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Science to the rescue! Can an iPhone 3GS burn us?

Apple's new iPhone 3GS is not only fast, it's reportedly ludicrously hot, capable of burning man and beast. So with the help of science, we tried to see if ours would generate similar issues

If your new iPhone 3GS has singed a burning great hole through your face, you're probably one of the most unlucky people in the world. But a small group of sympathisers are likely to lend their support as it seems numerous complaints are arising over the heat generated by Apple's speedy new phone.

A French user noted that when using the phone's 3G and GPS connections, the phone became so hot it caused discolouration of the white plastic casing. The Telegraph also notes a user whose phone became so hot after a 20-minute 3G call he was forced to use the speakerphone mode in order to keep talking.

So we decided to test the problem with our in-house white iPhone 3GS, by using GPS while making a lengthy call over 3G. After 20 minutes, the phone was warm, but by no means hot and certainly not uncomfortably so.

Stand back: It's time to try science*

Yes, in the name of science we conducted some thrilling tests with a temperature-sensing multimeter. How hot does our iPhone 3GS get? Can we cause it to melt? Can we measure it? And most importantly, can we burn a face in the process of finding out?

The answer to those questions is 'quite', 'no we couldn't', 'yes', and 'sadly not'. After a 30-minute call over 3G with Google Maps and GPS running concurrently, the iPhone 3GS rose from around 23 degrees Centigrade to a constant 33C. In the few minutes following the call being cancelled, this dropped to 30C.

The most the phone would rise to in our tests was a consistent 33.3C, which we achieved after a 50-minute 3G phone call while concurrently streaming 50 minutes of high-quality video over Wi-Fi from the BBC iPlayer. No overheating, no melted casing, no scorched faces.

But maybe there's a reason why there are no scorched faces. Perhaps because the phone wasn't pressed against one. So with the aid of several rubber bands and a sub editor-cum-fire marshal on standby, we strapped the 3GS to a human head, and ran the graphically intensive Doom 3 iPhone game for 15 minutes. It reached 33.8 degrees centigrade, and the head came away unscathed.

That's yours truly on the right, Nick "Why am I wearing shorts?" Hide on the left. And at least in our tests, we can conclude that the overheating may be confined to a certain batch of phones, or is the result of a variable not at play on our device. You probably shouldn't be too worried.

Flaming iPods, burning iPhones

This isn't the first time Apple products have been caught overheating. One iPod nano overheated so badly it apparently melted. A user on Apple's support Web site last year complained of an older iPhone becoming so hot during calls it was burning his face.

A few days ago Apple updated its support section, as CNET UK's sister site CNET News noted, to highlight conditions in which iPhones may overheat. Not surprisingly, the same conditions that can kill a dog can kill an iPhone -- direct sunlight and hot cars. Leaving your phone a bowl of water and an open window, however, is not likely to help, but not operating it intensively in super-hot conditions is no bad plan.

Read our full review of the iPhone 3GS here.

*For those of you who don't understand why this line is funny, you should be reading this Web comic.