- Improved performance makes the interface much better
- games run faster
- built-in magnetic compass points you in the right direction
- Apps run better than before
- improved camera is a joy
- vibrant App Store makes it the most interesting gadget on the market
- Once again it’s expensive
- shame that no free upgrade was made available for UK customers
- call quality is a tad lower than other mobile phones
- Voice Control doesn’t work very well with a British accent
The iPhone is an amazing gadget. It’s a portable computer with the world’s most vibrant development base (65,000 independent applications covering every imaginable need, and more being made every day.) It’s also an astonishing mobile internet device. Even with the absence of Flash it offers the best mobile internet experience around; and it’s the best means of accessing email on the move that we know of. On top of all that it’s the best music and video player on the market; with iPlayer Web access, built-in YouTube, not to mention a host of radio and video applications it’s a stunning portable entertainment system. It even has a really good built-in speaker. And, of course, it’s an iPod. Our single, and indeed only complaint, is that other mobile phones offer marginally better audio quality during phone calls. In the face of everything that the iPhone has to offer, even considering this to be an issue is laughable. As is the prospect of choosing any other mobile phone. It’s really not hard to see why Apple is sewing up this market. Having said that, we were happier with the £99 price point of the iPhone 3G and think that O2 and Apple should offer a free upgrade path for iPhone owners every time they launch a new model. It’s also worth noting that in a couple of months time O2 may not be the only supplier for the iPhone, so if O2 has lousy coverage in your area you might want to wait and see what happens.
We’ve had the Phone 3GS for one month now, and in that time we’ve run a First Look review, and a video test, and looked at the device in several features and articles.
But we wanted to take a bit more time for the full in-depth UK review. Our experience of both the iPhone and iPhone 3G launch showed that these things develop over time, and not always for the best.
Chances are that most reviews you read will be based on the US version of the iPhone 3GS. The UK proposition of the iPhone 3GS is somewhat different. On the one hand there’s the issue of pricing, and the lack of a free upgrade; on the other hand we also get features in the iPhone 3.0 update that our American friends lack, such as MMS and Internet Tethering, plus access to The Cloud and BT Openzone; there’s also the issue of having O2 as a service provider versus AT&T. Aside from all the extra features, we get the more advanced HSDPA network offering 7.2Mbps whereas AT&T customers are stuck on the older 3.6Mbps network.
Then there are features such as Voice Control. Previous experience has suggested to us that this might be worth testing thoroughly with a UK accent. A decision that proved wise, but more on that later.
On top of that, we also caught up with Eric Jue, Apple’s Worldwide Senior Marketing Manager for a half hour conversation regarding the iPhone 3GS. He offered us some thoughts and insights on the iPhone 3GS.
Since the launch of the iPhone 3GS there has been some concern over the amount of heat the device emits, a concern that Apple has addressed; and there has been some concern over the battery life, a concern that Apple has not publicly addressed. Both of these require further investigation. We have battery and heat testing, on top of a slew of speed and performance tests.
The new iPhone 3GS home screen
But above all there’s an excitement factor that we’ve been through in two iPhone launches now, and it doesn’t seem to be abating. Much as though we love getting swept away in the iPhone wave once every 12 months, we thought it’d be best to wait till the storm subsided before giving a definitive UK verdict. The general consensus is that this time Apple has “nailed-it”. Despite concerns over heating, battery life, pricing and upgrade options – the iPhone 3GS has sold out in all territories. There’s no doubt that the iPhone 3GS is popular, but is it deservedly so?
So we decided to give a couple of weeks and here we are. These are our complete and unmitigated thoughts with regards to buying an Apple iPhone 3GS in the UK on an O2 network, either as a Pay & Go option; as a completely new contract; or by upgrading from a previous iPhone model.
That “S” stands for “Speed”
Sure, there are a couple of new features in the iPhone 3GS. Such as a magnetic compass, improved camera and video recording – they’re cool and we’ll get to them shortly. But there’s no doubt that the star attraction – the one that’s given the iPhone 3GS a slightly extended name – is the speed boost.
After using the iPhone 3G for the past 12 months, we found the difference to be instantly recognisable. The interface feels snappier, especially with regards to text entry – the keypad is better at keeping up with fast typing, and the iPhone 3GS device is more pleasurable to use as a result. Search functionality – introduced in the iPhone 3.0 software update – is markedly better on the iPhone 3GS.
And, of course, the speed boost has an impact on iPhone applications, especially games; some of these are improved no end. The faster processor improves frame rates and the doubling of internal memory makes them less crash-prone. It’s not just games either; some heavy duty apps such as OmniFocus, that always run a tad sluggish on the iPhone and iPhone 3G, seem to have a new lease of life.
