It was a tough decision, but I decided to upgrade my iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS. I wasn’t sure if the new features would be enough to justify the purchase, but I figured I should be able to sell my iPhone 3G on eBay and recoup a good chunk of the cost. So I pre-ordered the phone, and got it delivered to me last Friday morning.

I’m not going to do a full-fledged review because I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of those already. Gizmodo has a really good in-depth review, and so does Engadget if that’s what you’re looking for. Instead I really wanted to focus on the camera, and then briefly throw in my thoughts on some of the other features.

–The Camera–

They bumped up the resolution of the camera to 3.2MP, but the thing I love the most would have to be the auto/manual focus capabilities. I’ve never seen a camera that would let you choose which spot you want to focus on simply by touching it on the screen, but I’m sure that will be the next big thing on point-and-shoot cameras. Combining this with some camera-specific apps I found (more details in a later post) will make this a valuable device to be carrying in my pocket.

I have quite a few friends who ended up grabbing the iPhone 3GS, and one of the first things there’s always comments on is the quality of the images. Some are surprised at how good they turn out, while others say it could be a lot better. I think for a phone the camera is pretty darn good… except in low-light situations where a flash is a must-have.

I took some time to walk around Millennium Park in Chicago since it’s right down the street from where I work, and along the way I took some pictures. I didn’t just take them with the iPhone 3GS though, I also took the exact same photos with my Canon XSi Digital SLR for comparison sake. The iPhone doesn’t really let you adjust any settings when taking photos, and so I decided to set my DSLR to fully automatic mode in the spirit of keeping things fair. I did my best to split each of the photos so that you can really see the differences when they are side-by-side.

The “Bean”
Click the image to view a larger version


Garden/City View
Click the image to view a larger version


Concert Hall
Click the image to view a larger version


Click the image to view a larger version

As you can tell from the example photos the iPhone 3GS isn’t the best camera, but it’s pretty good for those times you don’t have a dedicated camera on you. One thing I did when taking the photos above is I let the iPhone focus on the center without manually adjusting it. I noticed, however, that if you’d tap the screen to focus on a different part of the photo that the brightness would also adjust accordingly. So after you get used to working with the iPhone’s camera you might be able to take some pretty nice photos.

–The Other Features–

Here’s my quick thoughts on the other new features:

  • Speed – I didn’t think the speed increase would make that much of a difference, but it does. Hearing a stat like “2 times faster” doesn’t really put things into perspective until you sit down to use it. Everything is snappier… switching between apps, loading websites, playing games, and so on. Plus there’s double the amount of memory, and because of that I noticed Safari has never unloaded from memory. That means the websites I was viewing when I closed the browser will be there (without refreshing) the next time I open Safari.
  • Video – There is no doubt in my mind that this will become my primary method for capturing videos. Previously I had used a point-and-shoot camera for taking videos since I don’t like hassling with a bulky camcorder, and I love having a video stored as a single downloadable file. Given the amount of free space I have on my iPhone I’ll be able to save hours of video.
  • Voice Control – I think I’ll be surprised at how much I’ll use this. I tested it out on a few contacts, and also for controlling my music, and overall it worked pretty well. What makes this useful for me is that I can activate this even when my phone is locked by holding down the Home button, or by holding the button on my headphones. So I really don’t have to take the phone out of my pocket to call someone if I’m already listening to music. Now if only it would read the name/number to you when receiving a call with your headphones on.
  • Maps – Having the map rotate in the direction you’re facing was also a big selling point for me. Working in downtown Chicago it can be tough to figure out which way the GPS wants you to go when you’re walking since the little dot doesn’t move very fast. This makes finding your way when walking a lot easier, but I noticed that a lot of things seem to cause interference with the compass causing it to be inaccurate at times.
  • Support for Apple In-Ear Headphones – I bought Apple’s in-ear headphones a few months ago because they had some really good reviews, and I have to say they are the most comfortable pair of headphones I’ve ever owned. The main reason I got these headphones was because they supported hands-free calling with the iPhone, but the volume up/down buttons never worked since this was a hardware limitation. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of the buttons on the headphones are now fully supported on the iPhone 3GS.

I was running the iPhone 3.0 software on my iPhone 3G about a week before I got my new phone. Apple definitely tuned the overall performance of the software with this release, and combining that with the new hardware makes it that much faster.

There are also a lot of little things around the operating system that I’ve noticed, and I really like. Such as being able to display the remaining battery level as a percentage (on the iPhone 3GS only, apparently because previous iPhones didn’t have an accurate enough battery meter). Or the fact that when an SMS/MMS fails to send it just places an exclamation point next to the message, but it will still let you keep entering more if you want. Before if a message failed to send you’d have to wait to send that one before you could try sending another.

Overall I’m really happy that I upgraded because I use my iPhone for hours everyday when commuting on the train. For some people the upgrade may not be worthwhile, but I spend more time on this than I do my personal computer. So it’s a device that I like to keep up-to-date.

Feel free to jump into the comments and shoot us your thoughts/questions on the iPhone 3GS.