Friday, September 3, 2010

My iPhone 3G jailbreaking experience

A friend of mine upgraded to an iPhone 4, and so his old 3G (not the 3GS, so this is an iPhone 2nd gen) was just gathering dust.  He graciously let me borrow it to experiment with.

A little background - I'm cheap when it comes to my phones.  I want a lot of functionality at very little price.  I have an old Windows Mobile brick of a phone, and no data plan.  I paid $50.00 for it 2 years ago when it was discontinued and it had been around for 2 years before that.  I pay $15.00 a month for it as an additional line to my wife's cell plan with Verizon.  But, it has wi-fi which I can use at home and at work and often at lunch depending on the restaurant, so I'm mostly connected when I need to be.  Having had a bad experience with Cingular, we switched to Verizon, and I've been really happy except that Verizon has never had good phones.  Great network - I never lose coverage or a call.  But their phones are notoriously backwater unless you like Black Berries.  But all that's changing with the Motoroloa Droid line, the HTC Incredible, and now the upcoming Samsung Facinate.

So, I've finally come around to the point where I think I should look into modernizing my phone.  The trouble is, my current phone is dying and Verizon is no help getting me a replacement prior to my contract ending.  So, I decided to have a look at the iPhone.  Because I'm not going back to AT&T, I first need to jailbreak this puppy and see if I can get on T-Mobile.


Prep:
The iPhone took some initial prep work as it wouldn't let me in without activating.  I plugged into iTunes, restored the phone to the iOS 4.0.2 image, and was in.  Albeit, with no cellular plan.

Jailbreaking:
Jailbreaking an iPhone is the process of opening a hole in the walled garden Apple jails you in.  This lets you unlock features of the iPhone and run apps that aren't officially sanctioned by Apple.  For example, Apple won't let through an app to use your phone as a full brightness flashlight.  They also don't let you make your own ringtones - you have to buy them.  And you can't hide the default apps, even though you're bound not to like them compared to others you might find in the App store.  If you're really concerned about your warranty, or you aren't confident that you can do the jailbreak without messing up your phone, or feel you need to have the latest and greatest iOS upgrades the minute they come out, then jailbreaking isn't for you.  Otherwise, it's worth it in my estimation.

There are too many websites to count with jailbreaking instructions.  Many of them want you to pay.  Don't do it.  Jailbreaking is free.  It's really confusing and difficult to navigate, but I found instructions that worked.  Basically, you download a program called RedSn0w 0.9.5b5-5 as well as an IPSW file for iOS4.  Run RedSn0w and follow the onscreen instructions.  In RedSn0w, you should choose to install Cydia, which is the App Store for jail breakers.  You should NOT enable multi-taking on the 3G unless you're really, really sure.  I saw huge slowdowns when I enabled multi-tasking.  The 3G just wasn't up to the task.  If you want to try it, go ahead - you can always restore and repeat the jailbreaking process again later.

Unlocking:
Unlocking is the process of allowing your phone to be used on another carrier other than AT&T.  You have to jailbreak your phone in order to unlock it.  To unlock the 3G, all I had to do was install a program called UltraSn0w via the Cydia app store.

Using T-Mobile:
In order to use T-Mobile, jailbreak, unlock, and then just pop in an already activated (preferably borrowed just to test) T-Mobile sim card.  You don't get visual voice mail, and you don't get to use the 3G data network - you have to settle for the EDGE network for your data which is pretty slow.  Other than that, everything works great.  No problems what-so-ever.

Impressions:
As far as the iPhone goes, I like it as a phone.  It feels great in your hand and is really stable.  Safari is fast and really well done.  It renders pages perfectly.  The touch screen is mostly good, though not intuitive at times and not always responsive.  You wonder if you touched it correctly and the phone is just 'thinking' about responding.  The screen often rotates when you don't mean for it to.  The iBooks app is nice, and displays PDFs really well.

Some of the default apps aren't so good, and you can't get rid them either unless you jailbreak.  So if you're like me and don't need to stock market app, think that Evernote is better than Notes, and the The Weather Channel app is better than Weather, you can add your favorites and hide the default apps.

The mail application is okay, but not great.  I'd like to see an "unread" folder that puts all your unread messages in one place.  If you have your Exchange e-mail set up to organize your messages into folders, you will miss messages when trying to read on the iPhone.  The contacts syncing with GMail is sad - it doesn't get company names right because it tries to split them into first/last names, and it doesn't pull birthdays or anniversaries which is just terrible because there's a place for them.  The Calendar app lacks a "this week" view, which is how I see my scheduling world and it's frustrating not to have that.

Cydia, the jailbreakers app store, is so slow it's barely usable.  You should use Cydia to install Rock, and forget Cydia from then on.  Many of the free apps in the regular App Store have ads built in, so it's hard to find things there that are both free and good.  However, "TowerMadness" is so good it almost makes up for the fact that there's not much else.

Battery life is okay, but not spectacular.  With light usage, you could possibly make it through 2 days without charging, but mostly you should expect to charge it every day.  I don't think that's unusual for smartphones, but still disappointing.

Finally - let's talk about the iPod functionality.  I have a 5th gen Nano, and take it to work with me daily.  I love it.  The device is just perfect with the click wheel and the OS and the whole package.  The iPhone's iPod software is okay, but it's hard to manage some things.  For example, when listening to a podcast, you typically need to skip forward past intros and commercials.  The nano makes this easy, but with the iPhone you have to make an awkward L shape on the screen, pulling down to adjust your fine tuning and to the right to skip forward.  Not bad, but just not as nice and intuitive as what I'm used to.  I also notice that the iPod features drain the battery really fast.  And the single biggest frustration - the headphone jack is at the top of the phone which is really awkward for all usage unless you're putting your phone in your pocket.

All in all, this isn't a bad phone.  T-Mobile lets you do a month-to-month plan with no contract, so with everyone abandoning their old iPhones for the new 4.0, you could get a really cheap iPhone.  While I think I'd be happy with it, I'm also tempted by the Samsung Galaxy, and think I'll wait for Verizon's version of it called the "Facinate" to come out later this month before I make my final decision.