Review: Apple iPhone 3GS (8GB/16GB/32GB)
Pros: Apple’s best overall iPhone yet; an iterative but legitimate upgrade to the original iPhone 3G, doubling its predecessor’s storage capacity for the same prices, while adding a much-improved still and now video-capable camera, a compass, Nike+ support, and a more powerful chipset capable of voice-controlled dialing and music playback. Faster at running apps, displaying web pages, and rendering 3-D graphics than before; makes creation and sharing of videos and photos extremely straightforward. Base 8GB model is sold in black only, while 16GB model is available in both black and white, and all versions include support for headphone cable-mounted volume controls. Screen is now smudge-resistant. Battery life for non-3G purposes has been improved somewhat. Modest audio and video output tweaks bring performance in line with second-generation iPod touch.
Cons: Battery life for 3G calling and data remains unacceptably low, requiring heavy phone or 3G data users to perform mid-day recharging; use of other new features, including video recording, drains battery at even more rapid rate. Preserves problematic plastic body design of iPhone 3G, which proved susceptible to cracking, scratching under normal usage; AppleCare policy is strongly recommended for body and battery in second year of ownership. Video uploading is slow, and downloading speed increases will be inconsistently realized by users for a variety of reasons, including widely varying 3G networks, which offer different maximum speeds in different regions, and in some places continue to suffer from capacity constraints. Users may need to take advantage of 30-day return policy if calling and data performance are unacceptable in their areas.
Though there are three degrees of Apple product refreshes—revolutionary, evolutionary, and trivial—the lines are blurred somewhat by a critical factor: a given user’s point of reference. Those who purchased a first-generation Mac or iPod might have found its immediate successor to be only a minor step up, but by holding off two years on an upgrade, they’d likely find at least a few tantalizing new features in a third-generation sequel. By contrast, those who started with a second- or third-generation device mightn’t feel the itch to upgrade until a fourth- or fifth-generation version came along. Apple’s first multi-function mobile phone, the iPhone, has only been around for two years, and just in time for AT&T’s two-year service contracts to expire, there’s now a third-generation version.
That’s the iPhone 3GS ($99/8GB,* $199/16GB, $299/32GB), which may well be the worst-named product in the last eight years of the company’s pocket media player initiative,** but it’s also the best iPhone the company has ever made in all ways but two: battery life and durability. This feat hasn’t been achieved through a revolutionary rethinking of its user interface, the addition of a huge new feature, or a radical price drop, any of which would have excited Apple fans and the world as a whole. Rather, the iPhone 3GS is a purely iterative device, and its name suggests precisely what the product is: last year’s iPhone 3G, with a few new tricks up its sleeve. Only the most seriously hardcore iPhone 3G owners should consider upgrading, especially in light of incentives to wait another year, but fans of the original iPhone and first-time iPhone buyers alike will find this new model to be very compelling.
As always, iLounge has assembled a comprehensive review of the iPhone 3GS, designed to help buyers of all types—iPhone novices, users, and hard-core fans alike—make a more informed decision about whether this is the right device for their needs. If you’re looking for a quick read, you’ll find photographs and executive summaries on every page, plus occasional links to audio and video samples that illustrate how the new model compares with earlier Apple products. Dig deeper and you’ll find a broad walkthrough of all of the device’s features, specifications, and performance test results, as well as our opinions on whether the iPhone 3GS is worthy of your hard-earned dollars, pounds, or yen. We have also included links to a collection of full-resolution photographs that will let you compare the iPhone 3GS’s camera to the iPhone 3G’s, which is all but indistinguishable from the original iPhone’s. There’s plenty to learn in here, and we hope you enjoy it.
[*/** Editor’s Notes: On June 22, 2009, four days after the product’s launch and two weeks after its initial announcement, Apple changed the iPhone 3G S name to iPhone 3GS, reducing its awkwardness. We have updated this review to reflect the change. Additionally, on June 24, 2010, Apple released an 8GB version of the iPhone 3GS for $99, discontinuing and phasing out the prior 16GB and 32GB models in favor of the newer, same-capacity iPhone 4. The 8GB iPhone 3GS is available only in black, and is unchanged from the 2009 release save for the addition of iOS 4 software. Apart from an update to the Pros and Cons above, we have not updated the remainder of this review regarding the 8GB model.]