- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It would be painfully easy to say the iPhone 3GS, released last month, is just a better smartphone than any of its rivals, rattle off the assorted features and leave it at that.

The numbers, however, tell a greater story: In its first three days on the market, according to an Apple Inc. announcement, the 3GS sold 1 million units. By contrast, first-weekend sales for the Palm Pre smartphone, reviewed here a fortnight ago, were estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 units.

The simple fact of the matter is that the iPhone, now represented by the 3GS model as the flagship, is a superior smartphone product, one that outranks just about everything else on the market by a wide margin.

That’s a dangerous assertion, I know: BlackBerry aficionados, including President Obama, are devoted to their devices and the Research in Motion platform. But there’s enough that’s new and better in the 3GS to make even Mr. Obama possibly reconsider.

First and foremost in my book, is capacity. For $300, plus a two-year service commitment to AT&T; Wireless, you can get an iPhone 3GS with 32 gigabytes of storage, which is, I believe, 3,200 times the 10-megabyte capacity of my first desktop computer’s hard disk drive. That’s huge. I can imagine loading a movie (or three) on this device and having enough entertainment to take me to California and back, or even to Hawaii. It’s not unlimited storage, but it’s double the previous limit, and it’s very nice.

Second on the hit parade is speed. Generally, the 3GS is faster than its predecessors. The speed is apparent when sending and retrieving e-mail, either via the AT&T; network or over a Wi-Fi connection. It’s also noticeable, mostly, when viewing Web pages. And searching for things on the iPhone 3GS is much quicker, too.

Third is a new, 3-megapixel camera featuring autofocus and video recording, up from a 2-megapixel camera in the older 3G model. Also added are voice controls and a compass.

The voice commands will require some effort to master: The “play song” command wouldn’t recognize the name of the old Dottie Rambo song, “I Go to the Rock,” but understood Shari Easter as the (primary) singer on my copy. Go figure. I do suspect it’ll handle voice-dialing commands, such as “Call Joe Smith,” pretty easily, however. At the same time, I don’t know if I can integrate this with my Bluetooth car setup, which is where I could most use this feature. Sigh.

There’s enough new here to make the iPhone 3GS worthy of consideration by any current iPhone user, and more than enough to make it a highly compelling purchase for anyone without a smartphone. I like the video camera aspect. Movies can be e-mailed to you in QuickTime format, and the final product looks as good in “full screen” mode on a 24-inch display as it does on the phone or in “normal” viewing mode. That’s quite an accomplishment, in my view.

Indeed, while some are deriding what they see as “incremental” changes in the iPhone, I would suggest this is enough of a breakthrough product to not only keep Apple atop the smartphone market, but also to help cement its position there for quite some time to come. The 3GS retains the ease of use of the earlier iPhone models, builds on it and adds useful features that will attract wide attention.

The aforementioned video camera is but one of those features. According to YouTube’s own blog (www.youtube.com/blog?entry=kbaLH7fmm-g), uploads to the short-video sharing Web site increased by 400 percent in the days following the release of 3GS.

No, the iPhone 3GS won’t replace your computer, nor will it usher in the Utopia dreamed of by Sir Thomas More. However, the new phone will make our work and personal lives easier, better and more enjoyable. All in all, that’s not too much to ask for, and quite a bit to satisfy users.

• E-mail Mark Kellner at mkellner@washingtontimes. com.

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