So it’s obvious that the new iPhone 3GS is a much more powerful phone, but surprisingly Apple isn’t publicly crowing about its specifications. Apple’s Eric Jue, Apple’s Sr. Product Manager of Worldwide Product Marketing told us: “we don’t like to talk about what’s on the inside”. And Apple has been strangely reticent about the processor and memory allocation of the iPhone; this stands in stark contrast to its Mac range, which has the processor speed slapped all over the product description.
The iPhone 3GS teardown. All the insides have been examined and catalogued.
However, a teardown of the device that took place in the Macworld UK office, by the guys at iFixIt.com, has enabled us to confirm the exact changes inside the iPhone 3GS.
The iPhone 3GS internal specifications
The first thing to note is that the iPhone 3GS has dropped from a 90nm to a 65nm manufacturing process. As with laptop and desktop hardware, this has economic benefits (smaller dies = more chips per square meter of silicon wafer). The smaller die process also means that the iPhone 3GS’ main CPU should be more energy efficient, both drawing and wasting less power.
The 65nm process should also result in less heat output because there is less surface area of the chip to heat up. Notice how we qualify that with a “should” because the processor has had a substantial speed boost; this in turn draws more power and emits more heat.
Heat and battery life have both been noted concerns for iPhone 3GS owners, and we’ve thoroughly tested both and will come to them shortly. But for now, let’s take a closer look at the internal technology:
There are substantial design changes and Apple has packed just about everything on top of the main logic board. In terms of processor, Apple has chosen to switch from the ARM 11 Samsung S3C6400 to the ARM A8 Samsung S5PC100 CPU.
The old S3C6400 in the iPhone 3G was clocked at 412Mhz; the S5PC100 in the iPhone 3GS clocks in at 600Mhz. Still substantially slower than the 2Ghz CPUs found in most laptops; but as fast, if not faster, than CPUs found in other mobile phones.
The iPhone 3GS logic board
For comparison put it alongside the 133Mhz Qualcomm MSM7600 CPU found in the BlackBerry Storm. The faster processor puts the iPhone 3GS in roughly the same league as the upcoming Palm Pre, which sports a TI’s OMAP 3430 that is clocked at 600Mhz.
As an additional boost, the L1 cache in the iPhone 3GS has been doubled from 16 to 32KB and the internal RAM has been doubled from 128MB to 256MB (not to be confused with the Flash storage space – which has also been doubled from 8GB and 16GB to 16GB and 32GB).
The extra RAM will come as a huge relief to developers who find coding within the 128MB space of the iPhone constraining. After the standard apps are all taken into account the typical app only has around 20MB of memory to run in; compare this to the 2GB available on the average desktop.
Finally there has been a substantial and serious graphical boost in the iPhone 3GS. The iPhone 3GS is packing an Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX 535, rather than the more commonly SGX 530 (as found in the Palm Pre).
So what’s the difference? The PowerVR SGX 530 is designed for the handheld mobile market, and is capable of pushing 14 MPolys/s; the PowerVR SGX 535 in the iPhone doubles that figure to 28MPoly/s.
Pure number crunching aside, the faster graphics chip also supports a new OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics standard, whereas the iPhone and iPhone 3G only support the older 1.1 standard.
According to Imagination Technologies: “The family incorporates the revolutionary Universal Scalable Shader Engine (USSE™), with a feature set that exceeds the requirements of OpenGL 2.0 and Microsoft Shader Model 3, enabling 2D, 3D and general purpose (GP-GPU) processing in a single core.”
Ever since the launch on the App Store, the 3D capabilities of the iPhone have been something of a revelation, coming close to the Nintendo DS and not far away from the Sony PSP. However, the presence of cell shading technology should push the graphics firmly into Sony PSP territory. Apple is clearly thinking of the iPhone 3GS (and, we assume, the next generation of iPod touch) as handheld gaming devices, and wants to give it the graphical muscle to succeed.
Dedicated gaming on the iPhone 3GS
So what games can you download that show off the all-new improved of the iPhone 3GS? Well… none. Unfortunately as of today there are still no dedicated iPhone 3GS games that we can see on the App Store. Indeed, apart from the video editing and compass apps supplied by Apple there’s nothing on the iPhone 3GS that can’t run on an iPhone (although the ability of the iPhone 3GS to crank up the performance of current apps shouldn’t be overlooked).
