Review: Apple iPhone 4S
- — 12 November, 2011 22:00
|Name||Smartphone: Apple iPhone 4S|
|At a glance:||Dual-core processor brings it up to speed,Voice commands work surprisingly well with Kiwi accent,Vastly improved camera,Works best with other Apple products|
|Summary:||The iPhone 4S is worth it for Siri alone.|
|RRP:||16GB: 1,049; 32GB: $1,199; 64GB: $1,349|
Consumers may be disappointed that the iPhone 4S is not a redesigned iPhone 5, but it's not really surprising that Apple stuck with a design that was universally lauded when first unveiled last year. Lightweight, slim, and elegant, the iPhone 4 in one year made the company more money than most people will make in a lifetime.
The iPhone 4S may look like the iPhone 4 and - as long as the 4 is up-to-date - run the same operating system, but there are loads of differences. All of them are relatively minor on an individual basis, but they add up.
Siri: intelligent voice assistant
The biggest change from the iPhone 4 to the 4S is undoubtedly the inclusion of 'intelligent voice assistant', Siri. Siri is an app integrated into the phone that can understand voice commands, even if the commands are said in informal language. Siri is also rather sassy - so much so that blogs have been dedicated to the funny things it replies with when you say something silly or inappropriate. If you ask Siri, "Did you fart?" it says, "No comment." If you say, "I hate you", it says, "I'm trying my best."
But Siri can do a lot more than respond to your toilet humour. I was extremely sceptical about Siri, as I am about all voice recognition services, but the app, when adjusted so that English (Australia) is the default language, works remarkably well with a strong Kiwi accent. I could dictate messages and as long as I didn't mumble (and sometimes even if I did) Siri would translate it perfectly.
Siri can send text messages, set reminders and alarms, take notes and more if you ask it to, and you can phrase your question in multiple ways. Not only that, but if you tell Siri that, for example, Zara is your boss, Siri will add that to your list of relationships and remember it if you say "Siri, call my boss". The amount of effort required is minimal, and it really is much easier than searching through contacts to find the right person. The applications for blind people, in particular, are tremendous.
The app can also act as a search engine, if you want it to, with the help of Google and WolframAlpha. Ask it, "What is the gravity on Mercury?" and Siri brings up a WolframAlpha page within the app, without opening your browser.
One of Siri's most exciting features - searching for businesses, such as by asking "Siri, where can I get great Mexican food in Auckland?" or "Siri, can you recommend a masseuse?" - is currently available only in the US. Apple hasn't provided a rollout date for this feature in New Zealand as yet.
Hardware changes from iPhone 4
Because of Siri, the microphone and speaker both have to be very clear, which means call quality on the iPhone 4S is fantastic. No calls were dropped thanks to the 4S's dual antennas, but keep in mind that we were using the Telecom XT network in Cenrtal Auckland, and experiences may vary.
The rest of the hardware of the iPhone 4S has also had an upgrade, although most people won't be able to tell by looking at the outside of the phone. Pick it up, though, and you'll immediately notice the extra weight that the 4S's new dual-core A5 processor gives to the device. The iPhone 4S is certainly snappy and responsive, although the new processor does get noticeably hot at times.
The camera is also vastly improved on the iPhone 4's - photos from smartphones are finally getting to the point where I could take a picture on my phone that are of a high enough quality to use in print media. The camera is comparable to the stellar Carl Zeiss lenses that have been used on Nokia's N8 and N9, and also quicker to take pictures. It's so quick, actually, that sometimes I wasn't aware that I'd taken more than one picture of the same thing. The only disappointment is that colours, particularly reds, are slightly washed out, so brightly coloured things look just slightly duller on screen than they do in real life.
It's disappointing, because the iPhone 4S's screen is fantastic. The device has a 3.5-inch, 960 by 640 pixel display, so individual pixels are too small to be visible and the colours on the home screen are vibrant. However, a lot of Android phones that have released recently have had an upgrade to up to four inches in screen size, so the 3.5-inch iPhone screen is getting a little small comparitively.
That said, the screen is big enough to use Apple's own video calling service, FaceTime, comfortably and in relatively high quality. Over a Wi-Fi connection the frame rate is high and the quality of the front-facing camera isn't bad, at least compared to your average webcam. Of course, you can only use FaceTime with people using other Apple products, like the iPad 2. It's also a little tougher to find the app this time around - on the iPad 2, FaceTime had its own icon, but on the iPhone 4S it's integrated into your contacts. Once you choose a contact from your phonebook, a FaceTime button will appear underneath their phone number. It's a little tougher to figure out, and I'm not sure why Apple chose stronger OS integration over ease of use.
iCloud: sharing over Apple devices
One new addition to the iPhone 4S's native operating system, iOS 5, is the ability to use iCloud. Again, this requires more than one Apple device, such as a MacBook, iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad. Of all the things I experimented with using the 4S, iCloud was the most frustrating to set up. Both devices - I was using an iPad 2 - need to be logged into the same iCloud account, which can be done through the iCloud settings. The rest of iCloud's settings, however, are scattered all over: some are in the Store section of the settings, others are in the Photos section. They're also named different things, so I had to consult the Apple website to get a good idea of what features actually worked with iCloud and how to turn them on. Only stuff downloaded (or photos taken) after the set up will be uploaded to the iCloud. Allow for about half an hour of set up and mild confusion, though, and you'll manage to sync everything up and have access to up to 5GB of your media on all your Apple devices.
Other features and final thoughts
Another handy feature is the ability to easily play video from your iPhone to your high definition TV, using either an Apple TV box or Apple's iPhone-to-HDMI adaptor. This means you can download a video from iTunes, connect your iPhone, and play it right away on a big screen. Unfortunately, the video doesn't necessarily scale up very well, as we discovered after downloading a music video and connecting it to a 42-inch screen. Watching a music video, or a home video, would be acceptable as it's generally only a few minutes, but you wouldn't want to watch a whole movie.
While many people have been reporting battery issues with the iOS5, with the 4S losing up to 10% of its power per hour while on standby, I didn't experience any issues with battery life whatsoever (before or after the 5.0.1 update). Even with location services turned on for every app that could use it, the battery lasted more than two days without needing a recharge, even with heavy use of tougher features like GPS, Wi-Fi, and Siri. I acknowledge these problems exist, but I can't mark the phone down based on an issue I didn't have.
The iPhone is a bit of an institution in the smartphone market, and each one certainly improves upon the last. If you like iOS over Android or WP7 but are still rocking a 3GS, it could be time to upgrade. If you've got an iPhone 4, you still might want to consider it for Siri alone. As an Android user, I'm loath to admit that Siri is a game changer. That sassy robotic Aussie voice has won this sceptic over.