Apple iPhone 3GS - Say Cheese

By Riyad Emeran



Our Score:


Another aspect of the iPhone that has often been open to criticism is the camera, and I can understand why. The fixed focus, 2-megapixel camera that appeared in the original iPhone was pretty disappointing back in 2007, but when the same camera was implemented in the iPhone 3G a year later, many, including myself were somewhat surprised and disappointed.

This time around Apple has decided to upgrade the camera, which is hardly a surprise given the fact that most of the touch-screen competition are sporting 8-megapixel cameras, while LG has already announced a phone with a 12-megapixel example built-in. So, does the camera in the 3GS measure up to the competition? Errr, no.

The 3GS sports a 3-megapixel camera, which may seem low by contemporary standards, but you shouldn't get carried away with the megapixel numbers game. What you need to remember is that the sensors employed by mobile phone cameras are pretty tiny, so squeezing more pixels onto them is not necessarily going to give you better pictures. In fact, there's every chance that the images will look worse, due to the higher chance of sensor noise.

The iPhone 3G image is horribly overexposed, with the deep yellow paintwork looking palid. The image is also very noisy, with highlights blown out.

Although the colour of the car is more accurately (though still not perfectly) captured, the whole image is underexposed, with all detail of the tree trunk in the background lost. Despite the underexposure, the highlights are still blown out.

Unfortunately the increased resolution over the iPhone 3G hasn't really improved the overall image quality. The identical shots of the Liquid Yellow Clio R27 show that neither the 3G or 3GS does a particularly good job of capturing the bright paintwork. I'm guessing that the sensor resolution is simply not the issue with the iPhone camera, and it's the lens that is the limiting factor.

Interestingly the 3G and 3GS seem to lie at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to exposure, with the former tending to overexpose images, giving them a washed out look, while the latter underexposes, thus losing detail in low light areas. Subjectively, the 3GS produces better looking photos, but they're still by no means great, and despite the tendency to underexpose, high intensity areas are often blown out.

The camera on the 3GS also has autofocus, whereas the old camera was fixed focus. The cool thing is that you can set your focus point by simply tapping it on the screen, but again the limitations of the lens mean that despite this feature, you're still not going to get shots much better than the camera in the old iPhone. It's not like the lens is fast enough to experiment with depth of field effects or anything similar, so the defined focus point is somewhat moot.

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July 16, 2009, 6:43 am

I think the biggest weakness of the iPhone is now the lack of multitasking, something that becomes painfully apparent if you try a Palm Pre.


July 16, 2009, 6:46 am

Also can you Bluetooth pictures to your friends yet?


July 16, 2009, 6:54 am

Apple fan boy! :)

An excellent review, although it is definitely from the viewpoint of an existing iPhone owner.

I think the choice really does depend on what you find important on a phone, for example if the camera or video is really important then maybe this isn't the phone for you. I could go on about OLED screens, battery life, WebOS etc. but we all know there are phones out there that do some things much better than the iPhone. That said it is undoubtedly an excellent all round package and covers most bases well. Even if it is a bit eye watering in the cost department.

Thankfully the competition is finally starting to show signs of catching up. For example as you mentioned there's the Pre and then the Samsung Galaxy, the upcoming Sony Android phone and especially the very interesting HTC hero (hardware aesthetics aside) which has an even better UI than the Apple in some respects and it'll be free on a £40 18 month contract.

We must still take a moment to thank Apple for stirring up the market and I for one can't wait to see the next gen iPhone and what the competition produce (the Palm Post, Samsung Universe, HTC Superhero etc).


July 16, 2009, 6:59 am

Best consumer handset? now thats what you call a debate.

It is certainly one of the top mobile devices but I would not go as far as to crown it the best handset just yet. Iphone has finally caught up im many ways and in some other apsect(s) outdone what a modern handset offers in this technology era.There are so many feature-rich multimedia mobile devices coming later this year and alot of companies have taking note on the success of Apple's app store and are putting in place business models that cater to a similar service/experience you get when you buy an iphone.

I will wait till the end of the year before I give honour to whom honour is due. For now the throne has no bearer in my kingdom.


July 16, 2009, 8:14 am

you just know there'll be 50+ comments for this within a few hours.

no doubt it's a great phone but i have to question the 8 for value. £185 on a £35 a month contract is a joke.

i agree with your comment about Android just waiting for it's time to shine. i'm holding out for the htc hero to release. after trying the magic i'm sure it's the phone for me.


