REVIEW: The Apple iPhone provides the best, lag-free performance of any iPhone, as well as native voice dialing, compass capabilities and support for Bluetooth 2.1. But many of Apple's latest and greatest features can be found in the iPhone 3.0 software upgrade, which is available for all previous iPhone models. eWEEK Labs tests the iPhone 3GS to determine whether the device and software improvements above and beyond the iPhone 3.0 upgrade are worth it.
The iPhone 3GS presents a bit of a conundrum.
The new smartphone is undoubtedly a step up from previous generations of the
device, particularly as hardware improvements and optimizations enable the
best, lag-free user experience seen to date from an iPhone. But because
the latest version of the underlying iPhone OS software is freely available for
installation on all previous iPhone models, upgrading to the newest hardware
isn't necessary-or financially advisable-to obtain most of Apple's latest and
The iPhone 3GS comes preloaded with iPhone
, which adds long-awaited features such cut and paste, a landscape
keyboard for multiple applications, and MobileMe-integrated tracking and wipe
capabilities. The new iPhone 3GS hardware, on the other hand, offers a
subtler mix of features, including voice control over phone and media playback,
stereo Bluetooth support, and video camera capture and editing.
Cosmetically, the iPhone 3GS is a carbon copy of last year's iPhone
3G. The new device measures in at 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.48 inches and weighs
4.76 ounces. It features a 3.5-inch display with 480-by-320-pixel resolution. The
one significant and welcome difference in the iPhone 3GS is the new
fingerprint-resistant coating on the touch-screen, which does a good job
of keeping finger grease at bay.
Available with either a black or a white rear casing, the iPhone 3GS offers two
storage densities-16GB and 32GB. The 16GB model can be purchased for as
little as $199 with a two-year contract (for those eligible for a full upgrade
discount), with a full non-discounted price of $599. The 32GB model costs
$299 with the full discount or $699 without. As with the previous iPhone,
AT&T data service costs $30 per month (more for enterprise contracts) and
extra for any SMS messaging plans.
Although Apple doesn't publish the specifications of the core hardware
inside the iPhone, the iPhone 3GS definitely lacks the lag users frequently
experienced when opening applications or typing on previous iPhone
indicates that the 3GS contains a 600MHz Samsung ARM
processor and 32KB of Level 1 cache (compared with the 418MHz ARM
processor and 16KB cache in the 3G model). Third-party App Store
application MemoryInfo also reports the 3GS has more memory available than previous
models to run applications.
At long last, the 3GS brings native voice-dialing capabilities to the
iPhone. By holding down the Home button for a few seconds, the user can
trigger the voice recognition engine that controls phone and iPod activities. During
tests, the 3GS did a good job recognizing phone commands-allowing me to easily
dial phone numbers or contacts with my voice. These capabilities worked
well using either the handset or a wired headset.
Voice control of media playback was more hit-and-miss, however. The 3GS
lets the user voice trigger a certain song, artist or playlist; shuffle music;
or query the device to repeat the name of the currently playing
song. There's a certain syntax needed to get the device to play back the
right content, and deviating from the syntax just a little bit can wield
unexpected results. Unfortunately, voice controls do not extend beyond
music and playlists, so I could not trigger playback of podcasts or audiobooks
unless those files were previously organized in a playlist.
The iPhone 3GS includes support for Bluetooth 2.1, adding A2DP capabilities
for stereo sound. However, I found in tests that the Bluetooth
implementation in the 3GS hasn't yet been integrated with some of the other new
features in the device, and it broke compatibility with Bluetooth devices that
worked fine with previous iPhone models.
For instance, in tests I was able to easily connect a Motorola ROKR S9
headset with the iPhone, and I could hear stereo sound from both the integrated
iPod and the Pandora App Store application. I found that while paired with the
iPhone, the call button on the S9 could be used to answer or hang up calls, and
the volume controls also worked. However, the call button on the Bluetooth
headset could not be used to trigger the 3GS voice dial and search engine, and
if I triggered voice dial from the 3GS itself, I could not speak into the
Bluetooth headset for recognition. I presume we will see Bluetooth devices
designed to work with the 3GS and voice search in the near future.
In subsequent Bluetooth compatibility tests, I found that I could
successfully pair the iPhone 3GS with a BlueAnt Supertooth speakerphone, but no
sound could be transmitted in either direction. The speakerphone did work
as expected with an older iPhone 3G with iPhone 3.0 OS, indicating further
compatibility issues with the newer 3GS model.