iPhone 3G S: The Technologizer Review

It's evolutionary. But who said evolution was a bad thing?

By  |  Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 11:19 am

iPhone 3G SOn Wednesday, Apple released iPhone OS 3.0–an operating-system upgrade that not only sports a hundred new features but is free to iPhone users. Today, it began selling the iPhone 3G S, a product that offers eight significant improvements over the iPhone 3G at most, and which is most definitely not free. (If you’re not under contract to AT&T, it’ll run you $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB one; if you’re in the midst of an AT&T  contract that isn’t running out soon, it’ll cost you more.)

The iPhone 3G S isn’t a dramatic reinvention of the iPhone hardware–it’s an evolutionary advance, in an identical case. But that’s in no way a criticism. The iPhone 3G was an exceptional product, and the 3G S improves strategically on most of the earlier phone’s weak spots; it packs the iPhone 3.0 software and all its improvements; it’s an extraordinarily   well-integrated product. I’m not going to say it’s the best smartphone for everyone–for instance, if you refuse to buy a phone without a physical keyboard, you have no reason to feel guilty. But when you judge the iPhone 3G S’s melding of hardware, software, services, and available applications, it’s the best smartphone the world has known to date. By quite a bit.

Here’s what’s new, in rough order of importance.


Apple doesn’t like to talk about the details–which include a new CPU and graphics subsystem and double the RAM–but the iPhone 3G S is indeed noticeably zippier than its 3G predecessor. I noticed the improvement the moment I turned on the phone for the first time: I never thought of moving between groups of Home screen applications as being particularly sluggish before, but as I nudged the the screens of icons with my fingertip, they slip-slided back and forth much more briskly, and therefore made its multi-touch interface feel even more responsive.

When I think of my iPhone 3G being frustratingly pokey, three applications spring to mind: Safari, the Text app (now called Messages), and the Camera. In the latter two cases, the performance issues relate to startup time, and both pop into place more quickly on the 3G S. With Safari on the 3G with the previous versions of iPhone OS, browsing often simply felt sluggish, even when you were on AT&T’s 3G network. The 3G S can’t do anything to get the entire AT&T network supporting the 7.2Mbps speed it’s theoretically capable of handling–AT&T says the network upgrade won’t be complete until 2011–but the phone’s beefier components and improvements to the OS 3.0 version of Safari deliver right now.

I want to use the 3G S in more places over a longer period before I render a final verdict, but during my first day with the 3G S, Safari is much, much more pleasant to use. Loading pages still isn’t instantaneous, but the 3G S renders them promptly and reliably, without the bogged-down feel that the old iPhone 3G sometimes had. (An iPhone 3G with OS 3.0 also delivers snappier browsing, but it’s not this good.) Scrolling around on Web pages also goes faster–there’s none of the checkerboard effect you get on the 3G as it strains to keep up with your meanderings.

The iPhone 3G S is not a device without speed bumps: Loading applications still often takes a few seconds more than you’d hope for. But the 3G S should shake any remaining reputation the iPhone has for being a slowpoke, and for some people the faster browsing is in itself a reason to consider upgrading.


3gs-videoCell phones have been capable of capturing video–albeit often really crummy video–for years. The iPhone 3G only did video if you jailbroke your phone and installed a third-party app. The 3G S’s new 3-megapixel camera (more on it in a moment) makes it the first video-ready iPhone.

Shooting movies is a snap–you just flip a switch in the Camera app and start recording in QuickTime format. The results aren’t bad given the lowish resolution of 480 by 640. Pure Digital’s various Flips are better still–especially the HD ones–but  most of us aren’t going to tote even a handy little camcorder like a Flip everywhere we go. As with cameras in general, the best video camera is the one you have with you, and the iPhone 3G S’s roomy storage means you can store hours of video on end if you haven’t maxed out your space with music, movies, and apps.

Before Apple unveiled the 3G S, there were tantalizing rumors that it would come with a mobile version of iMovie. It doesn’t, but it does let you trim movies on the phone before you transfer them to your PC or Mac. Video syncing is handled through iPhoto. (I’m still hoping that Apple will allow applications such as Qik to enable live video streaming over the Internet.)

