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Yesterday, I felt like I hadn’t personally done my part in turning around the economy. So I decided to go drop a ton of money on something wholly unnecessary: a new iPhone.

Since I bought my original iPhone, apple has issued two newer versions and many different upgrades. There are also plenty of software updates issued in the most recent OS version, but I’ll save those for another post.  First up are the improvements made last year.

3G data connectivity: An obvious boost over the lame Edge network sported by the old iPhone. Using the SpeedTest app, I’ve seen speeds 2-4x better than Edge. Huge bonus.

True GPS: I had sort of gotten used to the bastardized, faked out geolocation of the old iPhone. It was enough for me, but the real GPS is so much better. Real pinpoint accuracy.

Better sound: The speakers on the new model phones are vastly improved over the original.  I can actually hear the phone ring when it’s in my pocket, which is a first for me.

Better phone: The phone itself on the old phone had a very weak antenna, and always seemed to drop calls or cut in and out.  The new one is crisp, clear, and loud.

Of course, there are a bunch of features unique to the 3GS.

Camera: First, this one has a 3-megapixel camera as opposed to just 2 on the prior models. It also has a very cool (if not a bit tricky to get used to) feature which allows you to tap an area of the picture to lock exposure and focus. This camera also supports video, at fairly decent quality (VGA). The output is comparable to what you get out of cheap point and shoot digital cameras. There’s built in YouTube support, allowing you to upload directly from the phone. Pretty nifty.

Better hardware: The 3GS runs on a chip twice as fast as the previous iPhones and sports far more RAM. The result is a snappier, lag-free experience. For me, one of the biggest changes was going from an 8GB device to a 32GB one. Plenty of space for more music, and for all those videos I’ll be taking.

Magnetometer: The new iPhone improves it’s location awareness by including a compass. The standalone compass app is pretty useless, but the maps app improves by being able to reorient itself to the direction you’re facing. While that’s all well and good. The real benefit here will come from the developer community. With the extra sense of direction, new apps could be created with Nintendo wii-like interaction. Or picture an astronomy app which would give a heads up display of constellations based on the part of the sky you held the phone towards.

Voice commands: This is one feature I really wasn’t all that excited for. But right out of the box, this was one of the more impressive features. Seconds after I activated the phone, my contacts all synced over the air. Seconds after that, I was able to say to my phone “call Joe Schmo” and it would start dialing. I even tried with some of the more obscure names in my contact list and it never hiccuped. And I know a Widjeskog.

It bears repeating that I’m not a huge apple fanboy and I admit there are still flaws here. However, the folks in Cupertino have really done great work on the iPhone. The original was the best gadget I’d ever owned. Until yesterday.