The iPhone 4S is a great device for some, but what if you’re thinking of upgrading from an iPhone 4? That’s a tougher call. The phone is faster, to be sure, and has an amazing camera. And of course, you can’t get Siri unless you have a 4S… but I just don’t know if any of those reasons are compelling enough to convince previous buyers to upgrade. The concept is a particularly hard sell for Verizon customers. The gap between this year’s model and last year’s model isn’t as wide as Apple would probably like.
For this review, I returned to the iPhone after a fairly long period of using and testing other devices. Spending a week with Apple’s newest phone, I’m reminded again of just what makes the company’s products so special. It’s not specs, services, or apps. This phone is not perfect. Certainly it can be improved. But there is something here, beyond the screen and CPU, beyond iCloud, something under the surface. Some intangible spark.
Is this the best phone ever made? That’s debatable. But I can tell you this: the iPhone 4S is pretty damn cool.
Leading up to last week’s event, like everyone else, I kept reading the rumors about a new iPhone with a larger screen and completely different form factor. Quite frankly, I was hoping they were wrong. (For the record, I stated that I heard the screen size rumor was wrong weeks ago.) The iPhone 4′s design is the pinnacle of smartphone design in my opinion. I simply could not imagine how they could alter it to make it better. Even making it thinner would mean that it wouldn’t fit as nicely in your hands for taking pictures. Android fanboys are going to love that statement.
I’m happy that Apple decided not to change the form factor even though they had to know there would be some backlash from a certain segment of the population (read: idiots). Instead, Apple focused on the other thing they do best: refining already great products to make them better. The iPhone 4 was a great product. The best smartphone ever made. Now it cedes that title to the iPhone 4S.
Android phones seem to come out every Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. Apple updates iOS and the iPhone only once a year. So Apple had a lot of catching up to do, even some leapfrogging. There are some rough spots here and there; for example, every now and then the 4S’s camera app gets stuck on its startup screen. And while the battery still gets you through one full day, standby time is shorter than before (200 hours versus 300). But over all, Apple has done an excellent job.
The question isn’t what’s in a name — it’s what’s in a phone. And the answer is: “A lot of amazing technology. And some of it feels like magic.”
The iPhone 4S is one of Apple’s less dramatic updates, but, when combined with the Siri, iOS 5 and iCloud features, it presents an attractive new offering to smartphone users. Some may be content to skip the new hardware and just enjoy the software and cloud features with older models. But those buying the phone will likely be happy with it.
In the end, the iPhone 4S follows Apple’s recent trajectory of iPhone releases: It’s an object of some appeal to people who last upgraded their phones a year ago, and over the next year a great many of them will find it worthwhile to upgrade to the iPhone 4S. But to all those people who’ve been hanging on to their iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS, the wait is over: It’s time to upgrade without any hesitation whatsoever. The iPhone 4S has speed, a great camera, some cool voice-recognition features, and the same beautiful industrial design that was introduced in the iPhone 4. It’s destined to be immensely popular. The S, in this case, seems to stand for “sure thing.”
Apple concedes that Siri isn’t a finished product; she is in beta. But even with her blemishes, Siri is pretty darn cool. And she helps make the iPhone 4S pretty darn cool, too.
The bottom line
•Pro. Siri, good camera, iOS 5, iCloud, half-million apps. Snappy. World phone.
•Con. No LTE version. Photo Stream glitch.
The iPhone 4S looks exactly the same as its predecessor — but who cares? If it was shaped even slightly differently or came in a new color, people would still go nuts over the stuff that’s more important anyway: the insides. And both inside and out, this is a magnificent smartphone.
The late Steve Jobs once called the computer the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. I think of the smartphone as the rocket ship for our minds. With increasingly powerful sensors and technologies, and access to hundreds of thousands of apps enabling us to do just about anything, the iPhone keeps soaring to incredible heights and taking us to places with limitless potential. I guess that’s what you have to do to create a ding in the universe.
WIRED Siri is the best androgynous unpaid intern you’ll ever meet. Dual-core guts make for faster apps and a smoother interface. Camera is much-improved. Call quality gets a boost.
TIRED Siri is limited in what it can do and understand. Looks the same as the iPhone 4 — what’s up with that? A 2-year contract means you may not be eligible for the best upgrade pricing.
Wisely resisting the urge to change design for the sake of change, Apple has focused its attention where it will count the most: creating a longer-lasting smartphone that takes better photos, runs apps more smoothly and helps people efficiently manage their mobile lives whether they’re within cable’s reach of their home or office or otherwise. Meanwhile, Siri proves that the company still has what it takes to deliver game-changing functionality.
There will undoubtedly be smartphones with faster processors, or more megapixels to their cameras, or high-speed 4G connectivity, or bigger, better resolution displays, but it’s difficult to imagine any of them competing with the joined-up ecosystem Apple now offers. Challenging the iPhone isn’t just about creating one single, better smartphone, but a portfolio of consistent products and services. The iPhone 4S may look the same as before, but it arguably represents just as much of a shift in the industry as the original iPhone ever did.
The phone’s new antenna design seems to have reduced the number of dropped calls over AT&T’s much-maligned network, though my sample was admittedly limited.
With the iPhone’s continuing advantage in number of apps (500,000 and counting), its arrival on the Sprint network and its ability to function as a world phone, the 4S doesn’t leave many holes for the competition to plug.
And then there’s this: The 4S is the first phone you’ll ever be tempted to ask for the secret of life. Go ahead — you’ll get an answer, too. It isn’t from “Star Trek,” though science-fiction readers will recognize, and get a chuckle from, the response.