Billed as “the most amazing iPhone yet”, the release of the iPhone 4S was somewhat overshadowed by the death of its founding father, former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, in October this year. Immediately criticised for what it wasn’t (the much-anticipated iPhone 5, set to be released now in early 2012) rather than what it was (a new spin on the iPhone 4 with improved processor, camera and the birth of ‘personal assistant’ Siri), two months after its release we take a look at the key features and how they perform.
Unless you opt for the white version, the iPhone 4S is on a par with its now cheaper predecessor when it comes to looks, but as one of the best looking smart phones around, Apple didn’t need to change much. The 4S is slightly heavier – 3 grams heavier to be precise – but the difference is discernible, and all the external materials, buttons and switches have already been tried and tested in the 4.
A common complaint with earlier incarnations of the iPhone was the intermittent reception, but no such issues exist with the 4S. With two built-in antennas (rather than the usual one), call-time drop-out is avoided, with the phone intelligently switching between each antenna during calls.
With a 3.5-inch (8.9cm) display, the iPhone 4S now claims one of the smallest smartphone screen displays, with rival Samsung phones boasting up to an extra inch (2.5cm). Although the screen-size was criticised, in day-to-day use the comparatively small size of the iPhone is a plus, taking up less room in pockets, handbags and, perhaps most importantly, the hand.
Although the software pre-installed on the iPhone 4S (iOS 5) is not unique to the 4S – it’s worth mentioning. For me, the key advancement is that the upgraded software improves the smart phone’s ability to push notifications, including email alerts, to the homescreen while locked – something that has previously been missing from iPhones. What is unique to the 4S, however, is the introduction of Siri.
Essentially a voice-recognition tool, Siri has been billed by Apple as a ‘personal assistant’. An evolution in search technology, Siri will act on voice commands. “Wake me up at 6.30am”, for example, sends Siri scurrying off into the complexities of your device to not only set up an alarm for 6.30am, but to turn it on too, before responding to your request with “Your alarm is now set for 6.30am”. Ask if you’ll need an umbrella tomorrow, and Siri will show you the weather in your locale for the very next day.
Siri is activated by holding down the home button before speaking. But where most complaints with earlier versions of voice-recognition software centre around misinterpretation, my one complaint would be that Siri is only available when on a wireless or 3G network, which can be quite limiting. Having said that, after the initial over-use of Siri’s services, driven by the wow-factor, my own use of the built-in PA has subsided. I just don’t have much need for her. Although Siri is capable of building and sending texts and emails while you remain hands-free, the reality is that you’re used to using your fingers.
Ever since I made the move from corporate Blackberry to ever-so-cool iPhone, my Apple charger has never left my side. Generally it’s accepted that the sacrifice we make for owning what I consider to be the best smartphone out there, is that we will forever be in search of a power socket: somewhere to charge up our iPhones at the end of the day. We may have accepted this fact, but with each release we wait with anticipation to see if the battery life is improved.
Not so with the iPhone 4S. Although battery life is up one hour to eight hours on a 3G connection, standby time drops from 300 on the 4 to just 200 on the 4S. Despite this, in practice I have not noticed much of a difference. I avoided the much-publicised battery glitch, and my routine remains the same – charge my phone when I go to bed.
One improvement that is certainly noticeable is the improvement to the camera. With an 8-megapixel camera featuring autofocus, face detection and the ability to record 1080p HD video with image stabilisation, even my digital SLR has fallen by the wayside. The camera is slick, easy to use, and for most daylight events is capable of capturing impressive shots. Come nightfall, however, and the flash – as with most mobile phone cameras – is just not up to the job.
If you were hoping for a revolution, you will be disappointed. Perhaps with the exception of the camera and Siri, most of what is new and notable in the iPhone 4S is accessible in the 4 with the adoption of iOS 5. Therefore, if you already own and use an iPhone 4, it’s perhaps worth holding out for the still-anticipated iPhone 5.