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iOS 5.1 on iPhone 3GS: First Impressions and Performance



Today, Apple not only announced a new iPad complete with a Retina Display, 4G LTE connectivity, and an upgraded camera, but it also released the latest version of iOS 5 called iOS 5.1. The update isn’t exactly the earth shattering update that many thought it might be – those rumored Siri features didn’t come along with it – but it’s a significant update nonetheless.

And like most iDevice owners, I have downloaded the new update and installed it onto both my iPhone 3GS and my iPad.

As many of you know, I own an iPhone 3GS. An iPhone 3GS that is now running Apple’s iOS 5.1.

iOS 5.1 on iPhone 3GS: First Impressions and Performance Last Friday, I wrote a post aimed directly at Windows Phone head Terry Myerson who called out the the iPhone 3GS and iOS 5 directly. He described the experience as “unusable”, something that I disputed with a vengeance.

After I wrote that piece, I got numerous emails from iPhone 3GS owners asking me whether it was worth it to upgrade to the new software, a question that I wanted to wait to answer until iOS 5.1 arrived.

Well, that day has come and I’ve had iOS 5.1 on my phone for a couple of hours now and let me tell you.

Apple has managed to improve upon an experience that I thought was great in the first place.

Someone should alert Terry Myerson.

Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed in the first couple of hours with iOS 5.1 on my iPhone 3GS:

  • Overall, the experience seems to have gotten a lot snappier. With iOS 5, I would get the occasional slow down, but I haven’t seen anything like that happen after downloading iOS 5.1.
  • I absolutely love the new static camera button on the lock screen. Works as advertised.
  • I have been putting my iPhone through heavy usage today and the battery life has been extremely stable.

Overall, Apple has done a phenomenal service to those that are still rocking a phone that will be three years old once the summer rolls around.

So, to answer the question that many of you have hard for me.

“Should I download iOS 5?”

My answer is yes, a resounding yes, especially with the improvements that this update has brought along with it.



  1. Scott

    03/07/2012 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks so much. Very helpful, Adam.

    • Bezobee

      04/18/2012 at 12:41 pm

      I just upgraded from a jailbroken device and Im happy

  2. Darren

    03/07/2012 at 9:51 pm

    I agree completely! iOS 5.0 and 5.0.1 almost made my 3GS into a brick…it was so slow! I tried everything from turning off iCloud and the new notifications to clearing caches and who knows what else.

    Now with 5.1 it’s like my old iOS 4 days all over again. Much quicker, and I can turn on all the new features and still have a much better experience than before.

    Not going to lie though, I was pretty angry at apple, but it’s fixed now IMO, so I can wait until the iPhone 5 comes out to upgrade.

  3. Tylerhargett0259

    03/07/2012 at 10:08 pm

    Was thinking of holding off on upgrading to iOS 5.1 since iOS 5.0.1 has slowed mine down that I thought this one would make it worse but since there’s this good news, I may have to upgrade tomorrow when I can get to the WiFi router. Thanks again for the article.

  4. Darren, London

    03/08/2012 at 12:30 am

    Hi. My 3GS has run like a slow dog since downloading iOS5, so I’m hoping 5.1 improves the performance as i’m jaded by Apple releasing iOS5 when it didn’t work sufficiently on 2yr old models. Guess that’s the. nature of progress/upgrades

  5. Dan, UK

    03/08/2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for this. Exactly the info I was looking for. My 3GS has been slightly weird with 5.0.1 and stutters occasionally.

  6. arilynme

    03/08/2012 at 5:10 pm

    I agree 100%. I was just about to give up on my 3gs. Great update Apple!

  7. Dilipthakur Dt

    03/08/2012 at 8:30 pm

    i have factory unlocked iPhone 3GS with ios 3.1.3 should i upgrade it to 5.1????

    • Orbitni

      03/09/2012 at 2:38 am

      Running ios4 on 3GS was a breeze. The 5.0 slowed everything to a halt – I really felt that. Now, 5.1 seems to have made things snappier. At a first glance it is “perfectly usable again”. Bear in mind I have experienced the slowness of 5.0 for a while so I might be wrong. But if you had 5.0 then go for 5.1 definitely. (Now that you’ve been warned, go ahead – I think you will enjoy many other small improvements with it:)

      • Dilipthakur Dt

        03/09/2012 at 2:50 am

        no i haven’t updated my ios to 5 or not even to 4 still at 3.1.3 and am happy but since its just that apps require it to be at least 4or above which is why i need to upgrade but not sure if i should update now or wait further
        i have factory unlocked iPhone 3gs 16GB excellent condition
        it will be my 1st update so pls suggest if any link to give me step by step process and how do save my data n things  i may loose in the process or do i need to do  it in airplane mode stuff like 

        • Orbitni

          03/09/2012 at 12:10 pm

          Make a backup just in case. I have never lost anything updating my 3GS. Go for it:)

        • Dilipthakur Dt

          03/16/2012 at 7:15 am

          THanks Orbitni 
          iPhone is working perfect on ios 5.1

    • Bezobee

      04/18/2012 at 12:39 pm

      yesssssssss do it!!!!

