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.

Faster Application Launches
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  • Colin1497 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    Actually, it should have been more thoroughly tested, IMO. When I first installed 4.0, like the author for the tests, it was OK. It was several days before I started getting things like not being able to answer calls because the slider wouldn't respond in time. I disabled spotlight search (http://lifehacker.com/5599406/disable-spotlight-se... and that helped, but still it would become unresponsive and I'd do a hard reset and it would be OK for a while. This article was just a sign that the author has no understanding of what the issues were, and his conclusion is, frankly, insulting.
  • watzupken - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    Seriously, I think with the current push for the 2 major mobile OSes, apart from the BB OS, we are in the position of a computer user, or may be worst. Right now, we are looking at mobile OSes that releases a new version every 6 to 12 mths. With every new release, the older hardware will suffer cause the new functions basically kills performance. Unlike a com, we do not have the chance to upgrade any part of the phone hardware to keep up with the requirement of the OS. Plus, we are all tied to a contract with the telco, thus, not all can afford to keep up to date on the hardware. Anyway, back to this review. I have not tested this on my last gen iPod Touch. May give it a try. On the iPhone 4, it is a great update, especially the HDR cam feature.
  • Colin1497 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    This article was a total failure. The author demonstrated that he has no understanding of the issue. The issue wasn't so much how fast a web page got rendered or how long it NORMALLY took to get things to happen. Those were slower, and if that was the only problem, saying "well, it is an older device" might have been an answer. The issue was that the phone would just become completely unresponsive for 5, 10 15 seconds. Sometimes you couldn't answer it when it was ringing. The slider would appear but you couldn't get it to answer.

    I suspect that the real issue is fixed, even if this article doesn't address it all and just makes the author look like a jerk (Seriously, you were a fan of Windows CE phones? LOL, what a maroon! What an ingoranimus! See, we can all be jerks.). Before you correct my spelling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_Kh7nLplWo

    What the article does reveal is that 4.1 is better than 4.0. I'd wager that if Apple HADN'T screwed up the 3G version of iOS 4 so badly, the 3G users probably wouldn't have gotten these improvements. So, 2 months of "I HATE MY PHONE" traded for more longevity for the device.
  • monomer - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    Is there any chance we'll be able to get a battery life comparison of iOS 4.1 vs 4.0.x and 3.x on the 3G? It may be my imagination, but it seems like my battery life had decreased with iOS4, though it may be just a change in my usage.
  • Shaorinor - Sunday, September 12, 2010 - link

    I jailbroke a friend's 3G and the problem is that too many apps seem to hang in memory after you close them. A side effect of the "multi-tasking" enhancement to the new OS I would say. Once I killed all the loose processes from all the apps that I opened, the phone sped up significantly again.

    Luckily, I was able to downgrade him back to firmward 3.1.3. I'd personally advise holding off upgrading to any firmware until you see all the major kinks have been worked out.
  • jeans_xp - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    A4 is manufactured by SAMSUNG semiconductor. For more information: www.mobilegoing.com

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