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iOS 5.1 for iPhone 3GS: Final Impressions and Performance



Earlier this month, I wrote about my initial experiences with iOS 5.1, Apple’s latest iOS update, on my iPhone 3GS. As many of you know, I am one of the last tech writer’s on the planet that totes an iPhone 3GS as his main device. I’ve gone back to it even after buying the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for Verizon which is widely considered to be one of the best Android phones on the planet.

One of the main reasons for that change was because of how great iOS 5 has run on my aging device.

But how about iOS 5.1?

After spending several weeks with the new software, I am happy to report that my thoughts on the software have not changed at all. From the get go, I found that the over all experience was not only fantastic but that it was better than the experience found on iOS 5.

iOS 5.1 for iPhone 3GS: Final Impressions and Performance

Yes, this is my crazy homescreen.

Sorry, Terry Myerson, but this operating system is far from “unusable.”

As I said, iOS 5 often hung up when I had a bunch of applications open or when I was trying to access something that was data or graphic intensive. Those have become unnoticeable with iOS 5.1.

The Music application often had a tough time, especially when my storage was nearly full. It would lock up or crash on occasion. That has not happened after the upgrade to iOS 5.1

I also told you that my battery life with iOS 5 started to get worse over time.

iOS 5.1 patched that up. I am now getting as good of battery life as I’ve ever gotten with my nearly three year old iPhone.

And, as was the case when the update first came out, the static camera button works as advertised. In fact, I’ve been using it quite a bit. I never thought that I would appreciate something else added to Apple’s iconic lock screen but I am really enjoying this feature.

I keep a passcode on my phone and there have been times where I’ve missed a moment that I’ve wanted to capture on film because I’ve been fumbling around with my device.

Scrolling up with my thumb to access the camera from the lock screen has become second nature and so far, I’ve had zero problems from a slow down, bug, standpoint.

And yes, all of this has gone down with iCloud enabled. I know a lot of you have disabled it, but if and when you get iOS 5.1, try turning it back on. I think you’ll be alright.

I know a lot of you were having issues with iOS 5.0.1. I was too. So, if you’re on that operating system, you’re definitely going to want to upgrade to the new update. If you’re unsure about how to do that, check out our guide.

For those that are still sitting on iOS 4 or lower, I highly recommend that you make the jump. I’ve recommended it to hundreds of people already and not one person has come back telling me that it was a mistake.

For me, the leap from iOS 4 to iOS 5 was huge and I’ll argue, at least for us iPhone 3GS owners, that the leap from iOS 5.0.1 to iOS 5.1 is just as big. It doesn’t get much better than a getting a fully functional update, that brings great battery life and fantastic bug fixes along with new features, nearly three years after a phone’s release.

This kind of support is why it’s going to be hard to pass on the next iPhone.

How is iOS 5.1 treating everyone else?



  1. Arabracer

    03/21/2012 at 12:48 pm

    SInce I downloaded IOS 5.1 the QuickTime player no longer works in Safari. I get a circle with a diagonal line through it & an error code. Any idea how to fix this. Tried restoring on iTunes but it just downloaded 5.1 again. So QuickTime still doesn’t work.

  2. Rrbills

    03/21/2012 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks for the article. However I too have a iPhone3GS but am running latest version of iOS4. The only problem with your recommendation is that even on Apple’s own Discission boards as of 3/21/12 most people still are citing a problem with the newly released iOS5.1 (as opposed to iOS5.01). They are citing battery drainage problems, and severe slowness. Other than this glowing recommendation, I don’t have much more to go on. I have had my 3GS since Oct 2009 and it has always performed quick. I don’t want to risk it (until at least 6/30/12 – MobileMe transition). However, my battery finally started draining quicker in Dec after 2+years – ordered a new battery from Still hasn’t come back to pre Dec 2011 levels – still draining too fast. Any recommendations? Seems last version of OS4 has become the culprit or my battery is like my old one(which is from a very reputable company – BBB)

    • Terminator

      03/21/2012 at 9:21 pm

      Well, here’s a testimony from another>> me :)  I have virtually upgraded/downgrade to every firmware available for iPhone. I have jailbroken, and unjailbroken countless amounts of times. iOS 5, in general, for me is the “smoothest” OS. The animations are 99% smooth. iOS 4 seemed “choppy” at times. However, iOS 5 is quite RAM heavy, so running lots of apps slows the device down. iOS 5.1 however, for the most part, seems to have enhanced app-management, and doesn’t show a noticeable slowdown. I have constantly switched between 7-9 apps in the app-switcher with 5.1, and seen pleasureable performance. 5.0.1 would have only handled 3-5 apps before some slowdown. For iOS 4, unless you are on earlier firmware, like 4.1, or 4.2.1, I would recommend the upgrade to 5.1.  iOS 4.3 and above are known to be laggy, and RAM heavy. iOS 4.3.3 drained ALOT of battery from my device. It was one of the worst firmwares I have used. Many users complain about their devices being slow is that they either restore from backup, instead of as new, or they download the update through ITUNES, and update using that. First off, I ALWAYS recommend downloading the firmware SEPARATELY using reputable websites like Redmond. Then, I suggest going to iTunes, and press SHIFT + RESTORE. This allows you to browse for your downloaded firmware. The reason is because Apple’s servers are sometimes busy, and your firmware download from their server is likely to be slightly corrupted. I have always downloaded my own firmware, and restored from there. NEVER have I experienced problems this way. So, upgrade to 5.1 ? Answer is yes.  :)

