iPhone Battery Falls Down on the Job

There is no better smartphone on the market for non-business use. Period.

There. I've said it. For everyone who thinks I have something against the iPhone, the iPhone 3G or Apple ( AAPL) -- you are absolutely wrong. I think this is the ultimate smartphone design for nearly anybody and everybody on this planet.

The new iPhone is still simple to master, easy to use and puts every other smartphone to shame.

The new Apple "App Store," where you can download small new mini-programs for free (and sometimes for small fees), is wonderful. Web browsing on the iPhone is still the best portable Internet experience around. The new GPS/location-finding features are slick.

Overall, I think the iPhone 3G comes closest to the perfect non-enterprise smartphone than any other device today. And don't just take my word for it. You can read any number of excellent reviews and blogs telling you about all the neat things the 3G can do.

iPhone the Ultimate Smartphone

I tried to buy a 3G at five different stores in three different states this weekend. Forgetaboutit. The shortest line I could find was three to four hours to get into the store. At King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, Saturday night, there was a two-hour-long line to get into the store -- and only one hour until the store was supposed to close. People leaving the stores told horror stories about long waits to get the phones up and running on AT&T ( T). Hopefully, within a few days, all of that will all be history.

But, most of TheStreet.com's readers use Research In Motion ( RIMM) Blackberry devices to get their mobile email. Not Windows ( MSFT) Mobile-based phones. Not Palm ( PALM) OS-based phones. Not Symbian ( NOK) or Linux-based either.

So, when the best consumer-oriented smartphone in the world adds enterprise email to its feature portfolio, TSC readers want to know if it's time to dump their "Crackberries" and buy an iPhone.

I'm sorry to say that the answer to that is -- not yet.

In our tests, iPhone batteries really can't handle the extra drain of Microsoft Exchange mail. Blame it mostly on Microsoft.

Microsoft's mobile email software is a pig. It always has been a battery hog. Everyone who has ever lived with a Microsoft Mobile phone knows that battery life stinks if you constantly "push" email to your device. That's why I'm surprised that Apple chose to default their Exchange mail software to "push" email. If you set up your phone without changing that setting, you will get only four to five hours before you have to recharge the battery.

If you change the 3G's settings to "pull" email ("fetch" in iPhonese), having your phone ask the server for new mail every 15, 30 or 60 minutes, you will extend your phone's battery life approximately five to eight hours before you get a low battery warning (less than 20% left).

If you compare these numbers to other Microsoft-based phones, like the new 3G Palm ( PALM) 800w for instance, you find that the iPhone falls way short. The 800w also gets lousy battery life (5.5 hours) on "push" mail -- but if you set it to "pull" email every five minutes (a setting not available on the iPhone 3G), battery life on the new Palm rockets to 36 hours. That's a big difference.

Just for the record, Blackberry phones -- which all have supposedly battery-eating "push" email services -- can last three to four days on a charge. That's days -- not hours.

One of the reasons for that is that GSM Blackberrys -- as well as the original iPhone -- aren't 3G devices. They run on 2.5G EDGE data networks. EDGE uses much less battery power than 3G.

But Apple wants to sell lots of their newly redesigned phones all over the world. That includes places that skipped over 2.5G/EDGE networks and went directly to 3G.

Is a 3G iPhone actually faster than a 2.5G iPhone? On paper, yes. In some areas, where you receive a good 3G signal, yes. But, in a number of tests with friends and also with people standing online at Apple's SoHo store on Sunday morning, speed differences are barely noticeable.

The phone is faster using a Wi-Fi connection. That's why the iPhones keeps asking if you want to join nearby Wi-Fi networks. But, if you don't need Wi-Fi turned on, you should turn it off. Many other smartphones do that automatically to extend battery life. Some original iPhone owners waiting on line said they keep their Wi-Fi turned off except when absolutely necessary.

Bluetooth and especially GPS services are also a drain on battery life. With nearly all data radios turned off, except for the 2.5G/EDGE services, and with light use, the iPhone test handset was able to get 12 to 13 hours out of the battery before being warned to recharge (20% remaining). That comes close to getting you through an average day.

I wouldn't be upset about these poor numbers if users could slide a charged battery into their phone. But iPhone have sealed batteries (you could take them out if you choose -- but Apple doesn't market replacement batteries). If you have dreams of replacing a Blackberry or Windows Mobile device with a new iPhone, you might want to think twice about it.

As for the price, the new 3G handset is cheaper than the old one. The new 8GB 3G retails for $199 with a two-year service contract. The 16GB model sells for $299.

But, because Apple cut the price, and cut the profit margin for AT&T, the carrier raised its monthly service prices. Those fees are now exactly the same as what AT&T charges for any other smartphone.

If you do the math, even though you save $200 on the price (compared to the old phone) you're paying $15 more per month, or $360 more over two years, for the service. That comes out to the new phone actually costing you more over the life of the contract. You are getting a 3G phone.

To sum it up: The iPhone 3G is the best consumer-oriented smartphone device on the market. All the new features make the 3G even better than the original. At the same time, the new iPhone 3G is not yet a very good enterprise device.

If you have an original iPhone, you should definitely upgrade it for free and enjoy all the spiffy new features.

If you don't have an original iPhone, don't need Microsoft-based corporate email and carefully adjust battery-draining features, then the iPhone 3G is just plain fabulous.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.

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