iPhone 3GS Review

It’s more than a week since the iPhone 3GS launch so it’s high time to post up a review. Most readers are well aware of the iPhone 3G so I’ll focus on the differences between the two and also on some niggles that I still have with the iPhone.

The S in 3GS stands for speed and it doesn’t take long to feel the benefits of the upgraded processor and ram in the 3GS. Best way to highlight the difference is via video. First up is a test of Safari speed. Comparing 3G vs 3GS both using OS3.0 there is a considerable difference on 3G networks and also wi-fi.

In practice I’ve found the same sort of difference on most sites and it makes a big difference in day to day browsing. More telling though is application launching. On the 3GS application load times are greatly improved especially with games and the larger applications. The following video highlights a massive difference when loading Tiger Woods.

So speed is great on the 3GS but then it should be. The next biggest change is the camera. Now 3 megapixel but it’s the video support that will capture most attention. The video is easy to use and with YouTube support it’s makes it trivial to capture and upload content.

When uploading to YouTube the video is compressed to make it quicker to upload but the quality of the source video is actually pretty good.

The camera controls are a marked difference over the 3G. Click to focus makes it easy to take photo’s and the auto-everything approach Apple has taken to the camera settings again make taking good photo’s trivial. The images below show how the click to focus make quite a difference to your image.

3GS Focus on V Key3GS Focus on BottleiPhone 3GS GardeniPhone 3GS Close UpThe quality increase over the 3G is marked and the ability to take close up photo’s should lead to a range of barcoding and price comparison app’s. I also expect a range of photo app’s that will offer finer quality control over the camera settings – HDR app’s on the iPhone 3GS? Probably.

The voice control is hardly a new phone feature but it is to the iPhone. it does work but I can’t say it’s been reliable. A 2-3 second button press will bring up the voice control app. You can then call one of your contacts, play a track, artist or playlist or ask for more by this artist via the genius feature. When it works it’s good but some words no matter how I prenounce them will register accurately on the 3GS. One trick is to make a playlist that sounds like no other so if you do want to get to some music quickly you can add it to that list and know by using voice control it will launch.

Then there’s the digital compass. It’s a bit of an odd addition really. Hardly one for the masses I actually think it’s a bit inaccurate. North is found but it’s rarely a repeatable North. Rotating also seems to highlight some inaccuracies. I have noticed that the 3GS seems to be greatly affected by magnetic sources around me, more so than the compass I was using to verify how accurate it was. Also odd is how it’s been added to maps – press the location button in maps and then press again to see the direction cone. Even odder – it’s not added to street view which I expected to be a given. Maybe in an update, or shudder, maybe that’s in next years model.

That’s the rub. It’s undoubtedly a great phone but if you’ve got a 3G it’s not an essential upgrade. I’ve no regrets in upgrading as I’m loving the extra room by going to 32GB and I use it so much that the speed increases actually make a big difference but this really isn’t for everyone. Battery life seems to be a touch better but not so great to justify upgrading wither. As we speculated in the podcast, Apple are fond of revolutionary products followed by incremental upgrades and the iphone is following that path. I expect to see some fundamental platform changes every 3-4 years with improvements in between. That might mean that next years model is the one to wait for.

However if you have an original iPhone or have yet to move to the iPhone platform, the iPhone 3GS is a great phone and one which you’ll get many hours of enjoyment from. Coupled with the range of app’s available for it and it’s hard to see anything better on the market today. It also makes calls too.

Real Racing

I’ve shied away from other racing games on the iPhone as I always felt the lack of physical controls plus the screen size and potential performance issues would mar the experience. However the video’s and reviews for Real Racing were good so I made the purchase and I’m glad I did – it’s an excellent game.

You have a number of control methods – use either touch or accelerometer to steer, auto acceleration or touch to accelerate and there’s braking assist too. Thankfully they are disabled. I prefer to use the accelerometer to steer with touch to accelerate and break. You can also change the sensitivity to suit which is a nice addition.

Graphically the game is very polished with up to six cars displayed on screen. Viewed from in car or out the game keeps up a good speed, although in car looks a lot better. There’s quite a bit of track detail too with speed penalties for going off track and trying to cut corners. There are a number of different game modes – a career mode with a total of 57 events, time trials with online scoreboards, local wi-fi multiplayer (hopefully an update with peer to peer multiplayer will drop soon) and online leagues. Very impressive for a game on the iPhone that costs £5.99.

What makes it special though are the controls. They are excellent and really make the game. It’s also pretty challenging although the AI is not the best and very much on rails the whole time which can lead to some off putting moments. It still feels quite arcadey to drive but your not going to get Forza-esque physics in an iPhone game…yet. With 12 tracks and many online challenges Real Racing offers great value for money too. One more thing….you can upload laps to YouTube.

So you want an iPhone 3G S

After last weeks iPhone 3G S announcement there has been a lot of heat, not so much around the product itself, but around the costs involved in purchasing one. This is especially true in the UK, where the cost of the handset and the upgrade costs have sparked a lot of controversy.

