Apple iPhone 3G S in-depth look

What Mobile
July 3, 2009


The key differences

Autofocus camera

The jump from a 2-megapixel camera to a 3-megapixel camera isn’t exactly revolutionary. There’s still no flash. But, it is at least autofocus and the phone has a clever (although done before) touch-to-focus feature where you can pick on the subject you want to be the focus of attention.


Second feature in and it’s another new one that is already used by Nokia, Samsung and on Android devices. But, you can be sure that it will be the iPhone that has the longest list of innovative applications to use it. Why the need for a compass when you have GPS? Because GPS can only work out your direction when you’re moving. Stand still and it’s the compass that can help something like Google Street View show you what you’re actually looking at.


The 3G S is also about moving pictures. Wow, video recording on an iPhone – how revolutionary. Yet again, it’s not a new feature for a phone, but somehow Apple has managed to re-invent video capture, even though it’s only VGA resolution. How do they do it? By not worrying too much about high-definition video or clever effects and concentrating on making it simple, with video editing that is child’s play and easy uploading to YouTube. Following its first weekend on sale, Google reported a 400 per cent increase in video uploads to YouTube and we’re sure that at least one per cent of them will be worth watching.

Voice Control

Following the release of the new iPod shuffle, Apple has included support for voice control, where you tell the phone what to do or who to call. (Yes, you’ve been able to do that on a Nokia smartphone or many Windows Mobile handsets for years, but don’t you understand yet?). It seems to work better if you speak with an American accent, or you could simply ignore the feature at all and put it down as anything but an impressive gimmick.


The sealed battery has been uprated to offer nine hours of web browsing, 10 hours of video playback, 30 hours of music playback or between 5-12 hours talktime. The phone also has a more eco-friendly design and components that literally won’t cost the earth.


It goes without saying that you pay a lot to buy into the Apple brand, and the iPhone 3G S is no exception. The cost of ownership is as high as ever, but price never seems to be an issue for Apple products. If it was, they’d be out of business. There is a low-cost option; the outgoing 3G model is available in the 8GB capacity version for under £100 on a £30 per month, 18-month contract. The 3G S will vary from £185 to £280 on an 18-month contract, or free on 24-month or higher monthly spend (£45 a month) tariffs. Prepay users will pay £343 for the 3G 8GB, £440 for the 3G S 16GB and £538 for the 3G S 32GB.


Apple held off announcing its new iPod touch range, and it’s rumoured that the next generation models will have capacities of 32GB, 64GB or even more. To have done this might have rained on the iPhone’s parade, but the offering of a 32GB model is hardly disappointing. That is unless you’re planning to fill the 3G S up with videos, but most users will still find it quite hard to fill all that space.


There are two speed increases on the iPhone 3G S. The processor boasts at least double the performance, meaning faster application loading time and smoother graphics in games. The other increase in speed (and this is what the ‘S’ stands for) is HSDPA support for downloading up to 7.2Mbps. But, don’t get too excited about this because the current iPhone 3G is good for 3.6Mbps and O2’s network tops out at 1.8Mbps.

iPhone OS 3.0

The new features like the introduction of an Apple OS X Spotlight search (which finds you media, emails or applications from a simple Google-like search), landscape keyboard, cut and paste and even a clever feature where you can remotely wipe the data on your iPhone if it gets stolen, are all available to existing iPhone 2G and 3G owners. If you’ve already got an iPhone, you’ll have been prompted to upgrade since it became available on June 17th. If you’ve been holding off, do the upgrade and you’ll feel like you’ve got a new phone at no cost whatsoever.

Our verdict

The iPhone 3G S has one major problem; Apple’s decision to bring so many new features to existing 2G and 3G owners means the 3G S doesn’t appear to be as big a leap in technology as it could have been. The faster processor will lead to improved applications in the months ahead, but developers won’t want to alienate existing users who still have plenty of money to spend and aren’t planning to upgrade.

If you’re an existing 3G owner then you’re still about six months off being able to upgrade. Unless you’ve got an exceptional monthly call spend, you’ll have no choice but to buy your way out of the contract. Is it worth it? Well, if video recording is your thing then possibly – but it’s less about the video quality and more about the ease of use.
As for the voice control feature, well that’s nothing but a gimmick. The compass? Well, there’s no denying it will come in useful when apps start to use it, but would you splash out all that money for just this? You’d have to be a seriously hardcore Apple fan to do that.



Picture: New features (left to right): Video recording, Voice Control, New Spotlight searching & Electronic Compass


A second opinion

Don’t just take our word for it, we asked one of our regular handset reviewers to give their opinion on the new iPhone 3G S, having been one of the first people to get one on launch day. Over to you, Tom Radley…

So the new iPhone 3G S is out and is pretty impressive. The S, you’ll know, is for speed, which is Apple’s way of saying that although the externals are almost identical, there’s a faster chip inside. Certainly, every program and application opens noticeably faster than the earlier iPhone 3G model.

Actually, the new model does have a couple of different outer details, too. The screen now has a coating, which deals with smudges effectively so they wipe off much more easily. And, purists will note, the grey writing on the back of the case is now in silver like the Apple logo. This, apparently, was hard to achieve, and it’s the kind of detail Apple excels in.

But it’s the insides that set it apart. There’s a digital compass which means; a) you can always know which way is north and, more usefully, b) maps applications now show you which way you’re facing by spinning the map round to match you. This makes it by far the slickest iteration of Google Maps yet.

Some of what the 3G S does, of course, is catch up with other phones on the market, like making video recording possible at last. But Apple adds a cool and easy video playback and simple editing function. This is great, and makes up for the fact that the improved camera is, well, not that much better. Its 3-megapixel resolution is not exactly ground-breaking, easily outgunned by most Nokia and Samsung recent handsets and there’s still no flash.

The voice control feature is neat enough so you can quiz the phone as to what’s playing or ask it to choose more of the same. You can dial contacts or numbers, with reasonable, though not flawless, efficiency.

Most of the other bonuses, though, are down to the updated software, available for other iPhones, too. One, Find My iPhone, requires membership of the excellent MobileMe cloud synchronisation setup. With this £59.99 a year subscription, you can try and find a mislaid phone.

Go to any internet-connected phone and log into MobileMe and you’ll see where your phone is on a map. If it says it’s in your house, after all that, you can make it emit a sonar-like noise, even in silent mode. And if it really is lost you can wipe the contents of the phone remotely. For the 3G S this wipe is instant, earlier models take a little longer.

Battery stamina seems improved (you can display the actual percentage on the 3G S, too). The standout feature, though, really is the speed – so much faster than the original and nippier than most other handsets out there, it’s reason enough to upgrade to the new model.


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