One Week With The iPhone 4S — Our Full Review

iphone 4s main image

Photo: Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider

The iPhone 4S is finally here, and we’ve been using a 64GB version of the device very heavily for the past six days.I’m very pleased.

Read on for our full review of Apple’s best iPhone ever.

Familiar, Yet Different
For all intents and purposes, the iPhone 4S looks exactly like the iPhone 4. It’s not new, but it’s still gorgeous.

It doesn’t have a bigger screen or tapered design, but it’s still the best-looking smartphone you can buy.

And this is what matters, right? It’s still the best-designed, most handsome, and most substantial feeling smartphone I’ve ever handled.

So what’s different? In this review, I will focus on what makes the iPhone 4S unique, namely its new A5 processor, Siri, and its upgraded 8 megapixel camera.

iphone 4s iphone 3gs angleThe iPhone 4S alongside a two-year-old iPhone 3GS.

Photo: Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider

Siri Is Something Special
Using Siri is not a perfect experience, but when it does work, I feel something.

A warm sensation overcomes my body. I’ve accomplished a task by exerting the most minimal amount of effort. I can’t help but smile.

Asking Siri about the weather and about stocks is a fun novelty, but the meat of Siri is in communication. I spend a lot of time walking, and no matter how much I practice, my typing is still pretty horrible while I’m moving around.

But Siri is here to help. On the way home from work yesterday, I held down my home button for a second, heard a double-beep, then spoke these words:

Send an email to Jonathan Warsh that says hey, exclamation point, we still on for our video chat in fifteen minutes, question mark.

Within two or three seconds, Siri pops up my email, all ready to send, but first it asks for a subject line. I skip the subject and tap send.

iphone 4s siri reminder

Photo: Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider

While I’m not ready to declare that using Siri in public is normal quite yet, I will say this. Siri will revolutionise the way we accomplish tasks using our phones, and eventually, our computers.

There’s absolutely no reason why Siri won’t sneak its way into Mac OS X within the next two years in full force. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dedicated function button in the top row of future Mac keyboards with a little microphone icon emblazoned onto it.

And imagine the possibilities if Apple builds Siri into Apple TV: “Open Netflix and play the next episode of Breaking Bad.” Awesome.

Another real scenario. I said to Siri:

Remind me to call Bob Solomon at 6PM tomorrow.

Siri parses and understands your request, turning it into a sequence of requests and data points. It returns with a reminder all set up for 6PM tomorrow, and all you need to do is speak or tap Confirm.

And maybe best of all, Siri is designed with the most common tasks in mind. A “reminder” to call Bob does not pop up at 6PM. Instead, a “Call Bob Solomon” button appears on the screen.

If you press Call, the phone starts dialling.

As time goes on, I see Siri becoming more and more acquainted with the various ways a human being makes a request. Siri needs to know that “send a text message to Jake,” “text Jake,” and “tell Jake” are all the same thing.

In many cases Siri already understands you, but you will need to do some practicing to learn how best to communicate with Siri.

And of course, “open the pod bay doors” and other Easter eggs are a lot of fun to play with.

iPhone 4S Will Replace Your Point-And-Shoot Camera
The 8MP camera inside the iPhone 4S takes straight up stunning pictures. It is good enough to replace your point and shoot camera for day-to-day activities, or even for vacations.

It’s that good.

iphone 4s image empire state buildingImage quality is amazing on the iPhone 4S.

Photo: Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider

Apple did a lot of work inside the camera lens to make exposure even better for low-light conditions, as well as added tons of upgrades like image stabilisation, 1080p video recording, and more.

The A5 Processor May Be ageing, But It’s All You Need
The iPhone 4S runs the same dual-core A5 processor we saw launch inside the iPad 2 last March, albeit “underclocked” at 800 Mhz to conserve battery power.

Even running at 800 Mhz, the iPhone 4S flies. It’s snappier than its Android competitors running 1-1.2 Ghz processors, except perhaps the Samsung Galaxy S II.

