iPhone 3GS Hardware Review


OS upgrades aside; the iPhone 3GS hardware is faster, has doubled its memory and if you want an anti-fingerprint coating on the screen, then upgrading the OS won’t be enough.

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 even financially advisable, to obtain most of Apple’s latest and greatest features.

The iPhone 3GS comes preloaded with iPhone OS 3.0, which adds long-awaited features such as cut and paste, a landscape keyboard for multiple applications, and tracking and wipe capabilities, which are integrated into MobileMe. 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 (11 x 6 x 1.2 cm) and weighs 135 grams. It features a 3.5-inch (9 cm) 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.

What does it cost?

Available with either a black or a white rear casing, the iPhone 3GS offers two memory options; 16GB and 32GB. Without a contract O2 will sell you the 16GB model for £440.40, the 32GB costs £538.30. While for an 18 month commitment 16GB will set you back £184.98 and 32GB £274.23. The O2 data service will cost you £29.38 a month. Existing iPhone 3G customers may be eligible for upgrades depending on their current usage.

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 models. Third-party teardown analysis 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). The third-party App Store application MemoryInfo also reports the 3GS has more memory available than previous models to run applications.

Voice Control

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.

However, voice control of media playback was more hit-and-miss. The 3GS lets the user 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.