iOS 6 on iPhone 3GS: Final Impressions and Performance

Last week, Apple finally released iOS 6 to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch owners. And as was announced at WWDC 2012, the update arrived for owners of Apple’s aging iPhone 3GS, a device that is over three years old. And like a good owner, I immediately installed a piece of software from 2012 on a piece of hardware from 2009. Fortunately, I think I made the right decision.

Over the past week, I have put my iPhone 3GS through a gauntlet because I wanted to test out all of the new features and report back to all of the 3GS owners out there who may be second-guessing themselves when it comes to installing the new software.

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

3gs6

If I didn’t buy the iPhone 5, the 3GS would be fine for the next year.

I don’t blame any of you for feeling that way. iOS 5 had its ups and downs and iOS 6 adds more features to a device that’s now a year older. However, after spending about a week with iOS 6, I can safely say that my iPhone 3GS experience is much improved with the new software, so much so, that I could probably hold out another year for the iPhone 5S, if I wanted to.

After spending a week with iOS 6 and the iPhone 3GS, here is what I’ve found.

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Overall Performance

Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the performance of iOS 6 on my iPhone 3GS. As I’ve said, with iOS 5, the software would often stutter when I was trying to open up applications or when I was opening up my phone after inputting my passcode. It didn’t happen all the time, but there were enough times where I was sitting around waiting for the software to un-stick itself that I started to become annoyed.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen as often with iOS 6.

3gs1

iOS 6 doesn’t look much different from iOS 5.

There are still applications that take forever to load, the camera app for instance is still extremely slow, but the slow down and choppiness is not as prevalent as it was in iOS 5.

When I tap on applications in iOS 6, then open like they are supposed to. When I move through home screens, the UI doesn’t play catch up. Folders expand without lag. It’s really a lot smoother than iOS 5 was for me and that’s something I can really appreciate on an old phone that is running new software.

Battery Life

Over the past week, I haven’t noticed any considerable dip or gain in battery life. I am still able to get my normal usage out of the iPhone 3GS which consists of around three hours of heavy use which means lots of web browsing, mail checking, Twitter tweeting, fantasy team scoping, and sports/tech news checking.

Other than that, I’m either using it to make phone calls, sending texts or reading and sending out mail.

In the time I’ve had it, I can’t remember a day where I’ve had to plug it in to a charger more than once. And a few times I haven’t even had to plug it in at all.

Bugs

I haven’t found any catastrophic bugs yet but I still run into the occasional issue in iOS 6. I’ve had some apps crash, I’m looking at you Twitter app, but for the most part, things have improved. I used to get a software crash on a daily basis but over the past week, it has only happened a couple of times. I can deal with that.

iOS 6 Features I Love

Instead of breaking down each new feature in iOS 6 one by one, I thought I’d just tell you about the new features that I find to be the most useful (and most useless) thus far. It won’t be the same for everyone, I know, but these are the features that I have found myself coming back to time and time again.

Upgraded Email

One thing that always annoyed me about the native Email application was the ridiculous icon for the trash and the fact that I had to tap, yes tap, to refresh my inboxes. Both of those are gone in iOS 6. Now, the trash icon is as clear as day and to refresh my inboxes, all I have to do is drag down from the top. Love that.

I also love VIP Mail. I get a lot of email and being able to easily access important email is extremely useful to me.

I used the Email app constantly before iOS 6 and I love what Apple did to it in iOS 6.

Do Not Disturb

Another feature that I find myself using quite a bit is Do Not Disturb which I turn on every night to prevent calls and notifications from waking me up during my precious sleep. iOS 6 allows be to schedule my Do Not Disturb time as well so I don’t have to constantly set it. That’s extremely nice.

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Even better is that Apple allows me to customize the feature so that I can keep my phone available in case there is some sort of emergency or my girlfriend wakes up with a spider on her face and needs to vent.

Phone App Features

One of the features I loved right off the bat was the new Phone app functionality that Apple included in iOS 6. When someone calls me, and I’m unable to take the call which is often the case, I am now able to quickly respond to that person or even remind myself to call them later. I am horrible about calling people back so the latter is extremely useful to me.

While the messages I can send through the application are generic, I still find them to be useful. Why? Because the people on the other end appreciate them. I don’t like it when people think I’m ignoring them this allows me to let them know that I’m not without having to open up Messages to shoot a text.

It’s simple and I love when stuff is simple.

Sharing Menu

I knew last week that the new sharing menu was going to be a feature that I depended on and over the past week, I’ve been using it a ton to share content with myself and with others.

