iPhone Life magazine

Something you won’t find in other iPhone 3G S reviews: tons on 3G S benchmarks and the like


In the following review, I elaborate on some subjects not available in other reviews (e.g., that of Engadget, Gizmodo) etc. I also provide some updates to my previous, iPhone 3G-specific battery consumption benchmarks and stereo Bluetooth (A2DP)-specific bug reports.

As you’ll see, there are a lot of other goodies the new model offers, not just the ones listed in the reviews published so far. And, unfortunately, there’s also a (deliberate?) downgrade: the quality of the screen. Nevertheless, in all other respects, it’s a big step ahead.

Jailbreaking

Fortunately, the current (3.0) firmware is very easy to jailbreak. (Note that 3.0.1 was released some hours ago. I haven’t upgraded my iPhone 3G / 3G S to it yet so the following tutorial only applies to 3.0. According to some sites, 3.0.1 is perfectly jailbreakable.) To do it, download purplera1n. It’s a single EXE file; just start it. (On Vista, it, according to the comments, may require you to start it in XP compatible mode; under Windows 7 RC, I didn’t need to do this). It’ll quickly hack and reboot your phone. After that, look for the newly-added “Freeze” icon and tap it; it’ll install the Cydia icon.

That is, compared to the 3G jailbreaking process from iPhone Dev-team,
1. you don’t need to have the official firmware image to jailbreak
2. you don’t need to manually restart it (to press any button), which, along with the lack of need for any firmware file, makes the entire process MUCH easier for newbies,
3. and it installs an icon that you need to tap in order to install Cydia – the original

I haven’t noticed any speed difference between the jailbroken and non-jailbroken phones (tested with the AppStore app “Benchmark”).

T-Pot (the app to easily browse the iPhone file system from Total Commander on Windows) is working flawlessly.

Backgrounder

Backgrounder seriously enhances the iPhone, allowing you, say, to listen to some radio stations while doing something else in the foreground. As with the current, r249 version, the basic functionality of exiting / mimimizing depending on the current setting does work. However, if you try to keep the Home button depressed NOT to exit / minimize immediately, Voice Control pops up. (You can, then, safely release Home.) Nevertheless, this isn’t a problem – as soon as you exit Voice Control, the original app resumes; now, the default Home functionality switched.

Thanks to the expanded RAM (now, it’s 256 Mbyte), I’ve never (!!!) encountered cases of radio players running in the background shut down, which was really a pain in the back with the iPhone 3G, even with the, in this respect, best clients the least prone for shutdown (for example, Pocket Tunes Radio.) Also, the much-much faster CPU results in your not noticing there’re running apps in the background. With the iPhone 3G, the phone (further) slowed down if you listened to a radio station in the background. No such problem with the 3G S.

Also see the reports of other users HERE.

Speed difference

Well, it’s indeed true the 3G S is WAY faster. You might want to compare the comparison videos published so far; as there’re a lot of them, I didn’t bother making some myself.

The AppStore app “Benchmark” measured about 4-5 times better performance. Some screenshots of this: 3G S: 1 2; 3G.

I’ve also tried some games. In general, 3D games become in case much less stuttering (much higher frames per sec) and much better anti-aliasizing; all in all, WAY better visuals; for example, NFS Unlimited. 2G games not necessarily speed up; for example, in Skyforce Reloaded Lite and Orions, there was no visible difference during the play. Game / level / resource loading times, of course, are dramatically lower.

Camera

Mostly because of the autofocus, macroing capabilities and video, it’s considerably better than that of the 3G. Of course, it doesn’t really beat the camera of, say, the Nokia N95 – but is pretty much usable for many kinds of shots.

As far as macroing is concerned, I’ve measured about 5-6 cm’s (2-3 inches) of minimum subject distance to get a good picture.

The video is VGA only and, of course, there is only mono sound. Nevertheless, both the video and the audio are of high quality (when it comes to comparing it to the , so far, available solutions on jailbroken 3G’s) and the mike is pretty sensitive. Hopefully the next iteration will also support HD (720p at least) recording with stereo sound.

I particularly liked the well though-out post-processing video handling interface; particularly the built-in, seamless video mailing / YouTube upload capabilities.

Voice control

To my great delight, I saw Finnish in the list of supported languages. No more suffering with my non-native English pronunciation and tying to mimick that of native Americans :) The hit rate of the Finnish voice control turned out to be pretty good.

