Let’s get this out the way right away. The latest revision of Apple’s ridiculously popular mobile phone is the best one yet. It’s the fastest and it is the most powerful. The iPhone 3G S is, also, the most over-priced handset to ever hit the market. Costing no less than a small car over a long-term contract, the iPhone 3G S is offensively expensive and Apple executives must take us all for mugs. Currently only available on the 02 network in the UK, the cheapest monthly payment is £29.38 over an 18-month period (75 minutes talktime, 125 texts, unlimited Web use), but you also have to pay a one-off sum of £274.23. Opt for the £73.41 per month package (3000 minutes, 500 texts, unlimited Web) and you won’t have to pay anything upfront. The upside is that the iPhone 3G is now available at an all-time low price of just £99 for the 8GB model.

Available in white or black, the iPhone 3G S is externally identical to the iPhone 3G. However, under the hood it has undergone a hardware update to give it a performance boost (remember, the ‘S’ is for speed), along with longer battery life, a 3-Megapixel autofocus camera (up from 2-Megapixels), video recording and hands-free voice control. Apple has bumped up the ARM Cortex-A8 processor from 412MHz to a rumoured (Apple is cagey about specifications) 600MHz, and the RAM has doubled from 128MB to 256MB DDR. Apple has also swapped out the previous graphics chip for a new version – dubbed the PowerVR SGX – which adds support for more robust visuals via OpenGL ES 2.0.

Whereas the 2G and 3G iPhones tended to struggle with some standard tasks – Web pages opened slowly and applications choked because of low memory – the iPhone 3G S pretty much takes anything you can throw at it. This is especially true of graphically intensive programs and games. The iPhone 3G S includes the new iPhone OS 3.0, which introduces ‘cutting-edge’ feature such as cut and paste, MMS, stereo Bluetooth, and a landscape keyboard. It’s amazing how Apple is touting features Windows Mobile users have taken for granted for the last 5 years or more! The iPhone 3G S also offers twice the capacity (32GB) for the same price as the iPhone 3G.

The biggest selling point of the iPhone 3G S (like its predecessors) is its sensational design. No doubt anyone who uses the phone will be amazed at the glorious 480×320-pixel touchscreen display that’s so easy to use anyone can figure it out – something that most definitely can’t be said about Windows Mobile (and even Google’s Android). iPhone customers also get access to more than 50,000 applications from Apple’s App Store, covering everything from the practical and productive to the weird and wonderful.

The newly-added voice control feature in the iPhone 3G S offers hands-free operation for both iPhone and iPod functions. Although many less impressive phones have had the feature for years, it works just great on the iPhone 3G S. As long as there isn’t too much ambient noise you can speak appropriate commands into the built-in microphone or headset microphone to activate the phone (dial by name or number) and play your music by artist, album or playlist, as well as activate the Genius feature by saying ‘play more songs like this.’ You can also tell the iPhone to pause the music, play the next track, turn on shuffle or ask ‘What’s playing right now?’ Voice control is definitely a gimmick, but it’s a great addition to the iPhone’s lineup of features and will be adored by many.

The new autofocus camera adjusts focus, exposure, colour and contrast for improved image quality (colours are more vibrant than the original phones) and includes an automatic macro focus for extra close up shots (useful for students snapping text books). With the new ‘tap to focus’ feature, you simply touch the display to select an object or area of interest and the camera automatically re-adjusts focus and exposure. You can also record daylight captured (there’s no flash or night capability) video clips and edit them right on the handset by simply trimming the start and stop points – sadly there is no way to produce a video with ‘cuts’ (a style popularised by many top Youtubers). When you’re done you can send photos and video by e-mail or MMS and post them to MobileMe or YouTube with just a couple of taps. Yes, the video is only VGA (640×480) resolution when the market is shifting at the speed of light to HD, but quality of the iPhone’s video capture is impressive nonetheless and trounces most other phones on the market.

Of course, there are other changes that shouldn’t be overlooked. The new oleophobic screen resists fingerprints much better, and a built-in hardware-based compass helps show, with the help of GPS, the direction that you are moving in Google maps and even rotates as you change direction, making it easy to orient yourself to true north or magnetic north. Sadly, even though there is GPS technology inside there are no turn-by-turn directions.

New accessibility features including VoiceOver, a screen reader that speaks what appears on the iPhone 3G S display, enabling visually impaired users to make calls, read e-mail, browse Web pages, play music and run applications. The new universal Zoom function magnifies the entire screen, and the White on Black feature reverses the colours on screen to provide higher contrast for people with low vision. The iPhone 3G S also supports Mono Audio which combines left and right audio channels so that they can be heard in both earbuds for those with hearing loss in one ear.

iPhone OS
The iPhone OS (operating system) is the operating system developed by Apple exclusively for its iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPhone OS’s user interface is the best ever used on a mobile phone and really turned the handset market on its head when it debuted on 29 June 2007 in the US. Based on the concept of direct manipulation using multi-touch gestures, the interface control elements consist of sliders, switches, and buttons. Interaction with the OS includes gestures such as swiping, tapping, pinching, and reverse pinching. Additionally, using internal accelerometers, rotating the device on its y-axis alters the screen orientation in some applications.

A home screen (rendered by “SpringBoard”) with application icons, and a dock at the bottom of the screen, showing icons for the applications the user accesses the most, is presented when the device is turned on or whenever the home button is pressed. The screen has a status bar across the top to display data, such as time, battery level, and signal strength. The rest of the screen is devoted to the current application. There is no concept of starting or quitting applications, only opening an application from the home screen, and leaving the application to return to the home screen. It is possible to force an application to quit by holding down the home button, however. While some multitasking is permitted it is not obtrusive or obvious. However, it is limited to Apple’s own applications. Third-party apps are quit when left, but with the 3.0 software update, notifications can be pushed from Apple’s servers to the iPhone or iPod Touch. Current iPhone owners can download iPhone OS 3.0 from iTunes for free, and iPod Touch users can get it as well, but for a fee of £5.99.

The iPhone 3GS is definitely the fastest, most powerful iPhone yet, and many will love the new features including the autofocus camera, video recording, and cut and paste (I still can’t believe I’m writing that). Existing iPhone customers will appreciate the speed boost, allowing the handset to render Web pages quicker and launch applications faster. And with the longer battery life you can watch more videos, listen to more music, browse the Internet or keep using your favourite applications longer – around 5 hours on a 3G network or 12 hours (up from 10) using 2G. Admittedly, I hardly noticed a difference in battery life between the new and old model.

As a whole, the iPhone 3G S is a great update for all people without an iPhone or with an iPhone 2G. For those with an iPhone 3G, the smoothness of the system will definitely make daily tasks much more enjoyable and pleasing, but you’ll need to have a good reason to justify the upgrade cost. You’ll not get everything a cutting-edge phone needs, such as a front facing camera for two-way video chats and turn-by-turn GPS directions, but it is clear Apple thought long and hard about altering the handset’s winning formula.

Most importantly, the iPhone 3G S works beautifully as a phone. It is not as versatile as many other devices (especially those based on Google’s open-source Android) and is very garden walled (try uploading video or photos to the iPhone from any device that is not your own registered PC or Mac), but the realism is that the mass-market just doesn’t care – they want top-flight design, ease of use, and a huge choice of quality applications. Apple has another winner on its hands, but for most of us the iPhone is still too darn expensive.