Hands on with the Apple iPhone 3G S

While the iPhone 3G S is not a huge leap forward, the smartphone offers enough good upgrades and performance incentives to make it worth considering

Voice Control

Another feature exclusive to the 3G S is Voice Control, which basically enables you to issue commands to the handset by speaking them into the microphone. By holding down the Home button for a couple seconds, the Voice Control screen pops up and beeps, which is your cue to tell it what you want. In my first test, I asked it to call a number by simply saying, 'call' and then reciting the number. But I could also just follow 'call' and say the name of a contact - and even specify between 'home' and 'mobile'.

More than that, I told it to 'play only songs from Akon', or 'play 80s retro playlist'. I even asked it to 'play more songs like this one' and it basically used Genius to shuffle songs together that matched what was playing. Voice Control always repeats what you've said, so you can confirm its accuracy, and you'll find it doesn't always get it right. In one case, I wanted to play a track from jazz musician Richard Elliot, but it gave me the Latino Players instead. Voice control Even with its flaws, Voice Control is still impressive. It isn't trained by your voice, so it can understand commands from anyone, regardless of gender, age and accent. And it does a good job of hearing you, even when you're a little distance away. The only issue is that background and ambient noise can really confuse it.

One drawback for me with this feature is that it won't work with Bluetooth headsets. I see the advantage of mounting my 3G S in my car and making and taking calls without even having to touch the phone, but that's not possible here. You can only pull this off with the included earbuds that come with the phone, which are the same ones introduced with the latest iPod Shuffle. The controls are on the right cord, and holding down the middle button can launch Voice Control.

Another gripe is that Voice Control doesn't launch apps. This may be a moot point, given that it's just as easy to navigate and launch it with a simple touch, but I can see the benefit of being able to launch an app that may be among dozens or even hundreds on the phone.

Stereo Bluetooth

Having mentioned the lack of Bluetooth with Voice Control, the addition of stereo Bluetooth finally makes it possible to listen to audio on the iPhone without the use of any wires. For some reason, I get the sense this may be an underappreciated addition to the iPhone, but for me, it's a definite plus.

I tried using a pair of Motorola S9-HD wireless headphones with the 3G S and found it to be simple to set up, since it's no different than pairing the phone with a typical headset. It was such a seamless transition overall. Though iPhone 3G users will get stereo Bluetooth via the OS 3.0 update, iPhone 2G users won't because the hardware inside wasn't designed for it. Digital Compass and Maps

The inclusion of a digital compass is interesting on its own, but it's true benefit comes in how it integrates with the Maps app. The Compass app can face True North (by default) or Magnetic North, depending on your preference. The little reticle at the bottom left launches the Maps app to pinpoint your location.

Compass

The true value of this combination comes in the orientation. If you're driving somewhere and you're using the Maps app to navigate your route, tapping the reticle at the bottom left twice reorients the map so that it faces the direction you're heading in. Its execution is simple and comes in real handy when you're not sure which direction you're facing.

Unfortunately, this doesn't mean you will get voiced turn-by-turn directions as you drive along, since Apple hasn't included that in Maps. At WWDC, TomTom announced it will be releasing a GPS app that will offer this feature and more, so only time will tell.

Find My iPhone

Though there are third-party apps already for the iPhone in helping you track it if it's been lost or stolen, Find My iPhone is a feature that takes that premise and expands on it by allowing you to wipe all traces of yourself and your data remotely, and in the case of the 3G S, instantaneously. Though the feature will work with the iPhone 3G and 3G S, the process of locating the phone and wiping data takes longer with the 3G. The 3G S, on the other hand, can receive and execute those functions in seconds, even from a considerable distance.

The added bonus is that you can trigger an alarm on the phone, even if it's on silent mode. This can either reveal where the phone is, in case you've misplaced it at home, or embarrass and expose someone who has stolen it. So long as Location Services is toggled on under the General tab in Settings, then you're good to go - except there's a catch. Find My iPhone is only available to MobileMe subscribers, so non-members are unfortunately out of luck in utilizing the feature. Other Features

Given the array of new features in OS 3.0 alone, there's a lot to take in when looking into some of the additions that might cater more to specific users. Syncing the Notes app with your Mac or PC is now possible, which is yet another long overdue function that many iPhone users have likely clamoured for. Now it's here to stay. Finally.

The ability to log into your iTunes account and rent movies directly from the phone is another that intrigued me, personally. I'm not one to rent too many films, but I liked that I could rent one with a resolution and file size that made sense for the phone. It would make no sense, and certainly take way too much time, to download a 3GB high-definition video file for a device with a 3.6" screen. What makes this even better is that I could purchase or rent the movie on the iPhone, but then download the HD version onto my Mac (or PC) once I connected the phone to it.

Speaking of accounts, you also get the added benefit of logging into your YouTube account directly from the phone. I should also mention that you can upload video clips you shoot with the 3G S directly to YouTube through the phone as well. The beauty of this, of course, is that you can access whatever content you've posted onto the popular video-sharing site. Personally, I'm more of a spectator on YouTube than a contributor, so having access to my YouTube account didn't make a huge difference. But that's just me.

I also wasn't overly enamoured with the Shake to Shuffle feature. Sure, it's neat to shake the 3G S to undo something or to play a random track from my music library, but the relative delicacy of the handset makes me think that one wrong shake could prove disastrous for the phone's well-being. I take the feature as something users will meet with either outright enjoyment or sheer indifference.

One feature that has shown little so far, but offers so much promise, is push notifications from third-party apps. Up to now, Apple's apps have enjoyed the privilege of "pushing" information to the forefront of the phone, no matter what you were doing on it. It's expected that developers will apply the same function to their own apps, thereby making it possible to get a notification when someone has written on your wall on Facebook, for example. Let's wait and see how that all turns out.

Another interesting one to keep tabs on will be the peer-to-peer (P2P) connectivity mentioned at the WWDC keynote. The idea of playing games on an iPhone 3G S against someone using the latest iPod touch seems really cool, but without having really given it a run-through, I'm not sure what to make of it yet.

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Ted Kritsonis

PC World (US online)

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