Bluetooth strereo (A2DP)

I have both great and bad news. First, some great news:
- it doesn’t seem to have any kind of problems with Wi-Fi streaming with any of my A2DP headphones – as opposed to the iPhone 3G. I’ve never encountered any skips or pauses in sound. I’ve tested them with almost all my A2DP headphones (Motorola HT 820, Plantronics Pulsar 590, Altec Lansing BackBeat 903/906, Gear4 BluPhones) with Wi-Fi streamed content. This means if you get a 3G S (and not a 3G), you can be pretty sure it’ll work with any A2DP headphones. This is certainly great news! (See THIS for more info on how A2DP behaves on the iPhone 3G.)
- the CPU usage is almost impossible to measure and is far lower than that of the 3G. That is, you no more need to stay away from using A2DP in graphics- and CPU-intensive games where every CPU cycle counts – unlike on the 3G.
- the additional power usage of A2DP is far lower than with the iPhone 3G. For example, playing back local MP3 files in the built-in QuickTime via A2DP only consumes 0.05…0.07% / minute, as opposed to the 3G, where the total power consumption with A2DP enabled is 0.25%/min. (See Section “2.2 Refrain from using direct A2DP – whenever possible, use dongles or wired headphones” HERE for more info on this issue.)

And the bad news: the audio lag is equally, unacceptably bad when playing back video (see THIS for more info). That is, you may still need to stick with external, low-lag Bluetooth dongles with a 3.5 mm jack to deliver almost lag-free sound.

Misc

- I couldn’t hear any difference in the maximal audio volume. Some people state the new model is louder; I’m don’t think they’re right.
- The ON/OFF (suspend / resume) switch operates with a far better discernable “click”, much easier to feel, than that of the 3G. This is of particular importance when you use a case like the SwitchEasy Capsule Rebel. With the 3G, you could be never sure whether the Power is depressed or not. With the 3GS, this isn’t an issue any more.

Battery life during streaming

Over Wi-Fi, the 3G S has turned out to consume considerably less power than 3G. Using Pocket Tunes Radio, I’ve measured
- with WMA mms://mediau.yle.fi/liveradiopeili over Wi-Fi, about 0.085%/min power consumption, which is only a bit higher than the half (!) of the same average figure, ~0.15%/min, of the iPhone 3G.
- with HE-AACv2 (with a ~24 kbps stream)
a. over Wi-Fi the same; that is, about 0.085%/min. This is also considerably better than the 3G figures; that is, about the half of that measured under Pocket Tunes.
b. With 2.75G (EDGE), the power consumption figure was half of that of the iPhone 3G: 0.15%/minute. That is, Apple are certainly right when they speak of having made pre-3G communication far more battery-friendly.
c. With 3G, the power consumption, exactly like with the iPhone 3G, was double this; that is, 0.30%/min. Nevertheless, this value is still way (two times) better than that (0.6%/minute) of the iPhone 3G. Also, while playing back the HE-AACv2 stream, the heatup of the iPhone 3G was far more considerable than that of the 3G S.

What don’t I like?

The screen has become a little bit paler – the colors are just less saturated (which is bad) and the black is less black (rather, more of gray) than on the 3G. It’s not THAT bad and you may get used to this over time. However, I certainly dislike the use of a different (lower-quality) LCD screen. (Unless I’ve got a flaky device.)
To show you what I mean, I’ve made some comparative shots using my standard photo test suite (originals HERE). All the shots have been taken using the largest backlight level. Incidentally, the lowest and the highest backlight levels are the same on the two models, which is definitely a plus: on many competing smartphone operating systems – e.g., WinMo –, the minimal backlight level is considerably higher with many popular models than on the iPhone, which makes some of these phones useless for bed-time Web browsing or reading. No such problems exist with the iPhones. Note that the difference in color saturation, backlight leaking, gray levels etc. are consistent with all backlight levels; I’ve used the highest so that I can easily take shots of them with as low ISO as possible. (HERE is a shot of the first image with the lowest backlight level – hence the ISO 800 and loads of chroma noise because of my point-and-shoot. As you can see, the difference between the 3G and the 3G S is equally visible.)

First, two shots that show warm colors. It’s also here that you can easily see both the 3G S’ (the upper one in the case) having less saturated colors and backlight “leaking”. In real life, the difference isn’t this pronounced but is clearly visible, even if you don’t directly compare the two screens. On the second shot, pay special attention to the color of the hand and the egg.





Now, another shot showing how much better for example brown colors are rendered by the 3G:



Finally, a shot of the home screen. Here, compare the color saturation of the icons; most importantly, the iPod, Calendar, Weather ones:



(3G S on the right.)

Nevertheless, the screen quality is still acceptable – and, of course, the new anti- fingerprint coating is working great. Fortunately, the other parameters of the screen (most importantly, the viewing angle) hasn’t changed and you surely won’t run into polarization problems like on the Dell Axim x50v / x51v and several other Pocket PC / Windows Mobile handhelds / phones.