Firstly, the iPhone 3G S – worth the cost if you’ve already got a 3G? This is a hard one to call. The improvements are:

  • Jump in size from 16GB to 32GB (assuming you buy the 32GB version)
  • Improved camera – 2 to 3 megapixels
  • Camera functions improved – auto white balance, better low light performance, macro
  • Touch to focus
  • Video recording
  • Video editing
  • Digital Compass
  • Voice control
  • Much improved chip speed
  • Double the RAM to 256MB
  • Screen has oleophobic coating

Not exactly ground breaking but for me it’s enough of an upgrade. We see the future of iPhones, much like the iPod range, to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary apart from a platform reboot ever 3-4 years. So assuming you agree and decide an iPhone 3G S is for you, how much will it cost? This is the real burning issue for 3G owners in the UK. For the iPhone 3G launch O2 allowed existing iPhone owners to upgrade to the iPhone 3G for £100. Everyone was happy and most also assumed that this was the model for iPhone’s upgrades in the future. Wrong!

Like every other mobile phone contract in the UK you would need to buy out your existing iPhone 3G contract before you could upgrade to the new 3G S. This announcement, made first on twitter, caused a bit of meltdown with #o2fail jumping into the trending topics on Twitter for a couple of days. Initially disappointed, in the cold light of day it was fairly obvious that this was the same rules for everyone else, so why not the iPhone – a bitter but expensive pill to swallow and if you don’t like it, don’t buy the 3G S. For me though, a purchase is likely so is there a better way to purchase than to buy out existing contract and start on a new fresh 18 month deal?

The spreadsheet above lists out costs assuming you buy off existing contract. Not cheap. Highlighted in blue is what we think is the typical option for most users which assumes that you will get £230 for your current iPhone 16GB 3G. There’s a few places that will buy your iPhone:

  • MazumaMobile.com will buy your phone for £200
  • Carphone Warehouse will buy it for £160
  • eBay – forums quote £300 for your phone but it’s more like £250-£270. Remember those eBay fee’s too

Considering the potential flood of iPhone’s then £230 for a phone in great condition sounds fair. The issue with this method of upgrading is the new 18 month contract. Assuming that Apple will release an upgrade every 12 months, buying in to an 18 month contract will give you this hassle every year. Taking a 24 month contract will force you into upgrading every second generation which might not be too bad a thing if the theory on product evolution is sound. However there is another way which involves going down the Pay As You Go route.

It’s this route that offers the best cost and flexibility in our opinion. The table above assumes a 32GB purchase on Friday. You then swap the contract sim from your current phone to the new 3G S. Take the new sim from the 3G S and use that in your existing phone which you can then sell on for £230-£250. Let the 18 month contract expire then sign up for either a monthly or 12 month Simplicity contract from O2. This takes monthly costs down from £35 to £20 although you do lose visual voicemail and unlimited wi-fi on this tariff. You can also make a further saving by signing up to the Simplicity contract via QuidCo and you should also be able to leave the 18 month contract at least a month early so that’s another saving.

The monthly average via this route is slightly higher than opening a new 18 month contract but the benefit comes next year and the next iPhone. No contract to pay off and a tidy sum to be made on selling on the 3G S. Well, that’s the theory at least. If you don’t upgrade next year then another 12 months on Simplicity will be a significant saving over the iPhone contracts.

Hopefully that helps spell out some options for this coming Friday. All you need to do now is queue up on Friday morning, pre-order from O2 stores or make an appointment at a local Apple store which is the option I’m doing. Alternatively, chortle at the amount of money this is all costing and enjoy OS 3.0 which has just come out. The choice is yours.

DigitalOutbox Episode 1

DigitalOutbox Episode 1
In this episode the team discuss E3, Windows 7, the Palm Pre and WWDC.

Playback
Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

Shownotes
– New iPhone specs – http://theappleblog.com/2009/05/19/rumor-has-it-leaked-iphone-specs-describe-big-improvements/ http://daringfireball.net/2009/05/the_next_iphone
– iPhone launch mid july?,32gb on t-mobile austria, end of life notice in australia
– Palm Pre – http://www.engadget.com/2009/05/24/plethora-of-palm-pre-interface-videos-emerge-from-leaked-emulato/
– http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2009/05/26/palm_pre_o2/
– New Zune – iPod touch rival? M$ Project Pink iPhone killer??
– E3
– No new console hardware – two years ago many thought 2010 would be time for new xbox – not any more
– PSP next version, why no mobile Xbox – could it be Zune HD is a game player? – http://www.engadget.com/2009/05/30/sonys-psp-go-leaks-out-before-e3-is-obviously-a-go/
– PS3 – Fat princess, wipeout hd update – at last, uncharted 2, heavy rain, gran turismo
– Microsoft E3 Conference – Rock Band Beatles, Tony Hawks, Modern Warfare 2, ffxiii, crackdown 2 (infamous made me play crackdown again – what a great game), left 4 dead 2 – nov this year – great news, splintercell conviction – fall 09, forza 3 – oct 09, halo 3 odst – sept 09, halo reach – 2010, alan wake – spring 2010, last.fm on xbox live – didn’t see that coming – free for gold members, sky Player on Xbox 360 – http://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/consoles/first-look-sky-player-on-the-xbox-360-603323 (no new hardware required), zune video – 1080p instant on – doubling countries (uk?) – compression – pixelation – bull?, facebook on the 360 – send game screenshots to your facebook account – tiger woods first to support, twitter on xbox live, last.fm – twitter and facebook – very smart moves by ms, metal gear solid on xbox – mgs rising, Project natal – motion controller where you are the controller – new camera – detects sounds too – facial recognition to sign you into xbox – minority report style navigation of menus – wii style games demo’d – dev kits issued today – no dates though?, really strong keynote from microsoft, who’d have thought they would have beatles on a keynote before apple and got speilberg on stage, mgs and also nintendo’esque type innovation
– Will we see more on the streaming services – OnLive, Gaikai