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Monday, June 22, 2009, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Review: Apple's new iPhone 3G S and iPhone Software 3.0




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New on the inside: Encryption

Your data stored within the iPhone 3G S is now kept in an encrypted image similar to FileVault. If you keep your device locked with a passkey, thieves can't recover its data even with sophisticated tools to pull the information from Flash storage. All they'll get is a lockbox.

That also means the new phone supports instant Remote Wipe using MobileMe or the corporate tools Apple provides for business users. Previous phones can be instructed to perform a remote wipe, but it takes some time to actually purge all the data securely. Since all the data on the iPhone 3G S is already encrypted, wiping it clean only requires scrambling part of the storage.

The Wrap Up

The verdict on the iPhone 3.0 software: five stars. This is a great release, unlike last year's overly ambitious combination of iPhone 2.0, the launch of the Apps Store, and the associated MobileMe push features and upgrades which were all shipped prematurely on simply too aggressive of a schedule. There might be some niggling issues that pop up with iPhone 3.0, but it feels solid and refined, and there's no reason to not upgrade. Fortunately, it's either free or a hard to quibble with $10.

The iPhone 3.0 software update would easily be worth spending $40 to upgrade, but Apple's strategy isn't about squeezing money out of software releases. Instead, the company is working to build a solid platform for developers. It wants everyone to upgrade, and has subsequently worked with developers to make sure that all the apps in iTunes are tested to work properly with 3.0. It did a great job, leaving competing mobile platforms with a very high standard for user expectations.

The verdict on the iPhone 3G S itself: five stars. What else did the next iPhone need? Apple could have used a super high resolution camera, but that would have only eaten up storage faster while contributing very little more in terms of quality. What else, a buzzword compliant OLED screen? Built in AM/FM radio playback? It went one better by making the device (and all existing iPhone and iPod touch devices) capable of working with USB or Bluetooth radio tuners, or all manner of other stuff.

The iPhone 3G S kicks usability up a big notch with its extra speed and well applied, practical new hardware features. It answers the disappointment we raised last year, related to speed, the camera, the limited Bluetooth that was largely worthless, and the marginal battery life. It's a big improvement all around.

Despite all that, we're giving the iPhone 3G S four stars because the only way to use it in the US is via AT&T. While the company isn't really any worse than of the other equally awful mobile providers, it does impose enough restrictions to knock down the stature of the iPhone 3G S in comparison with other smartphones that are less powerful and elegant and not as much fun to use. AT&T's network isn't yet handling the MMS services that iPhone 3.0 software makes possible, but more importantly the company refuses to support data tethering, not even providing a pay-per-use plan to keep the system fair. It's not even providing any outlook on when things might change. That's just incompetent.

If you recently bought an iPhone 3G and don't yet qualify for another $400 subsidy, you can console yourself with the fact the Apple made many of the latest iPhone's new technologies available as a free update to existing users. In fact, there aren't any features that are artificially held back from existing users in the iPhone 3.0 software. Apple can do that because the new iPhone 3G S is really a huge leap that many users will want to upgrade to; there's no need to force it. However, if you're eyeing a new iPhone and are tempted by the $99 entry price, do yourself a favor and get a payday advance loan on your next paycheck so you're only ripped off once this year, rather than across the whole year using a phone that is barely any cheaper but offers so much less than the iPhone 3G S.

The warped market for mobile phones makes it that much easier for original iPhone users and anyone else who qualifies for a subsidy on the iPhone 3G S to decide to get one. Not upgrading is like leaving $400 on the table. And considering that your existing iPhone or iPhone 3G remains a functional music player/WiFi browser pocket computer of significant value, you can give it to a poor friend, sell it to somebody who has broke their screen and needs a replacement, or simply use it for a fancy WiFi remote control or an extra iPod. Remember when year old phones were simply e-waste?

iPhone 3G S


iPhone 3.0 Software
At free, an awesome deal.
5 Stars


iPhone 3G with AT&T
Seriously don't waste your money, or your AT&T subsidy.
5 Stars


iPhone 3G S with AT&T
Apple has made it really hard to find fault, but AT&T's policies crushed a star.
5 Stars


Pros:
Huge jump in speed and overall usability
Video and network enhancements give it future potential.
Very practical, good quality video camera.
Smart, simple photo capture controls on the improved, autofocus camera.
Smart use of compass in Maps.
Smart Voice Control for dialing and media playback.

Cons:
You have to hold your nose and pay AT&T to use it.