Review: iPhone 3GS lives up to its speedy claims

June 23, 2009

Right on schedule, Apple has introduced the third iteration of the iPhone to the public. The new model, called the iPhone 3GS, is much like the iPhone 3G introduced in 2008 but, as Apple says, the "S" stands for speed. There are a number of other improvements made to the iPhone 3GS that differentiate it from its less-speedy sibling, but the one thing that will stick out in any phone owner’s mind after playing with one will definitely be its zip.

We have already reviewed the large majority of iPhone OS 3.0 that comes with the iPhone 3GS (and is available for all past iPhone and iPod touch models), so this review will mostly focus on changes to the device that differentiate it from previous versions.

In the box

The iPhone’s packaging keeps getting smaller, but Apple squeezed the same amount of stuff into the 3GS box as the 3G box from 2008. Inside is an iPhone, a USB transfer cable, a set of Apple earbuds, and a USB power plug.

The physical design of the 3GS is nearly identical to that of the 3G—unlike the comparison between the original iPhone and 3G, there is virtually no way to tell from one glance the difference between a 3GS and a 3G iPhone.

The iPhone 3GS is on the right, by the way.

The one differentiating factor is that the text on the back of the phone is now silver to match the Apple logo, while on the 3G it’s gray. Oh, and if you’re like us, your 3G is looking a lot more beaten up.

From left to right: Original iPhone 8GB, iPhone 3G 8GB, iPhone 3GS 32GB.

The iPhone 3GS also comes equipped with an oil-resistant coating on its glass screen—this does not mean that your greasy fingers will magically not affect it, though. It just means that, if you touch both an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 3GS with greasy fingers, it will show a little less on the 3GS and will be easier to clean off.

Now to look at the features that are new to the 3GS before focusing on the "S."

New (but sometimes not better) camera

iPhone fans have been clamoring for an improved camera since the original device was released in 2007, and Apple gave it to them in the iPhone 3GS. The built-in camera now sports 3 megapixels (up from 2) and the ability to autofocus anywhere in the frame. It can also shoot video (new in 3GS, which we’ll address in another section), and it automatically geotags your photos (not new). So how does it do?

Let’s start with the good news. The autofocus capabilities are definitely a welcome addition, and Apple’s implementation is typical—smart and intuitive. When taking a photo, the camera app automatically puts a white square around the area it thinks you want it to focus on, but if you want it to focus on something else, just tap on that area of the screen and the square will move. This not only shifts the focus to that object, but it also adjusts the lighting of the photo so that the part of the frame you’re focusing on is getting the most optimal light balance.

Our favorite part of this is that you can now macro-focus on items close to you by tapping on them—no more blurry pics of that weird sign you found on the street or a bug crawling across your desk. This is by far the best feature of the new camera. Below you can see an example of the same Kindle DX keyboard shot with both the 3G and the 3GS cameras.

New iPhone 3GS macro photo (top), iPhone 3G photo (bottom).

This post has been written by Jacqui Cheng on June 22, 2009 11:30 PM couresy of


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