Review: iPhone 4S


The iPhone 4S has been out for a week, and we’ve had it in our hands for the entire time. I’ve enjoyed my time with the device, even though it isn’t the iPhone 5 – the one I really wanted – I’ve been very pleased with what Apple has given me. I’m sure there are still some ticked off people out there because of the lack of a tear drop style iPhone, but if you’ve been trolling the net, reading reviews or have one yourself, you almost forget that it isn’t a new phone.

The iPhone 4 that once again revolutionized smartphones as we know them has been injected with a shot of sweet n tasty steroids making it an impressive device we can all love. Laced with a faster processor, an outstanding camera, and the best Mobile OS around – wrapped in a cloak of Siri – the iPhone 4S might end up be worth picking up in lieu of not getting the iPhone 5.

Have some faith, hop on in and read our take on Apple’s newest baby…

 

Hardware & Design

As we all know by now, Apple didn’t do anything drastic with the exterior of the phone, short of updating the antenna. The iPhone 4S is still sporting the glass back which some have really not agreed with. Many were wanting an aluminum backside as the glass is so delicate and easily broken. But you have to admit, aesthetically the phone is gorgeous. I personally love the look and feel of the phone — the weight is spot on and fits magnificently in your hand.

Even though rumors suggested a generous upgrade from 3.5″ to 4″, the phone still sports the same 3.5-inch screen. Personally, I like the size of the phone and am not looking to have a tablet in my pocket. As it was stated a couple weeks ago, the size of the screen makes it perfect for holding and using – completely – in one hand. The average thumb can reach almost the entire screen without the use of a 6th finger. This can still upset some people, but give it a chance.

After giving up my black iPhone 4, I decided it was time to go for a white version and this really makes it seem like a new phone to me. So if you always had black, and are considering changing, I recommend going to the white. The illusion of a different thing in your hands and next to your face – for me – works. Of course the antenna is the only thing that really changed on the external design of the phone. The volume, silent and power buttons suffered a minor shift (ticking off us early iPhone 4 Bumper adopters). The 4S does give some extra weight to the device over the 4, but that is understandable with what is inside.

And inside is what matters…

The Guts

This is where the iPhone 4S struts its stuff. If anyone out there went from the 3G to the 3GS, you’ll appreciate the upgrade of the 4 to the 4S way more than you did a couple years ago. Apple one-upped the norm by giving us the option to top out at 64GB. The 16GB and the 32GB are still available, but considering the 1080 video recording will create gigantic files, you might want to consider the bigger size.

Apple has worked in their powerful A5 chip (same as in the iPad 2) giving this bad boy some fierce power and speed. With the A5 the iPhone is clocking in at 800MHz – but a fast 800MHz. The phone doesn’t crawl at all. Web pages, apps, the camera – everything moves and loads as snappy as you’d like. Even packing only 512MB of RAM, this doesn’t bring the power and speed down at all. I’ve been using so many different Apple products over the past 20 years, and no matter what RAM is packed inside, they do an outstanding job at making it work. This is definitely the case for the iPhone 4S. Many rumors gave the iPhone update a 1GB upgrade, but back on the ‘Let’s Talk iPhone’ event we were left worried. After drilling this phone to the wall over the past week, I forget the actual RAM specs. It doesn’t matter – period.

It was a question over the past few months if we were going to see a World phone packing the dual-mode GSM/CDMA chipsets. That was definitely answered. Apple was able to pack both into the phone without adding to the thickness and only partially adding to the weight change. Granted only the GSM folks will get ‘World’ advantages, it’s still nice to see there is 1 phone fits all. Keeping your standard WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4, there are no complaints with how we can communicate wirelessly.

The next internal update was to the camera. I’ll get into the details on how that performs further into the review, but I’ll dig into the specs here… Throw away your camera and video camera and buy an iPhone. The 8 megapixel upgrade packs a powerful punch. Not only was it improved beyond belief, Apple even threw in the capability of handling 1080p video recording. The only thing I think they missed – the front VGA camera. I could of used an upgrade here, and I feel it got left outside while the rest of the insiders were in doors getting makeovers. But, more on these goodies later…

That sexy Retina display hasn’t changed since last year’s model. Even still, the 960×640 piece of glass is one impressive piece of art that still tops most of its competitors. As it did last year, everything looks incredible on it. Read any review form last year and you’ll see nothing but praise for the screen. Even if it is only 3.5-inches, it is still gorgeous to look at.

