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Quick Look Review
First Few Days with the iPhone 3GS
Monday, June 22nd, 2009 at 5:20 PM - by Dave Hamilton
Early Friday morning I received my iPhone 3GS (or is that, "3G S?" Apple, make up your mind!) and, due to a hectic weekend schedule, was forced to start using it in "real life" mode immediately. Since we will be publishing a full review of the iPhone 3GS from our own Bob LeVitus later this week, I'm here to give you my first impressions with the unit from a (perhaps geeky) user's perspective.
The "S" is definitely for Speed
Prior to this I used an iPhone 3G for almost a year. Last week's iPhone OS 3.0 update certainly improved the snappiness and effective efficiency of the 3G, but that was nothing compared to the speed boost I encountered the moment I started using the 3GS. Nearly everything is faster, for sure, but there are a few key instances where it makes a huge difference for me.
- Scrolling - A common denominator of the iPhone experience is scrolling through lists. On previous phones (and iPod touches), scrolling performance ranged from passable to herky-jerky, depending on how well the app developer optimized things. On the 3GS every instance of scrolling I have encountered is smooth. In fact, it took me a bit to adjust my finger-flicking speed because I found myself scrolling too far initially.
- Filing Mail - One of the apps I use most on the iPhone is Mail. I do my fair share of email triage here, taking messages and moving them to either archive or action folders depending on their contents. Apple, blessed be their hearts, decided that having a cute little animation of a mail message dropping into a folder was a good idea. Maybe it is good for user interface intuition, but that little action slows the process down while we wait for the pretty little graphics to be drawn. The speed of the 3GS, however, makes this delay short, smooth and quite tolerable. I actually find that I can save a minute or two each morning as I triage mail on the iPhone. That's a big deal for me.
- In-app Interaction - Within iPhone apps I often find myself toggling between two or three different screens of data. Many times as I click to switch back from one to another I have to sit and wait for the phone to redraw my desired screen. With the iPhone 3GS I find this happens a lot less frequently, and I presume this has to do with the memory and other hardware enhancements made to the phone.
Hardware Enhancements, You Say?
Apple has been notably mum on the guts of every iPhone so far. They simply use words like "faster" and "better" but don't give us any specs. You know what? I understand this mentality. Most of the iPhone target market doesn't give a hoot if their device's speed is measured in megahertz or horsepower, they just want it to work reliably and quickly. By not confusing the market with specs, Apple also has the advantage of making subtle changes to the product line without their general userbase getting hung up on irrelevant minutia.
But this isn't irrelevant, and I'm not the target iPhone customer. I'm a geek, and I want to know more!
- Processor - The iPhone 3GS definitely has a faster processor. Whereas the original iPhone and iPhone 3G both ran at 412MHz, the iPhone 3GS runs at 600MHz. This is a 45 percent improvement over the previous generation iPhone and, as we know, the lion's share of computing operations run faster as you increase processor speed.
- RAM - Probably more important for the iPhone than processor speed is RAM. Note that there are two different types of memory used in the iPhone: the kind Apple talks about and the kind they don't. The "public" memory numbers of 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB are the amount of storage space available to hold songs, movies, and apps. If you want to compare it to your computer, think of those numbers as the iPhone's "hard drive." The "unpublic" number, the RAM, is the memory available to the iPhone and its apps when they need to run. The app launches from the storage space into RAM, and then runs. Even if you have many gigabytes of storage space freely available, that won't help if your app needs too much RAM. The two are very separate. The original iPhone had 128MB whereas the new iPhone has 256MB. Again, Apple doesn't talk about these numbers, but it's important to understand how this all works.
- Screen - Astute Observers noted that the iPhone 3G comes with an oleophobic screen. Defined as "having or relating to a lack of strong affinity for oils," the oleophobic screen is supposed to be more smudge-resistant than its predecessor, and it is. The screen is still glass, but it feels a bit more rubbery than the old one, and after a quick adjustment period I found that I really liked the feel of the new screen (so much so that I haven't put a screen protector on it).
- Camera - I am not someone who carries a separate digital camera around. I suffer with the one I have in my cell phone, and I accept my lot in life. WIth that, the increased resolution, focus, and brightness of the new iPhone is quite welcome, as is the video feature. But let's face it, the camera still isn't great. I took some shots in low-light situations at a gig I had this weekend, and they were still just as unintelligible as ever. I was able to shoot some video of an acoustic guitar player and the audio quality was certainly acceptable. If there was more light on the subject it's definitely the sort of thing one could upload to YouTube as a performance demo or some such. I see the camera enhancements as being incrementally useful, but the lack of a flash means the iPhone still can't compete with the output from a true digital camera.
I'll Keep It!
Now that my crazy weekend is over, I'm looking forward to spending a little more time digging into the iPhone 3GS from a geek's perspective, but I'm definitely happy with the initial feel and speed I get from the device. It's definitely a huge improvement over the iPhone 3G.
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