I was thinking about doing an in depth review of the new iPhone 4S but almost every publication and websites have said similar things about the iPhone 4S. On the outside, it looks no different from the iPhone 4. On the inside however, are some hardware and software upgrades that make this Apple’s phone for 2011. Every benchmark shows that it is noticeably faster than the iPhone 4. It takes sharper pictures and improved photos at night. Video recording is now at 1080p resolution and you can edit your photos natively without any third party apps thanks to iOS 5. In my opinion, the biggest selling point is Siri, the digital assistant exclusive to the iPhone 4S (although a hack is in the works in the time of this writing).
What I’m going to do is a brief rundown of the device and review on real world usage instead throwing up the charts and benchmarks…
Can you tell the difference between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S? No one can because they are physically identical in design and weight. However, this year old design withstands the test of time and is still one of the most beautiful phones in the market. It’s slim, it’s light and it’s very sturdy but unfortunately and ironically, the glass on the back is as easy to shatter as the iPhone 4. Most accessories on the 4 are compatible with the 4S so it will save some of you full price upgraders some money on a case. Note: I had to revise this statement because not ALL accessories on the iPhone 4 work with the 4S because of the position of the mute switch.
Now what’s different about the iPhone 4S in terms of design is the newly engineered antenna (which you can’t really see) that solves the “antenna-gate” or death grip problem that plagued the iPhone 4. You are safe rolling naked with the 4S and don’t need a case to prevent your calls from being dropped. However, I like the security of having a case anyway because of the delicate glass that makes up the back of the phone!
Best iOS yet? Yup. Most innovative mobile phone operating system? Not even close. Those who have upgraded their iPhones with the new iOS 5 will be happy with the new enhancements this has to offer. I’m not going to get into too much detail of iOS 5, but I’ll briefly go over some of the most useful features.
The long awaited “Android-style” Notification System solves the problem of those obtrusive popups that interrupt the game that you’re playing or the movie that you’re watching on your phone. Just like the Android, if someone sends you a text message or if you get tagged in Facebook, a notification will appear on the top of your screen and fade away without stopping whatever that you’re doing. You can pull up whatever you missed, see your missed calls and messages by pulling down the menu from the top of the screen. Sound familiar? Android has been doing it for years without a Jailbreak!
Wireless Syncing and iCloud
Syncing wirelessly is a great feature and very convenient especially if you’re main computer is in a different room from where you sleep. I can drag and drop songs, edit my playlists and download apps from either my iPhone or docked MacBook Pro without ever having to use a cable. It can be charging in the other room or downstairs and it will sync and be ready to go.
iCloud still has some things that need to be worked out. It syncs your contacts and calendar onto the cloud, which is great. However, Photo Stream still needs a lot of work. It would be nice to be able to have some basic management functions such as DELETE instead of just leaving your dirty pictures on the cloud and having it pushed onto every single iDevice with your AppleID on it! As for backup and restore via iCloud, I strongly recommend leaving a backup on your local computer. I actually did a restore from data I backed up from the iPhone 4 over to the 4S and it was not a good experience. It took almost an HOUR to sync back my contacts and apps even on my 100MB connection which would only take about 5-10 minutes if I used a USB cable!
Next up is Twitter Integration where you can tweet from your photos and other apps which is kind of neat and convenient if you want to share pictures, web links, Youtube videos, etc… It would be nice if iOS 5 had Facebook integration as well but I guess Apple needs to solidify the deal on that one.
I can now finally sync my Reminders and tasks from Microsoft Outlook over to an iDevice running iOS 5 without a third party app. This is a pretty welcome addition especially when I need to create a quick to do list or some reminders without having to flood the Calendar with my personal stuff. What makes this app stand out is that it has location based notifications as well meaning that instead of setting a time on when to remind you to do something, you can set it based on location. For example, if you arrive at your home, you can have it remind you to put your wedding ring back so your spouse doesn’t get suspicious…
The one feature that stands out the most on the software side of things is Siri. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks and haven’t seen the video demos or played with it yet, it is an awesome digital assistant built into the OS. Those who have used Google Voice Search or Vlingo on the Android won’t be too impressed because it’s more or less of the same thing.