Battery & Performance

I’m sticking this section in somewhat of the middle of the review so the ending brings you back up. The battery, oh the battery. I’ve been giving this chance after chance for the past 5 days, and no matter what I keep getting let down. Leaving the phone asleep and it drains up to 3-5% in just 30 minutes. Even after draining it completely and fully charging it didn’t rectify the issue. I restored it and set up as a new phone, just for the benefit of the doubt to no avail. Nothing fixed what I was experiencing. And from Mike here at GS, he was getting the same issues. My iPhone 4 would last forever on a charge. I could go about 2 days with some hardcore Twittering and such and have no problem. It seems that answering two messages via the little birdie results in almost 5% gone. I found the battery life extremely disappointing. [Update] I wrote this part closer to the beginning of my time with the phone, and here at the tail end of the review I’ve noticed it randomly last longer. I had it off of the charger at 5:30am and here it is 10:20pm and it’s only down to 70%. That is with some light twitter, texting, Siri action and a few phone calls. After 40 hours off of the cable, I am down to about 12%. It seems it took a turn for the better. I did nothing different, it just all of a sudden started lasting longer. Still not as long as my iPhone 4, but a lot better than it was a few days ago.

Apple does list the Standby time as 200 hours – down from 300 on the 4, but that average doesn’t make sense. You gain some extra talk time, but do lose around 10% of your internet over WiFi usage. For me, it started off bad, and got somewhat better. Hopefully Apple will release some sort of iOS update that will fix whatever bug lies in the software. If that is what it is…

As for as how this little gem performs, well, I’ll have to admit I’m quite pleased. The phone is so fast, loading everything. Whether it is an app or a webpage, I find myself not waiting as long as I had to with my iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 wasn’t an old dog in these areas, it is just a noticed change when using the iPhone 4S. The speed on AT&T in Portland is a noticeable increase as well. Where I would have almost full bars, I would get a stand still for data on my iPhone 4. But in the same area, with the same amount of bars I actually get some data speeds. Now, Portland isn’t San Francisco, but there are a lot of people, and a lot of trendy people with iPhones that are hogging my network. I have a better performing phone with the iPhone 4S over my old iPhone 4.

Not that this is worth the upgrade, this in addition with the rest of what this phone has to offer – software wise – you have a phone worth rocking for another year.

Camera

The 8 megapixel camera that the iPhone 4S is packing is a down right beast. Snapping – quickly that is – pictures with this phone is such a joy. Even that first picture takes a fraction of the time the iPhone 4 took. The pinch to zoom feature is there, but if I recall, with the old iOS version, you can tap on the screen to bring up the zoom option. Now it seems that is missing and we are just left with pinch to zoom. Not that big of a deal, but sometimes pinching to zoom can be troublesome when trying to snap a quick picture.

The speed between the iPhone 4S camera and the iPhone 4 is night and day. The iPhone 4 camera was incredible, 18 months ago. The iPhone 4S really brings a camera that is not only insanely useful, but one that is quick and responsive – when you want it to be. I found myself wanting to snap quick pictures with my iPhone 4 that were lost because of that lag between opening the app and snapping that first picture. With the iPhone 4S that is a thing of the past. Comparing my wife’s 4 and my 4S the difference can’t be denied.

If you have used your iPhone 4 for any serious type photo taking, you’ll probably have noticed the time it takes to render and snap the HDR picture. I will admit, it isn’t a whole lot faster, but I didn’t notice the difference. It can still use a lot of work, but seeing that it is a cell phone I think it is great. As you can see, the non-HDR photos leave the background and elements washed out, where as the HDR enabled photos really bring that depth into the photo.

