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Apple iPhone 3GS Review

 

Apple iPhone 3GS Review

 
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If you're an avid gamer looking for the device with more power, the difference will be crystal clear: the 3GS obviously flexes in this department.

Display

We mentioned that Apple didn't really make any cosmetic changes to the phone, but that's not entirely accurate. While the 480 x 320 display on the iPhone 3GS is technically identical to its predecessor's screen, it adds one small feature which should make some users extremely happy.

The company has changed the treatment on the surface of the touchscreen, utilizing an oleophobic coating -- essentially a protectant that's highly resistant to fingerprint smudging. For those of you constantly wiping burger grease, WD40, and various other toxic materials from your iPhone, this will come as a tremendous little perk. The most surprising thing about the tech is that it actually does what the company says it will: namely, it resists new smudges and wipes almost entirely clean with a single swipe on a pant leg. This wasn't exactly the most pressing issue we had with the phone, but it's nice to know that Apple is innovating in the dirty screen space.

Camera

A camera tweak is a big deal for iPhone fans -- after all, they've had to suffer through not one, but two iterations of a phone with a paltry 2 megapixel camera, no autofocus, and no flash. Apple has tweaked two out of three here, and as Meat Loaf tells us, that ain't bad. The 3GS upgrades the built-in camera to a 3 megapixel version -- not insanely great, but at least competitive -- and has added an autofocus function with a nifty software tie-in. Instead of having to use a gross physical button to snap your shots, the iPhone continues to rely on its onscreen trigger, but cranks up the use of that big display by allowing you to focus in on subjects based on where you tap. In our experience, the parlor trick actually turned out to be quite useful, accurately zeroing in on what we wanted most of the time. Struggles to focus were minor at best, though you won't be able to do any heavy macro work here, and during video recording you're stuck with a constantly focusing lens -- no tapping allowed.

We do have some complaints about exposure, which seems to be permanently cranked to "blinding," and while the shutter speed is faster than on the 3G, it's still not quite snappy enough for our taste. Hey -- we guess we should just be glad they gave us an extra megapixel, right?

Software

As we said in the opener, the 3GS launch isn't just about the hardware -- in fact, you could argue that it's hardly about the hardware. The biggest changes with this device really come in the form of software tweaks, and to a point, the software tweaks provided by iPhone OS 3.0. Apple really piled on the fixes and additions in its latest OS iteration (the company boasts of 1,000 new APIs for developers), and there's plenty to plow through that up until now has only been the domain of those lucky / hard working few. What's all the fuss about? See below.

We'd like to preface this section by saying that because we're testing a US device, MMS and tethering options are disabled thanks to AT&T's current policies on the services. Obviously, not being able to properly test two of the most anticipated aspects of the new OS is disheartening, and while we could hack a solution to get both working (see here), it's not a reasonable option for most end users right now, and probably wouldn't be fair to include in this review.

On a "brighter" note, AT&T claims it will be delivering MMS to the iPhone come late Summer as part of its standard SMS packages (no word on tethering), though we think it's patently absurd that the second largest carrier in America -- a carrier which currently has MMS enabled for all of its other devices -- is failing to make this available at launch. Judging from the reaction to this news during the WWDC keynote, it would seem that most others agree. Apple included.

Of all the features added to the new 3.0 cocktail, copy / paste is easily the most talked about. Perhaps because it was such an obvious feature to leave out to begin with, or perhaps because Apple made it through multiple updates with no change (till now).

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