Typing Speed

One of the major annoyances I’ve encountered on the iPhone 3G running iOS 4.1 (other than just how slow it is) is typing. It’s simple enough - a dialog box will pop up, and I’ll start typing as quickly as I would on the 3Gs or 4. On those two devices, I’ll generally get to the end and be satisfied with my result, minus an error or two of my own.

On the 3G however, the story is entirely different. When I start typing just about anywhere, the device is slow enough that it often misses the first character or two of what I’ve typed entirely. I don't know if this is something new with 3.1.3, with 4.0, or even if the iPhone 3G had this problem (I don't know because I never owned one, I was a staunch Windows Mobile diehard at the time), but it's incredibly frustrating.

Even as I’m typing, keyboard input on the 3G seems to lag at least a word or two behind, giving me little feedback visually or aurally to verify character input. It's like I'm running circles around the thing just by typing. I can live with waiting for applications to launch (I guess, to some extent), but lagging input is generally what drives me to the point of hurling devices around the room. Just ask my old HTC Touch Pro. That device had an awesome hardware keyboard, but a predictive input system and keyboard driver that never were fast enough for me - I would finish typing, and characters would stream in for 10s of seconds. Amazing.

The 3G isn't quite to that level of frustrating, but it's close for me. Really close. 

For this test, I fired up iTextSpeed and went at the default WPM test fast as I could, just to see if I could out-type this thing. 


Surprisingly, I found that the iPhone 3G was slower to type on with 3.1.3 than 4.x.

Part of that could be improved word autocorrection, or maybe I’m imagining iOS 4.x still feeling slow when it comes to typing. That lag between first character entry and recognition remains, however, and the whole time words were lagging behind input. It's a chaotic experience typing at maximum speed on the 3G because you're given feedback about a word later. For some perspective, on the 4 I can text in the low 80s on a good day. 

Conclusions and final thoughts

What it comes down to is whether iOS 4.1 is faster than 4.0.2, and for that, the answer is an unequivocal yes. The update brings the iPhone 3G nearly back to the snappiness of 3.1.3 in most places, and you get a much faster WebKit JavaScript engine with compatibility updates to boot. That said, it’s obvious that Apple still hasn’t quite managed to optimize the ARMv6 iOS kernel to be quite as fast as it used to be under iOS 3.1.3. 

I'm going to be painfully honest though. If you’re the kind of person that even remotely cares about how fast   your device is or applications launch, you shouldn’t be using an iPhone 3G anymore. It’s that simple. Use the 3G as a backup phone in case something breaks, give it to a family member with a dumbphone, or sell it on eBay or Craigslist - just don't expect the 3G to get any faster. Apple considers the 3G's speed issue fixed, even though it's still not quite as fast as 3.1.3 was.

Pick from just about any modern Android 2.x device with a 1 GHz SoCs, and you’ll feel the difference, same with the 3GS or 4. Even the first Motorola Droid manages to feel faster. That’s the architectural difference a completely different generation of ARM devices gives you, folks.

I'm serious. Pick up any modern smartphone, and you'll get something that feels an order of magnitude faster. The difference is just stunning. I don't know if the 3G has always felt this slow or whether it's made a continual march towards being sluggish since launch - I honestly never had one. But the speed of these devices is making me more and more impatient - Anand maintains that faster CPUs and desktops have made him patient, paradoxically. I clearly have much to learn from this master of Zen, as using the 3G for any period of time tries my sanity.

The bottom line is that if you have an iPhone 3G, iOS 4.1 will make you hate how slow your phone is a little less. Apple deserves credit for keeping a device just over 2 years old fully updated and supported. On the other hand, it’s obvious that Apple could have saved some face had it optimized the initial iOS 4.0 ARMv6 kernel for the iPhone 3G a little more than it initially bothered to.

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  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Put Pandora on each of them, run it, and then see what happens. One of my biggest iOS4 woes on my 3G was Pandora. I think it made the phone overheat, because it would play for an hour or two, then lock up. The buttons did nothing, but if you waited about 10 minutes, it would just reboot and be fine again. The phone did feel rather warm afterward. Went back to 3.1.3, and those problems are gone.

    I'm not going to 4.1 until I get a general "all clear" from all the testers out there. I should have waited on 4.0.
  • bobjones32 - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the analysis as usual, guys at AnandTech. It's honestly quite pathetic how little coverage that 3G performance has gotten in tech blogs. Not you guys, I don't come here for tech news in the first place and it isn't really your intended coverage.

