iPhone 3GS Review Round-Up

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.”


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 640×480 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.