Jun 212010

First of all, as many users are reporting, the pre-upgrade backup moved at a glacial pace; FAR slower than the non-upgrade backup I did just minutes before. After doing some research I hit upon a workaround: do a normal backup first (very important!), download the update, then cancel the installation. Go back and click Restore instead of Update. This will wipe the iPhone back to factory settings and restore it from your normal backup using the new OS version. Restoring this way is also pretty damn slow, but far faster than waiting for the upgrade backup to complete.

At long last the reboot completed and I was back in business. The phone does seem a bit more responsive than before but, since this is merely a 3G, it’s slight enough that it may just be wishful thinking on my part. Also, being a 3G, it’s lacking the major feature: multitasking. Surprisingly, it’s also lacking a minor feature: custom wallpaper on the home screen. Really, Apple? Is the horsepower of the 3GS and 4 really necessary to display a home screen background image, or was this just oversight?

Regardless, here are some of the first impressions and observations:

1. Folders: Since I wasn’t getting all the bells and whistles the newer hardware gets, this was a big one for me. I’ve managed to consolidate five screens of app icons down to 1 1/4. Now all my most commonly-used apps can all reside on the main screen in custom-named folders. Much rejoicing.

2. Camera: I still don’t have tap-to-focus, being a hardware item, but I was surprised to see that even the 3G gets the digital zoom slider. Considering the crap resolution of the camera, I don’t know how useful this will be but, hey, I can say I have it.

3. Maps: The GPS seems to lock noticeably faster and somewhat more accurately, even indoors.

4. iBooks: The first time I tried opening Winnie-the-Pooh I got an error message to the effect of “The book could not be opened because a required resource could not be located.” After the second attempt the book opened normally, but was very slow to respond for about 30 seconds while everything loaded in the background. Once all of that was completed, it ran very smoothly. The text is easy to read and the controls are intuitive, but I kept trying to pinch-zoom, which does nothing.

Adding PDF files to the phone is as easy as going to the Books tab in iTunes, and dragging the file from the Finder or desktop into that tab, then syncing the phone. Only a copy is created; the original is untouched and unmoved. After syncing, the PDF did not immediately appear on the bookshelf. After I went into the Store section and came back to the bookshelf, I now had a “Books|PDFs” button at the top of the screen. I’m not sure whether the delay was a bug, or if the app was still processing the PDF before displaying it, and I just hadn’t given it enough time.

I tested the PDF viewer with a 74MB color PDF of the Exalted core rulebook, containing two-column text, sidebars, and pictures. This book has been my litmus test for every iPhone PDF reader app I’ve tried. Nearly all of them choke on it, with the exception of GoodReader and now iBooks (sort of). As with “Winnie-the-Pooh”, it took quite awhile to finish processing the book and become responsive again. Eventually it settles down and displays everything correctly. I can pinch to zoom, and double-tapping in a text column zooms in to the width of that column, which was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, because of the limits of the processor and memory of the 3G, rendering each page takes an unacceptable amount of time, and I can’t imagine trying to read such a large, complex PDF on it. Even as I write this, it continues to get part way through rendering the text column before everything goes out of focus, then repeating. Smaller PDFs should be fine.

CORRECTION: Oddly, after I left iBooks then immediately went back into it and pulled up the PDF, it rendered much faster on every page, no matter how far into the book I went. Flipping pages, both manually and by using the “page scrubber” control at the bottom, still involved some horrible lag, however.

I’m sure as I continue using it I’ll discover more but, hopefully, this will all be moot in about a month when I can get the iPhone 4.

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