HDR Sample 1

HDR Sample 2

As far as the quality that the 8 megapixel snapshots will bring, you won’t be disappointed. The iPhone 4S delivers outstanding picture quality. I don’t think i’ve seen such quality from a smartphone or mobile device ever. The pictures I have been snapping produce quality I’d expect from an actual camera. Replacing your camera for you every day picture taking is actually a viable option with the 4S. The balance of colors is exceptionally better on the 4S than it was on the iPhone 4. The over-saturation we saw on the iPhone 4 is a thing of the past. Comparing pictures taking with the 4 against the 4S are noticeably more crisp and less noisy.

Apple finally gave us 1080p video recording capabilities. If you find yourself using this a lot, and know you won’t be around a computer, get the 32 or 62GB device. You won’t be able to fit an hour recording on your iPhone. The quality is outstanding, and definitely can replace your video camera for the point and record sessions, but if you won’t have a computer to transfer them to you, you’ll be in trouble. The camera loads up fast. It switches from camera to video camera a lot quicker than it did on the iPhone 4. The quality is amazing, especially when watching your family movies (or whatever you record) on that flat screen. My only gripe about this has to be the file size. I feel like there could of been a better compression software to render these recordings and still keep the quality. But, Apple gave it to us so we’ll make due until they fix it.

Software

iOS 5 is the biggest software release to date for iDevices. So many new features and enhancements have been added that really make iOS stand out more than ever before. Where to begin… Well, pure elegance. After turning on the phone you are given all the activation instruction – right from the phone itself. No need to sync with iTunes for set up. All done on the beautiful landscape that is iOS 5. Setup is quick and easy. Of course there were glitches at the beginning – for AT&T at least – that caused me some problems, but all in all it was painless. A new experience for me. After setting up many iPhone in the past, it was nice to do something different in the process.

During setup you are asked if you’d like to restore from an iTunes back up, iCloud back up or set up as a new iPhone. Wireless syncing is finally given to us with iOS 5 and it is slick right off the bat. This is a huge addition to the software, and after so long, and having it in the Jailbreak scene, we have it standard and built it. Speaking of wireless – iCloud is incredible. So many capabilities, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Setting up your iCloud account is quick and seamless. And everything is just there. I set a reminder on my iPhone, I get that reminder on my computer. I create any calendar event, it’s there – across my iPhone, iMac and my MacBook Air. I never have to remember to create these things on all of my devices – it does it for me and it just works. PhotoStream is also something I’ve found myself falling in love with. I take pictures with my iPhone and after loading up iPhoto the images are there. No more syncing or emailing myself images that I need quickly. I think out of all the iCloud features and wireless syncing options, PhotoStream is something I’ve used the most.

Another huge enhancement is the new Notification system. The iOS Notifications have always been ugly and intrusive. In the middle of a game, don’t worry, Apple will interrupt that incredible Angry Birds stride you are on. It’s something that I’ve struggled to find a fix for. Jailbreak tweaks have never really created anything that worked seamlessly like I feel things should work on Apple devices. But after a few years of iOS we are finally given something that is not only incredible, but gorgeous to look at. The pull down Notification center is just always there, at a slide of a finger. With every app you are able to set the type of notification you’d like to receive – if any. And if you choose to just have the top banner notify you, or none at all, just slide your finger from the top of the screen down to unlock the beautiful Notification Hub, displaying not only your Weather and current Stock prices, but every Message, Reminder, Meeting and Tweet.

Speaking of Twitter, Apple finally included some nice Twitter integration. And boy how I’ve used the crap out of it. As you have always been able to email straight from the Photo’s App, you can now attach your photo in a simple yet elegant paper clipped Tweet without having to load any Twitter clients up. I know all of you FaceBook users out there are hoping for the same type of integration in the future, which I’m sure you’ll see sometime.

We also have an amazing way to keep in touch with all of your family and friends rocking iOS 5 devices. iMessage brings a free messaging service to anyone with iOS 5 over 3G or WiFi. For some, this will just create more of a reason to drop a SMS plan with your Carrier. You’ll notice the Send button, as well as your messages sent, in blue. That means what you just sent was through iMessage and completely free. You can also tell at the top of the messages it’ll say either iMessage or Text Message. Utilizing iMessage as well as any other free service, it is 100% an option to drop an SMS plan. You’ll have to be diligent in making sure your friends have updated to iOS 5 and know that you can only be reached utilizing whatever apps you choose along with iMessage. If you put in the work you’ll be able to drop that plan.

