iPhone 3GS review – Third time’s a charm

For its past two attempts, Apple has shown that it can be a major player in the mobile phone arena. The original iPhone and iPhone 3GS have changed the way we use handheld devices by introducing revolutionary features like the highly vaunted multi-touch screen and lack of a physical keyboard, easy-to-use interface, and the App Store. The problem with yearly releases, especially in Apple’s case, is the sustainability of introducing the same staggering amount of innovation as the years prior. Does the new iPhone 3GS innovate like its predecessors? Can it introduce another “killer” feature? We poke and prod all features of the iPhone 3GS to find out.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the iPhone 3GS looks exactly like its predecessor, down to the curved rear end. The main external difference is the 3GS’s new oleophobic coating, which protects the phone from fingerprints and smudges. The new stuff is mostly inside the phone.

The most touted new feature is a significantly faster CPU. The iPhone 3G was armed (pun intended) with a 412 MHz ARM 11 processor. The 3GS, meanwhile, comes with a 600 MHz Cortex A8, plus double the RAM, from 128 to 256MB. To put it simply, the 3GS is faster in every aspect, particularly when running apps. The device isn’t called iPhone 3GS for nothing, as the “S” stands for speed.

The iPhone 3GS also supports version 3.0 of the iPhone OS, which incidentally has just been released. Version 3.0 introduces an astounding 100 new features, which includes copy, cut and paste (finally!); stereo Bluetooth; multimedia messaging; video recording, landscape keyboard (originally limited to the Safari browser); tethering, which lets you use your iPhone as a modem and allow internet access to another device; the ability to rent and purchase movies in iTunes; and Spotlight, a feature that lets you search your e-mail and calendar entries.

Similar to the original and 3G models, the new iPhone isn’t perfect either. Battery life was said to be improved, but our tests show that the 3GS’s performance in this department is pretty much the same as its predecessor’s. Heavy use (web browsing, music/video, push and fetch data, Bluetooth, 3G, etc) saps the iPhone’s battery just as fast. Perhaps the iPhone 3GS’s biggest faults are: the absence of multitasking, which is already a common feature among smartphones, and its steep price, which still prevents the masses from owning an iPhone. Then again, Apple has always placed a premium for its products.

Make no mistake—the 3GS is still an excellent phone. It’s fast, highly usable, and provides much-needed updates that complete the iPhone offering. Then again, the 3GS is no longer as revolutionary as the original iPhone and iPhone 3G. If you own the original iPhone, the 3GS is a good, compelling upgrade to get; but if you’re a 3G owner, the leap isn’t as drastic so you may want to wait it out for the next iteration. If you’ve never jumped into the bandwagon, then the iPhone 3GS should be a perfect starting point to your love affair with Apple.