Every time there’s a new iPhone or iPod release, we put together a list of 10 new things readers probably didn’t know about prior to the device’s launch. This time is no exception: below, you’ll actually find way more than 10 surprising details, though we’ve organized this article into 10 straightforward sections. You can find higher-resolution images—and many more images, for that matter—in our massive gallery of iPhone 3GS unpacking photos, comparison shots, and in-use screenshots, as well as iPhone and iPod touch model specification differences in a separate one-page summary article. Enjoy.
1. Speeds: The iPhone 3GS’s speed increases are quantifiable and noticeable almost across the board. In actually using the device for non-web apps, they’re smaller than elsewhere: sliding to unlock the phone from the main screen and exiting apps is a little faster—only a little, not enough to care about. Opening apps ranges from a hint faster to a second or more improved on the iPhone 3GS, depending on the app.
iTunes synchronization speeds appear to be considerably faster on the new model. We ran our standard 1GB media synchronization test transfer on the iPhone 3GS right out of the box, and it took 1 minute, 40 seconds. We ran the same test on an iPhone 3G with apps installed, and it took 3 minutes, 52 seconds. Concerned that that speed difference might be attributable to pre-existing content on the iPhone 3G, we wiped its media clean and repeated the test. The result was nearly the same: 3 minutes, 38 seconds. This would put the iPhone 3GS at around 2.2x the speed of its predecessor for file transfers.
Loading web pages on the iPhone 3GS over Wi-Fi is decidedly faster. The iLounge home page took 40 seconds to load on the iPhone 3G, and 19 seconds on the iPhone 3GS. The BBC web site took 23 seconds to load on the iPhone 3G, and 12 seconds to load on the iPhone 3GS. Loading over 3G: LA Times web site took 46 seconds to load on iPhone 3G, and 27 seconds to load on iPhone 3GS. DP Review took 21 seconds to load on iPhone 3G, and 19 seconds to load on iPhone 3GS. Pulling up web-derived content, such as YouTube’s Featured list, was also faster on the iPhone 3GS. Actually displaying videos varied from test to test: the first time, the iPhone 3GS started playing faster, but subsequently, the iPhone 3G did.
2. Packaging: The iPhone 3GS packaging is somewhat smaller than the iPhone 3G’s, without compromising the components inside. Foam that used to be inside the iPhone 3G’s box has been removed for the iPhone 3GS box, leaving a slightly extruded paper surface instead for easy box opening. Green dots for some reason appear on the labels of both the black and white iPhone 3GS units we’ve received.
3. Body Changes: Whereas the writing on the back of the iPhone 3G was in a muted gray against the back of the white or black glossy body, the writing on the back of the iPhone 3GS is chromed, matching the Apple logo and camera ring metal on the unit’s back.
4. Pack-Ins: The iPhone 3GS’s included Earphones with Remote and Mic are seemingly identical to the version released in late 2008, except for the newer, thinner plug housing – identical to the cabling included with the third-generation iPod shuffle. Callers could not detect a difference in microphone quality between the mic included with the iPhone 3GS and the Earphones that Apple is selling separately. iPhone 3GS now comes with the fixed version of Apple’s 2008 USB Power Adapter, which was recalled shortly after release because of a risk of electrocution; the newer version, also packed with later iPhone 3G units, has a green dot on one side to indicate it’s the safe version.
5. Accessibility: Accessibility features added to the iPhone 3GS are most easily turned on first in iTunes, via the iPhone 3GS Device screen, but can also be found under the iPhone 3GS’s own Settings > General menu. Notably, features such as Zoom and White on Black do not appear to be captured by the iPhone 3GS’s built-in screen capture tool, which treats the screens as if they are unchanged from their standard presentation.
6. Compass: The Compass application has a number of interesting capabilities, and an interesting limitation. If given permission to do so, it will determine your current location via GPS and display longitude and latitude coordinates at the bottom of the screen. It also enables you to switch between true North and magnetic North, as well as to click on a button to automatically go into the Maps application and see your current location. Put it near speakers and you’ll see a magnetic interference warning come up, along with the need to wave the iPhone around to recalibrate the compass.
7. Voice Control: This feature can be activated by holding down the play/pause button on the included headset, as well as by holding down the Home button on the iPhone 3GS. It recognizes chain commands, such as “Call” “Bob Starrett” “Mobile”, and expects certain commands to be chained, or takes bad guesses. “Call” “Bob Starrett” will lead to a question as to which number you want to dial, Home or Mobile. But “Call” alone may lead it to guess who you want to dial. More testing is needed here. New: We’ve added an audio sample of iPhone 3GS Voice Control in action, showing both its iPod controls and dialing functionality.
8. Call Quality: We’ve done calling comparisons between the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 3G, and there are apparently differences. Calling on the iPhone 3GS, a caller reported that we sounded a “little bit louder,” though with the same tonal balance and quality; the difference enough to be noticeable, but not enough to have to change volume on receiving phone to compensate. A second caller said that there was no discernible difference between the two phones, and we repeated our test on both land and cellular lines, with no apparent difference. On our side of these calls, the callers sounded basically the same, with the same amount of static, roughly, on both, and the same sound in the callers’ voices.
9. Still Camera: There’s no doubt that the iPhone 3GS generally takes better pictures than the iPhone 3G, but the differences we’re seeing in initial testing are nuanced. Autofocus appears to have a tendency to backfocus rather than front focus, though manual focusing is possible by tapping on the screen. Color balance appears to be exceptionally similar to the iPhone and iPhone 3G, with actual resolution, apparent detail, and depth of field seeing the most major changes. White balance is somewhat improved; metering is certainly better in low light, though perhaps not hugely. Under some conditions, comparison pictures taken with the iPhone 3G actually came out better than ones taken on the iPhone 3GS, but the majority of shots we’ve taken with the 3GS are superior, and the 3GS has the ability to do even better with proper user handling. A collection of images in our gallery, unprocessed and in full resolution, will let you do comparisons for yourself.
10. Screen, Coating, and Video: The iPhone 3GS screen appears to be similar in color balance to the original batch of 2007 iPhones, which is to say that there’s a slight pink tint by comparison with the iPhone 3G screen, which was slightly blue tinted. Resolution is obviously unchanged. Though brightness under most circumstances appears to be about the same—you won’t see a huge difference between the Home screens of the two models—off-angle viewing is modestly improved on the 3GS, and photos look a little better to our eyes at maximum brightness levels, like they did on the original 2007 iPhones. The new oleophobic screen coating notably does not prevent fingerprint smudges, but rather just makes them easier to remove. Notably, we have also confirmed that the iPhone 3GS offers 480p video output, like the iPod touch 2G, but unlike the 480i-limited iPhone and iPhone 3G.
We will have much more to say on these and many other facets of the iPhone 3GS in our comprehensive review. For the time being, take a look at iLounge’s massive gallery of iPhone 3GS unpacking photos, comparison shots, and in-use screenshots.