Product Type: Apple Smartphone
Newest Review: ... I'd never owned a 3GS previously, going straight from a 3 to a 4, then onto a 5, so I was curious to see what my thoughts were on it. L... more
iLike my iPhone!
Apple iPhone 3GS 16 GB
Member Name: SWSt
Apple iPhone 3GS 16 GB
Date: 03/06/10, updated on 30/08/12 (79 review reads)
Advantages: Great features, simple internet access, easy integration with email
Disadvantages: Poor battery life, only average performance as an actual phone, expensive
If you've been reading some of my recent reviews, you've probably guessed that I recently invested in an iPhone 3GS. After much agonising, I plumped for the 16GB version, rather than the higher capacity (and thus more expensive) 32GB version. Personally, I don't tend to use it much as an iPod, so 16GB should be more than enough. If you're heavily into music and want to carry your entire collection of CDs with you, the extra cost of the 32GB version might be worth it.
Cost is certainly a factor which needs to be borne in mind when buying an iPhone. Off-contract, a 16GB version costs around £400-500, on-contract, handsets are cheaper (typically around £150-200), but obviously you then have to pay a monthly tariff and are committed to a minimum subscription period. One thing is for certain: if you buy one, you need to be certain you will use it as much more than just a phone.
At around 4.5" tall, 2.5 inches wide and just 0.5" thick, the iPhone might be bigger than many traditional phones, but it will still sit in a shirt pocket comfortably without being overly obtrusive or heavy. I certainly haven't found it any more of a burden to carry around than my old Sony Ericsson K850i.
There's no denying the iPhone is an attractive piece of kit with its sleek, slim look and 3.5 inch screen really enhancing the visibility. It's also really easy to use thanks to an intuitive icon-based touch screen. Rather than having to wade through ranks of menus and sub-menus, it works more like a computer. Find the icon you want, press it and it loads. You can even re-order icons so that the ones you use most appear on the opening screen.
One thing that did concern me with this minimalist, wholly touch screen approach was the lack of a key pad for typing (particularly for text messages and emails), but this has been implemented well. As soon as you click into any sort of text box, a touch sensitive keyboard appears, allowing you to type your message as normal. You can even hold the phone on its side to rotate the keyboard into landscape mode to make it a little bigger. Once you have adjusted to the size of the keys, most people will be able to type at a reasonable speed, although you're never going to want to bash out really long emails or texts. If you do make a typing error, there's even an autocorrect feature which, nine times out of ten will correctly guess what you were trying to type.
There are one or two minor annoyances. Since it's a cut down version of a standard keyboard, numbers or symbols require you to press further buttons to access them and although there is a Caps Lock key, this is stupidly not enabled by default (see the helpful comment on this review from xx_nic_xx on how to enable this) The touch screen can also be a little too finicky in where it wants you to press, resulting in you merrily typing the wrong letters, blissfully ignorant of the fact you're typing nonsense.
Ironically, the weakest part of the iPhone is the actual phone functionality. I don't find it particularly comfortable to use as it feels a little too big against my ear and in my hand. The speaker option goes some way to rectifying this, but I've found that this can be a bit dodgy and people can't always hear what I'm saying unless I hold it close to my mouth or shout! Call quality is disappointingly average, with occasional muffling or sound cut-out causing you to miss parts of the conversation. Reception is also disappointing: in areas (such as my office) where my Sony Ericsson had a good strong signal, I find I can only get a weak (sometimes non-existent) one on my iPhone.
The ability to connect to the internet from pretty much anywhere is a real boon. I'm often out and about and want to check something out, but don't want to lug a laptop (or even a netbook) around . The iPhone gives me pretty decent internet access on the move. I've used the 3G service to stream audio and video as well as view standard webpages and the connection is pretty good in the areas in which I live, although obviously this can vary massively between different parts of the country.
Web browsing is a surprisingly positive experience. Web pages are displayed exactly as they would be on a normal PC (except for Flash-based content). Obviously, the screen is pretty cramped and the text small, but by dragging your fingers across an area or tapping the screen twice, you can zoom in on particularly sections. Again, it's a really intuitive way of browsing and something you soon get the hang of. Within half an hour of having the phone, you'll find yourself constantly going online to check small bits of information!
The range of applications downloadable from the App Store further enhance the usability of the phone, adding all sorts of extra utilities and games to keep you occupied. The variety of apps is truly staggering. True, some of them are completely useless, but others are great and you'll soon wonder how you lived without them. You do have to pay extra for many of the apps (although some are free), but prices for the most part sit in the £1-£5 range (although there are a few which are considerably more expensive.)
Installation of apps is very easy. Once you have registered with iTunes (which you have to do as part of the easy to follow phone set up process), you simply select an app to install and it will automatically download to your phone and pop an icon on your handset. Downloads for larger apps (particularly games) can be a bit slow, but you learn to live with this.
The phone is also very good as a personal organiser, allowing you to store multiple contact numbers for each person, as well as including other information such as their postal and email addresses, all of which is well integrated with the phone's other features. Access to your own email is very straightforward. The phone supports a number of common formats (GoogleMail, Microsoft Exchange etc.), but as long as you have the settings for your email accounts, you should have no problem collecting email from your phone. In the past I've always experienced problems when trying to set up my email from other devices, but this phone just prompts you for some basic information (all available from your ISP's website) and you can send and receive mails from your phone. Of course, the downside to this is that you find yourself constantly, almost compulsively checking to see if you have any new mails - not a good thing if your phone is set up to receive your work emails!
Annoyingly, each email account has to be viewed separately, with no way of seeing emails from all your accounts on a single screen (this is something which should be rectified in the imminent operating software upgrade)
As a camera phone, the iPhone is very weak when compared with others on the market, having a (relatively) low resolution, no flash and limited video recording abilities. This isn't an issue for me, as I don't tend to use it that much anyway. Certainly the quick and easy access to the internet and my emails is far more important than a decent camera phone, but it does depend on where your personal priorities lie as to how much of an issue this is.
Bluetooth integration is also weak, with only basic support provided and I have experienced difficulties getting it to work with some of my other Bluetooth devices (particularly when I tried to transfer items from my old phone). Again, this is not a deal breaker for me, as I tend to use Bluetooth only occasionally.
The biggest drawback is undoubtedly the battery life. The full colour screen, range of functionality, internet access and ability to "push" emails to your phone in real time all eat up the battery. Even on moderate use, you will find you need to charge the handset on a daily basis as a minimum, possibly more frequently. There are various settings you can turn off to lower power consumption, but these reduce the functionality, which seems a bit counter-productive. At least charging is made easier by the ability to plug it into a computer's USB port , so you can do it whilst you work.
Despite what some people would have you believe, the iPhone is not perfect. It provides an excellent and intuitive handset with quick internet and email access but only performs adequately as an actual phone. It will be interesting to see the longer term impact of the Google Android handsets which are now available, but for the moment, the iPhone is expensive but remains King of the Smartphones.
[Minor update: Although the 3GS has since been replaced by two later models (the 4 and 4S), it's still a great little phone that I would fully recommend. The fact that it is now "out of date" means you can now get hold of it a bit cheaper. I've still got the exact same phone I talked about in this review and have no intention of upgrading until it dies)
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Summary: You'll soon wonder how you lived without it