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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.



  1. Drew Costen

    06/22/2012 at 7:03 pm

    I remember exactly when I got my iPhone 3GS. I purchased it on its launch day at the Toronto Eaton Centre Apple store at 9:31am, June 19, 2009. It was my first iPhone, which was such an amazing upgrade from the crappy BlackBerry Storm I’d been using prior to it.

    I finally sold it (technically a refurbished replacement, as the volume switch had fallen off the original) last summer, but it served me well, first as a phone, then as an iPod touch for my wife when I switched to the iPhone 4. I’m looking forward to the new iPhone when it comes out this fall.

    • Asadul

      07/11/2012 at 5:32 am

      May name is Asadul Habib
      May Home is Dhaka Bangle Dahs . I us-jar iPhone3GS . I Thing iPhone Is Bast . I like iPhone

  2. Andrew

    06/23/2012 at 12:17 am

    Excellent article about the iPhone 3GS. Still holding on to mine & I really don’t find the need to switch to another phone because I can still use it for basic functions like calling, texting, web browsing & using apps. Speed is still decent despite being a 3 year old phone, & I think ios 6 will make it better although it won’t be getting all the new features.

    Sent from my iPhone 3GS :)

  3. Stocklone

    06/23/2012 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks for being honest about the iPhone. I value that quality in a tech writer more than anything else.

  4. Archer

    06/24/2012 at 5:06 pm

    My very first smartphone was an iPhone 3GS. Before that I had the LG Shine; which was a decent phone, but not a smart phone and definitely underpowered.

    I’ve had a case, and thank goodness, because I’ve dropped that sucker several times, once even into a pasta dish! :P

    Now I have an iPhone 4S and my dad, who had a regular phone before, now has my iPhone 3GS and he is almost borderline-addicted to it. Even with iOS 5.1.1 it’s still a sturdy phone for his needs!

    Good times and good memories, 3GS!

  5. brandon

    07/10/2012 at 3:40 pm

    bravo!!! great article i still have mine even with the shattered screen and will still use it until the 5 comes out..I would die before i would get another samsung crap android phone..My 3gs still never glitches!!!!

  6. Chris Grillo

    08/08/2012 at 1:47 am

    A very honest review (and much appreciated)

    Despite being over 3 years old now, my 3GS still goes everywhere with me in my pocket. While the screen resoution compared to the monsters these days is a bit off, I still enjoy watching sit-coms on it while at work (just listening to the jokes, not watching the screen!) The sound through headphones is extremely good, and I read a lot on it, with kindle, ibooks and stanza…

    5.1.1 is not slow at all on mine… I have switched off all spotight apps….

    My elder daughter has my iphone 3G, and my younger one has the original iphone! All 3 work perfectly still!

    No more Samsung crappy phones for me! (I tried the s3…. hopeless build quality, and crap android!)

  7. අහවලා

    09/04/2012 at 8:24 pm

    Good review. And I agree to many points. Mine was bought in UAE in September 2009 and is still going well. The only issue I have is the battery life. Last night when I went to bed it was 20% and it was dead in the morning. I haven’t used a cover for the phone so mine is scratched and also bares a small crack in the back panel (Yes, I too have dropped it many times). Still I love my phone and have no intention to switch to another iphone. Mine is enough for all the functions I use the phone for. Thinking of replacing the battery though. Hope it’ll solve my problems.

  8. iamsyh

    09/22/2012 at 5:42 pm

    Agreed the iPhone 3GS is still rocking it even on the new iOS 6! Great article!

  9. viju

    09/29/2012 at 2:21 am

    so ssupeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  10. Winko

    10/07/2012 at 4:04 am

    Good read…and while 3 years with 1 phone is considered long time these days, I had my Nokia 8855 for more then 5 years!

  11. mai

    11/21/2012 at 7:06 pm

    My iphone 3gs wont charge and turn on. How will i know that i need to replace the battery or something else problem.

  12. Donn

    11/23/2012 at 11:29 pm

    I have my 3gs for 3years now dropped it a couple of times this is my first iphone and im still happy with it,been tempted to replace it with different smartphones but i find myself coming back to my iphone 3gs i just love this phone no matter how old it is

  13. Paul Diesal

    12/12/2012 at 12:43 pm

    I am using iPhone3gs and it is working smooth, even i have also used Nokia, Samsung and Sony ericsson but if you really ask me which phone do you like then my answer will be iPhone 3gs. I have installed lots of apps and using latest ios 6 on it….it is working good.