Verdict

The 3G S is much better than I expected. It not only has a much-much faster CPU and graphics, but also offers, as opposed to the iPhone 3G,
- seamless running of background tasks with Backgrounder thanks to both the much faster CPU (you won’t really encounter slowdowns because of the tasks running in the background) and the much larger dynamic memory (RAM). You will no longer need to regularly switch back to your background tasks to restart them after they have been terminated by the system.
- seamless A2DP – both compatible with all A2DP headphones out there and consuming far less power
- far more battery-friendly multimedia playback and streaming (albeit you will still want to avoid using 3G when streaming radio for more than a few minutes – 3G is still power-hungry)

There is only one area I found it somewhat worse: the color saturation and the backlight “bleeding” of the screen. However, while it’s certainly not as good as that of the iPhone 3G, you can still live with it.

All in all, my verdict is the following: in no way go for the iPhone 3G any more, unless you can purchase it for really cheap. The 3GS is certainly worth the price difference. Again, it turned out to be much better than I anticipated, based on Apple’s announcements.

Recommended articles

My previous all-in-one articles also being referenced from the above (particularly A2DP- and multimedia streaming-wise):

Everything you'll ever need to know about listening to radio on the iPhone

The one and only REAL iPhone Instant Messenger roundup

A full compliance & test report of stereo Bluetooth sound (A2DP) in iPhone OS 3

WARNING: major stereo Bluetooth (A2DP) problems! Think twice and TEST a lot before buying any headphones for your iPhone 3G

The One and Only Real iPhone Web Browser Roundup
 



UPDATE (02/Aug/2009):

1.) You may have heard of the iPhone overheating issues. (See for example THIS, THIS, THIS, THIS, THIS, THIS).

Well, today, I’ve spent about 3-4 hours outdoors. It was exceptionally hot (35 Celsius [95 Fahrenheit] degrees) and I’ve done some serious work on the iPhone: browsing the Web with maximal backlight and streaming audio over 3G and Bluetooth A2DP. I keep my iPhone 3G S in the SwitchEasy Capsule Rebel case, which also makes it harder for the phone to dissipate heat.

The iPhone got pretty warm (compared to the environment) but I haven’t ever encountered the dreaded error dialog:



All in all, you won’t likely to encounter overheating messages, not even on very hot days – don’t be afraid of this issue.

2.) The great speedup of the CPU also resulted in UniWar, which has recently received a very nice update, becoming much more playable. On some maps with several dozens of enemy creatures, making a full turn took even 5-10 minutes (!). Now, it’s waaaay faster.

However, not everything is OK with games. Some high-end, very expensive (I paid $10 for my copy and it’s still at $7) Need for speed: Unlimited games still haven’t received any bugfixes for the 3G S. This, unfortunately, means that tips and tricks (which, so far, have been displayed during map / resource loading) are only displayed for a fraction of a second – and not for several seconds, as was the case with the way slower iPhone [3G] and the two iPod Touch models. This is a major issue – it’s pretty strange the developers of this premium title still haven’t released a fix that, say, makes it necessary to tap the screen to dismiss the tip and go on.

 

UPDATE (08/08/2009 0:57 CET): I’ve run some video battery use comparison tests with low-complexity 2 Mbps 480*320 H.264 videos (the “2Mbps VLC” format of the Finnish net recording service TVKaista). Under exactly the same circumstances (minimal backlight with auto backlight off, disabling all kinds of Push operations, switching to Airplance mode, starting from 100% battery charge and resetting before the test), the difference in power usage is staggering:

3g: 0.3%/min
3g s: 0.069%/min

Pretty cool! The 3G S has (way better and more effective) hardware support for decoding even (comparatively) traditionally CPU-intensive stuff like H.264 videos. Great! Now, I only wish the A2DP lag wasn’t there or the built-in player had any way of adjusting audio and video synchronization.

I’ve also made some video recording battery tests. In this regard, the 3G S behaved pretty well compared to a lot of video cameras and point-and-shoot cameras. (For example, the Canon IXUS 960 / SD 950IS is only able to record about 60 minutes with one charge in 1024*768 @15 fps mode. The Panasonic GH-1 is much better in this respect, even in full HD mode – it can easily record over 2 hours with one charge. On the other hand, the new Samsung i8910 phone (also known as the Samsung Omnia HD) only records about 30 minutes with one charge. Of course, it’s 720p and not a lowly 640*480, but sometimes you’ll want to prefer battery life over resolution.)

I’ve made two tests of between 36 and 39 minutes. I couldn’t reliably measure any battery life difference between maxed out backlight (and recording with the minimal backlight). In both cases, the power consumption was between 1.1 and 1.2%/min.

