The iPhone is under attack. With Nokia’s N97 arriving from the north, a quickly mobilizing Android army and even Windows Mobile looking threatening thanks to HTC’s beautifully skinned Touch Diamond2 and Touch Pro2, the smartphone war has never been so hot.
Apple had to respond, and it has with the arrival of the iPhone 3G S. It looks exactly like its predecessor, but the 3G S fixes the most of iPhone’s flaws: it’s faster, takes better pictures, captures video and now offers 32GB storage. But the great leap forward isn’t the hardware – it’s the 3.0 software, available as a free update to all existing iPhone users.
On paper, the iPhone’s new 3MP camera still lags behind rivals. But thanks to autofocus and exposure adjustments – activated by neat ‘tap to focus’ software – picture quality is improved.
The lack of flash, however, is criminal – particularly as the low-light performance of the 3G S isn’t as good as that of the 3G. This is immensely frustrating at parties, gigs and other nocturnal pursuits.
On the plus side, the iPhone now takes VGA video, captured at between 15 and 30 frames per second depending on available light.
Once you’ve captured a clip, you can use the timeline trim the start and end off before sending by MMS (for the cost of four SMS credits), email, or uploading to YouTube.
Editing is a destructive process, so you lose what you chop, and you can’t fix two clips together – but it’s supremely easy to use. YouTube better expect a new deluge. (The maximum file size to upload over 3G is 10MB, and the max MMS size is 300k).
Twice as fast – and more roomy
And, boy, does it feel faster. It means the end to those frustrating lags that have developed as the iPhone’s software has become more sophisticated without the hardware catching up. There’s more space for your apps and music, too, with max capacity doubled to 32GB.
Theoretically, the iPhone’s 3G S’s download speeds have doubled to 7.2Mbps, but O2 is only just beginning the process of upgrading its 3G network to deliver those speeds.
Apple claims the new iPhone battery will allow 30% more Wi-Fi web browsing on a single charge. Audio playback is up 25% to 24 hours. Talktime is up 20% on 2G networks but the same (5 hours) on 3G networks. Our tests (albeit versus a year-old iPhone 3G) suggested Apple’s claims were conservative.
There are a couple of other minor tweaks to the iPhone 3G S hardware – a compass (or magnetometer), an integrated receiver for Nike+ and a new smudge-resistant screen coating.
Of course, the new iPhone runs the new iPhone 3.0 software, which brings powerful new features like search, turn-by-turn navigation, peer-to-peer sharing and internet tethering (not to mention implementing basics like copy and paste, picture messaging and landscape typing). You can find out all about these features – and why current iPhone users should upgrade – over at our iPhone 3.0 review.
But the iPhone 3G S has some exclusive apps, too. Hold down the home button or in-line mic button and you can issue commands to your iPhone. Gimmicky? Yes. But pretty darned cool, too.
You can name a contact to call them, or control iTunes playback – you can even ask what song is playing, and get the iPhone to create a playlist of similar tracks. The iPhone doesn’t learn your voice, though, so, choosing between ‘Ryan Adams’ from ‘Bryan Adams’ is an elocutionary challenge.
Boy Scouts will be woggling with joy over the new Compass app, which takes advantage of the 3G S’s magnetometer. Expect games and ‘enhanced reality’ apps to follow suit very quickly – Google Maps on the 3G S already shows which way you’re facing. It surely can’t be long before Street View will tell you details about the building that you’re facing.
The 3G S addresses the iPhone’s biggest flaws without providing a great leap forward. The name – and lack of external design changes – reinforces the idea that the S is a stop-gap measure. For existing iPhoners, it’ll be hard to justify upgrading unless you’re desperate for the extra capacity.
But together with the iPhone 3.0 software, the 3G S provides an even stronger platform for the app developers who have already turned the iPhone from a mere mobile into a social phenomenon.
And while some decent rivals are finally appearing, the likes of the Palm Pre, Nokia N97 and HTC Magic are going to find it difficult – if not impossible – to match the iPhone’s momentum.
Evolution, not revolution – the ‘S’ fixes the iPhone’s hardware flaws and the 3.0 software keeps it way ahead of its rivals
Camera’s low light performance is poor
Same old design