Apple iPhone 3G S

zd-defaultimage-review.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    Not yet rated

In many ways, the iPhone 3G S delivers on its promises. The battery — which could sometimes deplete in less than a day on the iPhone 3G — lasted longer in our preliminary tests, while the phone's software ran noticeably faster.

So should you buy it? That will depend on how much you'll have to pay for the privilege. If you don't own an iPhone yet, and you've been waiting for the right model, now is the time to go for it. The same goes for iPhone Classic owners who never made the jump to the iPhone 3G. But if you're a current iPhone 3G owner, the answer isn't so clear. If you're coming to the end of your contract, then we suggest you upgrade. But if there are several months remaining, we recommend simply upgrading to the new iPhone 3.0 operating system. As much as the iPhone 3G S brings, it's not worth the extra outlay that both the 16GB and 32GB models will cost you.

Design & interface
The iPhone 3G S looks exactly like the previous model. It shares the shape and the same external controls, but the iPhone 3G S is unique in a handful of ways. You can get both 16Gb and 32GB versions in white or black, and the iPhone 3G S display sports a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating that's supposed to attract fewer fingerprints and smudges. The new model shares the same dimensions as its predecessor, but it's very slightly heavier (135g versus 133g) — a virtually unnoticeable difference.

The iPhone 3G S has the same external design as the iPhone 3G. On PAYG from O2, the 16GB version costs £440.40 (inc. VAT) while the 32GB version will set you back £538.30. The iPhone 3G S also comes in white. See O2's web site for more pricing information.

The menu interface is also the same, but in the past year, as we've added apps to the Home screen, something new has begun to bother us. As intuitive and simple as the interface is, it becomes unwieldy after you get above four menu pages. Swiping through multiple pages is tedious, and it's rather painful to drag applications from page to page if you're an organizational freak. We hate the fact that there's no way to categorise related apps into folders — such as one for news, another for social networking and so on. Not only would this cut down on menu pages, but you'd also be able to find your app faster. And while we're at it, how about letting us delete some of the native apps we never use?

Top ZDNET Reviews

Features
Since the iPhone 3G S inherits many of the features from the previous model, we'll concentrate on what's different on this device. If you need a refresher on such elements as the clock, YouTube, weather, iPod player, calculator, and e-mail, please see our iPhone 3G review. We'll start off with the new features that only the iPhone 3G S will offer.

Camera
Until now, the iPhone's camera has been good but not great, with decent photo quality but no editing features. Apple hasn't included options such as white balance, a digital zoom or a self-timer that come standard on many basic VGA camera phones. The minimalist nature of the iPhone's camera bothered us so much that we began to worry if Apple was leading a new trend of 'dumbing down' mobile phone cameras.

The iPhone 3G S's camera is now a 3-megapixel unit, but still lacks a flash.

The iPhone 3G S puts some of those fears to rest. Apple has boosted the camera's resolution to 3 megapixels and added a new 'Tap to Focus' feature. As you point the lens toward your subject, a small box appears on the centre of the display. Tapping that square focuses the camera automatically on that point and adjusts the white balance, colour, contrast and exposure accordingly. If you'd rather focus on the edge of your shot, just tap the display at your chosen point and the square moves with you. If you don't tap anywhere, the camera will focus the entire frame.

Tap to Focus performs well. For example, if we photographed a book cover sitting on a desk, we were able to get a clear reading on the book's title. If we shifted the focus away from the book, the title became somewhat blurry. Alternatively, if we focused on the brightest part of an image, the entire picture would appear brighter. But if we focused on the darkest part of any image, the photo would darken accordingly. The iPhone still doesn't come with a flash, though, so don't expect miracles.

On the other hand, the new automatic macro setting didn't appear to make much of a difference. Close-up shots looked slightly better on the iPhone 3G S than they did on the iPhone 3G, but we couldn't tell when the macro focus was working and when it wasn't. As with the autofocus feature, the macro setting is a welcome addition, but we'd prefer to have more control over it. In other words, the iPhone 3G S's camera is smarter than those on the earlier iPhones, but the camera, rather than the user, still runs the show.

Indoor shots taken with the 3G S were merely average.

Overall, the iPhone 3G S's photo quality is better than the 3G's, but it depends on the shot. Outdoor shots and photos taken in natural light looked less blurry in our tests, with brighter colours. Photos taken on cloudy days were less likely to be blown out, and photos in low-light conditions looked brighter and had less of an orange tint. Indoor shots without natural light showed little change, however: the iPhone's camera is not optimised for fluorescent light.

