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Apple undersells, over-delivers on iPhone 3GS speed - report

In controlled JavaScript Web site renders, the iPhone 3GS is nearly three times as fast as the iPhone 3G and Palm Pre, and 5.5 times faster than the T-Mobile G1, according to a new study, which also reveals that the iPhone 3.0 software alone has a dramatic impact on the speed in which an iPhone 3G renders websites.

In releasing its new speed-centric update to the iPhone, Apple has boasted that the 3GS is twice as fast as its predecessor, but the company has remained mum on the handset’s actual specifications. Thanks to T-Mobile of the Netherlands, though, we know with certainty that the 3GS sports a 600MHz processor and 256MB of RAM – this compared to the 400MHz processor and 128MB of RAM on the iPhone 3G.

Based on the report released Wednesday from Medialets, a smartphone-based advertising and analytics platform, the iPhone 3GS spec bump far exceeds Apple’s “twice as fast” sales pitch in real-world tests.

Medialets’s test aimed for a fair way to compare each of the major smartphone platforms. Because they all run very different operating systems, to compare their ability to run applications would be a misnomer. However, all three platforms run browsers based on the open source WebKit standard. A MacBook running Safari was used in the test for a baseline comparison.

WebKit’s SunSpider JavaScript benchmark test was used to compare six different implementations of the WebKit browser. The test systems were:

  1. Safari 4.0.1 on a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo White MacBook.
  2. Mobile Safari on the iPhone 3G with iPhone OS v2.2.1
  3. Mobile Safari on the iPhone 3G with iPhone OS v3.0
  4. Mobile Safari on the iPhone 3GS with iPhone OS v3.0
  5. The “Browser” app on the T-Mobile G1 with Android OS v1.5 (Cupcake)
  6. The “Web” app on the Palm Pre with Web OS v1.0.2

Of the mobile platforms, the iPhone 3GS came away the clear winner, besting the times of the iPhone 3G and Palm Pre by clear margins. The 3GS took an average of 16.5 seconds to render the page, while the Pre took 48.6 seconds, and the 3G running iPhone OS 3.0 took 48.7 seconds. The T-Mobile G1 took 91.1 seconds.

Another interesting outcome of the study: The iPhone 3.0 firmware has a drastic effect on the ability of the iPhone 3G to render JavaScript. The iPhone 3G running OS 2.2.1 took a whopping 132.3 seconds in the SunSpider test run by Medialets, losing clearly to even the T-Mobile G1.

A report released last week by Anandtech also showed the iPhone 3GS as the clear speed winner among all major smartphone platforms – though the end results didn’t show as drastic of an advantage for Apple’s new phone as Medialets’s study. In loading a series of popular Web sites, the Anandtech test showed the iPhone 3GS to be an average of 21 percent faster than its new WebKit-based competitor, the Palm Pre.

Of course, Web browsing only makes up one facet of the mobile phone platform. As’s Jeremy Parish demonstrated in his game-centric 3GS review, the new iPhone’s performance boost made a huge difference in the playability of Namco Bandai's “i Love Katamari,” a game originally written for and released on the iPhone 3G. With the instant success of the iPhone 3GS in terms of sales, it is only inevitable that new games that take advantage of the speed of the new platform will begin to crop up.

For a video comparing the speed of an iPhone 3G with an iPhone 3G S when rendering websites, launching applications, and initializing games, see page 2 of AppleInsider's iPhone 3GS review.