The iOS experience has been enhanced to incredible new levels. With over 200 new features it’s really hard to even scratch the surface of what is in there. I’ve never had so much fun with my iPhone in a stock – un-jailbroken – state before. This is probably the first time I’m not anxiously waiting the untethered jailbreak. I find myself re-falling in love with the software experience.

Siri

I had to create a Siri section all it’s own. I couldn’t lump it in with the software section as it is own entity. It’s hard for me to put the Siri experience into words. I mean, it’s not only incredibly intelligent and helpful, but it’s fun to use and the attitude Apple gave her is insane.

The Siri experience started off rough. She uses a network (you *need* to be connected) to function, which in the beginning I found troublesome. I would get her unable to connect message over and over again. But around Sunday I was finally able to use her with no problems or delays. Once you are able to really dig into what she has to offer, you’ll find yourself wasting sooooo much time talking to your phone. I’ve found myself lost in conversations with her, which is quite scary. Eagerly waiting for her responses, wondering how she’ll answer. The sense of humor Apple gave her is extraordinary.

Not only is she fun, but she is extremely helpful and can actually live up to the title of “personal assistant”. I find myself using my mouth more than my fingers with a touch screen smartphone. I know phones are here for talking, but really, who talks on their iPhones much anymore? Well, with Siri talking back as all I want to do is talk to it. You can use her to search, check the weather, dial your grandma – anything. And she is smart. If you were watching the announce event, she’ll remember where you work. She’ll learn who your family is and how you’ll refer to them. You can flat out tell her, so and so is my wife. And in the future you can ask to text or call your wife, or say her by name, and Siri will know who you are talking about. After speaking a couple lines to her, you can refer to the first thing you said without directly mentioning it and she is smart enough to remember what you were talking about.

She’ll create meetings and events for you. She’ll set reminders (in the included Reminders.app), you can request a specific song be played. She’ll type your texts and emails and even get you to the closest bar. The possibilities seem endless, and to think she is still in the Beta stage.

Siri is definitely a revolutionary addition to a magical phone. She has her problems, but you laugh at her when she does. You try to stump her and get a funny reaction from her. She’ll make you laugh but frustrate you a second later. She even made me cry when she wouldn’t stop referring to me as “Love Trumpet.” I love Siri, but unfortunately according to her License agreement, she won’t marry me.

Conclusion

Well, after using the phone for a week and getting a feel for what I got myself into, I’m overly pleased. I started the iPhone 4S announce day pissed off and angry at Apple for taking such a long time in between iPhones and for not giving us something new to look at. After swallowing that and giving the phone a chance, I am once again convinced Apple has something special on their hands. Packing the powerful A5 processor and a camera that you can do so much with, Siri as well as the greatest mobile OS, there is no reason upgrading is out of the question. I keep trying to find myself mad at it for not looking different, but it doesn’t last. Knowing what happens once I hit that Home button, I just don’t stay upset.

From the pure beauty of iOS 5 and crazy speed of the new processor, start to finish you are left amazed. Taking gorgeous pictures and recording video alone make the upgrade reasonable. The fun and usefulness of Siri in addition to everything packed into this slim sexy case, we highly recommend giving the iPhone 4S a chance. I know you might still be annoyed with the lack of design change, but you’ll forget about that in a heartbeat. When you open the box you’ll still smile. Even though it looks the same, you can’t help but appreciate what Apple has once again done. From the slick and simple packaging to the thought that goes into how they present it, you will appreciate the Cupertino team. From activation to a week of taking pictures and conversing with Siri, you will not only appreciate what Apple has given you but also forget about the design and be amazed you are holding it in your hands.

I know I’m a fanboy. I know I talk Apple up a lot. But this phone is truly a game changer – once again.

Upgrade – NOW @ Apple.com

Gadgetsteria Rating: 9.5/10

Thanks to Apple and my wallet for the review copy

Gallery