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Has the iPhone 2.1 software update delivered?

The iPhone 2.1 software update promised to change the iPhone 3G for the better? CNET finds out if it succeeded.

The 2.1 software update brings needed changes to the Apple iPhone 3G. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

When Apple released the iPhone 2.1 software update last Friday, the company promised it would fix a lot of the irritating issues that have plagued iPhone 3G users since the device hit stores two months ago. Among the promises were longer battery life, fewer dropped calls, quicker backups, and no more crashes of third-party apps.

It's an impressive list, and one that every iPhone 3G owner has been waiting for. But beyond the hype, has the software update kept its promises? Is the iPhone 3G really an improved device? Well, after a few days of tinkering, anecdotal evidence by CNET editors and readers suggests that it has. Here's what we found.

Dropped calls
I never experienced a great number of dropped calls on our iPhone 3G review model, so I deferred to a couple of colleagues for their opinion. CNET editors Dong Ngo and Nicole Lee not only reported fewer dropped calls on their iPhones, but also an improved signal in more areas. What's more, calls were more stable and connection failures were fewer.

Faster backups
Nicole and Dong also agreed that backup times are now much quicker. Nicole said her backups dropped from about 10 minutes to just 2 minutes. A CNET reader had an even better experience. His backup times dropped form three hours to just a few minutes. I noticed a big change in this area as well.

Battery life
I haven't noticed much of a change here yet, but other respondents have seen improvement. As Dong said, his iPhone nearly died during an eastbound transcontinental flight before installing 2.1. But after 2.1, his iPhone was only half dead on his return westbound flight, which lasted an hour longer.

I had quite a few app crashes before 2.1, and haven't seen any after installation.

Faster loading of contacts
Though I never timed it before, this appears to be much faster. And others agree.

3G signal
Though some people hoped the update would boost 3G reception and increase download time, that's not the case. Actually, 2.1 was supposed to bring "improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display." While this does appear to be happening--I noticed a jump of a couple of bars pretty quickly--I wonder what that really means to the user. As Dong said, "(the) 3G signal is better (as in more bars), but the speed is not much better."

What have you noticed from the 2.1 software update? Have the changes made your iPhone better?