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iPhone 3GS Review Round-Up

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By Charles Starrett

Contributing Editor
Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2009
News Categories: iPhone

Following the lifting of the iPhone 3GS review embargo, Apple’s hand-picked reviewers near-simultaneously issued their opinions today on the latest iPhone model, which we’ve summarized in the following headers. Expect iLounge’s review of the iPhone 3GS to deal with these and other subjects in detail in the very near future.

Speed Increases:

Processing (General):

Comments varied on the 3GS’s speed increase, with some reviewers merely parroting Apple’s claims that the device runs apps faster; most agreed that it feels at least a little peppier than the iPhone 3G.

Joshua Topolsky, Engadget: “We’re excited by the cranked up CPU, but in our experience you’ll see lowered load times (though obviously not as drastic) if you take a standard 3G and do a full restore, so there is the lingering question of whether or not the jacked-up feel of the 3GS will last, or will begin to bog down after months of use and heaps of data.”

Processing (Games):

While most said little about the 3GS’s enhanced graphics processor beyond to note that it’s there, some mentioned that frame rates had increased in games in a manner similar to the boosts seen in the faster-than-iPhone iPod touch 2G.

Jason Chen, Gizmodo: “What does this speed increase mean for future iPhone apps and games? With the iPhone 3GS running on a 600MHz CPU with 256MB RAM (up from 400MHz and 128MB), there’s a much higher performance ceiling for apps to hit. The OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics standard that’s now supported paves the way for an impressive visual boost.”

Data:

Comments on improved data speeds also varied, with small to moderate web browsing speed increases noted almost across the board, along with caveats that the device’s true capabilities might not be knowable for an extended period of time based on limitations of AT&T’s 3G network.

Chen: “Although on average the 3GS scored about 50% higher than the 3G, occasionally, in individual runs, it could have ranged anywhere from twice as fast to about the same speeds.”

Camera Improvements:

Still Camera: Most comments praised the device’s improved 3-Megapixel camera and noted that it does considerably better outdoors than did the prior 2-Megapixel version. Some said that it suffered indoors based on indoor lighting tint and low-light.

Andy Ihnatko, Chicago Sun Times: “The speed boost is nice and a larger-capacity battery is always appreciated…but the most significant individual upgrade to this new iPhone is the camera…variable focus introduces the concept of ‘sharp images’ to the world of the iPhone. The close-focusing feature is bloody useful for big shots of small items. And it opens the door to porting some of the coolest Google Android Phone software, such as apps that can image the barcode off of a store item and instantly tell you where you can buy it online for cheaper.”

Video Camera: Comments were mixed but mostly positive on the 640x480 video camera, with virtually all agreeing that recording and editing movies was easy, but some noting that the video quality was underwhelming by comparison with Flip Video-like simple camcorders, and others praising the video quality.

Ed Baig, USA Today: “Shooting video on the iPhone is dirt simple, and the VGA quality, while hardly high-definition, is quite decent. You can shoot in portrait or landscape mode. Moreover, you can trim the scene you shot before e-mailing the movie or uploading it to YouTube or Apple’s $99 a year MobileMe online service. Eventually you’ll also be able to share it via MMS. Alas, I accidently tapped the Trim button on the screen and lost scenes I wanted to keep.”

Voice Control: Almost every review noted that this dialing and iPod controlling feature worked, but with some potentially big issues, including inaccurate name recognition and ambient noise concerns.

Walt Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal: “By simply holding down the new iPhone’s home button, you can dial contacts and control music playback by uttering voice commands. The phone will even tell you which song is playing. Like most voice-recognition systems, this one isn’t perfect. But it worked most of the time.”

Digital Compass: Comments generally treated the compass as a ho-hum feature from a standalone application perspective, but some saw its future potential and integration into Maps as worthwhile.

David Pogue, The New York Times: “The new Compass program looks like a classier version of a regular Cub Scout compass — great when you emerge, disoriented, from the subway. In Google Maps, it adds an indicator beam, showing which way you’re facing on the map. No longer must you walk in a circle, staring at the iPhone map like an idiot, just to figure out which way is up.”

MMS Functionality: Reviewers were almost universally negative on this feature, which is supported by the iPhone OS 3.0 but locked by AT&T, and thereby not capable of being tested with iPhone 3GS’s video sharing capabilities.

Mossberg: “I couldn’t test these useful features because my tests were all done on AT&T, which hasn’t rolled them out.”

