The Apple iPhone 3G S
Source: Apple. Click to enlarge.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — I picked up my new iPhone 3G S at the store early today, and after several hours of testing, I’m impressed so far.
Not only did I find it a lot faster than the 3G for loading applications, I also quickly came to appreciate its new video capabilities and its voice control.
The new phone looks virtually identical to its predecessor. And since Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) just issued a free update of the iPhone operating system for previous iPhones, many of the new features are also available on first- and second-generation iPhones, and even the iPod Touch (although iPod Touch users will have to pay $10 for the software).
But there are some things you only get with the new hardware.
For example, with the 3G S and the older 3G side by side, I launched several applications. AOL Radio, Facebook and Safari all loaded about twice as fast on the 3G S.
There is technology in the new phone that will use AT&T’s faster HSPA 7.2 megabit data network, but that network isn’t yet available.
However, I still found Web surfing in Safari to be noticeably faster on the new phone compared to the 3G connected to the same Wi-Fi or cellular network, presumably because of the new phone’s faster processor.
You can talk to it
I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I’m falling in love with the Voice Control feature in the new phone. To call someone in your contact list, you simply hold down the home button and say, “Call Dave Smith” (or whomever). If Dave has multiple phone numbers, a voice will ask you if you wish to call his home, or office, or his mobile — and so on.
You can also use this to dial a number by simply saying “Dial 555-1212”, and it will dial for you.
Without even having to click the iPod icon, the feature can also be used to “play songs by” a particular artist, to play the “next” or “previous” song, and to turn on “shuffle” or play a particular playlist.
When in the main screen, I said “shuffle”, and the phone told me that no music is playing, and asked, “Do you want to play music now?” When I said “yes,” the music started. Available commands are displayed on the screen when you’re using Voice Control.
Of course, Apple didn’t invent voice control. There are similar features on many other cell phones but, as is often the case, Apple implemented voice control in a way that actually makes it easy and pleasant to use.
One of the most heralded new features is the iPhone’s improved camera. It’s been upgraded to three megapixels and now has autofocus. If you touch the screen, a rectangle shows the focus area.
Most important, the 3G S can now take video, which you can easily e-mail or upload to YouTube. The video is standard VGA — not high definition — but you can shoot either in portrait or widescreen landscape mode.
Once you’ve completed your shoot, you can trim the beginning and the ending. That’s not exactly high-end video editing, but it’s very useful. You can then send the video as an e-mail or upload it directly to your YouTube account.
My first video won’t win any Academy Awards, but you can see the 43-second clip I shot from the Apple store below.
There is a also a nifty new Voice Memo application that, like the video app, lets you trim the beginning and ending of your audio. Although it’s likewise not as positioned as a professional tool, I found the quality good enough to use for radio clips.
At first, I wondered why anyone other than a hiker would care about the iPhone’s new compass — until I tried pressing the compass button within Google Maps and noticed that it orients you based on the direction you’re moving. I’m sure other application developers will also find a way to use this feature.
As I said earlier, some of the features on the new phone are also available on older iPhones through the free OS 3 upgrade. These include (finally) the ability to copy, cut and paste text; a wider landscape keyboard in mail; messages; and the ability to search across the phone for contacts, mail, calendars, notes and iPod content.
Clearly, the iPhone 3G S is a worthwhile new addition to Apple’s lineup. But if you’re already an iPhone user, it’s hard to say whether the extra speed and new features are worth the extra price, especially if you’re in the middle of your AT&T contract and have to pay a premium over the standard $199 for the 16 GB model or $299 for the 32 GB version.
And now that the older 8 GB iPhone 3G has been reduced to $99, some people might want to buy that inflation-friendly model, which has many of the same features at a more affordable price.
Still, compared to the competition — including Palm’s new Pre — the iPhone 3 GS is a good value and a very innovative product.
Larry Magid has been a technology journalist since the days of the Apple II. He is the technology analyst for CBS News, a CNET News blogger and writes a weekly column for the San Jose Mercury News. He is also an Internet safety advocate and is co-director of ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com.