Before I dive into the numbers, let’s talk briefly about what makes the iPhone 3G (and 2G) fundamentally different from the 3GS. The iPhone 3G, like the 2G, is based around a 412 MHz ARM11 family Samsung SoC which implements the ARMv6 instruction set. It’s got 128 MB of LPDDR1. By contrast, the iPhone 3GS uses a 600 MHz ARM Cortex-A8 family SoC which runs the ARMv7 instruction set, and packs 256 MB of LPDDR1. The iPhone 4 similarly runs ARMv7 code.

By nature of the two platforms running different instruction sets, their underlying iOS kernels are completely different, even though ARMv6 is a subset of ARMv7. In all likelihood, Apple embraces ARMv7 for speed gains on 3GS and 4, and therefore has to keep a separate kernel for ARMv6. That applied with iOS 3.x and applies the same way with iOS 4.x.

For whatever reason, it seems as though the kernel for ARMv6 devices like the iPhone 3G weren’t quite as optimized as they could have been. As a result, performance on iOS 4 with the iPhone 3G was sluggish.

Speed Testing the Platforms

Even while waiting in line for the iPhone 4, numerous iPhone 3G users I talked with noted a dramatic slowdown. Using one, I was amazed how sluggish things like even jumping in and out of the messaging application were. At the time, I wasn’t sure how much of this to attribute to the iPhone 3G just being an older device, or the iOS 4.0 update. 

iPhone 3G users aren’t asking much, they just want the original speed and responsiveness of their devices back. For these tests, I borrowed a friend’s iPhone 3G and ran through a gamut of tests on iOS 3.1.3, iOS 4.0.2, and the iOS 4.1 GM which should be released September 8th. I also ran tests on an iPhone 3GS running 4.1 GM, though I’ve excluded results in two tables because the numbers destroy the dynamic range on the graphs for seeing change on the iPhone 3G.

iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4

Note that downgrading the iPhone 3G is easy since Apple isn’t enforcing SHSH blobs on it. If you can grab the image from any number of thoughtful repositories online, you can restore and downgrade with it. You might get stuck inside recovery mode at the end - but for that, simply use RecBoot.

Browser Testing

For all of these tests, I used a completely fresh, brand new restoration image with no other installed applications and connected to my 802.11n wireless network. I run tests three times and average, throwing out any outliers. Note that launching from a fresh install is critical on iOS as the platform saves a screenshot when closing, and immediately open that when relaunching so successive launches feel faster. 

Our first test is the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark:

Unsurprisingly, the iPhone 3G on 4.0.2 and 4.1 beats 3.1.2. I say unsurprising because iOS 4.x brings a new version of WebKit with faster JavaScript engine. This is actually the one place where the 4.0.2 update helped the iPhone 3G. Note that the iPhone 3GS runs this test nearly 3x faster, taking 14707.8 ms. 

Next up is Browsermark, which spits out an overall score representative of overall browsing responsiveness. There’s some JavaScript, some parsing, some rendering - it aims to be an all around general speed benchmark. 

This is more along the lines of what people have been reporting with the iPhone 3G, though it isn’t quite as pronounced. iOS 3.1.2 scores higher than 4.0.2, but 4.1 closes the gap some. It still isn’t quite there, but has improved. 

A similar test is to see how fast Safari rotates from landscape to portrait. On iOS 4.0.2, it’s measurably slower than 3.1.3, but how does 4.1 fare? Here we start the clock right as we rotate, and stop as soon as the page has rendered completely - you can tell when the text goes from fuzzy to sharp when Safari has completely rendered the page in the new orientation. 


Here iOS 4.1 gets us close to how snappy 3.1.2 was but remains just a tad slower.

Faster Application Launches
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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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