In part this can be put down to development time. Obviously games that require coding to take advantage of the OpenGL ES 2.0 functionality take time; and Apple didn’t reveal the specs for the iPhone 3GS until launch day. That’s the optimistic view; the slightly pessimistic view is that developers are thinking: “why limit your app to just the iPhone 3GS segment of the market,” and that they are sticking to iPhone 3G development until the market picks up.
It may well be that when the iPod touch S appears (and we have no doubt that this one is in the pipeline and will be with us all in September), then the market for iPhone 3GS gaming will be much bigger; and hopefully by then developers will have had enough time to crank out some superb games that really take advantage of the new graphical capability of the iPhone 3GS. But for now, enhanced iPhone 3GS gaming remains very much in the realm of future potential.
iPhone developer tap tap tap is creating an application called Plasma that makes use of iPhone. John Casasanta from tap tap tap says: “In our OpenGL ES testing, the 3GS is generally close to four times faster than the 3G. Results will vary depending on the application but this is remarkable to say the least. Plasma’s pretty heavy on particle animation and fairly CPU intensive. The current build only uses features of OpenGL ES 1.1 and we’re considering taking advantage of some OpenGL ES 2.0 features for a richer experience on the iPhone 3GS.”
While we found it somewhat tricky to do an accurate frame-rate test on the iPhone 3GS (consider it something we’re working on) it’s fair to say that every complex 3D game runs a lot smoother, and better on the iPhone 3GS. Games such as Galaxy On Fire and Real Racing were vastly improved by the faster chipset and the extra memory of the iPhone 3GS.
Firemint, the developer of Real Racing, has developed an iPhone 3GS demonstration of the game that has 40 cars on the track at once (up from the six cars that are on the track in the regular iPhone 3G version).
Again though, it’s worth pointing out that we have yet to come across a single game on the App Store that is coded specifically to take advantage of the iPhone 3GS hardware – although it’s only a matter of time.
How fast is O2’s 3G network for the iPhone 3GS?
Macworld UK has thoroughly speed tested both the original iPhone, the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS. We tested download, upload and web browser speed on both the EDGE and 3G networks in central London, plus our office WiFi network.
For the testing we used an iPhone app called SpeedTest.net, and we used a stopwatch to monitor the amount of time it took to load three websites: the Macworld.co.uk main homepage; the Macworld UK mobile website and the BBC News website.
We did this with the WiFi enabled, the WiFi turned off, and then with the 3G functionality switched off on both the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS. After each individual website load we cleared the cache in Safari.
Lets start with the Speedtest.net results. This application monitors both download and upload speeds and returns the results in kbps.
One thing that surprised us was that even on WiFi, there was a steady progress from the iPhone (513kbps) to iPhone 3G (723kbps) to iPhone 3GS (983kbps).
One thing we should point out is that our office WiFi has a fairly slow download speed because it is shared by many people. In this sense our office WiFi is similar to a public WiFi hotspot. On a home broadband connection you would see much faster results on download.
When it came to using 3G rather than WiFi the results were even more marked. The iPhone 3G measures 1,167kbps and the iPhone 3GS was 1,890kbps; 62 per cent faster. Measuring the iPhone 3GS speed over the 3G network compared to the original iPhone on EDGE (18kbps) is good for a laugh, clocking in with a 10,400 per cent speed increase.
But what do all these figures mean in real life? Well we measured the web page load times for three websites under WiFi, 3G and Edge.
Under WiFi both the iPhone and iPhone 3G were roughly similar, both loading the Macworld main website in 33.60 and 34.76 seconds respectively. The iPhone 3GS managed to shave 4.92 seconds off this time, loading the page in 29.84 seconds. A good increase but by no means earth-shattering. (Incidentally, if these speeds sound a tad long bear in mind that in both instances the pages were browse-able in under 10 seconds. The time measured is from the point of click, to the point where the blue bar stops and the page is completely loaded.)
Under 3G speed testing the iPhone 3GS showed impressive gains. The iPhone 3G loaded the Macworld website in 43.97 seconds; the iPhone 3GS shaved off almost 10 seconds loading the page in 34.53 seconds. The original iPhone lacks 3G capabilities, so it had to sit out this test.
EDGE testing showed somewhat more mixed results, although we noticed a definite improvement. The original iPhone loading the Macworld website in 2:07.40; the iPhone 3G 1:41.41 and the iPhone 3GS slightly longer at 1:55.41.
However, it is under 3G that the biggest, and most notable gains occur. As you may be aware, the iPhone 3GS supports 7.2 HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) with a maximum download speed of 7.2Mbps, double that of the 3.6 HSPA network supported by the iPhone 3G. Of course, the original iPhone lacks 3G connection and the jump from the iPhone to the iPhone 3GS is fairly substantial to say the least.
