Issue: 7.6 (September/October 2009)
Author: Dave Mancuso
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Article Length (in bytes): 6,307
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RBD Number: 7604
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IN BRIEF Product iPhone 3GS Manufacturer Apple, Inc. Price 16GB $199, 32GB $299, both with 2 year AT&T contract Contact Info http://www.apple.com/iphone Pros Upgraded camera, video recording, voice control, better signal Cons 2 year contract required, videos don't sync back to phone, pictures don't upload to Flickr, voice control doesn't work over Bluetooth Rating (1.0-5.0): 3.8
I'm typing this review on an iPhone 3GS. OK, I'm not, but I likely could have done so (in fact, I keep trying to double tap the space bar on my laptop for a period, a la iPhone style). It's hard to believe that a thick-thumbed person like myself could use the iPhone with any regularity let alone success, but two iPhones have made me a believer. For the most part. The device's practicality hasn't always lived up to its potential. I gave up some functionality when I moved from my old Nokia to the iPhone, and the lack of some features was definitely felt. The iPhone as a phone and a platform was the draw for me, but I've always expected to see the iPhone's features improve over time. My first iPhone (the "2G") was a useful device, that opened up the promise of a truly useful mobile platform. Two years later, my new iPhone 3GS delivers (mostly) on that promise.
The first thing I noticed about the new iPhone was its speed. The old iPhone often hung up on typing, spitting out delayed caches of characters long after I'd typed them. Applications took a while to load, and functions took a while to execute. I grew used to it, but with the 3GS the waiting is gone. Its responsiveness frees me from frustration I didn't know I'd had. I rarely wait for anything to happen with the phone. Some of this is due to AT&T's 3G network, which my old 2G iPhone didn't have. However, I've been told that the new 3GS is still snappier than the iPhone 3G it replaced, even on the 3G network. Also, I'm often on the slower Edge network, and the new 3GS is definitely faster on Edge than my old 2G iPhone. All of this makes Internet applications very usable (and enjoyable). The only annoyance is that my iPhone 2G data plan was $20 per month, while the new data plan is $30. The reason given is the faster 3G network, but the plan is mandatory. It feels a bit like extortion.
The camera is the new iPhone's second major upgrade. Its still photo resolution is much improved, and pictures can now be taken from as close as 12 inches. Pictures of text are crisper too. This makes applications like Evernote much easier to use, as text recognition is much more accurate. Focusing is done by tapping the desired part of your picture on the iPhone screen. This is brilliant, and will likely be on all cameras soon (unless Apple has patented the concept). The new video recorder is a welcome (if overdue) upgrade, and videos can be directly uploaded to Youtube. It's clear that Apple has been watching how people are trying to use the phone, and upgraded accordingly. Image and video capture on the iPhone are for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. For instance, a quick iPhone picture of a product sale label at a store is now possible, with small model numbers on the label seen clearly for later product research. It's become a very utilitarian tool. Not all is perfect though; the camera has some drawbacks. Low light produces photo graininess. It's great to send videos to Youtube, but why can't I send pictures directly to Flickr or Picasa? Annoyingly, videos sync to your PC or Mac but don't sync back to your phone. Once you delete a video from your iPhone, it's not easy to get it back. Improvements could definitely be made.
The Compass application is interesting, but I've used it only twice (just to see it work). Perhaps I would use it if I hiked more, but my trusty Silva is still my preferred compass in the woods. Others may find this feature more useful than I do.
Voice Control is a feature with a few surprises. It's been sorely lacking until now. It's activated by the iPhone's Home button or the supplied headphone's button. I had trouble with the feature at first. I couldn't discover how to configure the feature. I finally asked my wife where I could record my voice tags for recognition like our old Nokias and got a strange look in return. It hadn't occurred to me that the iPhone didn't need voice configuration: it uses speech to text for voice recognition. It's good, too. I rarely had a mistaken voice-dialed call. Again, not all is perfect. iPod features can also be controlled by Voice Control, but it didn't seem smooth or easy to use. I found myself often reaching for the phone to correct what Voice Control did to my music. However, I have general differences with the iPhone over music playback control, so your mileage may vary. A more significant omission is the lack of Bluetooth support for Voice Control. I'm sincerely hoping that the next major iPhone OS update allows me to voice dial from my Bluetooth headset. Having to pick up your phone to voice dial in a car tends to compromise the idea and safety of "hands free" communication.
Finally, I've also noticed stronger cell signals and fewer dropped calls in weak areas.
I could've bought the iPhone 3G for $99, a very attractive price, but I opted for the 16GB iPhone 3GS at $199. I could have used 32GB for more songs and videos, but didn't feel that $299 was in my budget. 16GB gives me a great deal of breathing room for apps, files, and media. The new 3GS features (apart from the Compass) are very valuable and practical for me. Considering that my first iPhone was $399 for a refurbished 8GB unit, I'm very happy with my purchase. Highly recommended.
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