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What are all the differences between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS?
Please note that the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS models both have been discontinued. However, this Q&A has been updated with up-to-date details about iOS support and can be quite helpful for anyone buying or selling either of these devices on the used market.
Both are identical from the front and apart from silver "details" text on the back of the iPhone 3GS, have identical black or white plastic backs as well with the sole exception of model number.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Left - iPhone 3G, Right - iPhone 3GS)
Although external identification requires sharp eyes to spot it down at the bottom of the back of the phone, the iPhone 3G is model number A1241 and the iPhone 3GS is A1303. The China-only iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS models that do not have Wi-Fi are model number A1324 and A1325, respectively.
If the iPhone will boot, it may be even easier to lookup either by Order Number with Everyi.com's Ultimate iLookup feature or the EveryMac app (available for iOS 5 or later as well as Android). Apple refers to the order number as "Model" in software. To find the "Model" select the "Settings" app and then click General > About > and scroll until the field is visible.
Both the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS models use a rounded plastic design. The iPhone 3GS weighs slightly more -- 4.8 ounces rather than 4.7 ounces -- but this difference is not noticeable.
The iPhone 3GS has an improved "oleophobic" oil repellent coating over the 3.5" 320x480 display, but otherwise the displays are essentially the same as well except for a slightly "warmer" tint on the iPhone 3GS.
Internally, however, the iPhone 3GS is remarkably different.
It has a significantly faster processor (600 MHz up from 412 MHz, with a dramatically improved graphics processor as well), twice the RAM (256 MB up from 128 MB) and support for faster 7.2 Mbps HSDPA.
It has an improved 3.0 megapixel camera with VGA video recording at 30 FPS as well as autofocus, macro, and white balance support, a "tap to focus" feature, and new basic "video editing" capabilities (you can cut the beginning and end of a clip "in camera").
It also has a digital compass which is helpfully integrated with Google Maps to make it easy to tell which direction one is facing. The iPhone 3GS models -- as introduced -- also were packed with 16 GB and 32 GB of storage (up from 8 GB and 16 GB for the iPhone 3G). However, on June 7, 2010 alongside the introduction of the iPhone 4, Apple cut the storage of the iPhone 3GS to 8 GB and lowered the price as well. Apple discontinued it entirely on September 12, 2012.
Battery Life & Feature Differences
Despite the increase in hardware performance, battery life has been modestly improved. Apple reports that talk time on a 2G network has been increased to 12 hours from 10, Internet use on wi-fi has been increased to 9 hours from 6, music playback has been increased to 30 hours from 24, and video playback has been increased to 10 hours from 7. Talk time on a 3G network, however, is 5 hours for both models.
In addition to the "twice as fast" performance, better camera, improved battery life, and digital compass, The iPhone 3GS also adds VoiceOver for accessibility, voice control functionality, integrated Nike + iPod support, and an inline remote on the headphone cable (like the iPod shuffle 3rd Gen).
iOS Support Differences
The iPhone 3G originally shipped with version 2.0 of the iPhone operating system, which didn't formally have a name at that point, but after the release of the iPhone 3GS, both it and iPhone 3G shipped with iPhone OS 3.0 with support for cut, copy, and paste, voice memos, search functionality, a landscape keyboard option, and other features.
After iPhone OS 3.0, operating system support between the devices varies significantly.
Starting June 7, 2010, Apple started shipping the iPhone 3GS with iOS 4, which the device fully supports. The iPhone 3GS fully supports iOS 5, but it is only partially compatible with iOS 6 (it does not support the turn-by-turn navigation, Siri, FaceTime, Offline Reading List, or Panorama features), and it does not support iOS 7 or subsequent versions of the iOS at all.
The iPhone 3G, on the other hand only partially supports iOS 4 and does not support iOS 5 or subsequent versions of the operating system altogether.
