Apple iPhone 3GS
4.0Overall Score

Price (RRP): $879

The iPhone 3GS touchscreen mobile phone has had its processor upgraded from the iPhone 3G’s 412MHz to a more powerful 600MHz chip, and doubled the RAM that the iPhone 3G had. This has given the new iPhone a truly significant performance hike across a broad range of functionality.

I am a bit of an “Apple FanBoy”, but after watching the new iPhone’s launch presentation at the Apple Developers Conference on June 8 I was sceptical about the iPhone 3GS. I made several assumptions about the phone, based mostly on it looking identical to the current model 3G model. With other manufacturers changing handset designs with each new model, there was an expectation that Apple might make some changes. But then Apple always goes its own way.

Looking past the physically similarity of the second generation 3G iPhone launched in Australia almost a year ago to the new 3GS and moving under the hood, there are some real differences to be found. With both phones loaded with a Telstra Next G SIM I ran a number of head-to-head comparisons involving web browsing, maps and apps. The speed difference is really significant. Both phones had the new 3.0 OS loaded and even though the 3G benefits from an improvement in overall speed, the 3GS was simply way faster. It also benefits from new video capabilities, still camera functionality (especially ‘tap-to-focus’) and Voice Control.

Now, after almost of week of putting the new iPhone 3GS through its paces, I’m really impressed.

The look

Apple’s rationale for sticking to the same form factor is based on indisputable logic. Apple’s Australian marketing team points out that the current iPhone and iPod Touch are the most ‘accessorised’ pieces of technology that have ever existed, and that changing the iPhone’s form factor would be completely stupid considering the huge number of companies that have built accessories or designed products that integrate the iPhone or iPod.

According to Apple, the only external change to the 3GS occurs its screen. The new iPhone has been upgraded to an ‘Oleophobic’ screen, which according to my Funk & Wagnall’s means it has “…a fear of oil”. It’s actually a special coating, according to Apple, which translates to fewer smudges, fingerprints and other grime and dust on the screen. And if they do occur, they are easier to wipe off.

The only other physical change is that the 3GS is that it’s a few grams heavier than the 3G model – not that you can tell the difference when holding both phones. Importantly, for collectors of multimedia, the new iPhone’s memory has been upgraded, with 16 or 32GB of built-in storage available in both black and white versions of the 3GS. There remains no memory card slot to expand the memory further.

Apple recently issued a free update of the iPhone OS for earlier model iPhones, with many of these new features available on the second generation iPhones (available in Australia) and the iPod Touch. Some applications, however, are designed only to work on the new 3GS with its upgraded hardware.

Speed

Ahhh! The need for speed. If you didn’t already know, the ‘S’ in 3GS stands for ‘Speed’. So, I speed tested the 3GS and the older 3GSide by side and all the ‘speed hype’ Apple has pushed becomes completely understandable.

Launching the Gadget Guy website, Facebook and other various image-rich sites with Safari on the 3GS was about x2+ faster than the 3G model. Ditto for load times for apps, programs, games, weather forecasts and maps.

The reason? Apple has upgraded the 3G’s 412MHz processor to a more powerful 600MHz chip and doubled the RAM in the new model. This has given the new iPhone a truly significant performance hike across a broad range of functionality.

The new phone also supports the faster HSPA 7.2 megabit mobile download data rate of the Australian telco networks. Remember, this is an optimal – or should I say ‘optimistically theoretical’ speed – and is actually network dependent. The point, though, is that the 3GS is at least ‘theoretically’ twice as fast as the 3G iPhone when loading a web page or accessing online data.

Camera and video

Apple has upgraded from a 2 megapixel to a 3 megapixel resolution camera in the 3GS and added a very practical ‘Tap-to-Focus’ function, similar to that found on Sony and Samsung camcorders. Simply identify the part of the scene you want in focus and tap the screen at that location and the camera not only focuses at that point but adjusts the colour, contrast, white balance and exposure for your selection on the 3GS screen.

Does Tap-to-Focus work? Like a dream! It promises to take care of setting all the picture-taking exposure parameters for your selected point on the screen, and does exactly that.