AT A glance, there is almost no way to distinguish the iPhone 3GS from the older iPhone 3G without turning it over to see the silver fonts spelling the words “iPhone.”
While both look identical from the outside, the iPhone 3GS’ screen benefits from an oil resistant coating that makes it more resistant to smudges from greasy fingers.
True, it doesn’t completely eliminate all forms of smudges, but it does make it a lot easier to clean the screen.
Much of the new iPhone’s basic phone functions (voice calls and text messages) retain the same interface of its predecessors. Voice call quality is good on the 3GS and the speaker phone but it isn’t loud enough to be heard in a noisy environment.
Also, the quirky timeline view of text messages where the messages are stored by conversations between contacts, does take some getting used to.
The absence of a character counter also you gives no indication if your messages are within the 160 character limit of a single text message.
In terms of battery performance, you can get a full day of usage out but you will definitely need to recharge it by the end of the day.
Of course, how long the phone lasts depends on your usage. Activities like surfing on a 3G connection and playing games will rapidly drain the battery so it’s best to manage your consumption wisely.
Speed is touted as the key improvement to the iPhone 3GS. Along with the new hardware upgrades, the iPhone 3GS now boasts significantly faster speeds at literally everything it does from web browsing to launching of applications.
The general surfing experience over 3G connection was fast with most webpages we visited ready for viewing within four to five seconds although it typically took 20 seconds to fully load a page.
We tried loading an image-intensive site like the homepage of Gamespot.com and found it took the 3GS roughly 15 seconds to fully load the site via 3G connection and about 30 seconds on WiFi.
Webpages generally rendered faster on the iPhone 3GS and this was quite evident when we tested zooming in and out while navigating to view specific portions of a page.
Even launching applications like Mail, Camera, Notes and Maps was noticeably faster on the iPhone 3GS. We were quite impressed at just how fast applications launched and how we could use them the moment they booted.
The 3GS also boasts better handling of 3D games. With a faster processor and support for the OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics standard, the 3GS is certainly a promising mobile gaming platform.
Indeed, there’s a noticeable difference in the level of performance when gaming on the iPhone 3GS compared to older iPhone and iPod touch models.
SLIM: The iPhone 3GS maintains the same basic shape and design of the iPhone 3G.
In terms of performance, nearly all games we tested launched faster on the iPhone 3GS and ran smoother without any dropped frames.
Case in point is Galaxy Fire, a 3D sci-fi space flight simulation that looked stunning. Even the controls feel spot on without the slightest hint of lag to compensate for.
Another game, Doom Resurrection, also performed well with its fluid sweeping motions and 3D environments.
Games that typically have long load times like Sim City have also shown performance improvements, with faster loading times and smoother animation.
The 3GS has a new built-in 3-megapixel camera that adds autofocus and video recording to its list of features.
Autofocus is definitely a welcomed feature and it works via a tap-to-focus interface on the camera. By tapping on the screen, the camera will automatically adjust focus and even the exposure for the section you tapped on. Much to our surprise the new feature even allows you to take macro shots.
For example, if you’re taking a photo of a subject with his back against a window, you can correctly set the camera to expose for the subject instead of getting an underexposed shot.
Going by the image quality of photos we’ve taken, the camera is pretty decent for a phone. As expected, outdoor shots with lots of light looked good but things turned noticeably more grainy with indoor photos. That’s not to say the pictures taken indoors were rubbish but quality does takes a hit under those conditions.
The camera records videos now and switching between modes is as simple as flicking a switch.
We weren’t expecting much out of the 3GS’ camera but much to my surprise, the VGA quality videos looked remarkably good compared to most mobile phone cameras. Videos at 30fps looked smooth and the audio quality was really good too.
Unfortunately you cannot pause while recording videos and this is a sorely missed feature that would’ve been perfect considering there are on-board video-editing options on the 3GS.
