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When Apple and AT&T released the iPhone last summer, it kicked off the era of the cell phone as a true computing platform that rivals - and in some cases beats - the experience of using a computer. With the just-released iPhone 3G, Apple has made its multi-touch device faster, more functional and easier to use.


Many of these improvements are part of the iPhone 2.0 software, which is a free upgrade for original iPhone owners.


But there is one major drawback to all these upgrades: even weaker battery life than the first iPhone. And with no removable battery, this could be a major issue for some users.


By far, the best thing about the iPhone 3G (which is part of the new software), is the inclusion of the iPhone App Store, a virtual marketplace where you can download hundreds of entertaining and useful applications with a few taps of your fingers. Of the more than 800 applications in the store, about 200 are free and most others cost less than $10. With a two-year contract, the device costs $199 for the 8GB version or $299 for the 16GB.


Having instant access to the App Store means you’ll never get bored. As third-party developers continue releasing new apps, your iPhone will keep getting more useful.


There are apps aimed at business users, such as an expense report program. Gaming apps, such as Super Monkey Ball ($10), where you tilt the iPhone to guide a monkey trapped in a ball through narrow pathways. Apps that use the iPhone’s GPS to detect your location and display everything from the nearest movies, restaurants, gas stations and even determine if your friends are nearby.


Although original iPhone owners can also download apps, they may not work as well on the EDGE network, and location-based apps may not be as accurate because the original iPhone lacks GPS.


The GPS is useful for directions and finding nearby locations, but it’s not true GPS because it doesn’t offer turn-by-turn, voice-guided navigation, like the Samsung Instinct from Sprint. Eric Jue, Apple’s product marketing manager for the iPhone, hinted at the possibility of turn-by-turn voice guided navigation in the future.


Besides GPS, the other big difference is the new iPhone works on the faster 3G, or third-generation network. For instance, when I was in Blockbuster and saw a movie I wanted to rent, I got out my iPhone and in less than a minute was able to see if the movie was available at the library, which would have been painfully slow using the EDGE network.


But even if you buy an iPhone 3G, you may still have to use the slower EDGE network when Wi-Fi isn’t available; AT&T’s 3G coverage is only in 280 metropolitan areas. For instance, in Central Florida, parts of Lake, Brevard and Osceola counties are left out.


Even moderate use of the device can nearly drain its entire battery by the end of the day. I got between two and a half hours and about four hours and 15 minutes of talk time, Internet browsing, video viewing and application use, which is a lot less than I got with the original iPhone. For that reason, I suggest investing in an extra charger that you can carry with you or leave at your office.


One big improvement is that the phone now has a standard headphone jack, so there’s no longer a need to use an adapter with your favorite pair of headphones.


Expect more corporate users to ditch their BlackBerrys now that it’s easier than before to sync the iPhone with corporate e-mail, contacts and calendars.


If you’re thinking of getting an iPhone, in addition to weak battery life, many of last year’s caveats still apply: you must be able to deal with a virtual keyboard and if you are a business user, take a good look at your needs and habits before you buy. But the App Store is so useful and innovative that it could outweigh those drawbacks.


If you are an existing iPhone owner thinking about upgrading, you don’t have to, unless you’ve been frustrated by the EDGE network or absolutely need to have the latest version.


(Etan Horowitz is the technology columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. He can be reached at ehorowitz AT orlandosentinel dotcom. To read his technology blog, visit OrlandoSentinel.com/techblog.)

Tagged as: apple | iphone | iphone 3g
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