July 16, 2009, 8:14 am

@xenos - I agree, but also as someone who has managed to get some hands-on time with the Pre I can tell you it slows to a crawl with too many apps open or just two or three of the more heavyweight ones.

The debate is a little like Flash: it's great to have the option but it can also be a real drag on overall system performance.


July 16, 2009, 8:17 am

@ravmania - again having tried out the Hero the problem you'll notice is the phone simply isn't powerful enough. It looks great and HTC Sense is an impressive wallpaper job over Android but it really chugs along. Perhaps a firmware update will fix this, but it is a big issue at the moment so definitely try before you buy.

On the other hand it isn't the car crash than the Toshiba TG01 UI is. That's a complete disaster.


July 16, 2009, 8:43 am


Will have to see how it is but at least in Android's case it doesn't need a wallpaper (like a certain other mobile os does)! I'm not sure but hopefully it can simply be disabled just like touchflo.

From trying the magic I just love the flexibility of Android. there really is an app for everything, not just what Apple allows! They seem to have learned most of the right lessons from the iPhone too.


July 16, 2009, 12:32 pm

Regarding multitasking, while it's not a true solution until Apple implements it there is a little util named 'backgrounder' on Cydia for jailbroken apps running either OS 2 or 3. It works very well and has the advantage of allowing you to specifically dictate which app goes into the background by holding down the home button for just a second before going to home screen. You do the same to disable background running. I use it frequently for IM apps.


July 16, 2009, 1:04 pm

did anybody else try and click "play" on that quicktime screenshot?


July 16, 2009, 1:31 pm

I think this review accurately evaluates the position of the iphone lineup in today's mobile-phone market. No one really likes to say it out loud that the iphone is the best thing that happened to the industry since the exclusion of protruding antennas, because doing so will spark endless debates from all present day users who fail to realize that the iphone is that big a game changer!

Just imagine what todays flagship phones would have looked like if apple had not entered the industry. Three way sliding, 52-key Nokia N99 anyone???


July 16, 2009, 1:34 pm

Given the previous editorial commentary on iPhone pricing in combination with network pricing, I really do question the 8/10 for value.

I'd prefer the flexibility of the Hero, and indeed have pre-ordered one. Roll on Friday.

Neil B

July 16, 2009, 1:58 pm

At the end of the day it's horses for courses. I really don't see the point of a touchscreen in a phone and can't live without some kind of physical keyboard. Also the FM transmitter in my Nokia N78 is used daily in my car. I'm happy that I have a phone that I think is perfect and I don't look the same as everyone else :-)

just wondering

July 16, 2009, 2:22 pm

i cant believe the review did not mention battery life !??! or did i completely miss that part , i bought a 3gs on day 1 , the battery life is awful , i had 2g iphone before that , i've been using my iphone this morning , 10 min wifi surf , location turned off , no blue tooth , 2 min phone call , battery dropped 90 % after a full charge over night !!!! not happy !!! im booked in for friday to visit a apple store , i love this phone , but the battery life is giving me cause for concern , lots of other people complaining about this issue also....some people are saying it will be fixed in os3.2 , but lets see what the apple store has to say....


July 16, 2009, 2:36 pm

@just wondering - I think there must be something wrong with your handset. I've been using the 3GS and my 3G in tandem for the past couple of weeks, and there's little between them when it comes to battery life. I've certainly never needed to charge it up part way through the day. That said, I do tend to charge my phone overnight when I go to sleep, which means I rarely have problems with the battery running low.


July 16, 2009, 2:44 pm

Good review. Seems balanced. However, what a lot of people seem to have forgotten is that this is first and foremost, a phone! I only know one person who has a 3GS, and he reports that its a great gadget, but the phone aspect is awful - not loud enough, cuts out all the time, and difficult to use without accidentally touching buttons on the screen. This fella's not a techie in the slightest and I imagine his experience may be typical for the kind of person who does not read this site!


July 16, 2009, 3:04 pm

@Bluepork: While I agree it can sometimes be difficult to handle the phone without touching the screen and activating something, in every other aspect it's a superb phone. Call quality is excellent, I've never had mine cut out, and it seems plenty loud enough to me but I appreciate it may not get loud enough if you're hard of hearing but I'm sure the same could do said of many phones.


July 16, 2009, 3:34 pm

I upgraded from the 3G to the 3GS. FWIW, anyone who uses their 3G heavily will find the speed increase of the 3GS more than worth the money.

