Review: iPhone 4S
Apple proved its consistency by following up the iPhone 4 with an iPhone 4S.
I have been using device for nearly a week and it’s without question the best iPhone they’ve ever produced.
And despite looking like the iPhone 4’s twin brother – it leaves the 2010 model in the dust in a number of areas.
There’s a faster processor, a much better camera and perhaps one of the most innovative features to be found on a smartphone – Siri – the amazing voice-activated digital assistant.
What iPhone 4S users will also be getting is a brand new updated operating system with iOS 5 – which boasts more than 200 new features alone.
And let’s not forget iCloud – a way to back up and share your apps, music, photos and documents.
The iPhone 4S is almost identical to the iPhone 4 except for one subtle difference. There is an extra black line at the top of each side of the metal band, which is also the antenna.
As a result the switch to put the iPhone 4S on silent has been moved a few millimetres lower. Most of the covers and cases that fit the iPhone 4 should still be OK for the iPhone 4S.
It has the same 3.5-inch excellent Retina Display along with toughened glass over the screen and on the back panel.
Speed on a smartphone is like money in the bank – you can never have too much.
The iPhone 4S has an A5 dual core processor – the same silicone used in the iPad 2.
For anyone who’s used the iPhone 4 the speed increase, noted at up to twice fast by Apple, is easily noticeable. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 3GS you’re going have to wear a seatbelt.
Apps load faster and you can get at the settings and take pictures quicker.
And apart from just a faster processor it has also an improved graphics processor which comes into play in a number of ways. Pictures and videos look great on the iPhone 4S’s 3.5-inch retina display as do web pages.
Gaming apps offer the same type of graphic detail and textures on the iPhone 4S as you’d find on some console games and, with the backing of the faster A5 processor, offers fluid real-time rendering and action.
The improved antenna system – there are now two, one for sending and one for receiving which can switch intelligently during a call – also provides a faster HSDPA connection to the network with speeds up to 14.4 Mbps.
We noticed a little improvement in download speeds but it was nothing like the ideal 14.4 Mbps.
The iPhone 4 camera was good – the iPhone 4S camera is great.
The 8-megapixel camera is backed by an all-new sensor but it’s not just about more pixels (60 per cent more than the iPhone 4) but what the iPhone 4S does with them.
The optics have been re-designed with an extra precision element – there’s now one more to take the total to five – to channel the incoming light to the sensor which offers 73 per cent more light per pixel.
Part of the A5 chip is an image signal processor – similar to those found on DSLR cameras – and it speeds up the process and still ticks all the quality boxes.
Now there is hardly any shutter lag and if you want to follow the first picture up with another picture it’s ready to go a split second later.
Pictures taken with the iPhone 4S are rich in colour and detail. Even close up shots are sharp and clear.
Features you’d expect to find on a dedicated digital camera like face detection and image stabilisation are now part of this latest iPhone.
On the video side the iPhone 4S really flexes its muscles. Shooting in full high definition the videos look just as good as the pictures.
Videos we shot with the iPhone 4S looked stunning on a 46-inch screen which we linked to wirelessly using Apple’s AirPlay on our Apple TV.
And now with capacities up to 64GB, there’s plenty of room to store your videos which can now be shot in superb quality at the spur of the moment.
If Siri was the only new feature on the iPhone 4S it would still be enough reason to upgrade to this device.
Siri is a digital assistant in your pocket that can look up information, set up and name calendar entries, set reminders, start countdown timers, play your favourite music, calculate conversions, send text messages, dictate SMS and email messages, check the weather for you and a lot more
And it’s all done just by talking to the iPhone 4S. I know there are voice recognition and voice activated apps for Android smartphones, but they are nothing like this.
Siri can be activated in the settings along with the language – listed as English (Australia).
This means Siri speaks to you in a female voice – but with an Australian accent.
To activate simply press and hold the home button and start talking. Ask a question like “what’s the elevation of Mount Kosciusko” – the iPhone 4S answers back – “let me think…” and a second later “I found this for you:”
And up pops a what looks like a printout from an old printer with not only the answer to our question – which is 2228 metres – and other relevant information like an elevation map and the height measured in feet, yards, miles and kilometres.
We were amazed by the accuracy and the way Siri can recognise certain words in your sentence and apply the right context.
For example, if you’d like to set reminder it can be told in a number of ways and still understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
The microphone is also very accurate – about 95 per cent accurate. Sure, it got some things wrong and tried to dial a number of a contact when I asked about the weather. But this was a rare occurrence.Siri is officially listed as a Beta so it’s still being worked on and will only improve.
The iPhone 4S uses a database by WolframAlpha to supply answers to many of the questions you can out to Siri.
And if Siri can’t find the answer it will take your exact question and make a Google search. The answer may be coming from another source but it’s all still handsfree and all voice controlled.
Another Siri setting is “raise to speak”. This means the user can simply lift the device to their ear as if they are making a call before hearing the Siri chime which is your prompt to give it an instruction or ask it a question.
