Just like I said I probably would, I went ahead and bought an iPhone 4S on day one. However, it did cost me quite a bit more than the $100 that I figured it would cost since I decided to go all out and get the 64GB model. That much storage can’t even come laughably close to storing all of my music, but it can store enough that I can ditch the iPod and stream the what doesn’t fit via AudioGalaxy. The music I listen to regularly will fit and everything else will stay easily accessible. It’ll be good enough and to be able to go from three gadgets to one was a pretty good proposition for me.
I’m not going to go into a full review of the iPhone 4S since I did a full iPhone 4 review last year and this is mostly a spec bump, but after a few days with the device, I thought I’d post my thoughts.
The phone still looks the same (though I went with white this time around), but that doesn’t change the fact that there is still nothing else on the market that can touch it as far as design and build quality goes. That’s actually kind of crazy when you think about it considering that this design has been in the wild for 16 months. That being said, the phone still has two slabs of glass making up most of the surface so it remains as breakable as ever.
While there was a lot of disappointment in the iPhone 4S’s announcement, after using this thing for a few days, it seems that much of that disappointment is missing the point. The iPhone 4S is mostly just a spec bump, but its bump is just enough to finally put it over the top. Where the iPhone 4 was very good, the iPhone 4S is great.
The iPhone 4S finally reaches a point where the device and the software melt away and you’re just left with content and things you want to do. Nothing stands in your way now.
Most of the time, the added speed of the A5 processor isn’t a night and day difference, but sometimes it is. Apps open significantly faster and while the iPhone 4 was snappy and definitely no slouch, the iPhone 4S makes moving around in apps a much improved experience. There is no lag, even in places where I could always count on my iPhone 4 to hang up for a second or so. Everything is much smoother and snappier in a tangible way.
All of this added speed means iOS now keeps up with you. You’re no longer waiting for it, it’s waiting for you. Simply put, where iPhone 4 was close, but the iPhone 4S is there.
The iPhone 4 camera was still the best camera you could get on a phone up until just recently. Hell, some probably still consider it to be the best. But it was just barely not enough to justify ditching a point-and-shoot altogether. More than half the time, yes, it was enough, but I always kept my point-and-shoot near the door. The iPhone 4S changes that. It is sharper, has better dynamic range, better color, more pixels, and significantly better low-light performance. My DSLR won’t see any decrease in usage, but my point-and-shoot is going in the desk drawer upstairs and may never come out again. The photos and videos that iPhone 4S can take are stunning. Unless you need a superzoom, you won’t need a point-and-shoot while you have an iPhone 4S in your pocket.
I’ve posted some very quick sample shots at the bottom of the post. These were taken quickly without any attention paid to composition, but they should give you an idea of what the camera is capable of. None of them have been processed in any way except to reduce their size.
Siri has been the most talked about feature of the iPhone 4S since it was announced and for good reason. Before using it or seeing a demo, it’s easy to dismiss it as another voice control feature that you’ll never use. I almost did myself. But when you actually use this, you realize it’s so much more. This is the start of the future. This is the point where we’ll look back and pinpoint as the beginning of being able to truly have conversations with your technology and have it do things for you.
If you’ve been on the internet at all since Friday, you’ve probably already seen much of the fun people have been having with Siri. I’ve had a lot of fun testing her out and seeing how she’ll respond to things. She’s fun, but I’m not going to add another post on the internet about how if you keep bugging her about the meaning of life, she’ll say “42, are you happy now?” She’s full of countless snark and provides a lot of fun. She has an attitude and that’s important. She responds almost like a person would and that makes it feel real. It makes it feel like she’s a real person and that she can truly understand you. It’s unlike anything else you’ve ever used because it’s unlike anything else that has ever existed. This is the real thing.
That attitude is coupled with the fact that she can hold a conversation. She is smart enough to understand what you say even if you say it differently. She gets context. I can say “remind me to email John Smith about the concert this weekend when I get home” and she will create a reminder that will go off as soon as I get to my house. The reminder will say “Email John Smith about the concert this weekend” because she understands that that was what I wanted the reminder to say. I can say “tell my wife that I’ll be late” and she’ll text my wife telling her that I’m going to be late. “Take me to the mall” gets me the same thing as if I say “I need directions to the mall.” She just gets it.
You can tell her to do things the way you would tell a real person. And that’s why she works. That’s why Siri will actually get used. Because she can understand you so well, she can actually do things faster than you can on your own. It’s not a gimmick. You probably won’t use her too much in public, but thanks to the ability to have her automatically kick on when you put your phone up to your ear, you might actually use her while walking down the street or in the store. It’ll look just like you’re having a conversation with someone on the phone.
I’ve noticed that because she has to send everything to Apple’s servers, sometimes she takes a few seconds to respond, but it’s generally not bad. Everything going to Apple’s servers is a good thing though. Apple says she’ll learn from you and from the user base as a whole. With Apple knowing how people are using it, they can adapt it even more to the real world. This is the beginning, but she will get so much better. It won’t be long before you can say “how are the Eagles doing” and she’ll give you the score of the game.
Is Siri enough to justify buying an iPhone 4S if you already have an iPhone 4? I don’t know, that’s tough, maybe not. But if you’re on the fence already, she should push you over.
That about covers the big changes from that the iPhone 4S brings to the table. There are smaller ones like a better antenna design which seems to work as advertised, but I never had much of a problem with my iPhone 4 in most places. There’s also a new vibration motor which sounds like a silly thing to mention, but you can feel (and hear) the difference. This one is smoother and actually feels a little more luxurious. It’s an added thing that helps to make the device feel high-end.
The iPhone 4S isn’t perfect for what it is though. The battery life is noticeably worse than my iPhone 4. It’s not terrible, I can still get close to two days from a charge, but it is less. However, the battery life feels similar to what I was getting from my iPhone 4 after upgrading to iOS 5, so that may be part of it. I have the notifications set to display my email on the lockscreen so every email I receive turns on the display for a few seconds. That probably accounts for a large chunk of it. It also seems like the battery depletes faster when using Siri. Either way, the battery life is still good enough that it won’t be a problem. That’s the major complaint though, I still have some issues with iOS and I’m hoping that iOS 6 will fix much of them, but we’ll see. For now, the iPhone 4S doesn’t fix them, but Siri does actually make a few of them easier to live with. Any other hardware complaints would simply be highlighting choices that Apple made (e.g. not doing a larger screen), not design flaws.
As you’ll hear everywhere else, if you have an iPhone 3G or 3GS, upgrade now. Just do it. If you have an iPhone 4, it’s tough, but this device is good enough to reduce three gadgets you may already use down to one and the speed will save you a lot of time throughout the day. If those things mean something to you, upgrade. If not, hold out another year. If you aren’t currently an iPhone user and are thinking about becoming one, this is the phone to get. And if you don’t have a smartphone at all yet and are looking to get one, I’d recommend this over anything else. I’m not going to say iOS is better than Android, I think they are both great in their own ways, but if you don’t already have a smartphone at this point, you’re likely to fall into the camp of people who will enjoy iOS’s way of doing things more.
For me personally, I’m finding the iPhone 4S to be a worthy upgrade. I’m happy with my decision so far.