It’s easily accessible too and I have a feeling it’s a screen that I am going to be seeing a lot of over the months to come.

iCloud Tabs

This is another one of my favorites and it’s a feature that many people might overlook. Let’s say I’m browsing Amazon in Safari on my browser, but I want to move to a bigger screen, I can open up Safari on my iPad, go to the iCloud Tab section and easily pick up where I left off on my iPhone.

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This is great for stall surfing.

iOS 6 Features That Need Work

It’s almost impossible to love every single aspect of an operating system, and iOS 6 is no different. While there are features that are extremely useful, there are also other features that were either done poorly or that I don’t find myself using at all. Here are two of those features.

iOS 6 Maps

My first impression of iOS 6 Maps was positive. The new look didn’t bother me, it still gave me directions, and it features some nice quirks like accidents on the road and Yelp integration.

But the more I used it, the more I realized how much I actually did miss Google Maps. The lack of native public transit information bothers me as does the lack of street view. Overall, there really is just a lack information and it’s driven me to start using Google Maps through my browser to pinpoint stuff on the map.

Read: How to Get Google Maps in iOS 6.

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Google Maps is still accessible in iOS 6.

I still Apple’s Maps for directions, I haven’t gotten lost yet, but when I need detail, I use Google Maps.

Like I said before, I couldn’t care less about the lack of flyover or 3D, both of those are useless to me and seem gimmicky.

Passbook

Plain and simple, Passbook is going to remain useless until companies start adding passes. Yes, I can create my own passes but I really don’t want to trust a third-party with that kind of information.

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Passbook is useless at this point. Hopefully it becomes useful.

I wish Passbook would have been fantastic from the get-go but thus far, it’s a complete afterthought.

Final Word: Should You Install iOS 6 for iPhone 3GS?

Without a doubt, I recommend installing iOS 6 for the iPhone 3GS. It offers quite a few useful features, many of them I highlighted above and while Apple’s iOS 6 Maps need work, you can always head to Google Maps in your browser if you need more detailed information about the world around you.

The performance is better than it was in iOS 6 and the battery life, at least at the moment, remains the same.

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All I can say is this: If I didn’t buy the iPhone 5 and I had to hold out another year with iOS 6 on my iPhone 3GS, I would be more than comfortable. And I think many of you will feel the same way.

Comments

  1. Ron says

    Thanks, as a 3Gs owner who has suffered through the ios5 download, I am ready to try almost anything! This make me less worried.

  2. Matt says

    Great review but disagree on battery life; considerably worse, even with no apps running or in airplane mode! Had to charge it THREE TIMES today and it was sitting in my pocket at work!!

  3. kenny tan says

    My spouse 3GS is more refined, smoother and the battery more lasting running IOS6 than IOS5.1 previously. After full charge from 7pm to 6am, it just drops 3-4% with notification on on call, messages, reminder, calender, viber, mail, weather widget, battery doctor. And also the Location service is on too.

    The same goes with my 4S, good as ever than IOS5.1.

  4. Ajay says

    I wish I could say the same. I have had missing icons which I have restored using Itunes and restore home screen function. I have corrupted text messages which was fixed with a hard reboot. Apps are slow to start. Bluetooth fuctionality is lost when connected to my car no rewind or fast forward. Some new featues are good but have been avaiable on android for some time.

  5. John Bendick says

    Believe it or not, I was still running my iPhone 3GS with iOS version 4.3.5. i had just recently began running into trouble with many of my apps not updating because they required iOS 5 or higher. I heard all of the horror stories about updating to iOS 5 and figured, if its not broken, don’t fix it. The upgrade from version 4 to 6.0 was slick. It retained vertiually all of my settings. It automatically backed up and reinstalled all of my info. I was a little nervous but was quite surprised at how well my phone runs and the fact that I didn’t loose anything.

  6. mohammed waseem says

    I upgraded my ipod touch to ios 6 – the applications are very slow to start and the screen is stuck – even the application store is slow to start – any solution to this??? even i tried location tracking off – didn’t help.

  7. Tom Macauley says

    Thank you for doing this before the rest of us… I probably would not have been part of ‘us’ without your comments. I have not been enjoying the stuttering and slowness of my 3GS. iOS 6 so far is at least as good and hopefully is better, as you found!

  8. Teri says

    i have a friend that updated his 3gs to ios 6.0 and now he can’t send or receive mms messages. anyone experience this or have any suggestions?

