Editor’s Note: This product has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it has been discontinued. You can still read our original review below, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this product’s information.
Smartphones were once almost exclusively the tools of high powered business users and road warriors. The original Apple iPhone, and more significantly, the iPhone 3G, were the single greatest catalysts in expanding smartphones’ appeal to the general consumer audience. The Apple iPhone 3GS (‘S’ for Speed) continues the trend of improvements we enjoyed with the 3G. Certainly more evolutionary than revolutionary, the folks at Apple listened to the criticisms that were leveled at the wildly popular iPhone 3G and actually took action on most of the issues. While competitors have made major strides in closing the gap between the iPhone and everyone else, this is still the phone to beat for most users. For a side-by-side comparison and objective reviews, visit the smartphone page.
We won’t rehash the well known features of the iPhone 3G. For details of that excellent smartphone, you can check out its review. Instead, we’ll highlight the improvements that make the iPhone 3GS a top choice for a wide variety of users.
The iPhone 3GS catches up with some of the top competitors by finally offering document editing features. Cut, copy and paste are available and work particularly well with the new landscape mode virtual keyboard.
The Apple iPhone 3GS still has the features that made its predecessors so popular. Most notably, it’s a perfectly good smartphone that just happens to have an iPod built-in. Just as the iPod essentially created and continues to dominate the digital music industry, the iPhone invented and rules the world of mobile apps. Despite the launching of competing app stores by several other smartphone makers, they all pale compared to the tens of thousands, and rapidly expanding, of apps available for the iPhone.
iPhone’s rather weak 2.0-megapixel camera has been updated to a 3.0-megapixel shooter which is better than its predecessor but is still not among the best available. Nonetheless, Apple has made great strides with the Tap to Focus system that give the user a lot more control over pictures to be taken. Oddly, there still isn’t a flash. The new iPhone does satisfy users who bemoaned the lack of video capture capability. That’s a feature that is rapidly gaining importance with meteoric rise in popularity of posting videos online. It also includes a great video editing tool that should help users improve the often dubious quality of those online posts.
Increased speed is the central improvement of the iPhone 3GS. Apps load faster and just about everything runs more smoothly. Network speeds also tend to be improved. Still, if multitasking is an important feature for you, this device will be a disappointment. You might want to consider the Palm Pre or a top rated BlackBerry.
As with its predecessor, there are two models that are identical except for the memory capacity. The top rated Apple iPhone 3GS boasts a whopping 32GB of onboard memory while the other lesser model still has a very respectable 16GB and costs $100 less. We're still not particularly pleased that there's no option for memory expansion but with that much storage embedded, the argument is irrelevant for most users. (The previous version had 16GB and 8GB options). Both models are available in both black and white.
Among the chief complaints about previous editions of the iPhone was the absence of a user replaceable battery. That hasn’t changed but at least Apple has equipped the new device with a battery that seems to be providing markedly improved performance. We like the AppBox Pro app that, among other things, estimates how much battery life is available for various phone functions. We’ve found that it does a good job of predicting actual battery life. If you’re a heavy user who likes to have a backup battery, you’re out of luck.
Stereo Bluetooth capability is finally available on the iPhone 3GS, an omission from previous versions that we failed to comprehend on a device that has multimedia as a focal point. Less noteworthy but welcome additions include a voice recorder, tethering capability and turn-by-turn directions for the GPS functionality. As of this writing, tethering has still not been activated by AT&T and the turn-by-turn directions feature will require an as yet unavailable third party application. In the event that the iPhone 3GS is lost or stolen, individual users now have the ability of wiping data from the phone remotely. That was a feature previously available only to enterprise users.
When considering the remarkable abilities of the Apple iPhone 3GS, it’s easy to think that things just can’t get any better. On the other hand, when considering its shortfalls, one can see that, despite Apple’s noteworthy efforts, there remain many lost opportunities. Reality lies somewhere in between. It likely is the most capable, user friendly smartphone on the market for the widest range of users. For those with different sets of criteria, the good news is that there are a number of worthy alternatives.