  8. Btaplin

    03/08/2012 at 8:35 pm

    I have been running 5.1 on my iPad 1 since yesterday. What an improvement over 5.0 and 5.0.1. My apps used to crash all the time (10 or more times a day). Not a single crash so far with 5.1. Far more responsive. Yes, the keyboard still lags sometimes but that’s about it. I feel like I have my old IOS 4 iPad back but with all the benefits of IOS 5. I’m going to go update my wife’s 3GS right now.

    • Dilipthakur Dt

      03/09/2012 at 2:51 am

      let me know how it works my friend

  9. MM

    03/09/2012 at 12:07 am

    You are right! I downloaded the update right after I read this and my iPhone 3GS did indeed became faster than before!

  10. kinghifi

    03/09/2012 at 4:34 am

    The update does indeed make it snappier but I got to say, I don’t notice any battery improvements. I know in the past after a couple of full charges, my battery gets stronger. Hopefully this is the case with this update too.

  11. Annomys

    03/09/2012 at 5:32 am

    iphone 3gs has siri.?

    • js

      03/09/2012 at 7:58 am

      has not. i don’t think it would appear for the iphone 4 either officially – and they would have made much more of a show about it if it was opened up.

  12. Henrik Nåmark

    03/09/2012 at 9:42 am

    Just updated to iOS 5.1, finally it feels like it’s usable again. I don’t agree with you at all that iOS 5 + 3GS “runs absolutely phenomenally” but now I got my love back for the phone.

    • Orbitni

      03/09/2012 at 12:11 pm

      Japp, exakt så är det:)

  13. Tylerhargett0259

    03/10/2012 at 10:37 am

    I updated to iOS 5.1 the other day and it seems to be working better other than two problems. The battery life doesn’t seem to have improved any and I normally keep my 3G turned off to help with the battery but now when I turn 3G on, my phone will come up saying “No Service” and have to turn it off in order to get service again. Hope they come out with another update to fix these problems soon.

  14. Mark Illingworth

    03/11/2012 at 6:28 pm

    I upgraded to 5.1.  I had no problems with the previous 5.0+ versions.  Now however I immediately have problems with the “slide to unlock” … it takes more than several swipes to get the wretched thing to unlock.  Either the iphone 3GS has coincidently got a hardware failure at exactly the same time as the software upgrade or there is something wrong with 5.1 … anyone else had this problem?   I have rebooted a number of times with no improvement.  Overall 5.1 is a lot slower than what I was experiencing before …  I guess my next step is to try and downgrade and see whether there is an improvement.

    • Nic Attwood

      03/17/2012 at 5:33 pm

      I upgraded a 3GS to 5.1 from 5.0.1 and found that the phone slowed down so much it became unusable . It could take 5 or more seconds to react to the home button. So I did a recovery back to 5.0.1 and now it’s perfect. …. Be warned .

    • Gopu Virgo

      03/25/2012 at 8:19 pm

      I also updated my 3gs firmware from 5.0 to 5.1 and it lags like hell. “Slide to unlock” responds after few slides and message typing at times becomes so irritating. I will try to downgrade it. 

      • Zman

        04/26/2012 at 10:34 am

        Did you lose any applications?  This happened to me after ‘upgrading’ my 3GS to iOS 5.1, and now I cannot find them.  If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have kept the iPhone.

  15. Sunil, London, UK

    03/12/2012 at 4:30 am

    My 3GS still switches itself on and off intermittently after the 3GS upgrade from 5.0.1 to 5.1 – am starting to think it’s not the software, but maybe a hardware issue?

    • Ace

      03/15/2012 at 6:03 pm

      It’s a hardware issue. I replaced my old 3GS battery w a new battery and the constant turning off stopped.

