all, widening The Cloud with unlimited use would be one way to make up for the poor EDGE internet connection.
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