  14. Newman

    12/21/2012 at 3:23 am

    I’ve also had my 3GS for slightly over 3 years now, and it’s still as good as when it came out of the store. I haven’t noticed any changes in battery life, apps work fine, and frankly it’s not even that slow as the article would suggest – the reason being I’m still on iOS 4.something. I never updated to iOS 5 or beyond on purpose, because even though the new features are undoubtedly nice, I find speed of use more important than additional features I’ve lived without so far. I really think this is the ticket for anyone who wants to use their iphone for an extended period of time; once there are two or more newer generation iphones out there, updating to the latest iOS is probably going to slow your phone down. Think if the additional features are worth the annoyance of the phone being slow in general and act accordingly.

    One other thing I can confirm about the 3GS is it’s longevity; I owned Nokia, Siemens, and various old windows smartphones before this one and none of them came close to the longevity of this one. My last phone before this one was the Nokia N73 which was a horrible, slow, buggy phone that started physically falling apart a few months after purchase. Once it was 2 years old I was forced to replace as it was in a pretty bad condition, plus I was fed up with everything being slow and crashing all the time. Three years later, my iphone 3gs still looks like it came out of the store after a single wipe with a microfiber cloth.

  15. Peter Cheung

    12/27/2012 at 5:17 am

    I just brought a new case for my 3GS and I hope I can use it for another two to three years. It serve all my purposes and looks like new after all these years. I have installed IOS6 in it and installed the new Google map. I get voice assisted navigation now!

  16. Justin

    01/24/2013 at 6:07 pm

    I just got a brand new replacement 3GS today from Apple due to my old 3GS’s lock button being worn out and the headphone jack loose. I had that phone for 2years and it held up like a beast. These phones are truly sturdy and built to last. They’re the best quality. I dropped my old 3GS constantly because I skate yet it still held up. No cracked screen nothing besides a cracked back panel that was very small. I look forward to another 3years with this new 3GS. Apple built a memorable phone that will be around in the coming years with all the new iPhones in the future guaranteed.

  17. Guru

    03/04/2013 at 3:11 am

    Good article. I have had my 3GS for over 3 yrs and do not have a reason to part with it. Just waiting for the day when if at all the battery needs replacement. Hope apple maintains its quality and its loyal customers

  18. Kameron

    03/16/2013 at 10:03 am

    what do you think i should do stay with my LG Opyimus L5 (android) or move on to the iPhone 3G ????????

  19. Tracy T

    04/01/2013 at 5:50 pm

    I too have been in love with my 3GS for over 3 years :) works great on ios6 ……never let me Down still looks & works like new :) just can’t wrench myself away from my faithful little friend ……:(

  20. smarty1

    06/28/2013 at 4:04 pm

    I too had had a 3 1/2 year love affair with my faithful little iphone 3gs :)
    I recently deflected & bought a S3 … (to test out android)
    a week of horrendous battery life even when dimming it to the point I can’t see it outdoors, & turning everything smart off it! Crap camera…..mind of its own. .resets my time out screen? & lots of other problems. ..
    Not fit for purpose!!!
    Will return with glee & hug my little 3gs for as long as he soldiers on :0 )
    When apple finally bring out a bigger screen I will be itching to take a peek..
    Until then I will treasure my reliable tried & tested little phone. ..which still knocks spots of the newest of phones. ..first & most impressively it works!!! Infact ive never had to reboot it…..well I suppose
    Its all to do with build quality :0)

  21. Andrew, uk

    08/12/2013 at 7:20 am

    Great review. I’ve been an android user for many years. But when my wife wanted a phone I looked around and got her a 3GS which she took to like a duck to water. It was the first iPhone I’d used and I was impressed by its ease of use and stability. It cost me £120 at the time (2nd hand) and today (a few years later) I can get at least £80 for it. My wife has now moved to a 4s and the 3GS to my mother. It’s an iconic and long lasting phone (and it still feels better to hold than almost every phone I’ve tried).

  22. Mojo

    10/25/2013 at 10:07 pm

    I’ve got a 5 but continue to use my 3GS as a multimedia machine – having two iPhones is awesome, there are so many uses despite it being older technology. Essentially when u stop using it as a phone it becomes an iPod touch and having an extra one of those is nothing to sneeze at! I use it to feed music to Bluetooth speakers, listen to podcasts and generally have it as a backup in case my 5 is busy charging or being used. And it may not be the latest tech, but it’s still plenty fast and the screen is just fine for 99% of what you’d want to do with it. No matter how you slice it, the 3GS is still a high power multimedia machine that will be capable of providing entertainment and wifi connectivity for many years to come.

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