The iPhone 4S, the latest handset in the popular iPhone line, hits shelves on Friday. The 4S takes the basic shape of the iPhone 4, and adds an array of improvements, most of them internal: A faster A5 processor, an 8-megapixel camera, a voice-operated personal assistant app called Siri, the iOS 5 operating system. (iPhone 4 users can download iOS 5 now.) So how does the iPhone 4S stack up to past models? Unsurprisingly, pretty well.
Over at This is My Next, Joshua Topolsky notes that "there isn’t anything notable about the exterior of the iPhone 4S in comparison with the company’s previous flagship phone." Still, he continues, "compared with most (if not all) of its Android competition, this industrial design looms tall. Though enthusiasts might be bored of seeing the same hardware for more than a year, this still feels like the phone to beat in the looks department. The glass back — while incredibly prone to shattering on impact — feels as sleek and sexy as ever. The metal antenna and solid, machined buttons feel high-end, expensive even. If this were a car, it would be a Mercedes."
"[T]he 4S’s upgraded processor definitely provides a large speed boost, akin to the upgrade from the original iPad to the iPad 2," writes Jason Snell of Macworld. "The results of my general-performance tests showed the iPhone 4S to be 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."
"Much will be made about the upgrade from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels with the iPhone 4S," writes MG Siegler of TechCrunch. "But the bigger difference is the engineering behind the new camera. Apple notes with pride that their engineers were able to completely re-architect this tiny camera to produce images that are on par with the nicest point-and-shoots available. They credit five 'precision elements' to record incoming light (versus four in the already excellent iPhone 4 camera) and the inclusion of a larger f/2.4 aperture to bring in more light."
The interface, part 1
"iOS 5.0 allows Over The Air updating and iTunes syncing, gives (AT LAST!!) a glossary so that we can make up our own text abbreviations and correct bad auto-correct habits (if ever I type "tou" it now automatically becomes 'you'), offers a vast, customisable range of notification options, including a draw-down curtain familiar to Android users," writes Stephen Fry of the UK Guardian. "iOS 5 also integrates Twitter globally so that I can go to a website, for example, and see that 'Tweet' has been added to the list of sharing options available. [You] can create a reading list too from Safari. There's tabbed browsing also. And iMessaging, which means you can "text" from an iPod touch or iPad."
The interface, part 2
"Some of its 200 new features play Android catch-up," writes David Pogue of the New York Times. ("iPhone 4S conceals sheer magic," reads the headline of the Times review.) "For example, a tidy, attractive Notification Center appears when you swipe a finger down the screen. In one place, it lists all of your missed calls, text messages received, coming appointments and other updates — a tremendous convenience. You can now fire up the camera right from the Lock screen, saving you a detour to the Home screen. You can now press the Volume Up button to snap a picture; it falls exactly where a real camera’s shutter button would be. Basic photo-fixing tools (auto-color adjust, cropping and red-eye removal) are now built in."
"The standout feature, not available in other iPhones, or in any other phone I've seen, is Siri," writes Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. "It answers questions and provides information using natural language and an intelligent understanding, not just of words, but of context and colloquial phrasing. It isn't perfect, and is labeled a beta, but it has great potential and worked pretty well for me, despite some glitches." Siri, Mossberg adds, "isn't a simple voice-command system. It understands a wide variety of ways to ask a question, grasps the context, and returns useful information in a friendly way, either audibly or by displaying results on the screen. It learns your voice as it goes along."
Siri, part 2
"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," writes Brian X. Chen of Wired. "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."
The last word
"The iPhone 4 was my favorite product that Apple has ever made," writes John Gruber of Daring Fireball. "The iPhone 4S has all the best features of the iPhone 4 – same look, same feel, same Retina Display – and adds several significant improvements. The one and only disappointment I have with the iPhone 4S is that the shutdown spinner animation is still low-res. That’s pretty low on the list of nits to pick."