iPhone 3G iPhone 3GS

We examine the value of iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS smartphones. Is it still worth buying an old iPhone? Here's our iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS buying advice.

Although Android and Windows phones are every bit as good as iPhones, and these days tend to offer better value, for many smartphone users the word 'iPhone' remains a potent label. For a time 'iPhone' was to high-end smartphone as 'Hoover' is to vacuum cleaner. And that means that there is still good resale value in older iPhones, right back to the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS.

We examine this, finding out how much it costs to buy an iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, and then assessing what sort of value that offers in the smartphone world of 2014. Here's our iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS buying advice. (See also: The 37 best smartphones: The best phones you can buy in 2014.)


iPhone 3G price in UK

Some research online shows that you can pick up a used or refurbished iPhone 3G for around £50-£100. Some stores will charge you around £100-£150 for a new SIM-free 16GB or 32GB iPhone 3G. We do have to ask, however, that where are these 'new' iPhone 3G's coming from? This phone was discontinued in 2009, after all.

It's also worth noting that there is no solid accepted price for the iPhone 3G, so shop around for a bargain and don't accept the first deal you see.

Other things to consider: you could buy a brand new Lumia 520 or Moto G for £80 or £150 respectively, so you'd have to really want an iPhone to shell our similar amounts for a six-year-old spec phone.

iPhone 3G display

Age does not treat well smartphone displays. The iPhone 3G sports a 3.5in TFT capacitive touchscreen, with 16M colors. It has what now seems a paltry 320 x 480 pixel resolution. That makes for a 165 ppi pixel density. Compared to similarly priced modern budget phones this is not an impressive display. (See also: iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C smartphone comparison review.)

iPhone 3G performance

Again we see that performance has moved on, a lot, since 2008. The iPhone 3G sports a 412 MHz ARM 11 chip and just 128 MB RAM. This would be laughed out of town in a new phone for 2014 - the Moto E has a Dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7 and 1GB RAM. And that phone costs just £80.

You can see the affect in the iPhone 3G's performance. A single-core GeekBench 2 score of 140 would look good on a 2014 phone only with a 0 on the end.

One other hardware specification that puts the iPhone 3G into perspective: you get a 2Mp camera. That was quite impressive in 2008.

iPhone 3G software, compatibility

iPhone 3GHere's the real problem with buying an older generation smartphone. Current iPhones are running iOS 7, and looking forward to the full release of iOS 8. The iPhone 3G came with the original iOS, that was in time upgradable to iOS 4.2.1. To put it bluntly, without jailbreaking your iPhone 3G you will be able to install virtually no apps.

It's also worth pointing out that Apple's proprietary connector has changed since the iPhone 3G, too. There's no Lightning cable which, perversely, is good for older peripharels of which there are many that require Lightning adaptors. But that is not so good for newer, current devices and cables.

Remember that you have a Mini SIM, too, not a Micro SIM or Nano SIM.

iPhone 3G: what we said in 2008 -

"The iPhone 3G improves on the original iPhone's audio quality, offers access to a faster data network, and sports built-in GPS functionality. You'll also be getting in on the ground floor of the exciting new world of third-party software written for the iPhone. And business users will appreciate the iPhone's new Exchange syncing features.

"If you're an existing iPhone user, the fact that your current phone will be able to take advantage of all the iPhone 2.0 software features, including Exchange syncing and third-party  applications, blunts some of the excitement of this upgrade. If you live in an area with a 3G network and find yourself chafing at the comparatively slow speeds of the EDGE network all the time, it's probably worth the upgrade. But if you don't mind the internet experience on your current phone, you'd be better off installing the 2.0 software update and holding on to your existing device."

Not that much better than the original iPhone, which is now a museum piece.

Overall then? I wouldn't be shelling out more than £50 for an iPhone 3G. And even then it would be mainly for curiosity value, or to use it as an iPod. (See also: iPhone 5S review.)


iPhone 3GS price in UK

We can find the iPhone 3GS for sale online for around £130-£190. These are mostly used or 'refurbished', but again we see some 'new' iPhone 3GS handsets. Intriguing.

As with the iPhone 3G there is no accepted price for these handsets so shop around to find the cheapest. As we mention above you could buy a brand new Moto E, Lumia 520 or Moto G for between £80 and £150. So how does the five-year-old 3GS match up to current budget phones.

iPhone 3GS display

Stop me if this sounds familiar: the iPhone 3GS' display is a 3.5in TFT capacitive touchscreen, with 16M colors. It is a 320 x 480-pixel display with a pixel density of 165 ppi. Not brilliant, as you would expect.

iPhone 3GS performance

Things have improved a little from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS. You get a Cortex-A8 chip now running at a faster 600 MHz. This is paired with a still less-than-respectable 256 MB RAM. Again the benchmarks show how far we have gone, with a GeekBench 3 (single core) score of 150, GeekBench 2: 288. Don't expect super fast performance from a five-year-old phone.

Other improvements Apple made between iPhone 3G and 3GS include the upgrading of the camera to a 3.5MB device.

iPhone 3GS software, compatibility

Again you are restricted to a Mini, rather than Micro- nor Nano-SIM. The iPhone 3GS first came with iOS 3, but is upgradable to iOS 6.1.3. It can't of course run iOS7, so lots of apps won't work. But you've got a better chance with the iPhone 3GS than you do with the iPhone 3G, which will run very few apps.

iPhone 3GSAgain there is no Lightning cable - good for older peripharels - not so good for newer devices and cables. (See also: iPhone 5C review.)

iPhone 3GS: what we said in 2009 - 

"The iPhone 3GS addresses most of the fundamental weaknesses of the previous models, adding raw speed, voice-activated phone and music navigation, an improved autofocus camera, and video-recording features.

"With two major revisions in the past year, the iPhone platform has also progressed a long way. Beyond the wide variety of third-party apps, the base system has added copy-and-paste support; support for Microsoft Exchange calendars, contacts, and email; built-in voice recording; and search capabilities.

"All of it works together to produce a more refined iPhone that first-time buyers will love and upgraders will appreciate.

"If you're upgrading from the iPhone 3G, you'll appreciate the speed, although unless you qualify for a discount or have a friend or family member to give your iPhone 3G to, the upgrade price might make you consider waiting for what Apple's 2010 iPhone might have to offer.

"Users of the original iPhone will be floored by the speed of the phone and of the 3G wireless network, though they may find the phone's shiny plastic back a step down from the original, elegant brushed-aluminium edition.

"If you've never had an iPhone before, but are considering the purchase of a smartphone for the first time, you will not find a better internet-connected phone than the iPhone 3GS."

Or, at least, that was the case in 2009. These days we'd say that there is much better value in the Windows Phone or Android world.

(See also: The 37 best smartphones: The best phones you can buy in 2014.)