Our American friends don’t have access to this technology yet, and are waiting for AT&T to upgrade (3G technology in general is somewhat behind in the US than in the UK).
This is interesting because it means the 3G network on the iPhone 3GS is now as fast, if not faster, than most public WiFi networks you come across. We’ve certainly found ourselves not bothering anymore with WiFi hotspots, as they are invariably slower than the 3G connection accessed by the iPhone 3GS. Our experience with The Cloud and BT Openzone (both offered as free extras on all iPhone contracts) has been mixed to say the least, while they tend to function well in a fixed place, such as a hotel; the public service provided in The City and Canary Wharf have rarely worked well enough. There is a battery trade-off here to take into account though; 3G has a higher energy requirement than EDGE or WiFi; but in general we’re finding ourselves sticking with 3G instead of WiFi whenever we’re away from home.
Measuring O2’s 3G coverage in the UK?
All that 3G speed testing is all right for those of us living in London, with our high-speed data connections (we consider it fair trade for the lousy pubs and having to catch the tube during rush hour), but what about those people living out in the rest of the country?
Ofcom recently provided a map of 3G coverage of the UK and the results for O2 weren’t good. While most major cities in the UK has coverage, as soon as you get outside an urban area the chances of getting a decent 3G signal on O2 decrease significantly. This leaves you on the older EDGE or GPRS network, with its significantly slower speed.
The Ofcom map of 3G coverage in the UK. The Orange network (left) is much more substantial than the O2 network (right)
For non-urban dwellers this especially grating because other networks – notably 3 and Orange – have much better 3G coverage. But because the iPhone is locked to the O2 network, iPhone owners can’t currently take advantage of whoever has the best technology in their area.
O2 has a map of 3G coverage and a postcode checker on its Web site, so you can see if 3G coverage is included in your area.
Faster app launch and run times
The speed boost also improves load times. The boot load improves load times (from completely switched off to the time the screen appears) for the three iPhones are as follows:
iPhone 32.88 secs iPhone 3G 38.84 secs iPhone 3GS 20.44 secs
We’re not completely sure why the original iPhone boots faster than the iPhone 3G; we assume that because it has less technical functions (such as GPS and location services) to load into memory it can load the OS more quickly. However, the iPhone 3GS nearly doubles the boot time thanks to its faster processor and improved memory. And that’s pretty much the same story with every app as well.
OmniFocus 1.5 takes 3.25 secs to launch on an iPhone 3G; and 1.28 secs to launch on the iPhone 3GS. Another game called Real Racing takes 19.25 secs to launch on the iPhone 3G but only 15.81 secs to launch on the iPhone 3GS. Every app we tested loaded in roughly two-thirds to half the time on the iPhone 3GS.
We did notice some oddities though. Omni Focus syncs with MobileMe, a process that took 21.78 secs on the iPhone 3G, but 38.12 secs on the iPhone 3GS. We tested several times to be sure but something on the iPhone 3GS makes the program sync slower (we assume that there’s a technical problem that the developer will soon fix). It’s worth noting though that app improvements are somewhat dependent on developer support for the iPhone 3GS.
So, what about that iPhone 3GS magnetic compass?
Speed boost aside there are a few highly documented new features on the iPhone. On the hardware front is a new magnetic compass (also known as a magnetometer) and a slightly larger 3-megapixel camera (slightly up from the 2-megapixel camera found on the iPhone and iPhone 3G). On the software side of things the iPhone 3GS adds video recording and editing to the photo app and integrates the magnetic compass with Google Maps (and provides a separate Compass app). Maps has always been one of the standout programs on the iPhone, and has always been pretty good for showing off the power of the phone. As regular iPhone users will know, tapping the target icon in the lower left of the screen locates your position; tapping it a second time on the iPhone 3GS swings the map around to show your orientation.
This lack of orientation has always been a minor irritancy (if not exactly a problem) on the iPhone 3G; which could provide directions via Google Maps technology, and pinpoint your location with GPS but couldn’t show you which direction to head in. The magnetometer solves this problem; although it was never enough of a problem in the first place for us to get too upset over.
Of more interest with the magnetometer is its ability to combine with the GPS signal and accelerometer to determine exactly which direction the iPhone is pointing at. This can be used to create so-called “augmented reality” applications. This combines a real-life video feed (as provided by the camera) with overlaid graphics that interact with the real video feed.
All this is far from science fiction. An augmented reality app called Nearest Tube is awaiting approval on the App Store. For use in London, you look through the screen at the video feed with an overlay that shows the location of nearby tube stations.
