On Call: Unlocked and jailbroken iPhones

In this edition of On Call, CNET's cell phone editor explains jailbroken iPhones.

Cut, copy and paste comes to the iPhone

Q: I want to know how to upgrade a jailbroken iPhone's firmware to 2.0 or 3.0 from version 1.0. Presently, all I can do is listen to music, text, and make calls--I can't install applications. Meanwhile, my others friends have it all because they are on AT&T. I am begging for a way to upgrade to 2.0 or 3.0.
- Ishan

A: First off, the iPhone OS 3.0 is available only to developers at the moment. It won't be released to the general public until this summer (Apple hasn't revealed an exact date). Unless you're really, really desperate for it, I would hold off installing it officially launches. In its beta form, 3.0 is a bit buggy, and it slows down the iPhone by quite a bit. But to give you a taste of how it looks, check out our iPhone 3.0 screenshots.

Since you have a jailbroken iPhone, I'm sure that you're aware that if you attempt a software update through iTunes your phone will be jailbroken no longer. Unfortunately, iTunes is the best way to get any updates for their full functionality. I don't know of any way to upgrade your phone while skipping iTunes, but if anyone know of a way around it, please comment below.

You could perform upgrade to the latest available update (2.2.1) and then jailbreak your phone again. It may sound risky, but jailbreak methods go live almost immediately after every software update comes out. It would be a time-consuming, multistep process, but it's pretty much your best option. Again, if you know another way, please share it below.

Q: I want an iPhone, but don't know the best way to go about it. I just canceled my account with Sprint, which was $40 a month. But with the iPhone, my monthly cost will double. Is AT&T the best way to go? Or can I use T-Mobile instead? And what the heck is jailbroken?
- Deb

Corinne Schulze/CNET

If you want to get full capability out of an iPhone, then AT&T is the only way to go. Though you can use an unlocked iPhone (see below) on T-Mobile to make calls, send messages, use the iPod player, and browse the Web, T-Mobile does not support the visual voice mail feature. And more importantly, the iPhone is not compatible with T-Mobile's 3G network. That means you'd be stuck using EDGE data speeds when you're not using Wi-Fi. And as I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, your phone will be locked to AT&T each time that you accept an official iPhone software update from Apple. Finally, it's worth noting that using an iPhone on T-Mobile won't save you a ton of money. A plan for unlimited voice and data will run you $85 per month.

Concerning your last question, jailbreaking is the method of removing the restrictions on an iPhone that limit the kind of software you can install. Once you jailbreak an iPhone, you can add applications and software not approved by Apple, get new features like video recording and change the look and feel of the iPhone's user interface. Jailbreaking is also a necessary step for unlocking the phone, which removes the restrictions that tie it to one carrier.

Q: I will be traveling to Hong Kong in about a month. I need to know if there is a way to unlock my iPhone 3G so that I can use it there. If not, what are the cell phone carriers there that offer prepaid SIM cards?
- Luis

A: There are several ways to unlock your iPhone 3G. I can't recommend any in particular, but you'll find a few options if you do a search online. Just remember that as I said in my answer to the first question, you will lose some functionality if you use the iPhone on another carrier.

If you're successful, you'll have an easy time finding a prepaid SIM card in Hong Kong. They're sold everywhere, but electronics stores are your best bet. When I was in Hong Kong two years ago, I found one very quickly at a local carrier store.