  16. B_sied

    03/13/2012 at 6:49 pm

    hi i bought tv out to my iphone 3gs it was working ok on ios5.0.1 now with ios 5.1 is not working can some one tell me y

    • Xenapw2011

      03/14/2012 at 10:39 pm

      It’s not working on my iPhone 4S or ipad2 either. Both stopped working with 5.1

  17. Matt

    03/14/2012 at 4:37 pm

    Weird. I’ve experienced the exact opposite. I never had a problem with OS 5 but after 5.1 my 3GS is incredibly slow. Loading and switching apps is choppy and slow and Web browsing is horrible. 

  18. Jack

    03/15/2012 at 10:06 pm

    Ditto, mine is very slow and lags as well. Not the same experience as the writer of this article

  19. Dilipthakur Dt

    03/16/2012 at 7:12 am

    Thanks everyone i upgraded my iPhone 3gs to 5.1 after reading this article and its running perfect and surprisingly battery is also improved.
    its giving me feel like new phone wow

  20. David_brown_199

    03/16/2012 at 8:12 am

    Apple iPhone 3GS works great since Updating to Iso 5.1 the phone is a lot faster and battery lasts long,I’ve played loads off games and bin on the Internet and battery didn’t need charging. So If u haven’t updated to the new software I wud do it.

  21. Marcelo

    03/20/2012 at 4:06 pm

    May be due to the jailbreak, but my 3GS was running flawlessly in 5.0.1 and now in 5.1 it’s lagging for whatever I do. I mean: WHATEVER. It gets locked for some seconds after I do something like changing to other screen, and then returns to normal operation.

  22. Dominick

    03/25/2012 at 5:39 pm

    yeah, my 3GS has been noticeably slower and choppier since going to 5.1. I will barely have any apps running, have plenty of free space, have iCloud off, and it’s not jailbroken or anything. Tapping input fields will take 2 seconds or longer to gain focus, and scrolling is choppy, home button is slower in different instances (one-click or two-clicks whether on home screen or within an app) among other perceptible UI/UX problems. 


  23. paul

    03/29/2012 at 5:59 pm

    lemme try this

  24. Mt

    03/29/2012 at 8:33 pm

    I was afraid to upgrade. Thanks to you I did and now my old little phone is poppin fresh!  :)

  25. Dont_trust_Apple_anymore

    03/31/2012 at 10:50 am

    Sound perfect! but I just prefer my jb 4.3.3 version! I had 5.0,1… I dont believe anymore apple…and i have not so much time to try out this again…;)

  26. Anders Tornquist

    04/18/2012 at 12:01 pm

    I upgraded to 5.1 on my 3GS as soon as it became available and have enjoyed the upgrade features already mentioned above. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, I’m having problems with my e-mail synchronization. When I open up mail the wheel keeps spinning while attempting to connect and check for e-mail. I have multiple exchange, POP3 and IMAP accounts that all have the same problem.  I’ve tried changing my Push/Fetch/Manual settings,  the number of messages to show, and closing down mail but nothing helps. I’ve also tried deleting and recreating e-mail accounts and rebooting. This only works for the first e-mail sync but then the problem starts again next time I try to check e-mail. Having to reboot overtime you want to check your mail gets old. This is extremely frustrating since it drains the battery in a couple of hours. I’ve read about others attempting to reinstall the IOS without success.  Does anyone else have this problem and have you found a sustainable solution?

  27. Iwantanewiphone

    04/24/2012 at 10:47 am

    My 3GS has become slower every time I have updated from 5.0 to 5.0.1 and now is barely useable on 5.1. Maybe I have a bad build or something but I completely regret updating. I miss the 4.x performance.

  28. luke budi

    05/06/2012 at 1:34 am

    Installed 5.1 on 3GS’s running very slow…

    I am really regret!!!

  29. Tiffany

    05/09/2012 at 4:02 pm

    last night I installed an upgrade to my 3GS, my phone will now not stay on unless it is plugged up to a power source. It works perfectly when plugged up but as soon as I unplug, the screen goes black and I can not use the phone. ????? anyone know what I can do about this? HELP!

  30. lawie

    05/10/2012 at 2:50 am

    my power management has also gone down. as soon as i unplug, i can only stay online for at most two hours. i believe its a problem that came with the 5.1.1

  31. Eason47

    05/13/2012 at 5:48 am

    5.1 has been very unstable in my 3gs.
    it takes about 8 seconds to open up the “setting”; while in previous versions, it only takes 3 seconds to load up…

    And everything have been slow down / hang randomly…

  32. Afzal Mirza Baig

    06/22/2012 at 4:59 am

    I am so upset with Apple from the day I updated my iphone 3gs to ios 5.1.Its become very slow and the screen freezes many time..Kindly advice.

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