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How fast is your phone? – A bluffer’s guide.

Spare a thought for those poor iPhoners that woke up recently to the unveiling of the 3GS. Imagine you’ve got the sleekest piece of hardware on the market and then there’s another, better, faster one, with 3 megapix video cam, a landscape fix of the really annoying keyboard, and “2x” the browsing power. Worse still, there’s that S, which stands for Speed, and makes you feel about as inadequate as not having ‘Turbo’ on the back of your black Porsche 911. Which is now a Mazda. And let’s not even talk about the $499 to upgrade, when any old Joe can sign up for a new one for just $199!

Instead, let’s remember last year’s fuss about the iPhone 3G ads vs the real experience (They were pushing the ‘2x’ thing then too, and none of it measured up in practice). There are four main factors that govern your phone’s performance: signal reception; internal processing, Operating System and the applications. When it comes to reception, Gizmodo’s recent test of 3G networks held that Sprint leads nationally (and by a yard in NYC), with AT&T and Verizon slugging it out in the Bay Area. At Riverphonic, we don’t profess to be the experts’ expert so much as the plain-speaking guy who knows someone that can fix your problem, so here is our unscientific take on things: In mobile jargon, 3G = mobile broadband = the magic number of 2 megabytes per second (Mbps). So when the 3G icon pops up on your screen, you should easily be able to:

* Send 100 kilobyte jpegs, like the pics you take on your phone (1000kb = 1Mb)

* Instantly browse loads of WAP internet pages at 30-50Kb each

* Hear a full-track mp3, typically about 3Mb.

* Stream a short film clip, like a movie trailer or a pop video, ranging from 5-20 Mb.

Hmmm. Now we’re not going into the nitty gritty of internal processing, data buses, flash memory storage and such, other than to say that smartphone CPUs have gone from 500 to 800Mhz which puts them on a par with laptops of recent years. [For a deeper dive, check out our one-page tech primer “Bytes, Bits and Bandwidth”] Nor are we going to compare the OSes of iPhone, Nokia, Palm, Windows (used by Samsung, LG etc), Blackberry and Motorola because the brands speak for themselves. The main reason we’re skirting the subject here is that these two factors mainly govern the speed with which you can open apps and operate pre-installed software. When you’re comparing competing models, much depends on how you personally use your phone. Apps may be increasingly designed for offline use, but for the experience to go beyond what is available on a standard games or mp3 player, the user needs to tap into the unit's mobility features and connect! GPS is a big differentiator, and for anything as fertile to the ecosystem as the serving of a rich media ad unit, you'll want a solid connection to the mobile web. Which is all another way of saying, if your reception sucks, your phone sucketh too.

So we are back checking our reception, and the dirty secret here is that 3G operators parcel bandwidth around so that the signal rarely scores much over 1Mbps, even before you’ve throttled it by stepping inside a store or a bar. While it is great to hear of local 3G boosters & wi-fi hubs being installed by firms like Nextivity to fix this problem, it still puzzles that such low-density content as WAP pages takes so long to load, inside or outside a building, when the 3G icon is up. Of course this has a lot to do with how good your mobile browser is at rendering WAP pages. What’s the solution here? Well, they say that Safari on the 3GS is the best yet (now with built in GPS!). Would it be too much to ask for an upgrade at least to that?


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