Prior to last year’s October 4th, “Let’s Talk iPhone.” event, tech enthusiasts and consumers around the world waited and predicted that Apple would break out an iPhone 5 with a dual-core processor, larger screen, enhanced camera, and thinner design and casing.
We didn’t get exactly get all of that, but what we did get was the iPhone 4S, packed with the same custom A5 processor found in the iPad 2 and a redesigned camera, all of which Apple managed to squeeze in to the same 2010 hardware design found enclosing the iPhone 4’s some-what aging components. Does it live up to the hype as most iPhones do, or does it fall short of expectations? Is it worth the upgrade? Keep reading to find out my thoughts.
The iPhone 4S hardware is reminiscent of the mid-2010 iPhone 4, with Apple’s infamous, yet revolutionary, stainless-steel antenna band surrounding the edges of the phone and sandwiched by two pieces of scratch-resistant glass. Although it sounds nice, I’d rather not say it’s scratch-resistant as it certainly is not the case as glass is definitely not a material that can take a beating, unless of course it’s Gorilla Glass, but I digress.
This time around, Apple chose to stick with the 3.5 inch screen, dubbed the Retina display, following in the footsteps of it’s predecessor. Apple has used the 3.5 inch display in each model since it’s inception in 2007, opting not to change it 4 years later for unknown reasons, although they are most likely awaiting a bigger redesign to alter the screen size. This has, without a doubt, disappointed many avid iPhone users as the Android manufacturers have been spewing out rather large phones, some even having displays with screen sizes to an upwards of a whopping 5.3 inch screen (found on Samsung’s Galaxy Note device). Apple will surely be countering the likes of Samsung and Motorola in the screen size department as early as this summer.
In terms of processors, Apple has added their custom A5 system-on-a-chip dual-core processor, with each core clocking in at 800 MHz, down-clocked from 1 GHz. This is for battery saving purposes as well as keeping the system smooth. Apple promises 7 times better graphics when compared to the outgoing single-core A4 chip found in the iPad 1, iPhone 4, and iPod touch 4. This is actually lower than the promised 9 times better graphics the iPad 2 is capable of producing. The improved processor speeds help power Siri, which will be explained later, as well as the improved camera features. Improved animation speeds and load times will also be noticed, although only significant differences will be noticed if you’re a 3GS user, which will be explained later. Also added is a 64GB internal memory option, which has not yet been previously offered by Apple for the iPhone line, only the iPod touch and iPad. Also retained from last years model is the 512MB of RAM, which is another disappointing, yet at the same time trivial part of the 4S. RAM also helps with battery, in addition to maximizing the amount of open processes and keeping software lag to a minimum. There are no major discernible features when looking at a 4 and 4S model side by side; the 4S still has it’s 3.5mm headphone jack, ringer silent switch, volume buttons, lock button, and 30 pin dock connector. The iPhone is now capable of running on Sprint’s CDMA 3G network, as the first major iPhone launch on Sprint, and each iPhone now includes a GSM antenna as well as a CDMA antenna, allowing it to be used as a world phone.
Apple has made many changes to the camera, also made possible by the inclusion of the faster processor. First off, the camera sensor is now capable of 8 megapixels, up from 5 in the iPhone 4. The wider f/2.4 aperture (lens opening) and addition of a 5th lens allows better pictures in low light situations. On the software side of things, you gain some picture editing tools, all to be explained later. iPhone 4S is now capable of full HD, 1080p video recording and playback, allowing for much clearer videos and less shaky videos, with the help of image and video stabilization. Face detection gives the camera the ability to detect and focus on faces while taking pictures or recording videos. A small change that is welcomed is faster shutter speeds when taking pictures.
The iPhone 4S is running iOS 5.0.x which includes a whole mess of features we’ll review in a separate article, but one major feature exclusive to the 4S is Siri, which you’ll find is in beta form as of today.
Siri is a virtual and highly personal assistant accessible by holding the iPhone 4S home button until the screen slides up slightly revealing Siri’s interface. Speaking into the phone by saying virtually anything will cause Siri to reply back with a response. For example, saying “Will it rain in New York City today?” will cause Siri to pull up a forecast and a response based on it. She will respond no matter how you word your questions as she is conversational, also allowing you to hold small “conversations” and as her humanly questions, etc. Siri can also send emails, text messages, make phone calls, play music create Reminders, search the web, or search Wolfram Alpha with which she is integrated, as well as Nuance Dictation which is the speech-to-text function.
Also apart of Siri is Siri Dictation, allowing for speech-to-text within nearly any text field on iPhone 4S via the microphone button on the keyboard. Tap the microphone, speak the text and it’ll quickly appear in the text field. It is almost always spot on without requiring loud speaking or annunciations. Both of the above features are in beta and are guaranteed to get better within the next few software updates.
Conclusion / Final Thoughts
iPhone 4S was available beginning October 14th, 2011 in the US, as well as several other countries. It is available in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB, memory amounts and retails for $199.99, $299.99, and $399.99, respectively, with a new 2 year contract or if your eligible for an upgrade. Unsubsidized, the 4S will run you $649.99, $749.99, and $849.99, respectively, off contract (or if you’re not yet eligible for an upgrade).
As far as the device is concerned, I’d recommend first time buyers to buy the 4S. It’ll last you longer than a 4 and contains many great features for first time buyers. Current iPhone 4 owners should stick with their 4 and wait for the next model release. The upgrade is not significant enough, in my opinion, to shell out the full price amount for a new 4S. Speed increases are not significant over the 4, nor is the camera that much different over the 4 in reality. If you are considering upgrading from a 4, it’s a good upgrade, but if you don’t care, stick with your 4.
Now if you have an iPhone 3GS or older, on the other hand, upgrade to the 4S. The processor speeds are far more superior, the camera is vastly improved, as well as the design and screen clarity. I highly recommend 3GS users upgrade to the 4S without a doubt.
The 4S is the best iPhone thus far, as each generation always is. You get a wealth of great apps, superior customer service, and a great community and platform.