iPhone 3GS Review: Three Years with the iPhone 3GS

I can’t remember exactly what day I got my iPhone 3GS. Really, I can’t. It was that long ago. I know that I got it shortly after it launched in June of 2009 and that it replaced my tank of a smartphone at the time, the BlackBerry 7130c. Yes, I once used a BlackBerry, believe it or not.

For the past three years, I have been an owner and user of the Apple’s third-generation iPhone. I watched as the company introduced the sleek iPhone 4 and its new design. And I sat on my hands when Apple launched its successor, the iPhone 4S, in October of last year. Of course, there were many reasons for that.

One, I have always loved the curved design of the iPhone 3GS. I just couldn’t fall in love with the flatness of the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S. It just never sat right with me. Obviously, that wasn’t the main reason I held onto my iPhone 3GS this long.

The main reason of course was that Apple has continually updated the iPhone 3GS over the past three years. I’ve gone from iOS 3 to iOS 4 to iOS 5 and now, in the fall, the device will also be getting iOS 6. Well, pieces of it anyway.

Three years with one phone is a long time.


Read: No Real iOS 6 for iPhone 3GS Means I’m Buying iPhone 5.

iOS 6 is going to come stripped down of most of its main features. In its place will be an operating system that will come in name only. And that is the main reason I will likely be replacing it with the iPhone 5 when it comes out this fall.

Before I do though, I wanted to give this phone one last review before I finally retire it for good. And what better time to do it then right after its three-year anniversary, a milestone that it celebrated earlier this week.

The iPhone 3GS will get iOS 6 as well.

What I’ve Liked About the iPhone 3GS

1. Apple has done something truly remarkable with its smartphones, something that other platforms like Android and Windows Phone can’t touch. That something is called longevity and it’s represented in two ways.

One, the hardware. When you buy an iPhone, you know that you’re buying a phone that is not going to be overshadowed the next day, next week or next month by a better iPhone. If you buy a phone on another platform like Android, chances are, your phone is last-generation only a short time after its considered next-generation.

I’ve never liked that about Android, but I don’t blame people who do. Windows Phone devices don’t get released as often but you better believe they will if Windows Phone 8 gains much traction.

Second, the software. I’ve owned my iPhone 3GS for around three years and I am still getting the latest software, even if it’s a stripped down version. Folks who just bought the Lumia 900 Windows Phone, which came out earlier this year, won’t be getting the  Windows Phone 8 update this fall. Instead, they will be getting stripped down version version called Windows Phone 7.8.

And don’t even get me started on Android.

I never had to worry about that with my iPhone 3GS and I can’t tell you how comforting that is.

2. Something else I’ve always appreciated is that it can handle just about every application on the iOS App Store. Sure, Infinity Blade II doesn’t run like an absolute dream and no, it doesn’t look as good as it does on the iPhone 4S, but it’s playable.

3. I’ve also never had any real battery life issues with the iPhone 3GS. I constantly have a ton of applications open, multi-tasking, and even now, my battery doesn’t drain as fast as it does with phones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

I will say that the battery life was definitely better back when the device first came out and while the new versions of iOS and the new crop of applications have certainly made it worse, it’s still tolerable.

4. Durability. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve dropped this phone. Fortunately, the screen and the back plate are intact and I’ve had friends tell me it looks like it just came out of the box.

The iPhone 3GS' camera isn't very good.

What I Haven’t Liked About the iPhone 3GS

1. It’s slow and always has been. Remember, this is a phone that came out three years ago when quad-core processors and 1GB of RAM in phones were nothing but a pipe dream. Apps sometimes take forever to load, the internet can often move at a snail’s pace. Apps crash.

Moving throughout the operating system is often sluggish. iOS 4 and iOS 5 probably have a lot to do with this as they put strain on the phone’s internals but I can recall crashing and sluggishness in the first couple of months that I had the phone as well.

2. Speakers aren’t very good. Apple has improved its speakers a lot over the years and I’ll just say this. I can’t remember the last time I listened to something loud on the iPhone 3GS that sounded halfway decent.

Even in my headphones, the quality isn’t very good. Again, this is something that has plagued the phone since it launched.

3. The camera is horrid. I have been to countless concerts where I’ve wanted to take photos or film video and I just end up telling someone else to take the photos and video instead. Photos are grainy, objects in the dark look terrible because the camera lacks LED flash, and the sound on video might kill an audiophile. Seriously, it’s honestly that bad.

4. Plain and simple, the display just does not cut it, especially these days when phones have 720p resolution. Apps don’t look that good, the interest isn’t much fun to look at, colors and text aren’t crisp. Looking at stuff on an iPhone 4S then going back to the iPhone 3GS is laughable.

Read: iOS 5.1.1 on iPhone 3GS: Final Impressions and Performance.

All in all, my experience with the iPhone 3GS over the past three years has been a good one. It has gone progressively downhill with each software upgrade, but again, that was to be expected given the amount of features Apple packed into the software and the hardware that powers the device. Still, I don’t know what I would do without iOS 5 and features like Notification Center.

And while iOS 6 and its lack of features for the iPhone 3GS combined with my need for 4G LTE is the end of the line for me, and likely many others as well, I can still confidently recommend this phone to consumers after all of these years.

Would I recommend it to a 20-year-old college student? Nope. A businessperson who does a lot of work on his device? Again, no. But I would recommend it as a first device for a teenager, someone who doesn’t necessarily need the biggest and fastest smartphone, and I would recommend it to an older person who has never owned a smartphone before.

Believe it or not, the iPhone 3GS is still on sale, for free at that, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see people toting it around two to three years from now, enjoying it as much as I have over the past three years.