    But the popular tech blogs that do cover every new gadget and news article...shame on them. They're so totally obsessed with the latest and greatest shiny gadgets that it never once occurred to them that their readers might *gasp* hold onto their iPhone 3G for the entirety of their 2-year contract, if not longer.

    I got my iPhone 3G in October of 2008. Every single subsequent OS update has significantly lowered performance, with iOS 4 being the icing on the cake. Particularly because iOS 4 does almost nothing at all to improve the 3G in the first place.

    Even worse? My 3G started exhibiting functional problems with the few buttons on the device too, but since it was out of warranty, Apple wouldn't do anything for me without an expensive repair. So they give me shitty software upgrades that are mandatory for application compatibility, then the hardware malfunctions and they want me to pay for it.

    It got so bad that I finally sold my 3G for parts on eBay for a decent amount, and bought a used 3GS for a decent price too. The Apple Store recommended that I just re-sign my contract to get an iPhone 4 for $200, but fuck that, I'm never directly giving Apple another single dollar for a piece of hardware.

    I've been a long-time Windows user and still use Windows, having no interest in purchasing a Mac. The iPhone was Apple's chance to win me over. They almost did. But iTunes is a piece of crap. The 3G was slowly transformed into a piece of crap. Their customer service wasn't helpful. Therefore, they will be getting no more money out of me.
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    "Even worse? My 3G started exhibiting functional problems with the few buttons on the device too, but since it was out of warranty, Apple wouldn't do anything for me without an expensive repair. So they give me shitty software upgrades that are mandatory for application compatibility, then the hardware malfunctions and they want me to pay for it....Their customer service wasn't helpful."

    Do you honestly expect ANY company to do repairs for free out of warranty? Seriously?

    I'm not getting an iphone, but smartphones have so many more points of failure, and cost $500 ($800 for an iphone) without a subsidy. You think the iphone is bad, you should have seen the issues Palm had with the 700m from the tech support side. Perhaps the iphone is just as bad, but at least I don't hear people complaining about it losing the ability to ring (common WinMob issue with only one fix, a hard reset).
  • et01267 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    With the 4.0.1 "update", my 3G suddenly became so slow that if I was running an app (like the NPR programming stream) and got a phone call it was not possible to answer the call before it went to voicemail. Ring ... Slide the slider to answer... (doesn't move) slide again (nothing) Ring... slide slide slide Ring slide Ringing stops.... (later) bing, you have a voicemail.

    In effect, they have ruined the primary function of a phone -- making and receiving phone calls.

    So rather than taking the chance on 4.1 making the phone usable, I just jailbroke/unlocked my phone so I can use it with other SIMs in the (civilized, not under the tyranny of ATT) rest of the world.

    But I still might get an iPhone 4.
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Uhm, and how did jail breaking your phone make it faster? That doesn't make any sense. 4.1 should make your phone quite a bit faster from what I have read. But going to other provider isnt going to change the speed of the OS. Why not just downgrade back to 3.x?
  • Relegant - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    On 4.0x the phone goes out and fetches mail every time I open up the Map app. Sometimes a few seconds to do it, sometimes I'm past what I was trying to find. It never did this on 3.x. I don't know if this is due 4.0 or a change in the map/Google software.
  • chromal - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Apple deserves credit for keeping a device just over 2 years old fully updated and supported.

    You have exceptionally low expectations, don't you? Given that people are being sold these products with 2 year cellular service contracts, Apple had goddamned better support them for the life of the contract. I agree with the 'planned obsolescence,' there's no reason for my iPhone 3G to perform worse at basic functions than when I bought it in 2008, and that is really that, period, end of line, end of story. Thank GOD I didn't trust iOS 4.x enough to update mine 3G.
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Don't bother ever getting an Android phone, because most of them stop within 6 months of release.
  • gcor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Good point. I so wish I hadn't "up" graded to iOS4.

    Apple has definitely killed a large chunk of my trust in their reliability with this. It's that trust that put them above other vendors for me in the past.

    If Apple is no more reliable that the rest, I guess it's time start checking out alternatives for my next contract.
  • gcor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    As previously posted, 2 years is the plan life of phones today. Given large numbers of 3G's are still on contract, I hardly think Apple is "Caring for the Elderly" by breaking peoples' phones!

    My Sony Ericsson 810i (~5 years old) still functions just fine. It's not a smart phone, but it can still make calls smoothly, doesn't freeze and the built in apps keep me organised with better performance than the 3G on iOS4.

    Shame on you Apple, iOS4 should never have been released for the 3G.

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