Battery: Reviewers had a bizarre split on this topic, with at least one claim that there was no noticeable improvement from the original iPhone 3G’s battery performance, and another going to far as to say that the device would no longer require a mid-day recharge as does the iPhone 3G.

Ihnatko: “In practice, the differences were notable but they weren’t quite so dramatic. The 3GS has enough juice for a full day of normal use, but if you’re going to rely on it heavily throughout the day it’s still best to have an external battery, like a Mophie Juice Pack. During a full afternoon of walking through San Francisco, shooting photos and video and relying on the GPS for street navigation, I had run the battery down to its last 10% by 6 o’clock.”

Screen and Coating: The comments were generally positive on the iPhone 3GS’s new oleophobic screen coating, which makes fingerprints wipe off more easily than before. One person noted a significant yellow tint on the new screen by comparison with the prior one, attributed to a more “warm” color balance.

Topolsky: “The most surprising thing about the tech is that it actually does what the company says it will: namely, it resists new smudges and wipes almost entirely clean with a single swipe on a pant leg. This wasn’t exactly the most pressing issue we had with the phone, but it’s nice to know that Apple is innovating in the dirty screen space.”

AT&T Calling Changes: Those commenting on iPhone 3GS’s performance on AT&T’s network did not note significant improvements or changes in call quality or performance.

« AT&T Wi-Fi supports auto-authentication with iPhone 3.0

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Comments

1

Apple should realize that unbiased reviews are always the best. iLounge, both for its praise and criticism of Apple, is a big reason why I own Apple products right now, as I joined the site and began reading up on the products before buying my first iPod. Many of these sites are great for news updates, but there is a reason why I always wait for iLounge’s reviews.

Posted by Germansuplex on June 17, 2009 at 2:34 PM (PDT)

2

So I’m not sure what iLounge is trying to imply here - at the beginning the mention of Apple’s “hand-picked reviewers” and the bit about reviewers merely “parroting Apple” on 3GS speeds seems to imply that these reviews are all basically suspect and should be seen as biased, but there’s plenty that seems to be pretty straight and spot-on about most of the reviews linked to (which seem to be generally saying what I think is probably true, that it’s a somewhat good improvement, with it’s own set of issues).  I don’t think it requires some major bias to say it’s an improvement over the iPhone 3G, and I don’t see any of these “hand-picked reviewers” saying really over-the-top things like saying it is amazingly better.

Posted by TomHandy on June 17, 2009 at 2:49 PM (PDT)

3

@TomHandy: Fairly obvious isn’t it? Reading the original reviews as linked, they’re full of just what Apple expects from these guys, over-the-top quotes that were tailor made for Hot News.

“Apple crushes all comers… The changes make an already marvelous device that much better… slim and stunning…”

iLounge probably didn’t include any of those quotes because they are so lame and obvious. But the article seems to be saying what I am thinking… Apple picks these guys because they are hacks who will lick nuts and butts to get early access.

Posted by Flipmode on June 17, 2009 at 4:17 PM (PDT)

4

It’s the payola of the internet, I guess.

Posted by Germansuplex on June 17, 2009 at 7:32 PM (PDT)

5

Can someone test the sound quality of the new iphone?

Posted by burnhamd on June 17, 2009 at 8:28 PM (PDT)

6

I have no doubt some of these reviewers are as we suspect, exaggerators, brown nosers, and suckers. But some of them I have a great deal of respect for and believe they gave an honest review.

David Pogue is a good example of this. He’s an avid Mac fan, but uses both Macs and Windows, or any other device OS that he takes a liking too. He’s fair, honest, and humorous to boot.

While Gizmodo’s Jason Chen was gushing a bit about speed, but at least had a nice video to back up the claim. They were also pretty clear that speed was more of an app thing than a 3G network thing which Apple seems to imply with their emphases on speed).

Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky’s review also seemed very well done and balanced. Nothing over the top or exaggerated, and noting things like what Apple claims vs what they actually know/have experienced.

So far those are the only three reviews I have read. Mostly because Engadget and Gizmodo are pretty good about their reviews, and I’ve always been a fan of Pogue’s stuff regardless of the publisher.

Posted by Ned Scott on June 17, 2009 at 9:29 PM (PDT)

7

While I can’t speak for every reviewers I know that many of these guy are on the level. To imply that they are trading favorable reviews for favorable treatment seems a tad harsh.

While some might be, they certainly all aren’t.

Posted by ort on June 18, 2009 at 10:32 AM (PDT)

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