Video recording
The iPhone 3G S is the first iPhone to offer video recording — another feature other mobile phones have offered for years. Apple makes up for some lost time by offering an easy-to-use integrated video-editing option.

The video recorder has a simple interface and you can edit clips directly on the display.

Controls for video shooting work just like the still camera's controls, and you can use the Tap to Focus feature here too. The quality is just VGA, but the camera shoots at 30 frames per second, so while colours look muted and some videos appear washed out, the iPhone 3G S handles movement than most mobile phone cameras. After you're done recording, you can send your clip in an email or upload it directly to your YouTube account. We were able to upload to YouTube and send a video from our synced IMAP4 Exchange account, but when we tried to send a video from a synced Yahoo POP3 account, an error occurred. We're checking with Apple on the discrepancy and will report back.

The phone's video-editing tool is utterly intuitive and fun to use. After loading a previously shot video, you'll see it displayed frame by frame in a linear format along the top of the touch screen. Using your finger, you can slide the cursor to any point in the video and start playing from there. If you care to edit, just touch either end of the border that surrounds your video. When the border turns yellow, you can shorten the clip by dragging either end toward your desired cut-off point (the image on the display will conveniently change as you move along). Once you've made your edits, just hit the 'Trim' control.

We liked the video-editing feature a lot, but it's worth noting a couple of small complaints. First off, when you trim a clip, the edited version replaces your original video rather than saving it as a new file. Also, you can trim only in a linear format — so you can't cut out something in the middle and stitch the remaining two ends of the video together.

We also like a new feature that allows you to quickly open a photo or video that you just shot. After taking your snap or video, a small thumbnail will appear on the bottom of the viewfinder next to the shutter control. Tapping that thumbnail takes you to the photo gallery page, from where you can view your work or send it on to a friend.

Voice Control
We've long berated Apple for not including voice dialling on previous iPhones, particularly in this age of hands-free driving laws. Overdue as it is, the new Voice Control feature goes far beyond just making calls. To activate it, hold down the home button until the Voice Control feature appears.

With the Voice Control feature, you can make calls and control the iPod player.

As with hundreds of other mobile phones, Voice Control lets you make calls by speaking the contact's name or phone number into the receiver. After you say your command, you'll get audio confirmation and the name or number will show on the display. If the iPhone makes a mistake, you can press an 'undo' touch control at the bottom of the screen. The feature is speaker-independent, so you won't need to train it to recognise your voice; you'll be ready to go the first time you turn on the phone.

In our tests, the voice dialling performed well. When using names, it understood us accurately most of the time. It made occasional mistakes — for example, it wanted to call 'Siemens' instead of 'Stephen' — but that's hardly unusual for a voice dialler. Voice Control performed better when using only numbers. We didn't have to speak loudly, except in noisy environments, but it was capable of filtering out most background noise.

If you call a contact with multiple numbers, but don't specify which number you prefer, it will prompt you with 'home', 'work' and so on. If you ask for a name that has multiple listings in your phone book (we know multiple people named Tim, for instance), it will prompt you for your choice, while showing the options on-screen. Alternatively, you can call a contact using his or her company's name, but that company must be in the contact's electronic business card.

Voice Control also interacts with the iPhone's iPod player and the iTunes Genius list. You can ask it to play a song by artist name and album, and you can request an entire playlist. Once music is playing, you can pause, skip to the next song and go back to the previous track, using your voice. Say 'shuffle' and the player skips to a random song. The feature was accurate most of the time, but it occasionally confused some artist names.

Unsure which song is playing? You can find out by asking 'What song is this?' You'll then get audio confirmation of the track name and artist. Like what you're hearing? Say, 'Play more songs like this', and the player will use your iTunes Genius list to play a related song. In either case, the music will dim while you speak. They're nifty features, to be sure, and we can't think of another MP3 player or mobile phone that offers such capability. On the other hand, we can't imagine that many people would use it outside of a car.

Compass
You'll find the iPhone 3G S's digital compass option directly on the Home screen; just tap to open. The attractive interface shows a large compass with your bearing and your latitude and longitude. Similar to any other compass, it continues to point true or magnetic north as you turn around. Reception was spotty inside, so you'll need to stay clear of any interference. If it can't get a bearing, you'll be advised to move away from the interference and re-establish the compass's orientation by moving the iPhone in a figure-eight motion.