Having said that it is easy to figure out how to trim your videos down to size. Although your editing options are limited to selecting a new start and end to a video, it would’ve been great if you could do more with the editing tools.
You have to keep in mind that the editing is destructive, so anything left on the cutting room floor is erased for good.
Find your way
The compass is another new hardware addition on the 3GS that greatly improves the device’s GPS navigation capabilities.
Finding your way around is made easier with the help of this new digital compass which integrates with Google Maps to orientate the map to show the direction you are currently facing. This significantly improves the maps’ usability making it great for pointing yourself in the right direction when you can’t get an accurate GPS lock.
Admittedly, it isn’t a full-featured GPS navigation application and it lacks turn-by-turn directions, but if you have a basic sense of direction, Google Maps can certainly be a useful navigation tool.
Google Maps isn’t the only application to take advantage of the new hardware — Compass is another pre-installed application and it shows you which direction you are facing.
Other third-party applications that have taken advantage of the new hardware include Motion-X GPS, a sort of all-in-one application that blends Compass and Google Maps into one.
Voice control is another new enhancement exclusive to the 3GS that actually works well. Holding down the Home button for a few seconds launches the interface, at which point the phone will beep to prompt you to say a command.
It is an easy-to-use interface with most of the keywords conveniently listed on screen. We were quite amazed at how amazingly accurate the voice control was in detecting and recognising words. It even accepted non-English sounding names flawlessly.
It is also a very practical application that comes in handy when you need to call a contact and don’t have a free hand like when you’re driving.
Even if a contact has multiple numbers (home, work or mobile), voice control will ask you to specify which number you wish to call.
The feature also extends to controlling your music as well. Reading out the name of an artiste or title of a song has the 3GS switch to iPod mode and plays songs you request.
Tethering is another welcome addition that makes use of the phone’s 3G connection to connect your computer or notebook to the Internet when WiFi isn’t available.
Even when the iPhone is tethered, you can still make or receive calls and text messages.
The setup process is pretty simple — all you need are a few tweaks and you can connect your computer or notebook to the 3GS via Bluetooth or USB.
However, in our experience using it, we found it easier to connect using a Mac as compared to a PC. Also, the connection speed was rather slow and not fast enough for regular surfing. In fact it was only useful for instant messaging.
For all intents and purposes the iPhone 3GS serves as a worthy update to the iPhone 3G. Speaking from first-hand experience, once you get used to the generally speediness of the phone, it’s hard to go back to any other device that performs slower.
It is the single most compelling reason to buy an iPhone 3GS — the improved processor performance and the speed difference is significant enough that it affects web surfing and general application usage.
The addition of new hardware components such as the digital compass also greatly improves navigation and the voice control makes it easy to call contacts and control your music while on the go. Then there is the improved 3-megapixel camera that takes better pictures and pretty decent videos to boot.
However the questions still remains if you already own an iPhone 3G: “To upgrade or not to upgrade?”
While it is pretty tempting, there just isn’t enough improvements and changes to justify an upgrade due to the many similarities between the 3GS and 3G.
On the other hand if you’ve been waiting to get an iPhone, there is very little that should hold you back from getting one now.
Pros: Speedy performance; better 3D game handling; camera takes good videos; accurate voice control.
Cons: Text message interface is still weird; limited on-board video-editing options; no pause function during video recording.
Display: 3.5in widescreen multi-touch display (480 x 320-pixels)
Messaging: SMS, MMS, e-mail
Connectivity: GSM 900/1800/1900, HSDPA, Bluetooth, USB 2.0, WiFi 802.11b/g
Internal memory: 32GB
Standby/talk time: 300 hours/ 5 hours (3G) 12 hours (2G)
Operating system: iPhone OS 3.0
Other features: 3-megapixel camera with autofocus and video recording, integrated A-GPS, voice control, digital compass, tethering
Dimensions (W x D x H): 62.1 x 12.3 x 115.5mm