Just like the 3G I have no problems with battery life, the phone element (which is excellent), or anything else for that matter. That said, dodgy units always exist for any device - fortunately Apple will readily replace anything not performing as expected, just like they did with the original iPhone and the 3G.

gareth edwards

July 16, 2009, 3:48 pm

Excellent review and I agree with 'LaughingJohn ' - it's a case in point that Apple has single handedly kicked the phone market right in the knackers like nobody has done before and testament to this is the fact that nearly every single hardware manufacturer is doing a me2 product. They may well create phones with different specs and capabilities but you can't ignore that fact that before Apple decided to make a phone device interaction and usability was poorly implemented in many cases and features which may well have sold the device were simply unusable (synching my Sammy U600 was like flossing my ass with barbed wire).

As for the battery life - as with all devices like the iPhone the way we look at batteries has to change because they are no longer just phones. This shift in device DNA has happened but we still think of them as 'phones' that do more not tiny computers that have a phone onboard. Thinking about them like this allows you to see the battery life in a more accurate way.

I initially was less than impressed with the battery life but one thing that I noted was that I have NEVER fiddled, played, used, a mobile phone so much as I have the iPhone. Whether it was to just play games, surf the web, read emails, text friends, listen to music, control my iMac music library whilst I was in the garden, show friends photos or actually use it as a phone, I can say categorically that no other phone I have ever had has has so much use in such a short space of time. Take this into account and you realise that ok, perhaps that battery life isn't amazing but do you ever put it down and let it sit there like your old phone? I doubt it.

Jim Fulton

July 16, 2009, 4:48 pm

ravmania wrote : "i'm holding out for the htc hero"

Bonnie Tyler moment, arf arf!

As a 3G user, I've come to my own conclusion that its not worth breaking my remaining contract for an early 3GS, so in agreement with Riyan there.

Gareth is spot on, whether you are on a bus or waiting to pick up a friend in the car, or even spending ten minutes doing what comes naturally in the morning, its hard to resist not checking email, having a blast on Need For Speed, texting, or just a quick surf. Or is that just me.....

gareth edwards

July 16, 2009, 5:28 pm

Jim, I 'd assume it's a common aspect of iphones and other user friendly smart phones in general. Slap on top of this this software upgrade cycle and the app store (or whatever other people call theirs) and you have a piece of personal technology that is allowing you to do some of the things you would normally only consider doing with a computer (netbook, laptop, or big box).

scrabble® app gets a tanning before bed most nights.


July 16, 2009, 5:34 pm

I'm willing to admit I used to be an apple hater

Having used my girlfriends iphone 3g numerous times over the past 6 months I can honestly say I want one and am considering paying off my 3 contract to get one of the 32gb 3gs

However all I would ask is that it would also need to replace my 16gb flash mp3 player for train journeys etc.

Sometimes I will listen to my mp3 player for 6 hours a day. Would I get a days life from the 3gs with wifi/bluetooth switched off and 3g on using google sync plus the 6 hours of mp3 listening?


July 16, 2009, 5:37 pm

I have tried and been very impressed by the iPhone 3Gs, however while I wouldn't use the F-word (f*nb*y) I do think the rating is a bit high. I appreciate that your emphasis is on user interface rather than features, but still the hardware could be better. Take the camera - even if we're only filming drunken antics, why would we not want the quality to be better? In any case, I would guess a lot more people want a good still and video camera than are interested in Nike+!

Most of all I agree with some of the previous posters - I don't see how it can realistically get high marks for value. No doubt the phone itself is impressive, but it's currently only available on O2 contracts which, as has been reported on this site, are very poor value. In contrast, I managd to get the Samsung I8910hd you mentioned (which in a number of ways is better than the iPhone, even if the interface is not as good), for free on a pretty generous contract from another large provider.

Yes, the iPhone is very good, but I wouldn't say it's undoubtedly the "best consumer handset available".


July 16, 2009, 5:40 pm

@dave: You'll be absolutely fine getting 6 hours mp3 listening. You will need to charge it come the end of the day but it won't cut out mid-afternoon. I regularly listen to my 3G all day at work and have no problems.


July 16, 2009, 5:53 pm

I wouldn't call myself an Apple fanatic, but it seems to me that the case for the iPhone got a whole lot stronger. I'm quite a heavy user of the picture taking ability on my current phone, LG Renoir, so I'm not quite sure if I could live without the flash. Still, my current contract runs out May 2010, hopefully the iPhone OS will have matured a little further and the decision over which device to get next will be much easier.

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