Apple iPhone 3GS quick review

The newest iPhone answers the critics.
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  • Updated:26 Jun 2009

01.Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GS

Price: Varies, with plans from Optus, Telstra, Vodafone/3 and Virgin Mobile.
Size: 32GB

CHOICE iPhone rating

4 stars 

To look at, the new iPhone 3GS is almost identical to the previous model. The big improvements are all ‘under the hood’, including a decent speed boost which Apple claims is up to twice as fast as the previous model. In fact, the S in the name stands for speed.

Our initial hands-on experience with the iPhone 3GS seems to bear this out. Some apps noticeably load faster and give quicker response to touch input; web browsing has less lag and graphics-intensive games run smoother. All thanks to a new, faster, processor and combined 3D acceleration.

But there’s more to the new iPhone than just a speed boost, it also comes with some long-awaited hardware improvements and the just released iPhone OS 3.0 software.

To pick the iPhone 3GS from its predecessor you have to check the back carefully – look for silver writing, not grey. The 3GS comes in 16GB and 32GB versions, up from the 8GB and 16GB of the previous 3G model.

The only noticeable physical change on the front of the phone doesn’t become apparent until you start to use it – fewer fingermarks. You’ll still get them, but in our experience there’s less of a mess unless you’re particularly heavy-handed. The 3GS has a special oil-resistant coating (called oleophobic – literally, ‘oil fearing’) on the glass to help resist smudgy fingerprints, a welcome innovation for a touch screen phone.

The iPhone 3GS comes with a USB cable, headphones (with volume adjustment) and, unlike the iPod Touch, a USB power adapter.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our Apple iPhone 4s first look.

iPhone 3GS Pros:

  • Noticeably faster.
  • Upgraded camera with video capabilities.
  • Voice dialling and control.
  • GPS navigation with compass orientation.
  • App Store now has over 50,000 programs available for the iPhone.

iPhone 3GS Cons:

  • Camera only 3Mp and lacks a flash.

Video: First Look - iPhone 3GS

Hot off the shelves, the iPhone 3GS promises to be faster and smarter - but is it really worth it?

CHOICE Verdict

The iPhone 3GS is an evolution rather than a revolution. It provides a much-needed hardware upgrade to bring it back in line with, or ahead of, the competition. The extra speed is welcome (particularly for web browsing and games), as are the new video capabilities and multimedia messaging. Existing iPhone 3G users will find it less compelling to upgrade, as they can get most of the software features via the iPhone OS 3.0 update. For new smart phone buyers however, the 3GS should be among the top contenders.

Additional features

Disability features

The iPhone 3GS has new features to help those with disabilities: for the sight impaired there’s VoiceOver, which speaks the content onscreen and a White on Black feature to make screen text easier to see, plus a universal Zoom feature that can magnify the whole screen. The Mono Audio feature makes it easier for those with hearing loss in one ear, while using earbuds.

Find a lost phone

If you have an Apple MobileMe account you can even locate your iPhone if it’s lost or stolen and remotely send a message to its screen (asking for its return, perhaps?) or play a sound (even if it’s set to silent) and as a last resort wipe all of it’s data. Say goodbye to your phone before using the Remote Wipe though. It will protect your personal information, but render the remote location feature useless.

The MobileMe integration also lets users access their iDisk online storage anywhere and share files with others. You can also publish photos and video taken with the iPhone directly to a MobileMe online gallery.

Not a replacement

When Apple released its iPhone 3G in Australia less than a year ago it set a new standard for smart phones, but it had its detractors, who pointed the finger at its relatively low-resolution 2Mp camera and lack of zoom, video and multimedia messaging.

This previous model, named the iPhone 3G due to its 3G telecoms network capability, was actually the second-generation iPhone, and the first to be released in Australia.

And it’s not going anywhere yet. Apple is keeping the 8GB version of the second-generation 3G model available, to encourage entry-level users. Meanwhile, the availability of the iPhone OS 3.0 software upgrade has given existing iPhone 3G models a new lease on life.

Hardware enhancements

Other major improvements include:

  • 3 megapixel (Mp) camera with autofocus, tap-to-focus (for specific areas, with automatic exposure adjustment) and automatic macro (close-up) focusing and low-light mode.
  • Video recording, with the ability to trim the start and finish points. Photos and video clips can be sent directly via email or posted to YouTube or MobileMe.
  • Voice control for hands-free voice dialling and operation of iPod functions such as music selection.
  • Digital compass built-in (works in conjunction with GPS function to orient your maps correctly). Note, GPS turn-by-turn navigation isn’t standard but Tom Tom, for example, has announced this as part of an upcoming in-car navigation kit for the iPhone.

Software improvements

The iPhone 3GS naturally includes the recently released iPhone OS 3.0 software, which Apple claims has over 100 new features including:

  • Spotlight search, for finding almost any information on the phone quickly.
  • Cut, copy and paste of words, pictures and web content.
  • Stereo Bluetooth.
  • Voice Memos turns the iPhone into an audio recorder for memos, meetings and so on.
  • Landscape keyboard (on-screen) for easier email, web browsing and note taking.
  • MMS (multimedia messaging)
  • Direct downloading of music, Audiobooks and optimised video content directly from the iTunes Store, for rental or purchase.
  • Internet Tethering (connects your computer to the internet via the iPhone). Access to this feature may depend on your Telco and may involve an extra charge.
  • Remote phone location and wiping of data.


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