      • xboxbml

        03/22/2012 at 3:02 am

        I too have been on every iOS since 3.1.3. 4.2.1 is best on 3GS I always say…RAM and storage usage is great. 4.3 killed it. 4.3.1 kinda fixed it. 4.3.3 was better. 4.3.4-5 were not untethered, so I didn’t go there…Went to 5.0, RAM and storage hog! Battery drain, but seemed smooth…5.0.1, same thing…5.1, same thing….Will I ever go up again?….Yeah, I’ll go up on each iteration to check it out. Will I stay there?…Probably not…4.2.1 is best on 3GS!

        • Mark Webb

          03/22/2012 at 1:49 pm

          How do you revert to previous versions?  I’ve been wanting to try upgrading but have read many posts about failure to revert to older versions.

    • admillios

      03/22/2012 at 3:16 pm

      Obviously, the experience is going to differ from user to user as it a lot of it depends on how you use the phone. Me? I’m am not a power user. I watch the occasional video but for the most part, I just browse the web, check my email and text. I generally have about 4GB of free space available as well. I don’t want to stereotype it, but I have a feeling that those having the extreme battery drain issues are heavy users. I’d need more info about your use and what not to make an appropriate recommendation.

  3. Robbiefox87

    03/22/2012 at 9:21 am

    my iphone 3gs wont update to ios 5.1 on itunes saying connection failed what the hell do i fix it other wise i would get a iphone 4 but i dont want it to get that far

  4. Amanda1503

    03/22/2012 at 9:23 am

    I like it but find that my iPhone 4s has a lot more bugs since the download. If they could fix it, I’d give 5 stars.

  5. Shore

    03/24/2012 at 9:59 am

    Nope.  Even 5.1 is laggy, buggy bag o’ carp.

    • Miker

      03/28/2012 at 1:01 pm

      Try a fresh install

  6. tidzar

    03/26/2012 at 1:09 am

    im going to upgrade because of this writing, ill post back the result, 5.0.1 is a dissapointment, crash all the time and slow, hopely i’ll have same experience as you

  7. Slumpjockey

    03/26/2012 at 7:28 am

    I was reluctant to install 5.1 because ever since installing 5.0 my 3GS had serious slow downs with apps. I even wanted to revert to iOS 4. I finally hit the install button last night and I have to say I could notice immediate improvement with 5.1. The apps are opening smoother, faster. The overall feel is smoother out the box. I hope it stays this way as I am pleased!

  8. Guest

    03/26/2012 at 4:51 pm

    It seems I’m having trouble with my Line2 app; several seconds delay in the talk path. The Line2 techs are looking into it but this problem didn’t show up until after the update. I got the same symptom using my MagicJack app and it doesn’t matter if I’m using WiFi or 3G.

  9. Jupiterdebby

    03/28/2012 at 8:43 am

    my 3gs has severe battery drainage since upgrading to 5.1 i charge it to 100% by lunchtime with hardly any use its sitting at 25 % !!! I have 3g location servises etc switched off and have deleted a ton of apps to see if this stops it but it doesnt I am demented my phone used to last all day without charge but I now have to charge it mid day its ridiculous !!!!

  10. Miker

    03/28/2012 at 12:59 pm

    3Gs updated from 5.0 to 5.1 and now runs smoother
    TY for article

    • Alex

      04/01/2012 at 2:12 am

      I have an 3GS by 1 year and half. do you like the 5.1 on 3GS ? 5.1 got better battery life? I’m on 5.0.1 right now.. I wanna have better battery life and to don’t have lags on my iPhone. What do you say? . Should I update to 5.1 ?

  11. Nripen_buzz

    03/29/2012 at 9:57 am

    after updating to 5.1 from 5.0.1 my 3gs runs damn slow. i had a fresh install but still it hangs from time to time wat is wit that.i have installed it more than 3 times still same me..

    • Porras

      04/04/2012 at 8:12 am

      I updated my old 3Gs yesterday and I can say 5.1 is faster than 5.0.1 still the spotligth animation is a little bit laggy. I’m happy because I hated the unusable 5.0.1 version.Restore to fabric settings with itunes and synched data (only contacts, notes, etc), not the apps or music. Download the apps from App Store and then synch it all with your computer. I did so and it works for me.

    • Shao

      05/04/2012 at 12:04 pm

      My 3GS becomes slow too after I update to 5.1. I don’t know why.

