CNET editors rated the iPhone 3G – 8.7 on a 10.0 scale. Not bad!

Just over a year after Apple birthed the first iPhone, the long-awaited, next-generation iPhone 3G has arrived bearing a mildly tweaked design and a load of new features. With access to a faster 3G wireless network, Microsoft exchange server e-mail, and support for a staggering array of third-party software from the iPhone Apps store, the new handset is the iPhone we’ve been waiting for. It still lacks some basic features but when compared with what the original model was year ago, this device sets a new benchmark for the cell phone world.

With the iPhone 3G, Apple appears to have fixed some call-quality performance issues we had with the previous model–in our initial tests, the volume is louder with less background buzz than before. Music and video quality were largely unchanged, but we didn’t have many complaints in that department to begin with. We’re worried about battery life–some early reviews indicate that the iPhone 3G lasts only a day–but we’ll run full tests over the next couple of days and report our results on this page.

Price may well remain our largest concern. New AT&T customers and most current AT&T customers can buy the iPhone 3G for $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB model. If you don’t qualify for that price–check your AT&T account to find out–you’ll pay $399 and $499 respectively. Either way, you’ll pay $15 more per month ($74.99 total) for a plan comparable with the original iPhone ($59 per month). So, while you’ll pay less outright to buy the handset, you’ll make it up over the course of a standard two-year AT&T contract.

So should you buy an iPhone 3G? If you haven’t bought an iPhone yet, and have been holding out for a new model, now is the time. If you’re a current iPhone owner and you’re yearning for a faster cellular network, then you should take the plunge. But if you’re an iPhone owner who won’t use 3G (or can’t; check your coverage at AT&T), then you should stick with your current model. The iPhone 2.0 software update provides exchange server support, third-party apps support, and many new features without the added cost.

You’d be hard-pressed to notice any design differences on the front of the iPhone 3G. The minor changes–the silver rim is thinner and the silver mesh behind the speaker–are so minimal we didn’t notice them for a few hours after picking up the device. Turn the phone on its side, however, and you’ll see more changes. Apple has replaced the aluminum silver back with a plastic face in either white or black. The black version (our review model) is attractive, but we admit that we miss the original silver, which shows fewer fingerprints and smudges than the shiny black version. The white model is not our cup of tea.

The good: The Apple iPhone 3G offers critical new features including support for high-speed 3G networks, third-party applications, and expanded e-mail. Its call quality is improved and it continues to deliver an excellent music and video experience.

The bad: The iPhone 3G continues to lack some basic features that are available on even the simplest cell phone. Also, we prefer the original iPhone’s design.

The bottom line: The iPhone 3G delivers on its promises by adding critical features and sharper performance. The iTunes Apps Store is pretty amazing, and the 3G support is more than welcome. We still have a few gripes, but the iPhone 3G a big improvement over the original model.

Specs: OS provided: Microsoft Windows XP Home SP 2|Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP 2|Microsoft Windows Vista|Apple Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later; Band / mode: WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900; Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 2.0