The compass application shows your location and has an attractive interface.

The compass also interacts with Google Maps to point you in the right direction. To switch to the maps, just press the familiar bull's-eye icon in the bottom-left corner. You'll see your position on the map, and if you tap the bull's-eye again, the map will rotate to show the direction you are facing. It's a nice touch, and we like how the standard Google Maps view now shows the 3D outlines of buildings.

Accessibility features
The iPhone 3G S is the first iPhone to offer a full set of accessibility features. Visually impaired people can use Apple's Voice Over to navigate the handset's menus and type messages and emails. As you drag your finger around the display and tap a button, the iPhone will read a description of that button. The phone will also read the text of dialogue boxes, the time of day, the status and orientation of the display (locked or unlocked, portrait or landscape) and detail information such as the battery level, Wi-Fi and cellular network signals. What's more, it speaks each character as you type a message, and it will suggest autocorrection choices. Voice Over can read text messages, emails, and even web pages.

You can change the display's contrast with the iPhone 3G S's new accessibility features.

To use Voice Over, you will need to learn a different set of gestures (for example, you'll have to double-tap to open an item), but the feature provides audible instruction. You can set the speaking rate and choose from 21 supported languages. Voice Over works with all of the phone's native applications, but support for third-party apps varies. Although we're normally sighted and our Voice Over user experience can't compare with someone who is visually impaired, we were impressed by the feature's capabilities. The iPhone 3G S also adds multi-touch zoom support for the Home, Unlock and Spotlight screens for all applications, both native and third-party. Previously, zoom only worked in the photo gallery, email inboxes and the Safari browser. You can activate the enhanced zoom in the Settings menu, but you can't use it and Voice Over simultaneously.

You also can reverse the display's contrast to white on black. Menus will show white text on a black background, while the Home screen will change to a white background. Just be aware that the contrast change alters the appearance of photos in the gallery to look like negatives. It has a similar effect for app icons on the Home screen.

 

Specifications

Phone Features
Polyphonic Ringer Yes
Voice Dialing Yes
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, digital compass, Digital compass
Additional Features TTY compatible
Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type smartphone
Integrated Components navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 3G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider not specified, AT&T
Operating System Family iOS
Operating System iOS
SIM Card Type mini SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Details
Product Type Smartphone
Antenna internal
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, navigation, Rear-facing camera, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Black
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging & Data Features Microsoft Excel support, Microsoft Word support, PDF support
Mobile Services Maps+Compass
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Email Protocols IMAP4, POP3
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor
Communications
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, IEEE 802.11b/g
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP)
Cellular Protocol EDGE, AGPS
Display
Multi-language Menu Yes
Technology TFT
Display Illumination Color white
Display Resolution 320 x 480 pixels
Diagonal Size 3.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 8.9 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 3.5 in
Protection fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Native Resolution 480 x 320
Audio
Type Speaker
Organizer
Personal Information Management calculator, alarm clock, calendar, reminder, synchronization with PC
Alarm Clock Yes
Camera
Focus Adjustment automatic
Features Geo-tagging, video recording
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MPEG-4, H.264
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, AAC, AIFF, Audible, MP3, Apple Lossless, WAV, AAC, AIFF, MP3, Apple Lossless
Location
Navigation Software & Services Maps+Compass
Battery
Talk Time Up to 300 min
Run Time Details Talk: up to 600 min
Standby: up to 300 hrs, Talk (GSM): up to 720 min
Talk (WCDMA): up to 300 min
Standby: up to 300 hrs
Continuous browsing (WCDMA): up to 5 hrs
Continuous browsing (Wi-Fi): up to 9 hrs
Playback (video): up to 10 hrs
Playback (audio): up to 30 hrs
Digital Camera
Digital Video Formats H.264
Focus Adjustment automatic
Video Recorder Resolutions 640 x 480 (VGA)
Features Geo-tagging, video recording
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services Maps+Compass
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple iPhone
Model 3GS
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, speakerphone, voice control, voice dialing
Additional Features TTY compatible
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, Audible, MP3, WAV
Supported Digital Video Standards H.264, MPEG-4
Power Adapter
Type power adapter
Flash Memory
Installed Size 32 GB
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 3 megapixels

Top ZDNET Reviews