The API for the compass is available to all developers and it’ll be interesting to see what uses they can make for it. There are a few quirky apps out that make use of the magnetic compass, but most are little more than tech demos. iPhone 3Gs apps on the App Store to check out include:
Magnetism, an app that displays magnetic fields; Metal Detector for iPhone 3GS, as the name suggests it detects metal. It’s more of a toy than a serious metal detector though; and Compassier – Virtual Reality 3D compass for iPhone 3GS. This app shows a virtual 3D plane flying north; as you move the iPhone around it scrolls around the view of the plane.
In the meantime we found the digital compass invaluable on a recent trip to Brussels; the combination of Google Maps and a built in GPS and compass ensures you’re never lost again. It occasionally requires a shake due to magnetic interference, but points the Google Map in the right direction pretty much all of the time. The magnetic compass is an impressive, if by no means vital, addition to the iPhone 3GS.
The improved 3-megapixel camera
Another new addition to the iPhone 3GS is a tweak to the camera to improve the quality of the images it captures. The most notable improvement is a 3-megapixel CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) up from the 2-megapixel offering in the iPhone and iPhone 3G.
Eric Jue told us “3-megapixels is nice, although we don’t want to convince everybody that it’s the be all and end all. We’re doing a lot of other things to ensure people have the best possible image.”
The iPhone 3GS (left) shows much greater image clarity than the old iPhone 3G (right)
“Previously it was a fixed focus, which was one meter out to infinity” said Eric, “but now we have this great tap to focus feature”. As you are taking a photograph, you can tap any part of the screen and the iPhone will focus on that area.
“We’re also doing other things,” said Eric, “There’s auto exposure, auto white balance, and we’re constantly adjusting for colour. All of these things combine to produce a better image.”
The tap to focus feature makes a lot of adjustments to the image and brings into the frame. We printed out some images from the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS and there is a marked difference between the quality of the two devices. When you use the iPhone in good lighting it produces perfectly acceptable images that you’d be happy to make prints from. In low lighting it doesn’t fare quite so well, although it’s substantially better than before.
Having said that, the iPhone 3GS is still a far cry from most digital cameras. It still lacks a flash, zoom, and even the most rudimentary controls; the lens is still positioned inconveniently underneath your left finger, which awkwardly hovers over the view and because there’s no physical button you have to take shots by pressing a virtual button on the screen.
On the upside taking pictures is another area of the iPhone 3GS that is much snappier than before. And there are plenty of advantages to taking snaps on the iPhone 3GS – your pictures have location information from the GPS, they can be emailed directly to people, or uploaded to MobileMe; and you can share them via Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr directly from the phone. All of these combine to make the iPhone a really great device for taking pictures with; and it’s a boon that it now takes decent looking snaps.
Video editing on the iPhone 3GS
The other new feature found on the iPhone 3GS is video recording and editing. The way it works is that to the bottom right of photo app is a small slider with a camera and film icon, click it to switch to video mode. Pressing the capture button starts to record video and audio.
As with the photo app there is a touch to focus mode, enabling you to home in on a specific area. However, you cannot change the focus area once recording has started.
Video editing is an iPhone 3GS specific feature, and is not available on previous iterations of iPhone. Apple’s Eric Jue confirmed that video recording and editing was not possible on previous iterations of the iPhone due to hardware constraints.
What makes video on the iPhone 3GS interesting isn’t just the recording, it’s also the editing. Click on a video in your photo collection and a trim bar appears at the top of the screen. A scrubber can be used to move through the footage, and the trim handles on either end of video can be dragged in to shorten off unwanted areas. A nice touch is that if you hold down one of the trim handles, the trim bar zooms in to show a close up (including frame by frame shots on the trim line); this enables you to fine-tune the video edit.
And when you’ve edited the video it can be shared via email, MMS (with a 30-second limit); MobileMe, or YouTube. As with still pictures it is this integration of the camera with the internet that makes the iPhone such a good device for this sort of function; the ability to take short clips of video, trim them down, and upload them to YouTube straight from a handheld device is pretty amazing.
Video editing on the iPhone 3GS is fairly basic (you just trim off the start and end of the clip), but Apple has confirmed that the video editing function on the iPhone 3GS is something that developers can build upon. It’s certainly possible to create a fully-featured video editing app with titles, transitions, and effects – we’re looking forward to seeing just what the iPhone 3GS is capable of video-wise.
The iPhone 3GS battery life test
Every since the launch of the iPhone 3G, battery life has been something of a contentious issue for the iPhone. It turns out that 3G – which, we hasten to add, was a more than welcome addition to the iPhone – sucks a lot of the juice from the phone.
