iPhone 4S Review

It turns out we did not get our fabled iPhone 5, but we did get a new device from Apple last week, the iPhone 4S.  As usual, I received my device on day one and am prepared to review it.

Design

The iPhone 4 had an impressive design with glass and on the front and back and a stainless steel band holding everything in, and the iPhone 4S maintains that design.  The 3.5 inch retina display remains as well.  Again, those hoping for the iPhone 5 might be disappointed, but the 4S looks great, especially in white.

Hardware

What is new with the 4S is the internals.  Apple’s dual core A5 chip (from the iPad 2) is paired with 512MB of RAM.  Apple claims the A5 will improve performance by up to 2X for daily tasks and up to 7X for graphic rich games.  The iPhone 4S is quicker at launch apps, loading apps, and just about everything else.

Another major change internally is the antenna.  There was a lot of controversy surrounding the iPhone 4’s antenna.  So much that Apple provided free cases to iPhone 4 customers experiencing a drop in network connectivity.  Apple has supposedly fixed this issue by allowing the phone to switch seamlessly between two antennas built into the phone.  So far, tests have indicted this system has worked.

Camera 

Apple is very proud of the fact that the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera on Flickr and they have upgraded the camera for the 4S. The sensor is increased from 5MP to 8MP, but the real story is in the CMOS sensor from Sony.  The backlit sensor allows in more light making the images crisper in low-light situations.  In addition, Apple has added an additional lens into the design allowing for more accurate color depiction.  All these features, along with the new  f/2.4 aperture (improved from the old phone’s f/2.8) make for a great camera.

In addition, the camera now takes 1080p video and, paired with iOS 5, includes many new built in photo editing options.

iOS 5

The latest release of iOS improves greatly on what Apple has already created, and addresses many of the concerns put forth by those in the tech world.  The creation of Notification Center is certainly one of the greatest features in iOS 5.  Notification Center is similar to that on an Android device and makes it easy to keep track of everything you missed.

Other features such as: iMessage, Newsstand, Reminders, Twitter integration, and mail improvement are just a few of the over 200 new features in iOS 5.  Perhaps one of the greatest new features is the fact that Apple has made their devices truly wireless.  It is not longer necessary to sync your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to iTunes for backups and updates.  Syncing can be done over WiFi and the OS is now updated over-the-air via delta updates.

Overall, iOS 5 is a very solid OS.  There were some download issues when it was released last week (my iPhone 4 was bricked for a few hours), but that was largely due to the amount of traffic on Apple’s servers.  It has been reported that 1/3 of all iOS devices are now running iOS 5.  It hasn’t even been out a week yet!

iCloud

A major new feature of iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion is iCloud.  iCloud allows the user to wirelessly sync photos, calendars, contacts, bookmarks, documents, books, mail, and iTunes between all your Apple devices without the need to sync.  It is all done automatically and it works very well.  For example, I downloaded an iBook yesterday to my iPad, it automatically downloaded it to iTunes and to my iPhone.  I also added an appointment to my calendar on my iPhone and it automatically added it to my calendars on my iPad and MacBook Pro.  As Steve Jobs said in June, it just works.

All these features are also accessible from iCloud.com if you are not on an iCloud enabled device.  Users can also signup for a free .me email address if they choose.  Perhaps the most amazing part of iCloud is the price, FREE.  iCloud is free to all iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion users.  I believe this is going to start a trend in the tech world as cloud services become more and more popular.

Siri 

Perhaps the greatest, and most fun, feature of the iPhone 4S is Siri.  I am sure you have seen all the articles about Siri’s attitude and snappy remarks, but she really is helpful.  She can send email and texts, set reminders and appointments, make phone calls, play music, search the web, and just about anything else you might need.  She does so, as she says, humbly.  Siri is remarkably smooth for a beta and there are few times that she misunderstands.

Yes, Siri is fun to ask off the wall questions, but she is very useful and I think will only get better with time. I believe that Apple will eventually share Siri’s APIs with developers and we will see voice integration with 3rd party apps and that will truly make Siri the master of everything.

Impressions 

I have to admit that at first I was a little disappointed by the announcement of the iPhone 4S on October 4, but after using it for a few days, you begin to realize that Apple still has the complete package.  Having used Android phones, most recently the Samsung Galaxy S II, there appears to be an inherent cheapness to the feeling of the chassis of many phones.  The iPhone 4S, like the iPhone 4, feels very strong and durable, despite being made from glass.  The other issue with many phones is the disconnect between the hardware and software, but with Apple, both are made by the same people to ensure they work together seamlessly.  The iPhone 4S is a strong smartphone with great overall features, but other devices, such as the Motorola Droid RAZR, are thinner and have larger displays.  Apple is on par with the current market, after all, Apple did sell 4 million over the weekend, but a major redesign in 2012 will be required if they do not want to fall behind the crowd.

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