  12. John Trump

    04/12/2012 at 12:20 pm

    I will let you know. Upgrading from 4.3.4 to 5.1

    • Erny

      04/22/2012 at 11:38 am

      how did it go?

  13. Nemo

    04/26/2012 at 6:50 pm

    I have an iPhone 3GS and it says the update 4.2.1 is the up to date software. How do I update it to 5.1?

    • Juntok_abot

      04/27/2012 at 10:05 am

      it’s 3G

  14. Hinhle

    04/28/2012 at 3:47 pm

    I have 3gs with ios 4.2.1. should i upgrade it to 5.1

  15. Ahmed A. Malik

    05/02/2012 at 11:10 pm

    Someone please clear up 2 issues about upgrading to iOS 5.1 on 3GS:
    (a) Battery Drainage
    (b) Slow-down & Hang-ups

    • Terminator Pulak

      05/03/2012 at 6:48 am

      It runs nearly flawlessly. The phone now has uniform, butter smooth animations all along. Battery life has increased. I can now last 1.5-2 days with my phone. In my opinion, upgrade to 5.1, but do a full restore of the firmware, not simply updating. The only reason to not upgrade is if you want the untethered jailbreak. As I said from my earlier comment, I have been on every firmware on the 3GS since 3.1.3, and let me tell you, iOS 5.1 is by far, the best compromise between features and performance. Of course 3.1.3 is the fastest, but it has no notification center, nor many other key features like multitasking. Overall, UPGRADE to ios 5.1, it’s worth it.

  16. iPhoneUser with Jailbreak on 4.3.3

    05/10/2012 at 10:49 am

    My thoughts… my iOS 4.3.3 with jailbreak has all of the features of the latest 5.1 iOS without having to upgrade. Personally, I prefer the 4.3.3 iOS to the latest one. I have an iPad running the latest iOS 5.1 and my iPhone on 4.3.3 I see no reason to upgrade at this time. Battery life was only an issue on the 4s version. I’m just have a 4 which has good battery life overall.

  17. iphone user

    05/17/2012 at 5:30 pm

    i tried to upgrade my iphone 3gs with IOS 5.1 but it wont activate.IT says that there is no sim card on the device. My phone is jailbroken though. I am having a hard time.. please assist me what do i do..

  18. my 3gs

    05/25/2012 at 12:18 pm

    I was able to upgrade my 3GS from 4.3.5 to 5.1.1.
    The upgrade process worked great with no problems.
    My 3GS is running fine. Just as fast as before.

    By the way, this was all done on a Mac running Lion.

  19. Mudassir

    06/06/2012 at 2:28 pm

    are there any complications in installing iOS 5.1 to iPhone 3GS? i want to upgrade my iOS, should i go for it or it will tease me with those jailbreak issues?? Please reply on my email if u can….

  20. Tina

    06/09/2012 at 6:43 pm

    I also have 3GS but I haven’t upgraded to iOS 5.1 because I don’t want to risk losing STANZA function.
    Has anyone with iPhone 3GS & stanza upgraded yet?

  21. Abood

    06/22/2012 at 4:21 am

    I did not understand !!! is it recommended or what? to update to 5.1.1? what is the best ios for 3GS?

  22. 3GS_User

    07/02/2012 at 11:12 am

    My frankenphone (rebuilt from broken phones. Logic Board is in excellent condition so don’t assume its that) is currently on 4.3.3 and runs effortlessly with no flaws. I had updated to 5.0 and BAM…. Poor Performance and massive battery drain. I had done a DFU restore with stock FW too. I thought I may have done something wrong or the FW was corrupt so I downloaded several from RedmondPie and from iClarified. Nope. Same results. I wasted an afternoon and part of the evening doing an ‘upgrade’. I had to stitch the blobs to the apt ticket to be able to revert back to 4.3.3 . It just would NOT restore back no matter which way i tried unless i did it that way. go figure. I am a moderate user of my iDevice (web surfing, music, pics,email, etc… rarely play games) so I was quite surprised of the glitches and the battery drain. I’m just gonna rock on with the FW i’m on. To Each Their Own I Guess :D I don’t really recommend updating if theres nothing wrong with the device as you can theme and add tweaks thru Cydia to emulate the latest FW. My iPad2+3g (christmas present :D) is on 5.0.1 Jailbroken and runs great with NO problems. One of the few lucky ones I guess. Not upgrading to latest either. Happy Jailbreaking People and A Great Big ThankYou To The Talented Developers That Make It Possible To Free The Devices From Its Box of Limited Ability.

  23. asd

    07/05/2012 at 8:50 pm

    Kinda like how android always had? :P

  24. Frank

    08/03/2012 at 1:33 pm

    Ok I have an iPhone 3GS and have a 4.1 iOS is it a good idea to upgrade to 5.1 or not ? Someone respond to my email please.. And thank you (:

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