As far as I’m concerned, if I notice zero noticeable lag or slowdown while doing anything, ever, on the iPhone 4S, then I don’t care how fast the processor is. I just want it to feel blazing fast — which I assure you, it is.

As far as memory (RAM) is concerned, the 4S includes 512MB, which is the same as the iPhone 4, and is 50% less than most competitors are wielding.

It’s a curious move by Apple, but apparently it’s a move to again conserve battery life.

To reiterate, I don’t care about how much RAM the device has because it’s so nimble no matter what you throw at it.

Battery Life On The 4S Is Touchy
I burned through the battery of my shiny new iPhone 4S in about six hours of very heavy use. I expected the device to die quickly, but not while I was doing simple things like texting.

It seemed like even when I wasn’t doing simple tasks using the iPhone 4S, it was leaking battery life alarmingly quickly. I did some experimentation, and once I removed both the Stocks Widget and the Weather Widget from Notifications centre (a new feature in iOS 5), battery has been very good, if not necessarily better than the iPhone 4 (which is OK).

I would guess that each time you unlock your phone, the Weather Widget and Stocks Widget auto-update over 3G, using up your precious battery life.

Lastly, Apple claims that the iPhone 4S has one extra hour of 3G talk time but one less hour of Wi-Fi browsing time. I haven’t noticed much of a difference, though.

Call Quality Is Stellar, Data Service Is Consistent
As you might expect, call quality on the iPhone 4S is stellar. The noise-cancelling microphone is still here, and the speaker phone is actually a bit louder on the iPhone 4S.

While the new “intelligent antenna” is going to provide intangible improvements, the biggest improvements service-wise for me have been by switching to Verizon.

Since I switched, I haven’t had a single Call Failed error or Failed Text Message error.

Much higher data speeds on the iPhone 4S are technically possible on certain carriers, but not on Verizon. But even without the intense data speeds of some carriers, the 4S on Verizon is super consistent.

This is important, because when it comes to Siri, consistently good data speeds (250-750 kbps) are better for fetching requests than sometimes great and sometimes poor data speeds. It especially matters when you’re indoors, where Verizon’s data service capabilities far exceeds AT&T’s.

Should You Buy It?
The iPhone 4S will replace your point-and-shoot camera. Siri will become a part of your daily routine in places you might not expect.

While the iPhone 4S is not a huge step up looks-wise from last year’s model, there’s no denying that last year’s model was drop dead gorgeous (if a bit breakable).

Lastly, the iPhone 4S runs iOS 5, our favourite mobile operating system. It brings myriad improvements that make the iPhone 4S’ “soul,” as Steve Jobs would put it, really shine.

But what if you already have an iPhone 4? If you purchased one within the past year and are considering an upgrade, it might be worth waiting. Unless you’re unhappy with your iPhone’s camera or are desperate for Siri, $199 is a lot to ask.

If you have $199.99 to spend on a new smartphone, you should buy the iPhone 4S. It’s the most reliable, speedy, and capable smartphone I’ve ever used.

colours are ultra-vibrant through the iPhone 4S' camera.

No matter what time of day, the iPhone 4S' 8MP camera performs admirably.

Lights and darks are remarkably balanced and sharp.

Here it, our brand new 64GB iPhone 4S. Oh, the good times we have ahead of us.

Peekaboo. The top comes off the box. Note the iCloud sticker on the side of the box.

Here it is, the iPhone 4S. No wonder Apple didn't change up the design, even if we did get hyped up about it. This thing is gorgeous.

Here's the front of the iPhone 4S. It looks just like the iPhone 4, and even has the same VGA front-facing camera.

Despite 2.5 years of time, the iPhones 4S and our old iPhone 3GS are basically the same size.

The iPhone 4S' Retina IPS display has a different hue to it when it's turned off.

The iPhone 4S' glass back and 8MP camera puts the 3GS' plastic back and 3.2 MP camera to shame. We will miss the curved edges of the 3GS, however.

A crack developed inside the headphone jack of our 3GS. Also, the sleep button stopped working.

The bottom of the 3GS got very dinged up after two years, and even developed a crack.

Apple bundles in headphones, a charger, and USB cord. That's it.

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