Here’s a silly little video tour of the silly little neighborhood where I live. Don’t judge the iPhone 3G S’s video capability by the sound–I was driving around pointing the camera out the window, hence the wind noise, engine rumblings, and music in the background.

Better Still Pictures.

The iPhone 3G has a two-megapixel camera that’s capable of taking adequate pictures in very bright light. But it’s a low-end imaging device even among other cameraphones. When I’ve used photos from my 3G on Technologizer, I’ve apologized in advance, and people still complain.

The iPhone 3G bumps the resolution up to 3 megapixels, adds autofocus (you can even choose your subject by touching it on-screen), and improves image processing for white balance and other aspects of the picture. There’s no flash or zoom, so it remains a mid-range camera, not a cutting edge one like the 5-megapixel wonder on Nokia’s N97. But it’s a meaningful step in the right direction.

Here’s a photo I took with the iPhone 3G:


And here’s the 3G S:


I didn’t edit the pictures (except to shrink both down, which throws away pixels in both photos and eliminates the 3G S’s 50% advantage in megapixels). The 3G S version isn’t radically better, but the autofocus helps and it  has punchier colors than the 3G, as do all the photos I’ve taken so far.

Ultimately, I’m not going to start leaving my trusty Lumix point-and-shoot at home because I have an iPhone 3G S. But I’m more likely to shoot photos with my 3G S, and less likely to feel obligated to apologize for the results.

Longer life.

Important disclaimer: I haven’t had an iPhone 3G S long enough to form opinions about its the life of its sealed battery. Apple says it has the same 3G talk time (five hours), 3G Internet use (five hours). and standby time (300) as the iPhone 3G. But it claims meaningful improvements on other battery-related front: 12 hours of 2G talk time vs. 10 for the 3G, nine hours of Wi-Fi Internet use vs. six, 30 hours of audio playback vs. 24, and 10 hours of video playback vs. seven. If those are anything like real-world figures, the improvement is impressive.

To some extent, all this claims boil down to one big question: Can you put the iPhone 3G S through heavy usage and be confident that you’ll get though an entire day without needing to recharge? Right now, I tend to leave Push updates, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth shut off unless I specifically need them. If the 3G S doesn’t need quite so much power-management babysitting, it’ll let us get more out of the features we paid for.



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11 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave Zatz Says:

    Your neighborhood doesn’t have too many tall trees. EOM 😉

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    When it was built (mostly in the 1950s) each house got its own little tree. Many of those are gone, including mine…


  3. gianpo Says:

    The 3G’s camera is only one megapixel not two.

  4. someone Says:

    Harry, you wrote:

    “(If you’re not under contract to AT&T, it’ll run you $199 for the 16GB model and 32GB for the 32GB one; if you’re in the midst of an AT&T contract that isn’t running out soon, it’ll cost you more.)”…..

  5. Steve Hogan Says:

    I had an iPhone for about 2 months but gave it up for two main reasons. The call reception was horrid. Could not place calls from many locations where I had previously used my trusty AllTel service for 8 years and the other problem was volume. The speaker phone was so weak that it was almost useless. Does the new 3G S improve on these known problems or is it stll the same poor ATT coverage and poor volume. It was a nice piece of hardware, just not much of a phone.

  6. Felipe Sunol Says:

    “it’ll run you $199 for the 16GB model and 32GB for the 32GB one; if you’re in the midst of an AT&T contract that isn’t running out soon, it’ll cost you more.)”

    I think I’ve got 32GB lying around, I’ll get one this week lol.

    Just kidding, typo Harry.

  7. Bee Says:

    @ gianpo, The 3G’s camera is indeed a 2 megapixel, where did you get the 1 megapixel from?

  8. lisapiglett Says:

    haha im pretty excited about this phone. i watched the conference they had in like april before they officially announced it to the public on their website the details. it was two hours and not only is this an upgrade for consumers but for apps too. theres a lot more you can do in apps and i think thats a bonus. so im excited <3

  9. Relyt Says:

    You were a boy scout? Good times….

  10. william Says:

    I suppose if apps can take advantage of the compass, that could be useful, but if you have a need for a compass and actually know how to use one, you are probably already carrying one, and it doesn’t require batteries!

  11. patsriaroon Says:

    need a second opinion?


    most of the reviewer say “if you already have it, no need to buy a new one”

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