Users in the EU will also like the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any restriction on the video recording length. (Only probably the restrictions based on the file system, if any. I haven’t tested whether recording stops at 2G or 4G. Even reaching 2G would have meant shooting video for about 72-75 minutes.) In this regard, it’s way better than many digital cameras crippled when imported into the EU otherwise allowing for recording videos as long as there’s free space on the memory card. (For example, the Panasonic TZ7 [aka ZS3 in the US] and the GH-1, which have a 15/30-minute restriction in the EU, respectively. Of course, you still can’t compare the image quality of the iPhone to these two cameras – but, in cases, long-time, uninterrupted recording can be of extreme importance.)
 

UPDATE (08/11/2009, 0:50 CET):

With yxFlash (current, tested version: 2.0.0-1), one of the Cydia-based alternative media players on the iPhone, my thorough power consumption tests have resulted in the following:

- I’ve measured playing back 320*240 WMV3, 15 fps (with WMA2 22kHz stereo sound) about two times better battery life (under exactly the same circumstances: airplane mode, minimal backlight with auto switched off). 3G: 0.31%/min, 3G S: 0.155%/min.
- 624x352 1046 Kbps XVID playback is much better (no frame freezes for 1-2 seconds with very quickly changing scenes and often stuttering audio – on the 3G S, I’ve encountered stuttering audio very-very rarely) than on the 3G. Nevertheless, it still isn’t very good; I’d say it’s around 12-15 fps. (The test video 624x352 XviD at 1046 Kbps video; VBR MPEG1 Audio layer 3 129 Kbps 48 KHz audio [Pushing Daisies S01E01 Pie-lette; pushing.daisies.101.hdtv.xvid-xor.avi). Interestingly, the battery use of XviD playback is higher on the 3G S than on the 3G. (0.40%/min vs. 0.28%/min.)


NOTE: non-baseline-encoded H.264 files can’t be played back on the 3G. On the 3G S, they can. Just give a try to the files HERE (320-wide videos) and HERE (640-wide ones). Please see THIS for more info on H.264. Also note that the MKV container isn’t supported by yxFlash; that is, you won’t be able to play back a lot of HD videos.

Also note that I’ve directly compared yxFlash to the current (2.1.0) VLC4iphone version. I’ve only found one advantage of the latter: the ability to play back MKV files. (Nevertheless, as most MKV files are HD videos, this advantage is pretty much non-existent as VLC is completely unable to play them back with any usable FPS and with sound similar to the original.) It, otherwise, was much worse (much worse audio quality and a LOT of dropped frames) at playing back the test XVID file (see above). In addition, it was completely unable to play back the WMV file.

Finally, MPlayer version 2009.06.23.1 was also unable to play back my WMV file (it immediately crashes [on the 3G] or just doesn’t display anything [on the 3G S]). The XVID file, on the other hand, was played back far better than under yxFlash (much less stuttering, delivering 24 fps almost all the time) on the 3G S. On the 3G, the playback was also considerably better – but the sound stuttered pretty frequently, depending on the content. The power consumption of mPlayer (while playing back the XviD test video) has also turned out to be considerably better than with yxFlash: 0.21%/minute for the 3G S and 0.15%/minute for the 3G.

BTW, still speaking of yxFlash, while it is able to play back online WMV clips (just make sure you tap their URL’s from inside the built-in – pretty basic – Web browser), it’s not able to do the same to streamed WMV contents. This is certainly bad news as the vast majority of current TV streams use WMV (see for example WWITV). I’ve tested this with several streams: in addition to the WWITV ones, for example with THIS. This leaves you with far fewer streams than on some competing platforms; for example, Windows Mobile. There isn’t any kind of streaming support in VLC or mPlayer, unfortunately.

All in all, whenever you can, try converting your non-MP4 files into the native format of the iPhone. The 3G S can play it back much-much better (and with much less power usage) than any other non-native format. The difference is considerably less pronounced with the 3G; for example, it consumes more power when playing back 480*320 2 Mbps baseline MP4 videos than the XviD test video. Nevertheless, at least it doesn’t stutter when playing back its native format.

You can only hope the CorePlayer folks do release CorePlayer for the Cydia. It’ll surely be much better than anything else. In the meantime, however, get yxFlash for WMV (note that it costs $10; the trial version only allows for playing back stuff for a minute), including Web-based ones and mPlayer for XviD playback.
 


UPDATE (10/17/20009): iPhone OS 3.1.2 Bluetooth audio update, concerning both the 3G and the 3G S, posted HERE.Want to master your iPhone and iPad? Sign up here to get our tip of the day delivered right to your inbox.
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Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.

Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.