Categories: Mobile Phones Reviews   Tags: ,
We love
Unmatched app choice, peerless interface
We hate
Stale design, still no multi-tasking
The iPhone 3GS is growing old gracefully, but the cracks are starting to show
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3 Pages

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS crashed into our trembling palms nine months ago, scoring a stonking five stars in our original iPhone review. But a lot has happened in the last three quarters of a year. The Nexus One Google phone has arrived. HTC has out Appled Apple with the design of its HTC Legend, and myriad mobiles now pack sharper screens, more megapixels and stacks more storage inside their slimline shells.

But through it all, the iPhone has kept selling. Is it still top dog, or has Apple let the grass grow under the iPhone 3GS? Our iPhone review takes a look at the 3GS nine months on.

Read the rest of our iPhone review: 3GS nine months on
Apple iPhone review: 3GS rivals
Apple iPhone review: 3GS Design and build
Apple iPhone review: 3GS Speed

The iPhone 3GS looks dated. There’s no escaping the monolithic design that once perched the 3GS atop the mobile design podium has struggled to keep pace as rivals crack its minimalist code. So many iPhone rivals took their lead from Apple’s utilitarian design that the original now looks almost uninspired.

The plastic back of the iPhone 3GS is its principal downfall. It’s a veritable scratch magnet, and while we understand it’s a necessity for strong 3G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals, rivals such as the HTC Legend have side-stepped the problem, while still keeping an aluminium shell, not unlike the first generation iPhone.

Stand it in a lineup of HTC, Sony Ericsson and Nokia handsets, and the iPhone 3GS now looks tubby and a little tacky, especially from the rear. But looks aren’t everything. Apple has constantly trumpetted the iPhone OS as its handset’s greatest asset, and it still stands up as the best mobile platform around.

While Android mobiles have struggled to keep themselves up to date with the latest software refreshes from Google, each of Apple’s handsets, from the first generation iPhone right the way to the latest iPhone 3GS all run the same software.

Apple iPhone review: 3GS design and build

It’s a trick that means using an iPhone is a reliable experience no matter which version you’re rocking. There are no compatibility issues, no stalled software, just apps that work without a second thought. It’s a skill that remains rare in mobile circles, and keeps the iPhone 3GS at the forefront of the ongoing app revolution.

Speaking of apps, it’s a testament to the iPhone’s staying power that its App Store has maintained its lead ahead of Windows Mobile, Android and Nokia’s Ovi Store. If you’re keen to have the latest mobile software and games, there’s simply nowhere better to look.

For all its criticism as a closed operating system, and a locked-down store, Apple has proven that reliability fosters trust. Its iPhone App Store works like a charm, and while there’s the inevitable tat to wade through, a torrent of high quality additions each week means you’ll struggle to find fault, at least with the choice of apps on offer.

Apple has also updated the abilities of those apps, since the launch of the iPhone 3GS in June last year. iPhone apps can now grab your attention with push notifications, a neat work-around to side-step the iPhone’s lack of multi-tasking abilities. In practice, however, they’re a far cry from the likes of the Palm Pre and any Android phone, which keep apps running in full, while working elsewhere.

Apple iPhone review: 3GS speed

It’s a flaw which remains our biggest gripe with the iPhone 3GS. There’s clearly oodles of power beneath that screen, and yet Cupertino is still keeping it under wraps. It means however much we love our Spotify iPhone app, we’re unable to enjoy it while playing games or bashing out e-mails. In today’s smartphone society, that’s a crime.

And then there’s Apple’s interface. Once groundbreaking, it’s now beginning to seem dated. Windows Phone 7 Series, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 and Motorola’s Motoblur UI have all shown us the possibilities for dragging live information from the web into a phone’s standby screen, yet Apple still makes do with badges and numbers to let us know an app needs attention.

It’s a stale approach, and one which makes the iPhone feel long in the tooth. Sure, the overall navigation through the iPhone’s menus is unsurpassed. It’s logical and consistent in a way few Android, Symbian or Windows Mobile phones can match. The iPhone’s multi-touch too remains the standard by which all others are measured, it’s just that we’ve come to expect more from our mobiles when it comes to packing our hectic lives into their electronic schedules.

In fairness, Apple has done a remarkable job to keep its ageing phone relevant, despite the advances by its rivals. The choice and quality within its App Store means this is still the go-to device for developers and app fans alike. The outward design might be showing its age, but it’s also proving to be a solid and reliable design.

