Could You Still Use iPhone 3GS in 2020? Let’s Investigate…


The iPhone 3GS is now ANCIENT, and by ancient, I mean it is 11 years old – and that is basically medieval in the phone world. But could you technically still use it in 2020 if the circumstances arose?

As phones go, they don’t get much more seminal than Apple’s iPhone 3GS in the history of cellphones. It’s basically the phone that started the entire industry we now know and love, popularising apps, app stores, touchscreen keyboards, and mobile games. Sure, some of these things existed before. But the majority of people had no clue about them until Apple’s iPhone 3GS came along.

It’s now 11 years since Apple first released its iPhone 3GS; it came out on June 24, 2009, and was manufactured right up until September 12, 2012. Since then, things have moved on dramatically. Apple’s iPhones are now bigger than ever and even Apple’s release strategy has changed; we now have three new iPhones per cycle, where it used to be just one.

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But perhaps the craziest thing about the iPhone 3GS, from the vantage point of 2020, is how much they still cost to buy. I just did a quick Google search and found iPhone 3GS models on sale from prices ranging from £229 to, wait for it… £2599! This is on eBay, however, so crazy pricing is to be expected. Still, though, £2.5K for an 11-year-old iPhone is a bit much. Even if it is brand new, as the seller claims!

Even Networks Aren’t Immune To The Power of Nostalgia…

Nostalgia is a big marketing trick. Hollywood has been using nostalgia to make billions in bank for decades. And phone networks aren’t immune to using it as a sale ploy either. Case in point: back in 2018, a Korean network – SK Telink – started selling iPhone 3GS handsets again, 10 years after the phone originally came out, for $40 a pop. And it came with all the original accessories as well.

How did it manage to get new iPhone 3GS models, when Apple hasn’t made any since 2012? Simple: it had a load laying around in its warehouse, so rather than selling them on eBay, it tapped the nostalgia vein of the masses and began selling off the old stock at a discounted rate. SK Telink tested all the dusty, old units too. And apparently they all worked just fine. Either way, it’s better than paying £2559 for one via eBay!

Can You Even Use The iPhone 3GS In 2020?

Yes, of course, you could. So long as you had a battery that had power left in it, the iPhone 3GS would turn on and work. However, actually running the phone might be more problematic on account of its minuscule CPU and memory. I mean, just look at this spec sheet:

iPhone 3GS Full Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 115.5 Х 62.1 Х 12.3 mm
  • Weight: 135 g
  • Display Size: 3.5in TFT
  • Display Resolution: 320 x 480 px
  • Camera: Single, 3.15 MP
  • CPU: Samsung 32-bit RISC ARM11 620 MHz processor
  • RAM: 256MB
  • Storage: 8/16/32 GB
  • Mobile Data: HSPA 7.2/0.384 Mbps
  • WiFi Protocols: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g
  • Bluetooth: 2.1
  • OS: iPhone OS 3

The biggest issues would be the small amount of RAM (256MB) and the 620 MHz CPU. Any modern application would cripple that kind of spec; even modest ultra-budget phones that are pitched as “feature phones” run double or triple the processing grunt of the original iPhone 3GS, so while it might have been snappy in 2009, that definitely wouldn’t be the case now.

The iPhone 3GS Couldn’t Hack Modern iPhone Apps

And that’s before you even consider that Apple’s entire iOS platform has now shifted to 64-bit which creates even more problems for the iPhone 3GS (and the iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, and iPhone 5) because all of the apps inside Apple’s App Store are now designed to run on 64-bit chips (or iOS 8 and higher). Not having these things in place will cause plenty of performance issues with your apps – things like hangs, crashes, and other glitches.

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So not only are you stuck on an outdated version of iOS, the iPhone 3GS’ sluggish CPU will seriously struggle to run even the most basic of apps. Remember, it’s only using a 620MHz CPU and most of the apps that you use on your phone have evolved a lot in the past 10 years, developing alongside the latest SoCs inside Apple and Android phones.

Asking a 10-year old iPhone to run something like Lightroom is a bit like asking your 5-year old what they think about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the middle east You might get something, but it wouldn’t be anything useful. And that’s exactly what would happen if you tried to run any sort of modern iPhone app on the iPhone 3GS. It’d splutter, lag, and then eventually fail.

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Even if you jailbroke the iPhone 3GS, solving the redundant software issue, you’re still left with the utterly low-fi internal spec. And it is this spec that will make using the phone for anything beyond calls and texts an absolute nightmare. Hell, even then it might be a bit of a slog…

Moral of the story? Old iPhones are still iPhones. And people will pay massive amounts of money for them. But you shouldn’t; it’d be a waste of money even though it’d score you some pretty big nostalgia points. My advice, if you want to save money on your next iPhone, is to make sure you buy one that isn’t so old that even Apple has written it off. And there are a number of not-so-well-known ways of doing this.

Me personally? I’d pick up an iPhone X right now if I were in the market for a good deal on a solid OLED iPhone. Thanks to the release of the iPhone 11, you can now snag Apple’s 2017 flagship for around $400! And that’s for the 128GB model too. Not too shabby, right? And remember: the iPhone X has an OLED display and the iPhone 11 does not.

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