At the original launch of the iPhone in the UK, Steve Jobs said that Apple didn’t want to include 3G because it wasn’t energy efficient: “What we did was rather than cut the battery life way down,” said Steve “we built in WiFi … and we kind of sandwiched 3G with a very energy efficient Edge, and a very energy efficient and much faster WiFi.”
This policy changed with the introduction of the iPhone 3G, and with each successive update Apple has improved power management. But even so, battery life remains a contentious issue and it was with little surprise that we found it reared its head again during the launch of the iPhone 3GS.
It’s worth noting that the iPhone 3GS has a faster processor (which sucks more juice) but a more energy efficient 65nm chipset. The teardown of the iPhone 3GS also revealed a slightly larger battery.
The iPhone 3GS has a 1219mAh (milliampere-hour) battery, up 6 per cent on the iPhone 3G’s 1150mAh battery; but still 13 per cent smaller than the 1400mAh battery on the original iPhone. The original iPhone battery was fixed to the motherboard, wheras the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS batteries are attached and can be replaced. Although like the iPod, replacing an iPhone battery requires you to contact a specialist rather than just buying a new one and plugging it in.
iPhone: 1400 mAh iPhone 3G: 1150 mAh iPhone 3GS: 1219 mAh
So what’s all this translate to in real life? Well to try and make sense of whether the iPhone 3GS offered better, or worse, battery life than the iPhone 3G we put it through a series of tests.
Each test was conducted using a 100 per cent battery in both phones, and was either 30 mins or 60 mins. Both phones performed the task at the same time and duration was measured with a stopwatch. At the end of the test we used an app called myBatteryLife to measure the percentage of battery remaining. We fully recharged both iPhones before performing a second test.
We have two caveats with this test. Firstly we should point out that myBatteryLife only measures percentages in blocks of 5 per cent, but it is more accurate than measuring the iPhone battery bar (myBatteryLife also purports to estimate how much life remains for doing a particular task, but there is some doubt as to how accurate it is at this task so that data was not recorded for this test. Secondly, the iPhone 3G we tested the iPhone 3GS against has been in use for over a year; although its battery hasn’t displayed any signs of performance degradation during this time.
On the whole we found the iPhone 3GS sucked slightly more juice than the iPhone 3G at almost every task. The only exception being Real Racing, which took 5 per cent more juice from the iPhone 3G than it did from the iPhone 3GS.
Having said that, the differences were not tremendously huge. We certainly found nothing to support the so-called iDrain stories circulating on the Internet. Typically we found the iPhone 3GS to be more or less comparable to the iPhone 3G, which is in itself fairly comparable to other smartphones on the market.
However, users migrating from legacy mobile phones – with small screens and no GPS or 3G networking – will find the battery life on the iPhone 3GS shockingly brief. This is especially true when watching video or playing games, although using the phone for general browsing and voice chat with 3G enabled can drain the battery.
On Macworld we don’t find this to be too much of a problem because we charge our iPhones during the night, and work in an office where power sockets and dock chargers are not particularly hard to find. However, we understand that many people may not find it so easy to keep an iPhone on constant charge, and heavy usage will result in it losing juice throughout the day, and running out in the evening. There are a few options here: you can either switch off power draining features (3G and push services are notorious drains; location services such as GPS somewhat less so). Some or all of these can be disabled in the settings.
Apple offers plenty of advice regarding the iPhone battery on this page.
Of course, playing games and watching videos on that large touchscreen is a shortcut to a flat battery. If you can’t get near a power socket during the day, and like to play games or watch videos a lot then maybe you should consider one of the many external batteries that can double or triple the lifespan of the iPhone.
Measuring the heat of the iPhone 3GS
The other issue that has surrounded the launch of the iPhone 3GS has been the operating temperature. Some users allege that the iPhone runs hot; some have even complained of discolouration of the white model of iPhone 3GS due to excessive heat.
A warm-feeling rear plate has always been true of the iPhone. It may come as a surprise to many new users, but we’ve never found it to be a problem.
Apple recently posted a page on its support site that offered the following advice to iPhone owners.
“Operate iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS in a place where the temperature is between 0º and 35º C (32º to 95º F). Low- or high-temperature conditions might temporarily shorten battery life or cause the device to temporarily stop working properly.
Store iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS in a place where the temperature is between -20º and 45º C (-4º to 113º F). Don’t leave the device in your car, because temperatures in parked cars can exceed this range.” Apple seems to think that most of the over-heating issues noticed by users on the iPhone are in relation to leaving the phone in a car, we presume in a location of the world considerably hotter than the UK.