If we’re honest, after nine months, we’re not surprised to see the iPhone 3GS flagging a little, but it’s still landing heavy punches in the heavyweight smartphone category, and growing old with dignity. It might not pack the latest headline-grabbing features, and that design is less jaw-dropping than it once was, but underneath this is a true classic. Built to last, and still worthy of attention.

The iPhone 3GS is still a contender in the mobile phone market, to pick one up visit

Read the rest of our iPhone review: 3GS nine months on
Apple iPhone review: 3GS rivals
Apple iPhone review: 3GS Design and build
Apple iPhone review: 3GS Speed

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  • Tim

    Have had the 3Gs as my personal phone since day one and still love it over and above my work phones, which have been.

    HTC Touch Pro 2 – Good phone, WinMo works well in the Corp environment, but suffers quite a lot of stalls and bigs.

    HTC Hero – Loved it until I got fed up waiting for Android 1.6, then 2.0 then 2.1. VPN and Tethering still accessed with rooted access only. Sold and moved onto :-

    Moto Milestone – Great build, Android 2.0 a great leap forward, but faith damaged by release of Nexus One and 2.1 Android. Sold and moved to :-

    HTC HD2 – Love the look and feel and Sence makes a lot of scene. Great to customise, not as easily accessible as the Hero and Milestone , but solid and reliable.

    Also have a Nexus One for evaluation and its very nice hardware, 2.1 Android is nice too, but I cant recommend Android for the moment until it settles down.

  • Paul

    Why compare the iPhone which something you can buy now with the Windows Phone 7 Series which may or may not be released this side of the apocalypse?


    not doing bad 9 months on tho is it.
    I would recommend anyone who is becomming bored (with still 7 months on the contract)
    to jailbreak as it opend up multi tasking and a million and one features apple were too lazy to include.

    On a positive note tho the new os 4.0 will be around form june and info will be avaible in advace of the new iphone info.

    Its gunna hve to be good to beat the hero or windows 7 phones.

    what do you think?

  • Asthenia

    Isn’t this article a little irrelevant since the iphone V4.0 is due to be announced in the summer?

    • Ben Sillis

      Do you know something about it we don’t? We’d love to hear it! :)

  • cscs

    Must admit I’m assuming that there’ll be a new one come summer – after which I’ll upgrade my ageing Blackberry. iPhone has certainly made real fans of its’ current users which is always a good sign and remains the upside of Apple’s tight control.

    • Ben Sillis

      Yeah I think it’s a safe bet there will be. I’m hoping this one will be much more of a revamp than the 3Gs was, which now looking back on things is quite an ugly looking smartphone (hardware). The screen needs a boost, and Apple throwing in a new resolution with the iPad seems to herald something along those lines. I’d hope.

  • Colin Parnell

    Being a Vodafone customer for 20 years I was frustrated I could not get the IPhone when it came out, I went for a Samsung touch screen F700 which I was reasonably happy with at the time, though I had no experience of the Iphone then. I then upgraded to the HTC Magic, and again was reasonably happy, still no proper expereience of the Iphone. My son had now got a Sony X1. Then my son bought an Iphone and unlocked it to work on Vodaphone. Now I had experience of the Iphone. This was in January 2010. I immediately ordered one from Vodafone now that they could supply it, and am amazed that anyone wants any other phone (not withstanding its high price I understand). The Iphone works! Never fails, is easy, intuitive and smooth and flashy in the way it works, and it just works. It does it all, phone calls, internet, camera, etc. I have no desire to look at other phones, as every phone I have had in the past, from my old NEC 9a through Smartphones to Sony Ericson P990 to the Hero have all been so poor by comparison to the Iphone. I am one of the later adopters, thanks to Vodafones screw up in allowing o2 to get them exclusively. As a late adopter, I am new to the Iphones technology and interface and way of working, and so to me it seems fresh, clean, smart and did I mention it works! My biggest problem with Smartphones and Android is their ability to constantly fall over. Multi tasking may be a cool idea but one that no one has made work faultlessly, so I think Apple are clever to not allow it, as it would then make it as unreliable as all the other phones out there I think. I suspect if you took multi tasking away from the other phones their performance may start to rival Apples I phone :)

    • Patrick

      I agree with you,
      But it may not have the lastest thing, but it does work well.
      I have had windows mobiles, nokia’s 6680 6630 n-gage ( 2 arghh ) n70 n73
      They was good at the time but still kept falling over if you tried to run most software on them
      I have had problem with the iPhone 3g hardware and took 3 replacements to get a good one, But on the 3Gs now.
      it works its that simple.
      I own PC’s and no mac’s, I did not like the imac I had tried for a few months to get used to it, but went back to Windows, So I’m no big fan of Apple.
      But when you know it works and Companys are support it software wise, how can it loose?

