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Apple iPhone 3GS - The Need For Speed

By Riyad Emeran



Our Score:


On the surface, the iPhone 3GS doesn't look much different to the older 3G, especially if the latter is running the latest 3.0 version of the firmware (more about that later). But one of the key changes isn't a new feature, it's the 3GS' ability to do exactly what the old iPhone can do, just faster.

Apple is still pretty cagey when it comes to the exact hardware specification in the iPhone, but the 3GS has seen an increase in speed for the main processor, along with a new graphics chip, while there's also more memory on tap. The result - according to Apple at least - is that the 3GS is up to twice as fast as the 3G, which is a pretty bold claim.

In practice though, I can assure you that Apple is not exaggerating - the 3GS is significantly quicker than the 3G in pretty much every area. My guess would be that the new graphics chip plays the biggest role in the 3GS' ode to speed. There's no doubt that the 3GS renders graphics far, far faster than the 3G, whether that be on a web page or even in the phone's own user interface.

Mobile Safari has always been one of the iPhone's trump cards, but the 3GS takes it to a new level of usability, rendering graphics heavy web pages in the blink of an eye. In fact, in this respect the 3GS really does live up to Apple's claims of it being twice as fast as the 3G. Connecting the 3GS and my iPhone 3G up to the TrustedReviews Wi-Fi network, I then opened www.trustedreviews.com on both handsets simultaneously. The 3GS simply blew the 3G away in terms of speed, with the page rendered in less than half the time.

Well, that's what happened when I ran that test yesterday. Today things played out very differently indeed. Today I tried exactly the same page load test and the 3GS was far, far slower than the 3G. This had me very confused until I ran a data speed test and found that while my iPhone 3G was managing around 700kbps on the office Wi-Fi connection, the 3GS was reporting download speeds of between 19 and 40kbps. So clearly the problem was to do with Wi-Fi rather than the speed of page rendering.

A bit of digging around the Internet showed that I'm not the only one who's had Wi-Fi issues with the 3GS, with most reports indicating unreliable or intermittent performance. This turned out to be the case, since when I tried the same test an hour later the 3GS once again spanked the 3G, and running the speed test again turned in a download speed of over 600kbps.

Taking Wi-Fi out of the equation though, the 3GS is consistently faster, whether you're switching between apps, or simply opening up the settings page. On graphic heavy apps the new graphics chip will be making a difference, but also the extra memory no doubt keeps the 3GS nipping zipping along.

Another area where the 3GS has a potential speed increase over its predecessor is 3G data. The 3GS supports 7.2mbps HSDPA, which is currently the fastest cellular data standard available. However, the iPhone 3GS supporting 7.2mbps HSDPA is only part of the equation, since even if a network provider offers full 7.2mbps HSDPA, most of the time you'll only see a fraction of that.

The 3GS on O2 showed a download speed of less than half that of the older 3G connected to T-Mobile. Both tests were run at the same time in the same location.

Running the iPhone Speed Test again, I compared the 3GS to an iPhone 3G on the T-Mobile network instead of O2. The result was the 3GS on O2 turning in a very respectable 710kbps, while the 3G on T-Mobile managed more than double that at over 1.6mbps! So, in some respects the faster 3G capability of the iPhone 3GS is moot, since it would appear that O2's 3G network can't really make the most of it.

I did the same test with an iPhone 3G on O2, and its download speed was pretty much identical to the 3GS. However, once again the 3GS' ability to render graphic heavy web pages quickly meant that it could still load, say, TrustedReviews faster than both 3G handsets, regardless of network. On the plus side, anyone who buys an iPhone 3GS should be safe in the knowledge that it will just get faster as O2 improves its 3G network.

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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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