Here in the UK we have never seen the temperature warning (on any model of iPhone), nor have we noticed any problems with charging or with a weak cellular signal.
We used an Standard ST-8820 Environment Meter with an external sensor attachment to measure the heat of the iPhone in various different settings. In general the iPhone 3GS ran slightly hotter than the iPhone 3G, but only by about 2ºc. We had an ambient room temperature of 24.4ºc and the highest temperature we recorded was 30.8ºc (which was the glass plate of the iPhone 3GS while Real Racing was playing). At 6ºc above the ambient room temperature it is warm enough to be noticeable, but not so warm as to be uncomfortable.
In generally, the screen emitted slightly more heat than the rear plate, and playing games and using GPS emitted more heat than watching video clips.
Above all though, no phone during any test we undertook went anywhere near Apple’s recommended usage levels. Maybe if you’re gaming in the Mohave desert things are different, but we sincerely doubt you’ll find operating temperature to be any concern here in the UK.
iPhone 3GS Voice Control in the UK
One of the more interesting features of the iPhone 3GS is the new Voice Control feature. Hold down the earphone button (or home button) and wait till you hear a beep. Now speak a command into the iPhone and it will perform that function.
When you Activate Voice control the screen turns blue, and a list of some example commands floats across the screen.
Here is the official list of commands:
Call someone in contacts: Say “call” or “dial,” then say the name of the person. If the person has more than one phone number you can add “home” or “mobile”, for example.
Dial a number: Say “call” or “dial” then say the number.
Make a correction: “say “wrong”, “not that one,” “not that,” “no” or “nope.”
Control music playback”: Say “play,” or “play music.” To pause, say “pause,” or “pause music.” You can also say “next song” or “previous song”.
Play an album, artist, or playlist: Say “play,” then say “album,” “artist,” or “playlist” and the name.
Shuffle the current playlist: Say “shuffle”.
Find out more about the currently playing song: “say “what’s playing,” “what song is this,” “who sings this song,” or “who is this song by.”
Use Genius to play similar songs: Say “Genius,” “play more like this,” or “play more songs like this one”.
Cancel Voice Control: Say “cancel.”
Although though it’s not on the official list, you can get some quick advice by saying “help.”
We have traditionally been dubious regarding voice control. English tending to mean American English, with a Californian accent, but were impressed when Apple informed us that it had been localised into different countries. The speaking aspect of Voice Control has been converted into a British accent, with a slightly posh Home Counties accent.
But the real question is does it understand what you’re saying when you speak English with a British accent?
No… sadly it doesn’t. We initially put it down to our brogue Northern enunciation. Every we said “play” it tried to dial a “Claire” in the Address Book.
More complex requests, such as “play songs by Bruce Springsteen” simply dialled other people, an old friend called Poz Hulls in this case.
We tested it out in the office with a range of accents from around the country and nobody had any success. It successfully catches what you say approximately 25 per cent of the time. The rest of the time it fails to understand, or – more often than not – dials somebody random from your address book.
It has to be said that there are some really cool Voice Control features. For example, you can set Nicknames in Address Book and use them to call people. Nicknames such as Wife can be set in Contacts or Address Book (Wife dials various Mikes in the Address Book); or Dad (which calls the Editor in Chief’s grandmother, who’s called Dot).
The fact that often randomly dials people eventually prevented us from using Voice Control at all. We would like the option to turn off the voice dialling aspect of Voice Control while retaining the iPod functionality. We’re happy to play around with the music control aspects, but not at the expense of constantly bugging random friends with missed calls. Because of this Voice Control remains unused and, for us at least, it remains unusable.
Before we move on to our round-up and buying advice we just want to mention a couple of other new features on the iPhone 3Gs.
The first is built-in Nike+ support. This found its way on to the iPod touch 2G and is now on the iPhone. If you have a pair of Nike+ trainers and a compatible Nike+ dongle you can use the iPhone 3GS to track how far, and how fast, you’ve run. It’s a pretty neat trick but you will probably need an iPhone 3GS armband and we’re not so sure it lends itself to the jogging experience as the iPod.
The iPhone 3GS also supports the new headphone controls found on the iPod shuffle 3G. These contain volume up/down switches as well as the play/pause button and built-in microphone. As with the iPhone 3G the iPhone 3GS does not have the recessed headphone socket so you can always supply your own earphones, and a wide variety of iPhone compatible models are available.
Is the iPhone 3GS any good as a mobile phone?