      Getting sick of people slagging the iPhone to be honest. but thats just me.
      people see it as locked down. I see a more Stable system from this lockdown if thats what they want to call it.

      And like its said most phone makers bring out phones all the time, Apple do it once a year.?

  • Tim

    The iToy (sorry iPhone) is awful.

  • Colin Parnell

    Tim, very informed and clever comment, is this in your opinion or a fact?
    I work with (not for) Vodafone and they have told me that the Iphone is still one of their most demanded phones. None of the suppliers of the Iphone do “deals” to help move them, yet almost every other phone gets a flexible treatment. I order phones for several companies and get deals for any others, but not the Iphone, even after ordering 6 recently. Most people obviously think its not awful, including me :)

  • Lorna

    Sigh. The iPhone is good, don’t get me wrong – but it should’ve been better than it is now.
    Same as the iPad – everyone will be blinded by the clever brand affiliation Apple has done so well to create over the years – but the 3rd iteration of the iPad will be what it should’ve been on launch, which is what’ll happen with the “4G”, if you will.
    More looking forward to WinMo7 personally.

  • gkent

    Why is it that many people like you criticize Apple for releasing products that they will later update with more tech to keep you happy. “Oh Apple should have put it in version 1 instead of version 4.” Look at the competitors in every segment of the electronics market. Blackberry, HTC, Nokia bring out new phones every few months. Ditto with all other manufacturers and their products. Apply your same criticism to all the manufacturers most of whom are far worse than Apple with their meaningless upgrades or mind numbing variety of incompatable phones.

  • Rich

    Being an iPhone retailer I have to say the iPhone OS platform has gotten boring, it’s the same as it was 3 years ago apart from the addition with the App Store. Apple tote features that other phones have had for years as new and their innovations. We sell iPhones because of peer pressure and the fact people know other people who have them and rave about it. Platforms like Android and WebOS have genuine innovation about them plus the hardware (in the case of the Android Platform) from manufacuturers like HTC who are keen to bring the best hardware to the consumer using wares like Qualcomms Snapdragon chip in the Nexus One and Desire plus decent specced camera’s which people want from there smartphones now. I for one am glad the Hero came out on top in most of the gadget awards this year because the way Apple have so much lock down on their iPhone Platform they cannot innovate much more unless they bring multi-tasking which oooooh wait WebOS does brilliantly and Android also does very well. The HTC Legend, Desire, Sony Ericsson X10 plus the threat of WinPhone 7 means Apple have to genuinely innovate with the iPhone OS Platform for the next iPhone, beyond the iPad version to OS v.4.0 and beyond. And before anyone says anything I owned an iPhone and then iPhone 3G, Palm Pre and now HD2 and my experience has been mixed but each device has its plus points but going back to my original point compared to the latter devices on that short list the iPhone 3GS is stagnated and boring. I didnt upgrade to it for a reason……

  • Lorna

    I agree with what you’re saying gkent, but I’ve never been a fan of the Apple ethos of constant product renewal over such a quick time scale. That is what gets on my nerves. That and the pricing.
    Like I said, it’s an impressive piece of technology for sure, but people are blinded through their brand affiliation.

  • CJ84

    I’ve had an iPhone 3G for 18 months and the only thing I would like to change is the form, I hope that iPhone 4.0 will come in a new and exciting shape. Apart from that it has and continues to be perfect – I will never replace it with a non Apple phone because they simply don’t compare. From my iPhone to my MacBook Pro; Apple products are perfect for my needs in terms of their price, performance and aesthetics.

  • Oliver Smith

    The iPhone will always remain special!

    It will always be unique, and the first of its kind, no matter if it is being overtaken now
    (Which I don't think it is, it's still the best)

    If you can't afford an iPhone, don't fear – you can get an iPhone 3GS free here:

  • phone free tv

    After over two weeks of using the iPhone 3G, I can fairly say I have become familiar with this mobile device to share some insights on how it fares as a primary mobile phone.

Hot chat, right here!

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