  9. PassDock (@PassDock) says

    Passbook’s got great potential, in terms of new marketing possibilities for companies and also for final users, who can finally have a complete and updated wallet on their smartphones. It goes without saying that great companies are implementing this system. We read about Sephora, Starbucks, Lufthansa and others, interested in Passbook adoption. And it will be booming.

    http://www.passdock.com is a simple and intuitive web application that allows you to design, manage, delivery and update passes for iOS Passbook app, such as coupons, store cards, event tickets and boarding passes, and helps to better understand Passbook features and potential.

  10. Dominic says

    Thanks for your post. You convinced me to upgrade to IOS6 on my 3GS and what a difference in speed. The camera is also much faster and doesn’t lag between pictures. There is a lot of bad publicity about the new map which IMHO works fine for my need, I don’t need public transit info, I use another app for that. Thanks ! In the end, I’m glad I made the switch.

  11. George says

    Hi,
    I was a completely satisfied iPhone 4S(16 GB) user till the time i took iOS6 update. Most of my applications keep on crashing and I am just not able to complete a single chat session or browse on FB. Most of the times the diagnostics report shows ‘Low memory’. I have removed more than 100 apps to free memory. I have more than 8GB free memory now still the same problem keeps happening. The imagine store technician could suggest a backup and restore process which I tried out. This could not help and I am suffering a lot. I M NO MORE PROUD THAT I AM AN IPHONE USER. It is high level dissatisfaction and helplessness. Please provide the upgrade with bug fixes… Also the battery drops at unbelievable speed!!!

    George
    +91 8800759675
    [email protected]

  12. Roddyb says

    great content, on the basis of your experience I am going to take the plunge as well. Like many others, I think I will start shopping for a 2nd hand 4S after the Christmas sales

  13. VL says

    Thank you for the review & info. I’ve updated my IPhone 4 (3G) and I’m very pleased with the results so far. There are some features that I can actually use from the upgrade to iOS6. The overall iPhone experience seems smoother & a little faster, especially when I’m running off the 3G network. The Passbook app does have great potential so I will use it gradually as more retailers get on board.

    • Ali says

      Try to Activate. If it fails then your phone is probably locked by apple( happened to me also). You have only option to downgrade your phone by jailbreaking it. Thats wht i did. Or an expert can also jailbreak ios6 for you. Good luck.

    • milena says

      same happened to me :( now i wonder how to fix it. can anyone instruct me how to downgrade my previous software version which has 4.1? or maybe activate it ? please help

      • George says

        Not true, my 3gs upgraded to io6 operating system and yes i have turn by turn voice navigation, in Google maps though, so download google maps!

  14. Kotti says

    I do like the “Do Not Disturb” feature, but other than that I’m very unhappy with the update. My phone freezes, it’s performance has noticeably slowed, and the phone is unable to stay on when the charge falls below 20%. I also greatly miss Google Maps. I live in a town where public transit is pretty much my only choice, so that change frustrates me.

  15. joules c says

    After installing IOS6 , my wifi would not work for 2 days. After I regained access using WiFi, some previous WiFI access pts I used to connect to can no longer be accessed. The map definitely needs improvement. Passbook needs more participants to make the user experience better.

  16. Pamela Stone Vozza says

    I can no longer read any of my Yahoo Mail accounts since upgrading to IOS6. All emails are cropped to only what is immediately viewable onscreen. Will not let me pinch or move the screen to view – balance of message just doesn’t exist. :-(

  17. Ali Teto says

    After installing IOS6 , the GSM network most of times shows ‘NO SERVICE’ and my mobile is offline, also the battery lasts less than 5.1,
    i am trying to find a way to downgrade to any OS but unfortunately there is no way till this moment .
    any body has ideas for me ?? thanks

  18. Gina P says

    Can anyone here comment on how long it too them to install the new software on their iPhone 3GS? I have been here for about 4 hours and the progress bar on the “Backing ‘my iphone’ is still only two squares!! Help! What shall I do? Leave it all day and all night? When do I call it quits and accept failure to progress? I don’t want to interrupt the process and “kill” my iPhone in doing so. By the way I’m going from iOS 3 to iOS 6, I know, I have been dreading this nightmare, ugh. Thank you.

  19. Bob C. says

    Our experience with our upgrade to iOS 6 has not been as positive as yours. Since we’ve upgraded our 3gs iphones have become unstable with constant crashes and rapid battery drain. I’ll be interested to see if apple’s next release of iOS 6 will address some of these problems for 3gs users.
    Thanks

  20. Erika FM says

    i just had updated my 3gs to ios 6 and it was more useful to me than ever! My phone was reformatted last week, i was so sad that all my files, as in everything were lost & gone. But on the brighter side, i decided & risk to update it to ios6, and yes! Im happy with the outcome! I’m more inlove w/ my phone now, more updated apps! :)

  21. James S. says

    I lost the backlight on my 3gs after downloading ios6. It comes on when plugged in, but disappears when unplugged. I took it to the Apple Store and was told it was a hardware issue and would cost $99.00 to replace the display or $149 for a new phone if it wasn’t the display. No problem until ios6 download!!!!??

