iPhone 3G and 3GS battery test: iOS 3 vs iOS 4

Australian Macworld staff
20 July, 2010
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With its slower processor and limited memory, the iPhone 3G doesn’t support all of the new features in iOS 4 — most notably, multitasking. Even with the reduced features, we’ve heard complaints of sluggish performance of iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G. We wondered if battery life was also negatively affected by the OS update, so we set out to test it.

Following Lifehacker’s instructions, we downgraded an iPhone 3G that was running iOS 4 to iOS 3.1.3 and ran a series of tasks. We then upgraded the iPhone 3G to iOS4 and ran the same set of tasks.

The iPhone 3G with iOS 4 lasted 5 percent longer (10 minutes) than the iOS 3-configured iPhone 3G. That’s not a big difference, but frankly, I thought battery life would decrease, not increase, after updating the OS. Interestingly, the iOS 3 iPhone took less time to download our rented movie than the iOS 4 iPhone 3G, though the application downloads were faster with the new OS. (Complete test results are listed in Table 1 below.)

To see what difference iOS 4 made in terms of battery life on the iPhone 3GS we ran the same tests yet again. It turns out that downgrading an iPhone 3GS is no easy feat and our attempts at doing so failed on the iPhone 3GS.

Luckily, we found someone who had not yet upgraded her iPhone 3GS to the latest OS, and spent a couple of days testing that iPhone with both operating systems. (Complete test results are listed in Table 2 below.)

In these tests, there was an even greater increase in battery life with iOS 4, with the updated iPhone 3GS lasting 14 percent longer (35 minutes) than with iOS 3. This time, downloading our rented movie took less time in iOS 4 than in iOS 3.

Table 1: iPhone 3G timed trials iOS 3 vs. iOS 4

iPhone 3G
iOS 3.1.3
iPhone 3G
iOS 4.0
Phone call 35 35
Wi-Fi internet surf 16 16
Download game on Wi-Fi 2 1
Play downloaded game 10 10
3G internet surf 15 15
Download game via 3G 2 1
Play game 20 20
Download rented movie 33 48
Watch movie 67 64
Total minutes 200 210

Table 2: iPhone 3GS timed trials iOS 3 vs. iOS 4

iPhone 3GS
iOS 3.1.3
iPhone 3GS
iOS 4.0
Phone call 35 35
Wi-Fi internet surf 16 16
Download game on Wi-Fi 3 2
Play downloaded game 10 10
3G internet surf 15 15
Download game via 3G 2 4
Play game 20 20
Download rented movie 20 15
Watch movie 126 165
Total minutes 247 282

So, what’s the moral of the story?

The iPhone 3G gets a small boost in battery from iOS 4, but given all the reports of slowed-down iPhones, it’s likely that all the extra time will be spent waiting for the phone to catch up. With far fewer complaints regarding the speed of the iPhone 3GS running iOS 4, its 14 percent power boost seems a no-brainer (along with the multitasking, folders, and more that the new iOS brings). But just be warned that there may be no turning back if anything goes awry.

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