What makes Siri a real winner is that you don’t have to talk to it like a robot, but instead talk to it like a person and ask it questions or to do tasks for you. For example, you hold the Home button down to activate Siri, and then say, “Text Joe, ‘hey man what’s up?'” instead of saying “Send a text to Joe Schmoe, ‘hey man what’s up?'” If you want Siri to play a song… you can say “Play something from Green Day” and it will automatically do it. I can go on and on about this as there are a lot of possibilities. Siri is still in beta at the time of the iPhone 4S release and I’m excited about the upcoming and ongoing improvements in the near future.
If you’re a constant point and shoot photographer/blogger, then you’ll be happy with the 8MP camera on the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4 itself already takes great pictures and video and I’ve been using it daily to post photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc… and it has completely replaced my point and shoot camera which has been collecting dust over the past year. Now comes the new camera on the 4S with higher megapixels, a CMOS sensor that improves photography in low light situations, and faster camera performance thanks to the A5 processor. Photos are noticeably sharper and clearer and pictures at night come out a lot better. You can also now record video in 1080p at 30fps which is a nice jump from 720p on the iPhone 4. Video recording is jaw dropping. Link to video below!
All of the upgraded hardware and software is nice, but none of that means anything without using it in the real world. I spent a day and a half with the iPhone 4S and so far I feel no obvious differences with the iPhone 4 running iOS5. It physically looks, feels, and works. the same as last years model, and I’m not at all saying that it’s a bad thing. The subtle differences however were much appreciated. When using it as a phone all day without a case, I’ve had no dropped calls thanks to the newly designed antenna and calls came out as clear as they can be on the AT&T network. Apps loaded up a lot quicker and using mobile Safari was noticeably snappier than the previous iPhones. I didn’t spend too much time with the camera but the camera app loaded a lot quicker and the photos were up to par with consumer point and shoot cameras.
The one thing I did come to rely on was Siri, especially when driving. Being able to send messages and play thing songs that I wanted on my iPhone while driving using my voice is a very useful feature. It’s also much safer than fumbling with the phone and or the head unit of the car while driving, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway!
iOS5 in the real world is no slouch too. The Notification System is very efficient and it doesn’t interrupt the overall usage of the phone like it did in the past. If I wanted to return a miss call or reply back to a text, I can just do it directly on the pull down menu or even at the lock screen. It would be nice if I was able to pull of the weather or stock ticker directly from the lock screen though.
A lot of reviews I’ve read mentioned that battery life was better in general. I tend to disagree as I am a moderate to heavy user, the battery life seem to drain quicker on the iPhone 4S than it did on the iPhone 4. On the iPhone 4S, going from 100% battery life quickly went down to 70% in a matter of hours with tweeting, web surfing, and sending out emails. On the iPhone 4 doing the same activity, I would have at least 75% – 80% battery life.
In comparison with other phones, the iPhone 4S, like the iPhone 4 is still the phone to beat software-wise with a large collection of high quality apps which doesn’t suffer from Android’s fragmentation issue. Plus most of the good apps come to iOS before they reach other platforms. However there are just a few simple phone features that need to be on the iPhone such as smart dialing, and some widgets that make turning WiFi and Bluetooth on a lot easier without having to go through the settings menu. 4 years of development and we still can’t even get that! On the hardware side of things, it would be NICE to have LTE/4G capabilities in this part of the decade already but the 4S unfortunately caps out on 3G. I don’t mind the 3.5 inch screen size but we should at least have a 4 inch retina display screen or even utilize more of the phone’s body for display.
The iPhone 4S is one of the best phones out in the market to date, thanks to the extensive availability of apps, and a design that still works, even though it’s already over a year old. Instead of re-inventing the wheel on this release of the iPhone, Apple decided to make improvements on the existing one. If you expected something really innovative, you’ll be a bit disappointed this year no matter how cool Siri is.
If you are an iPhone 4 user, I don’t really see a reason to upgrade to the 4S unless you have to have Siri, and want to totally replace your point and shoot camera (which the iPhone 4 already did for most of us). Also, if you already have an iPad 2, you already know what the A5 chip is capable of and playing games on the bigger screen is a much better experience anyway. I recommend you save your upgrade benefits for the next iPhone. You will have no problem surviving another year with the iPhone 4.
If you have anything less than an iPhone or ready to get rid of your Android, the iPhone 4S is definitely the device to get right now.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Don’t just take my word for it… there are also a lot of other extensive reviews out there. Here are the ones that I enjoyed reading: