∞ Review: iPhone 4S

Jim: I love you, Siri

Siri: Impossible

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

Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, is the most talked about new feature of the iPhone 4S, but there are many other compelling reasons to like the new iPhone.

I’ve been using the iPhone 4S for a week now — ever since Apple introduced the device at a special event in Cupertino on October 4. The iPhone 4S may look a lot like its predecessor, but a significant speed boost and reworked antenna technology put this model far ahead of the competition, and even ahead of the iPhone 4.

With its A5 chip, the iPhone 4S is noticeably faster in everything you do. From launching apps to switching between apps using multitasking, you can’t help but notice the speed increase.

One thing I particularly noticed was the animations when launching and switching apps. When an app is launched or closed, it is supposed to zoom in or out — this wasn’t always evident in previous versions of the iPhone.

The iPhone 4 would sometimes show animations, but a lot of the time, an app would just appear.

The increased performance of the iPhone 4S is great news for developers. They have been pushing the envelope of Apple’s hardware, releasing more complex, graphics intensive apps that require this power.

With the A5 chip, developers have the headroom to continue their innovations without worrying about how apps will perform for the end user.

Personally, I think developers push Apple’s improvements more than competition from other handset makers.

Dual antennas

The iPhone 4S has two antennas — one on the bottom and one at the top of the handset.

Apple has given the iPhone the ability to intelligently switch between the antennas to ensure better call quality. The technology also allows this switching to go on during a phone call, so you won’t even notice that the switch has taken place.

To be perfectly clear — this is an Apple-only technology. While other companies can receive on dual antennas, no other company can transmit and receive on dual GSM or CDMA antennas.

The dual antennas are at work when you’re not on a call too. I have noticed that my signal is stronger in places where it was weak before.

For many people, having this antenna technology will be well worth the upgrade, even without all the other features.

Camera

The iPhone has not only been my communications device for the past few years, it has also been my only camera.

I have taken my iPhone to Europe, all over the US, and countless other places, never worrying about how it would perform for me. The camera has always managed to capture whatever shot I was going for.

Of course, you can take a DSLR or other massive camera with you, but I like to walk and enjoy the scenery without lugging around a camera bag with the necessary accessories.

The iPhone 4S makes that even better. Not only did Apple include an 8-megapixel camera, they also improved many of the other elements needed to take a great picture.

From a larger aperture, an improved backside illumination sensor, auto white balance, color accuracy, face detection, and reduced motion blur, to a custom lens, everything to make your pictures look the best, has been put into the iPhone 4S.

The same image that I zoomed in on.

Chinese Lanterns in our garden.

Of course, the ability to take great still pictures isn’t the only improvement in the iPhone 4S. Apple also included 1080p HD video recording.

Like my use of the iPhone as a still camera, the device has also been my video camera. The ability to record in 1080p just makes a great camera even better.

I took this video of my dogs playing in the yard over the weekend. I put it on my Mac and made the movie with iMovie.

Siri

Much of the talk surrounding the introduction of the iPhone 4S is about Siri, Apple’s voice assistant technology.

After using Siri for a week, I can tell you it works just as good in real life situations as it did in Scott Forstall’s demo at the launch event.

The important thing to remember about Siri is that it’s not just another voice technology. Siri understands the context of what you are asking it and responds appropriately.

Like the conversation I had with Siri (noted at the beginning of this review), Siri understood the words and responded. But it can do a lot more that just entertain my silly conversations.

For instance, if you receive a text message, you can ask Siri to read your last text. It will tell you who it is from, read the text and then ask you if you would like to respond.

You say yes, and then give it your response. Siri will acknowledge the response and ask you if you’re ready to send the message. You say yes and it’s sent.

I did this today in the car. The iPhone 4S was sitting in the console and I just spoke like I normally would in a conversation. Siri got every word right and sent the text back.

Siri can do other things too. I asked it to play specific songs in my iTunes library, schedule appointments in iCal, and asked what Apple’s current stock price is. Every time, Siri carried out the task.

You can even use Siri in conjunction with Apple’s Reminders app. By using the “Remind me” prefix, Siri can setup reminders based on location, so you can be reminded to make a phone call when you leave work or other task.

Siri is not your typical voice recognition technology. You don’t dictate to Siri, you interact and have a conversation with Siri. It’s difficult to explain how good Siri is, but you’ll find out soon enough.

iCloud

The integration of iCloud into the iPhone and Mac is one of my favorite features. iCloud gives you access to everything you need, no matter where you are.

You can choose to have new apps, music, and books automatically download to all of your devices. That means if you buy something on your Mac, it will be downloaded at the same time to your other devices.

Of course, you can turn this feature off on each device separately, but I have it on everywhere.

Documents in the Cloud is another aspect of iCloud that users will soon be able to use. Basically, it gives you access to your Pages, Numbers, and Keynote documents from your iOS devices and your Mac. Documents can be edited and will automatically be saved back to iCloud without any intervention from the user.

I’ve used this with my iOS devices quite a bit, but currently iWork for the Mac doesn’t have iCloud integration. You can download the document and then upload it again when you’re finished working on it.

iCloud gives you access to previously purchased apps too. This means you can launch the App Store from your iOS device and find any app that isn’t currently installed and download it again.

Since I don’t usually have many apps installed, this is particularly handy when I travel and want to show someone a cool app. It’s also nice when I forget to install a travel app and I’ve already arrived at the airport.

Of course, iCloud includes syncing your calendars, mail and contacts. This replaces the MobileMe syncing that Apple currently has in place.

Syncing with iCloud is done in an instant. For instance, if I make a change to a contact on my Mac, it is done within a few seconds on my iOS devices. No more waiting minutes for changes to happen. The reverse is also true — changes made to an iOS device are on the Mac within seconds, not minutes.

iCloud also includes Photo Stream, which automatically adds photos you take on your iOS device to your Mac and other devices. This is something else I’ve been using a lot.

With iCloud, my information and media is everywhere I need it to be without even asking for it.

iOS 5

The last aspect to the iPhone 4S release is iOS 5. With over 200 new features, iOS 5 packs a lot of changes.

iOS 5 will come with Twitter integration, iMessage, Newsstand, and many more features, but two have stood out for me: Notification Center and PC Free.

Not needing a computer to setup your iOS device is huge. It was a pain to connect all the time to sync or even setup your iOS device.

Setting up the iPhone 4S was a breeze and with future backups in iCloud, it will only get easier from here. I just turned it on, answered a few questions and I was done.

In my everyday use, Notification Center is my most used new feature. It’s so nice to just look over at the screen and know whether or not the last message was something I need to act on or not.

If I’m away from my iPhone for a while, I just swipe down the screen and all of my notifications show up. Tweets, emails, stocks, and everything else that I have set up is there for me at a glance.

Bottom Line

You can look at each of the items that Apple will release in conjunction with the iPhone and be amazed with how innovative all of them are.

When you put them all together in one product like the iPhone 4S, you have an incredibly successful product that other companies just can’t compete with.



  • Ben Collins

    So basically it’s a terrible disappointment and Apple will be bankrupt before the year’s out? :P

    • Jacketblack

      You obviously don’t know what youre talking about, or it’s sarcasm…

      • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

        Sarcasm

  • J27371

    Does PhotoStream also make the videos you take on your iPhone available on your Mac and other iOS devices?

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      No, just images.

  • http://techjunkie.tumblr.com Matty Stevenson

    Jim, great review. Thanks for the insight.   I’m certainly going to upgrade.  I have one question regarding your (wonderfully produced) video.  I see a good amount of shake in there.  Was that a byproduct of iMovie or the camera?  I thought Apple had a whole slide on how they had improved the image stabilization when video recording on the 4S. The “wobbling” effect seems as bad as ever.  Can you comment on that?

    ~Matty

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      Matty, all I can say is that video skills are not the greatest. Perhaps it’s just that I was moving around so much trying to get the dogs.

      • http://techjunkie.tumblr.com Matty Stevenson

        Guess I’ll just have to see for myself eh?  Thanks again.

    • Ramin Mehranfar

      The 4S is supposed to be using the internal gyroscope for image stabilization. The “wobbling” in the 4S looks very different from the “shake” from the 4 without any stabilization, which makes me believe that the stabilization is working as it is supposed to in this video, but it doesn’t look good. I REALLY hope they can fix that problem with an iOS update for how the camera utilizes the gyroscope, or at least an option to turn it off, I guess.

      • http://techjunkie.tumblr.com Matty Stevenson

        I can’t really believe they would let it look JUST as bad as the iPhone 4 and talk about how much they improved the stabilization while on stage.  

      • http://www.somian.net Ari Romano Pfefferkorn

        Whe “wobbling” is just an extreme amount of rolling-shutter effect. unfortunately, every camera with a CMOS sensor has this problem and the smaller it is, the higher the amount of rolling shutter.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/CO36G2RP7H3Q43ZWVK4IQAQLAM Ronald

        There seemed to be something going on in the video other than rolling shutter and image shake. I actually thought the video was stabilized really well. There were some weird effects during parts of the filming, although I don’t think it was rolling shutter. My understanding of rolling shutter is that it happens during fast panning or other camera movements (due to the fact that the CMOS sensors are not read instantaneously, but are read top to bottom). There were some points in the video where the image seemed to get a bit distorted momentarily. At 46 seconds, the house looked like it was being distorted by a bad piece of glass or something. Very strange. However, other than the distortions, the video looked very good.

        Did the distortions appear in the original video, or did iMovie somehow introduce them?

  • Scott Siegling

    I think the stabilization thing may be a process you have to turn on, or process after the fact. That makes the most sense to me, because that is pretty processor intensive, unless I missed something from the keynote about it being realtime?

    • Kizedek

      There are different kinds of stabilization.

      1) Software: Yes, iMovie and other software can “stabilize” after the fact, and that is definitely processor intensive — it is a processing of the video (which you don’t want to do until you have done all your editing) that essentially takes a common point for all frames within a clip, and aligns them from frame to frame, so some cropping may occuring order to get the common elements of all the frames into the same position on the screen and then zooming the common elements fill the screen once again for the entire clip.

      2) Hardware: components of the camera are basically “floated” free of the chassis on some kind of suspension. Nikon tends to do it with the CMOS bed, while Canon tends to do it in the lens with the lens elements (one reason, besides the quality of the glass, why some lenses are more expensive than others).

  • http://twitter.com/landonab Landon Baine

    I want the 4S for the update to the camera alone. My 4 is only 8 months old though so I shall be patient and try to wait until 2013.

    • Krylinna

      Sell it to me ? is it factory unlock?

  • Bsb614

    Jim, I preordered my iPhone 4s and it should be here on Friday. I am most excited about Siri…is that a real conversation you had with Siri? The love conversation? It is unrea Siri can comprehend thatl! Thanks for your time Brandon

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      That was a conversation.

      • Bsb614

        UNBELEIVABLE! I’m even more excited now. Did it ever feel forced/akward or hard to communicate with siri? I already feel overwhelmed with all the things I could possibly say/ask.

        • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

          The only thing that was awkward was the way I was talking to it at first. Really slow and deliberate. Now, I just talk.

          • Steven Fisher

            Every video I’ve watched shows people using the “explain it to a three year old” voice. Glad to hear it isn’t actually required.

      • Bsb614

        How does siri know that certain contacts are your siblings/wife etc?I.e siri email my wife? Or siri call my brother?and how does reminders/siri know that you left work or school? Do you enter in certain presets for iPhone to be aware? Like the gps location of work or school? Thanks for the replies I really appreciate it!

        • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

          It doesn’t know who people are. It uses GPS to know when you leave a location.

          • http://mikemanzano.com Mike Manzano

            I thought you could tell her “My wife is Sandra Bulloch” and from then on she’d know.

          • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

            You’re absolutely right. That worked.

          • http://twitter.com/nejcd Nejc Žorga Dulmin

            Also, you should be able to add a nickname. That’s what I use on my iPhone 4 and since I am Slovenian, the names need to pronounced in english and that’s just weird, so I added nicknames like “My Wife” and I can just say: “Call my wife” and it calls Maja. :)

          • Siri

            Yes it does.. Hence you can ask Siri to email/text/call someone via their name, or their relation to you. e.g. Wife. You input your immediate family members when first setting up Siri.

          • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/CO36G2RP7H3Q43ZWVK4IQAQLAM Ronald

            I thought I saw a preference page somewhere where you could tell Siri about people in your life like your mother or wife (I could be wrong). I also thought I heard that you could just tell Siri about your family, etc. (i.e. “Siri … My wife is —”).

          • Mike

            From what I understand, you TRAIN Siri… as in “Siri, Emily is my wife.” or “Siri, Jim is my boss.”

        • Chieftain459

          I was under the impression that, with regard to relationships (brother, mother, etc), you could tell Siri “John Doe is my brother” and it would store and understand that so that later when you say “call my brother” it would call John Doe.  Not certain where I got that from, but maybe Jim can confirm this?

  • http://mikemanzano.com Mike Manzano

    Can you launch apps with Siri?

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      No.

      • http://mikemanzano.com Mike Manzano

        Lame. Maybe soon.

  • Hoovenson Haw

    Do I need to be online to compose a SMS or e-mail message with Siri?

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      Yes.

  • http://xbeta.myopenid.com/ 善用佳软

    Cool. Maybe we’ll see iPhone 4s users just talk to the phone, instead talk to people via phone.

  • Fred

    Can you launch Siri without touching the device? For example when driving or running just say “Siri” or something similar to bring her?

    • Domingos

      That would be awesome

    • Anonymous

      We used to do that with our Macs all the time when set to always listening. We always had to preface our commands by getting the machine’s attention first.

    • Steven Fisher

      No. Imagine the battery drain!

      It replaces voice dial on previous iPhones, so you should be able to use your BlueTooth headset: push the call button.

  • http://mangochut.net/ mangochutney

    Great review Jim. To the point as always and with a lot of heart.

    I didn’t need to upgrade, but since I got the chance I did and now I can’t wait for the 4S to arrive.

    The video was beautiful, it did show two things, though; the limits of the 4S’s stabilisation and a fair amount of lens distortion. This is not bad in and of itself, just good to know.

  • http://twitter.com/DJMusicfly Gerrard

    Can’t wait!!!!!!!! Samsung can go fly a kite…. Nothing compares to iPhone :P Greetings from South Africa

  • http://ahotd.tumblr.com ahotd

    Does Siri work when you’re off the network?

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      No.

  • lookitsme

    is it true, that you can’t delete any photos from photostream? cause sometimes my pictures aren’t that great that i’d rather not have them on all the other devices.

    • dvdphn

      I believe Photostream is just the 1000 most recent images, and you can pick and choose to save whichever ones you like onto the device.

  • dvdphn

    I have a question about the notifications bar. Does it conflict with the, “tap title bar to get to top of the webpage” function? It would be kinda annoying reading something, then check notifications, only to find that you’ve lost your spot.

    • Steven Fisher

      No. Tap is scroll up, swipe is notifications.

      • dvdphn

        Thanks!

  • Robertlongonline

    Great iPhone review aside: Those Chinese Lanterns and are pretty sweet. @robertlong:disqus 

  • Cgknutt

    Wanted to add a quick comment about the image stabilization…you have to remember that it is a phone and essentially the stabilization should remove basic hand-shaking artifacts (i.e. typical phone shot video).  If you want to move around and keep a steady shot, no camera can do that.  That’s what SteadyCam devices are for. 

  • Jth9234

    Wow, I was not expecting an objective review on Apple-centric site, but this review was laughably lacking in so many ways. So how about answering questions such as, is it worth upgrading from iPhone4 to iPhone4S? Or explaining how far behind the curve this phone is vs. newer Android phones, which BTW, the only smartphone with similar tech specs to the iPhone4 around when it launched was the HTC EVO. 

    Also Siri, is it just me or is just a slightly smarter version of Google Talk which I never cared for to begin with. The iCloud is just another cloud service, which cloud services have been available on smartphones for awhile now. How about answering if the battery life works well with a dual core processor?

    IPhone4S might be a solid phone, but if you own the iPhone4, skip it. If you own any of the previous iPhones before the 4, then it may be worth picking up. But if you want cutting edge tech, skip it since this is already behind the curve on Android phones.

    See my last paragraph might have made for a more informative review…

    • Humbio

      Troll…

  • Ad21signe

    Just wondering how secure is iCloud… been reading about security concerns and with all the hacking lately has Apple made a statement about this?

    • http://mangochut.net/ mangochutney

      Wut? Firstly, to answer your question, iCloud provides encryption of your data end-to-end, even iMessages are encrypted.

      Apple hasn’t been hacked lately, there were a few phishing problems, but that kind of stuff, ultimately, is the user’s responsibility.

      • pad FAN

        Oh ok.. didnt mean apple being hacked but other companies like Sony… but Apple sounds to be more solid with their security encryption..

  • pad FAN

    Any worries for security issues for iCloud service?

  • Buddyrich_

    Hi Jim, Were you using Siri in Canada?  This might have been brought up before but even though there are some functions of Siri that are unavailable (utilizing maps and directions), can you use everything else?

  • Jayneat

    WOW! So excited to switch from BB Torch to the Iphone.Thanks for the info Jim :-) .

  • Kathleen Li

    what if my siri is a gal and I say i love you to her???

  • Zen

    I asked Siri – I want to have fun today. Siri – Looking for events near XX. Me – I meant another kind of fun. Siri – Looking for escort services near XX, I promise not to tell. Me- LMFAO!!!! You’re the best! Siri – Hey, thanks!

  • Damon Aldora

     

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about the iPhone 4S. Right now I have a Samsung Galaxy S and it is… lets just say not the best phone I’ve ever had. I did have an iPhone 3G, but thought I would change it up and that was a big mistake. Once the iPhone 4S is more available, I am going to be looking into which service I should get for it. I like to take my movies with me, and the Galaxy would never let me do this without a fight. One app that actually works on my phone is the DISH Remote Access app. I love this app because anywhere I am, I can choose to stream recorded shows and live TV from my 922 SlingLoaded receiver to my phone whenever I want! I know there is an iPhone version of this app and I have heard a lot of good things about it. As a customer and employee of DISH Network, I have been using the app for a long time, and once I get the iPhone 4S, I know it will work great!

  • http://www.cashforiphones.com/is-cash-for-iphones-a-scam cashforiphones scam

    Now that the iPhone 4S has a better antenna, I’m kissing my iPhone 4’s death grip goodbye.

  • http://www.ipaidnothing.co.uk/ Alex @ Free iPhone 4S

    Nice review!

    Sent from my free iPhone 4S

  • http://www.cintamani.co.uk/Android_TV--category--14.html Android TV

    It may not be what people were hoping for – whatever that looked like – but the iPhone 4S is now the best phone from the Apple stable. A powerful mobile device with a great OS and some cutting-edge tech to boot.

  • Pal

    I want this

  • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

    Jth, we missed you so much while you were gone. Perhaps you were creating a better tech blog than this one?

  • Jth9234

    Nope, but this review doesn’t tell you anything about how the phone works in its battery life, call reception, or any other practical and important purposes or if its worth it to upgrade if you have an iphone4. I do like that Apple didn’t forget about the 3GS users in allowing iOS5 to run on a phone nearly two and a half years old. Thats actually nice to still allow people that perhaps can’t afford the newest iphone to still have the newest OS. Kudos for that.

    We all know the iphone4S has a great camera. Siri is another useless addition like facetime. I am going to tell my phone to remind me I have a prostate exam next week with an audible reminder for everyone to hear? Ummm… I will stick to typing in calendars… thanx.

  • http://twitter.com/Moeskido Moeskido

    This was a personal-use review. Jim D. doesn’t run benchmarks or generate CPU performance tables. If you want stats, head over to Macworld magazine and wait for them to post test results. Sneering about what isn’t being offered here makes you sound petulant and rude, don’t you think? 

    As for Siri, we’ll see. You’ve made it clear you have no interest in it. I expect it won’t take long to determine whether the majority of non-geek consumers feel similarly.