  22. Mike Irving (@mikeirvingweb) says

    A well balanced article, I’m glad I read it. I will now be happy to upgrade my aging iPhone 3GS to iOS6, as you have addressed concerns about lag / stuttering and battery life.

    My 2009 Phone will now run the latest software…. how many Android owners can boast that? I am suspecting not a lot.

    Google Maps wise, check out Many Maps, which offers Google Maps and StreetView, alongside Nokia Maps, Bing Maps and Open Street Map. http://is.gd/ManyMaps

  23. Ahmed says

    Plz tell me guys…Should I Really upgrade mu 3GS to iOS 6???????????????
    Thanks, it would be greatly appreciated
    :)

    • James S. says

      All I know is that I downloaded IOS6 on my 3GS 2 weeks ago and the backlight on my phone went out. I did hard and soft resets and 3 restores without success. The Apple store said it was a hardware issue, and it would cost $99.00 to replace the display, or $149.00 for a replacement phone. Luckily, I found a guy at a repair kiosk at a local mall who took the phone apart and fixed it for free!! I think he said it was the LED Coil. I would not upgrade unless you have a warranty or insurance.

  24. Ken Ghosh says

    Hey im currently running ios4.3.2 on my iphone 3gs. i need to know how much space i need to download and install ios 6 onto my device since my device has hardly any space left. any one has any idea?

  25. John says

    I wouldn’t recommend iOS 6 for 3GS it absolutely drains ur battery. You’ll be lucky to get 10 minutes usage before battery goes flat!!!

  26. Asif says

    Adam, Google Maps is now available for iOS. Please update your post and please confirm if you are indeed getting the same battery life as before.

  27. Ellie-Mae says

    This just made my life so much easier.

    I have been contemplating updating to IOS 6 for quite a while now because I heard it was full of bugs… But I am now confident it’s the right choice… I mean hey, it must be better than my current IOS (4.3.1)

    Thanks :)

  28. Farhad wafa says

    hello dear 1st tanks a lot for review, and i want to download ios 6 its about 780mb how this is right one? and my iphne is 3gs how if i download and update this wil not find problem in m iphone? if finding so i will not download.. please say the truth, also i need update via itunes only or need download red snw jailbreak or just itunes? please help thanks alot

  29. Maarten says

    I was very very weary to install ios 6 on my old 3gs. But since I did install (ios 6.1), my Iphone 3gs has only improved in speed! Plus, the new features are pretty cool.

    On Ios 5 (all the way through to 5.1.1) I disabled iCloud and most of the features notification centre, etc., because it was sooooo sloooow.

    Ios 6 is still not as fast as ios4 was, and there is still the ocasional hickup, but I am happy and surprised that Apple has managed to make ios 6 run reasonably smoothly on a 3gs. I get the feeling there is less lag when text input is concerned, or less lag navigating through the homescreen etc. Apps might take marginally longer to load, but when they do load, they at least perform like they should.
    Also, the webbrowser is now much faster in my opinion, so that alone would be worth it.

    So if anyone is still having doubts: Install ios 6 on your 3gs!

  30. Maarten says

    Also, my battery life has not decreased noticably on ios 6! Many people are reporting it does, but I haven’t found this to be true for me.

    • BrianVT says

      I used to go for days on a single charge, but after installing iOS6 last night, it went from fully charged to single-digit sitting on my nightstand overnight. With 5.1.1, it didn’t drop at all.

      This is a HUGE problem for me because I use my iPhone with cycling/running/skiing tracking apps to map & log workouts. I NEED battery life, and this is a HUGE downgrade.

      Is there any way to go BACK?

  31. vincent mccabe says

    Vinnie
    I updated to iOS6 and generally I am very happy with the change – except that I have lost sound on my music and my contacts list disappeared and I cannot get it back. My contacts are still on my Mac and my music is listed but when I tap on albums the print fades and no sound is forthcoming. Anyone any suggestions please?

  32. Sally Teo says

    I am holding iphone 3G. Recently I have been trying to do updating but the message prompt that my account cannot be used in the Chinese Store unless I switch to Singapore Store. Can you guide me for this switch ?

  33. Rachael says

    Well, I’m not happy with it at all and wished I hadn’t upgraded against my better judgement. It’s made just using my phone…and I mean any aspect of it…extrememly painful. I’m going back if I can.

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