Oct. 11, 2011 at 10:01 PM ET
The early iPhone 4S reviews are in — courtesy of those lucky enough to chosen by Apple for a sneak peek of the device — and we've taken the time to round 'em up for you. Here's what's being said about the newest Apple device — which will be hitting stores on Friday.
The basic message sent by the early reviewers is that the iPhone 4S is better and faster than the iPhone 4 — as expected. The consensus appears to be that it is a great upgrade, but not an absolutely necessary one.
There is something very special about the new iPhone though — something that the prior generation can't offer. And Jim Dalrymple at Loop in Sight introduces it by talking to it:
Jim: I love you, Siri
Jim: No really, I love you
Siri: I hope you don’t say that to those other mobile phones, Jim
Jim: No way, I only love you Siri
Siri: You are the wind beneath my wings
Jim: That’s nice. I’m glad you know I love you
Siri: All you need is love. And your iPhone
Its name is Siri and it is the voice-recognition technology built into the iPhone 4S. Brian X. Chen at Wired describes this technology — which is presented to us in the form of an app — as being so significant that the "S" in iPhone 4S "may as well stand for Siri." In his own words:
To give you an idea of how convenient Siri is, it takes about three seconds to create a reminder with a voice command, as opposed to the 10 seconds it takes me to manually type an event into a to-do list or calendar entry. Before, with the standard iPhone calendar, I would often forget to add an event because I was too busy to type it, and as a result I would forget I had something scheduled altogether. With Siri and Apple’s new Reminders to-do list app, it’s unlikely I’ll forget anything important again because the process is so effortless.
It’s kind of like having the unpaid intern of my dreams at my beck and call, organizing my life for me. I think Siri on the iPhone is a life changer, and this is only the beginning.
And not only is this new iPhone like the ideal personal assistant, but it rarely gets tired either. As Joshua Topolsky at This Is My Next explains, the device will keep running longer than any of its predecessors:
As with the iPhone 4, the 4S is definitely no slouch in the battery life department. In fact, Apple claims that the new phone is capable of an extra hour of talk time while on 3G. What the company is less vocal about is the fact that the phone has lost an hour of Wi-Fi browsing time.
In my real world testing of the device, those numbers seemed to balance each other out, and overall I found the battery performance of the phone to be impressive. Even after a heavy day of use (about 16 hours of making calls, browsing, downloading apps, syncing, listening to music, game playing, and more), I still had juice on the phone when I plugged it in before bed. The 4S is more than capable of going through a full business day without needing a charge, and if you’re a lighter user, you’ll rarely have to worry about it.
It's not just the battery that's been powered-up though. Jason Snell at Macworld found that the iPhone 4S packs a performance punch:
Like the iPad 2 before it, the iPhone 4S is powered by an Apple-designed A5 processor. This is a dual-core processor that’s one generation more advanced than the A4 processor that powered the iPhone 4 and the original iPad.
Two processor cores don’t necessarily mean the iPhone 4S is twice as fast as the iPhone 4—that has a lot to do with how efficiently a device’s software can take advantage of spreading the workload across both cores. But the 4S’s upgraded processor definitely provides a large speed boost, akin to the upgrade from the original iPad to the iPad 2.
The results of my general-performance tests showed the iPhone 4S to be between roughly twice as fast as the iPhone 4. Apple claims graphics performance on the iPhone 4S has been boosted even more by the graphics component of the A5, with speed gains of as much as 7x. That’s a best-case scenario, but my tests with the GLBench Pro graphics benchmarking app did show enhanced graphics performance. One 3D test sequence played at roughly five times the frame rate of the same scene on the iPhone 4; another was roughly double the frame rate.
And let's not forget the camera inside this device. Danny Gorog at Outware, like most of the other reviewers, describes it as being good enough for you to forget about carrying a regular camera most of the time:
The optics and sensor in the iPhone 4S have been given a substantial upgrade. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say the camera quality is now as good as many dedicated point and shoot camera. With the convenience of having it with you in your phone at all times.
The snazzy and shiny bits aside, how's the actual phone aspect of Apple's newest baby? According to Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal? Not bad at all:
Though the 4S isn't labeled as a 4G phone, and the Verizon and Sprint models can't use those carriers' 4G networks, the AT&T model, in my tests, achieved 4G speeds in areas where AT&T has deployed its 4G network.
In numerous tests at three different locations in the Washington suburbs, I averaged download speeds of nearly 7 megabits per second—better than in prior tests on Sprint and T-Mobile 4G phones. By contrast, a colleague's tests of the Verizon version of the iPhone 4S yielded average download speeds of less than 1 mbps.
All models of the iPhone 4S are "world phones," meaning even the Verizon and Sprint versions, which use a technology rare outside the U.S., can switch to the global standard cellphone technology and be used in most other countries.
Apple claims to have improved voice-call reception in the iPhone 4S, allowing the phone to switch between two antennas to pick up the best signal. But my AT&T model dropped too many calls, just as earlier AT&T iPhones do. My colleague's Verizon iPhone 4S dropped none.
Should you be getting an iPhone though? As I mentioned above, the basic consensus appears to be that — as great as it is — it's not for everyone. MG Siegler at TechCrunch clarifies:
If you already have an iPhone 4 and still have time left on your two-year contract, it will be a pricey decision to upgrade to an iPhone 4S — especially since you’ll get the iOS 5 features (again, minus Siri) as an upgrade for free. If either speed or the camera are of the utmost importance to you, you should upgrade. If not, go to an Apple Store and see for yourself just how cool Siri is and then decide.
If you’ve had an iPhone 3GS and have been waiting a couple years for the next iPhone to come out, now’s the time to upgrade. If you’re worried just because this is not called the “iPhone 5," you’re being foolish.
If you’ve never owned an iPhone before and the 4S will be your first one, you’ll love it. I suspect that millions of Verizon and Sprint customers in the U.S. are going to be in this bucket.
But hang on a minute, says Stephen Fry at the Guardian. It's not just about whether a two-year contract is expiring on your current iPhone 4. He explains that you should probably take a look at iOS 5 — which becomes available on Wednesday — before rushing to a store:
iOS 5 will make your existing iPhone so like a new one that you might even forget the iPhone 4S …
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