Original pricing in the United States for the iPhone 3GS was the same as it was for the iPhone 3G when it was released -- US$199 for the entry-level model and US$299 for the high-end model, offered with 16 GB and 32 GB of storage, respectively. These prices were only for new AT&T Wireless customers, though. For non-qualified customers -- originally including existing AT&T customers who wanted to upgrade from another phone or replace an iPhone 3G -- the standard price with a new two-year agreement was US$599 or US$699.
However, after outrage from consumers, AT&T Wireless relaxed the upgrade requirements for existing iPhone 3G customers a bit and extended "standard upgrade" pricing of US$199 and US$299, for 16 GB and 32 GB configuration of the iPhone 3GS, respectively, to those who purchased the iPhone 3G before the end of September 2008.
Apple continued to sell the 8 GB iPhone 3G for US$99 for new AT&T Wireless customers with a two-year contract until the iPhone 4 was introduced on June 7, 2010. Non-qualified/existing customers had to pay US$499. The 8 GB configuration of the iPhone 3GS introduced June 7, 2010 was offered for US$99 for qualified customers and US$499 for those who do not qualify.
On October 4, 2011, upon introducing the iPhone 4S, Apple dropped the price of the 8 GB iPhone 3GS to free with a two-year contract. It was discontinued entirely on September 12, 2012.
For your convenience, the main differences between the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G also have been summarized below:
|Processor Speed:||412 MHz||600 MHz|
|Standard RAM:||128 MB||256 MB|
|Standard Storage:||8 GB, 16 GB||16 GB, 32 GB (8 GB§)|
|7.2 Mbps HSDPA:||No||Yes|
|Camera:||2.0 Megapixels||3.0 Megapixels|
|Talk Time (3G):||5 Hours||5 Hours|
|Talk Time (2G):||10 Hours||12 Hours|
|Battery Life (Web - 3G):||5 Hours||5 Hours|
|Battery Life (Web - Wi-Fi):||6 Hours||9 Hours|
|Battery Life (Music):||24 Hours||30 Hours|
|Battery Life (Video):||7 Hours||10 Hours|
|Standby Time:||300 Hours||300 Hours|
|Back Exterior Finish:||Black or White Plastic†||Black or White Plastic|
|Original iOS:||OS X 2.0||iPhone OS 3.0|
|iOS 4 Support:||Partial||Complete|
|iOS 5 Support:||None||Complete|
|iOS 6 Support:||None||Partial|
|iOS 7 & Later Support:||None||None|
|Dimensions (Inches):||4.5 x 2.4 x 0.48||4.5 x 2.4 x 0.48|
|Weight:||4.7 oz. (133 g)||4.8 oz. (135 g)|
|Intro Price:||US$199, US$299†||US$199, US$299††§|
* The iPhone 3G hardware is capable of supporting video capture, but the functionality is only accessible through "jailbroken" third-party hacks.
† On June 8, 2009, Apple discontinued the iPhone 3G models with white plastic backs but continued to sell an 8 GB configuration with a black back for US$99 for new AT&T Wireless customers with a two-year contract until June 7, 2010.
†† The iPhone 3GS originally was offered to new/qualified customers for US$199 and US$299, respectively with a new two-year agreement.
§ On June 7, 2010, Apple introduced a "low end" configuration of the iPhone 3GS alongside the iPhone 4 and this "low end" configuration was offered with 8 GB of storage for US$99 with a two-year agreement. On October 4, 2011, upon introducing the iPhone 4S, Apple dropped the price of the 8 GB iPhone 3GS to free with a two-year contract. Apple discontinued the iPhone 3GS entirely on September 12, 2012.
For a nicely prepared rundown of the top five differences between the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G, you may also find this video from Stuff.tv to be helpful:
iPhone Purchase & Repair Options
There are any number of places to purchase a used iPhone. However, purchasing from a quality company with extensive iPhone knowledge -- and after sales support -- will provide the best experience and save you money and time, too.
Please also see EveryiPhone.com's Ultimate iComparison feature to dynamically compare any iPhone model to any other iPod, iPhone, or iPad.