We found this an easier way to get an accurate response when in noisy environments like on the streets or in a shopping centre.
So now with Siri you can get things done in situations where you can’t readily get your hands on your iPhone like when you’re driving or out on a run.
You can hear your messages and reply to them and talk instead of typing out the reply. When you enter any text entry area and the keyboard pops up and on the bottom row is a key with a picture of a microphone on it.
Click this key, say what you want to type and it will translate it to text.
One thing we found, though, was the accuracy of Siri took a bit of a nosedive when we connected to a car’s audio system via Bluetooth.
Our car has Bluetooth built in and we use it to make and answer calls through the iPhone everyday.
But when we activated Siri it turned the radio down automatically but was now using the car’s microphone which is not as accurate as the iPhone’s noise-cancelling microphone. Only half of our entries were correct in the car.
But we tried again using the iPhone’s supplied earphones with the inline remote control and microphone behind the wheel and we were back in business.
It should be noted there are some Siri features which won’t work in Australia when it comes to mapping and finding directions. The responses we got was these services were only avaiable in the US. We’re expecting Apple to update this in the near future.
Siri will only be available with the iPhone 4S. Even though the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 are upgradeable to iOS 5 they can’t run Siri.
Apart from these great features we’ve already mentioned, there’s also an all-new operating system which has more than 200 new features on board.
iOS5 will be already on-board the iPhone 4S but will also be available for a free upgrade to iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 users.
The feature that stood out for us that will be used by all iPhone customers will be iMessage.
Basically it offers free messaging between iOS5 users. Instead of being sent through the cellular network as a 15 or 20 cent SMS, it is sent as a tiny piece of data
We’re not sure how the operators are going to take that – SMS is a huge source of revenue for them.
Users will still be using their networks to send data but it won’t cost anywhere near what they charge for SMS.
It can even be used with the iPad and iPod Touch so now you can send and receive iMessages even without a mobile contract as long as you have internet connectivity.
This feature might even give users the opportunity to sign up for a cheaper contract instead of opting for the higher priced iPhone plans offering unlimited texts.
You can tell the recipient if your SMS has iOS5 when the name and send button in the message turn blue. If it stays green you’ll be paying the regular charge for your text.
And the good thing about iMessage is that you can see when it’s been delivered, when it’s been read and also when they are typing their reply.
There’s also Notification Centre where, similarly to what we’ve already seen with Android smartphones, the user can sweep their finger down the screen to see a snap shot of their latest emails, appointments and texts.
Users can choose which apps they’d like to include in Notifications. These also appear in the lock screen so your latest emails, calls and message can be seen at a glance without having to unlock the phone.
Users can use the icon for any of these notifications to slide to unlock to be taken to that particular email or text.
If you’re using another app or surfing the web – the notifications appear subtly at the top of the screen for a few seconds before folding away without taking over what you’re doing.
These notifications can also extend to many other apps including Facebook and Twitter so you can get all your social networking updates and news as they happen.
There’s also Reminders which can be set based on time but also on location so it can remind you to do things when you arrive and leave certain locations.
The iPhone 4S’s iOS 5 also includes access to iCloud which can store music, documents and photos and push them to your other iOS 5 devices like an iPad or iPod Touch and even your Mac computer.
It can also sync your calendar, mail and contacts.
With your photos, if a picture is snapped with the iPhone, for example, it will be sent up to iCloud and pushed wirelessly to the Photo Stream folder of your iPad, iPod Touch and Mac computer.
If you buy an app on one device – it will also be seen in a list of purchased apps on your other devices for easy download to that product.
Same goes for music – of you buy a song or album on your iPhone, it will be pushed to you’re your other devices and your Mac when you’re on wi-fi.
If you’re using any of the Apple apps like Keynote, Numbers or Pages it’s easy to work on the same document on several devices. If you’ve been working on the document on your iPad, for example, any changes are saved and also synced to your other devices.
iCloud will also allow PC free use of your device so out of the box it can connect wirelessly to the internet and be set up in a few easy steps without connecting it to a computer.
We found the battery on the iPhone 4S offers the same performance as that of the iPhone 4 and we averaged just under a day and half between charges.
But with so many new features there are more ways to run the battery down even faster including Siri and Notificatons.
With Siri – all new iPhone 4S users are going to really put this through its paces and each inquiry involves a connection to the network.
If you’ve got every app selected to receive notifications, your iPhone 4S will be constantly checking and downloading updates which will have an impact on the battery performance.
We selected only a handful of apps for notifications – mail, messages, calendar, reminders and calls – and we got longer standby and talk time as a result.
The iPhone 4S is the best smartphone we’ve ever used. It combines a great design with an excellent operating system and excellent features.
Anyone who’s grumbling that the device looks the same as last year’s model only needs to get the iPhone 4S in their hand to see the many differences and improvements right away.
Siri adds an entirely new dimension to the device and the way we can interact with it and this puts it in a league of its own.
Apple iPhone 4S
Price: $799 (16GB), $899 (32GB), $999 (64GB) or on a plan.
Five stars (out of five)