Living With an iPhone 3G, Part 1

Is the Apple iPhone 3G "twice as fast at half the price," as Apple's marketing boasts? Or is it a slow, faulty, overhyped device that drops calls and doesn't reliably or consistently connect to AT&T's network, as a consumer's lawsuit claims?

The truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, in my experience. I bought an iPhone 3G on July 18, one week after the smart phone became available in stores. 'This week and next I'll give you a recap of my experience using the device thus far. First up, a look at the e-mail challenges I've faced (and resolved). Next week, I'll focus on the iPhone 3G's battery life and other issues.

Two Geniuses, One Phone Call

The first problem I encountered with my new iPhone 3G was trying to send and receive e-mail. The iPhone's Mail program would work correctly for a day or two. Then, inexplicably, the spiral that appears at the bottom of the Mail program's screen, next to "Checking for mail," would spin endlessly.

I decided to seek help at the Genius Bar in San Francisco's Union Square Apple store. Apple's Genius Bar is a free, by-appointment tech support service, located in its stores.

I arrived early but had to wait about 10 minutes past my scheduled appointment time. I explained my problem to the Genius. He tinkered with my iPhone's e-mail account settings, but the problem--which was now constant--remained. After about 10 minutes, he shrugged and suggested I call AT&T and check my iPhone 3G's Mail settings for my e-mail with them.

Before I proceed, a note of clarification is in order here. My primary ISP is AT&T, the landline phone company, not the AT&T wireless division that provides data and cell phone service to iPhones. I get my home-office DSL service and e-mail account from the AT&T landline/Internet division. I was trying to use my iPhone 3G to check e-mail sent to that account.

I called AT&T's tech support for DSL customers but they couldn't help. So I made a second Genius Bar appointment, this time at San Francisco's Chestnut Street store, which is smaller and less busy than the Union Square location.

The second Genius suggested I go home and restore the iPhone through iTunes using backup. You have two options when restoring an iPhone: You can restore it to its previous state using the backup iTunes creates when you sync. Or you can restore the phone back to its default factory condition without using the backup. The second option wipes all your data off the phone, and you start over from scratch.

If restoring using backup didn't work (it didn't), the Genius said I should restore the iPhone without the backup. And if that didn't work, I could bring the phone back to the store for a swap.

I tried restoring without backup, and still the problem persisted. I wasn't keen on having to swap my iPhone for another unit. I couldn't be sure they'd have a replacement in stock. And besides, the replacement would have been a refurbished iPhone, the Genius told me after I specifically asked him if I'd been given a new phone.

My next move was to call Apple's toll-free support line. The technician I spoke to understood my problem right away. He believed the iPhone's Mail program wasn't syncing correctly with Microsoft Outlook on my Vista PC, to which I had been syncing the iPhone's e-mail settings, contacts, and calendar. I asked him to e-mail me the steps he recommended to resolve the problem. His solution worked.

Here are the steps he suggested:

  1. On the iPhone, delete all e-mail accounts.
  2. Reset the iPhone's network settings (Settings, General, Reset, Reset Network Settings).
  3. Disable Wi-Fi. (Some e-mail accounts don't work properly if set up the first time with Wi-Fi in use, the technician explained).
  4. On the iPhone, manually re-add e-mail accounts. He suggested I select Yahoo from the ISP options when setting up my AT&T/Yahoo e-mail account on the iPhone.
  5. In iTunes, disable e-mail syncing with my iPhone.

A Second E-Mail Challenge

From that point, I enjoyed several weeks without any further e-mail problems. However, another issue developed, this time relating to the passcode to my AT&T/Yahoo e-mail account.

The passcode for that e-mail account contains six characters. During my initial iPhone setup, I had entered the passcode to my AT&T/Yahoo e-mail account. At that time, the iPhone validated the address and passcode; everything seemed fine. However, sometime after I had resolved the e-mail problem I described earlier, I received a warning that my e-mail passcode was incorrect.

I went back to Settings, Mail, Contacts, Calendars and retyped the correct passcode for my e-mail account. The iPhone validated my address and passcode, and all was fine ... until I received the incorrect password warning again, a day later. I returned to Settings, Mail, Contacts, Calendars again and noticed the iPhone had changed my passcode from 6 to 8 characters. I retyped the correct passcode, the e-mail flowed without problems, and then--you guessed it--I was told the passcode was incorrect. I installed Apple's iPhone 2.0.2 software, hoping that might fix the bug, but it didn't. Finally, I deleted this account from my iPhone and manually added it again. So far, I've had no further e-mail problems.

Keep on Clicking

Mobile Computing News, Reviews & Tips

New Web Site for World Travelers: Former PC World executive editor Randy Ross recently started a Web site for less-experienced travelers longing to see the world on a budget. Himself an experienced world traveler, Randy has added to his site lots of practical tips, news, humor (something travelers always need), downloads (such as an Excel spreadsheet to help you calculate travel costs), and more. Back in March, Randy offered readers of Mobile Computing some tips for world travelers.

Upgrade Hard Drive, Lose Mind: PC World's Lincoln Spector will probably never want to upgrade a laptop hard drive again, given the harrowing experience he recounted. Lincoln mentions a device that proved to be a lifesaver: the Bytecc USB 2.0 Drive Mate, which retails for about $20. Basically, the Drive Mate lets you turn an internal hard drive into an external drive, connected via USB to another computer. I've used the Drive Mate myself, to copy files from the hard drive of otherwise dead laptops, and I highly recommend buying one. You never know when you'll need to rescue files from a laptop that's otherwise out of commission.

MSI 's Hardy But So-So Mini Notebook: MSI's Wind NB U100 ($550) is an Intel Atom-based mini-notebook with 1GB of RAM, an 80GB 2.5-inch hard drive, and Windows XP. The Wind is small and fairly light, and it's sturdy. But it comes with virtually no bundled software, and battery life was only 2 hours, 24 minutes in our tests.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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