Here’s a paradox. The iPhone 3GS is such a good mobile internet device, web browser, portable computer, and media player; that its base function – that of being a mobile phone – often gets overlooked.
This is somewhat understandable; it’s hard to get excited about making a phone call when you can demonstrate Google maps with built-in GPS and magnetic compass location. And the App Store has changed everything, making the iPhone a veritable Swiss Army Knife of devices, capable of seemingly everything.
We say all this because it’s somewhat understandable that everybody overlooks the fact that the iPhone 3GS is a decidedly average mobile phone. We took the iPhone 3GS to a noisy environment (the local bar, it’s a tough life) and used it to make and receive phone calls. We then did the same with a couple of other popular phones, the BlackBerry Bold and a Nokia N95 8GB; our (again, unscientific) analysis was that both the BlackBerry and Nokia had better audio clarity than the iPhone.
It’s a somewhat odd fact that a device that is so good for playing music, especially through it’s superb built-in speaker, has such poor voice audio quality.
We also have some reservations about Apple’s contacts management app, which works a treat if you sync it with Address Book, but isn’t quite so happy if you sync with Google, for example.
Having said that the new search functionality in the iPhone 3.0 software update make it easy to find any contacts on your phone; regardless of how scrappy your contacts may be. It will be interesting for us to compare the iPhone 3GS to the Palm Pre WebOS, with its focus on collating all your online contacts.
Having said that, texting remains a joy on the iPhone 3GS with its iChat-style interface, and the new text features (MMS, and individual text delete) add an element of much-needed functionality.
On the whole it’s fair to say that the iPhone 3GS is an amazing mobile computer, combined with location-aware, web-browsing, multi-media functionality; that just happens to be an okay mobile phone to boot. We certainly wouldn’t want it the other way round.
UK Pricing for the iPhone 3GS
The price of the iPhone was controversial at launch (remember that the original iPhone cost £269 and £35 per month for 200 minutes and 200 texts.) Even to this day that deal sounds horrific. So much so that we veered away from giving it five stars.
Then of course came the iPhone 3G and the much more reasonable price of £99 plus £35 per month. And – of course – a free upgrade for all iPhone owners. If only Apple and O2 had managed to stick to that pricing structure for the iPhone 3GS there would have been a queue from the Apple Store to Mars.
Sadly the phone seems to have veered back on the uncomfortable side of expensive. The lack of an 8GB option (the 8GB model is the older iPhone 3G option) means that the entry level for the iPhone 3GS is higher than before. Pricing is complex so we’ll compare the £35 per month contract, which is the most commonly used in the Macworld UK office.
So, for £35 per month you have to pay £184.99 for the 16GB handset; this is slightly higher than the 16GB iPhone 3G that it has replaced.
In America, conversely, the iPhone 3GS is the same price ($199) as the old 8GB iPhone 3G model; while the iPhone 3G has been dropped to a mere $99. Of course it is unfair to compare the price directly because the Americans sign up to a 24-month contract versus our stock 18 month contract. Compare like for like (24 month with 24 month) and you find that the iPhone 3GS 16GB is actually cheaper in the UK (£87.11) than the US ($199).
But still, the iPhone has always been cheaper in the UK than the US, we assume because our mobile network is more smaller and more efficient, and the market over here is different.
Even so, the iPhone has always had a reputation for being uncomfortably expensive, and while the £99 iPhone 3G with its free upgrade for iPhone owners made some progress, the iPhone 3GS is a step back.
Our personal thoughts are that the iPhone is worth it; even the original iPhone was worth £269, and the iPhone 3GS is worth £185. Simply put, we use the iPhone so much that it quickly earns its worth. And judging by Apple’s sales progress it would appear that many people agree with us, and are more than happy to pay the price that Apple is asking. But that’s a call each individual purchaser has to make.
It’s worth noting that there is also a Pay & Go option. Here are the three prices.
iPhone 3G 8GB – £342.50 iPhone 3GS 16GB – £440.40 iPhone 3GS 32GB – £538.30
You get a year’s free data access with Pay & Go, and it costs £10 per month thereafter. It’s worth noting that all data plans on the iPhone in the UK are for unlimited data usage, something that many other smartphones lack.
Calls and texts on the Pay & Go vary, you can find out full details on the O2 web site. The one thing you don’t get on Pay & Go is the Visual Voicemail feature.
The iPhone 3GS is Apple right at the top of its game. Make no mistake; Apple has absolutely nailed-it with this version. Everything feels just right with this iPhone; the apps work better, the interface is smoother, and the web experience is nigh-on perfect. It’s getting to the point where you might as well leave your laptop at home.