My iPhone 3GS died 2 days into our holiday. Something like an IMEI/ICCID not found error, and the only thing it would display was a screen asking to be connected to iTunes to be restored.
Connecting to iTunes wouldn't let me restore as it said my phone was locked with a passcode. Using the forced restore mode, iTunes wouldn't restore without an Internet connection. Once I got a connection, the restore failed with an "Error 23" and the log file contained "radio" errors. Didn't sound good. Tried a DFU mode restore, same "Error 23".
So, it was bricked. My last backup was in October. My bad I guess, but I can only use iTunes via my partner's laptop and usually I don't need to. Thankfully it was still covered by the 1 year warranty.
Calling Apple went smoothly. They acknowledged that I'd done everything I could and booked me an appointment to take the phone into the Apple store.
The Apple store is crazy, there were more staff than customers and the Genius bar was booked out for 2 days. That's where your extra $ go when you buy a Mac, buying blue t-shirts...
The Genius replaced my handset with no troubles, which was great.
Restoring from my backup didn't work very well.
My Apps weren't restored at all, only the links to Web Apps I'd saved to the home screen were restored. This is possibly because I hadn't "authorised" iTunes with my account. Hard to recall if I was warned about that, I didn't know it was necessary in any case.
Restoring Apps manually is a pain, trawling through iTunes receipt emails, figuring out which I hadn't uninstalled and which I wanted to keep using.
Additionally, you have to buy the App again, only once that's done does it confirm that you're not going to have to pay for it again (and gives you a cancel button, God knows why.) If you choose the wrong App then bad luck, the one-click purchase will install it with no cancel button.
One tiny bit of good news: Many App's settings were backed up, and the settings were restored after re-purchasing the App. This wasn't clear initially, but obviously it backs up and restores all the files in the "home" folder, whether the App is present or not.
The music wasn't synced at all as I had iTunes set to manage it manually. Fair enough in that case, but still tedious to get it back.
The lesson to be learnt is that an iPhone backup isn't really a backup at all. It apparently backs up your "home" folder and relies on the Sync to do the rest. This is sort of obvious in hindsight, as it's not like there's going to be room for a 32gb backup, and theoretically that's mostly copies of files (music) that's on the computer anyway.
Just because I don't want everything to be automatically Synced doesn't mean I don't want it backed up.
So, I'll be changing my habits from now on. I won't be switching to using iTunes, that's not an option on Linux, but I'll definitely treat the iPhone as a terminal only and try to keep as much as possible "in the cloud". Using Google Sync for my contacts in addition to my mail and calendars from now on for example.