Now that I’ve over-emphasized the resemblance of the Apple iPhone 4S to the iPhone 4, it’s time to take a look at what really matters… the actual performance. This is what separates the two devices. The new model is armed with an A5 chip (the same one found in the iPad 2), and boasts faster overall performance than its predecessor. Apple claims that it’s twice the speed and 7X the graphics performance.
I’ve spent almost a week with the iPhone 4S and there is no real obvious difference in how the basic functions in the operating system works from the iPhone 4. They are actually both equally smooth when you navigate through iOS 5, use the phone, send and receive emails, and send text messages. However, if you are reading this review, it’s more likely you will be doing a lot more than what’s listed above.
Apple’s latest smartphone really showcases its processing capabilities through just about every single app from Angry Birds through Zombie Crisis. They load up a lot faster, and graphic-intensive games such as Infinity Blade don’t slow down. Now if you just use your phone for a few rounds of Angry Birds, Twitter, and Facebook, you’ll appreciate the faster load time, but those apps will basically run the same as they did on the iPhone 4.
The basic phone functions have pretty much remained the same as all the other versions of the iPhone. It’s very basic, straightforward, and easy to use. The negative side to that is that it’s missing some features that are found on just about every other smartphone such as Smart Dialing, which I loved on the HTC Android phones I’ve used in the past.
If you’re a huge fan of widgets, you’ll be disappointed that the iPhone 4S and iOS 5 are still lacking in that department, although there is a sort of stock ticker widget on the Notifications Menu. I just wish they had something similar to the Jailbreak app called SBS Settings where you can immediately access a menu to turn off and on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
With the “improved” antenna and using the phone all day without a case, I’ve had no dropped calls thanks to the new configuration, and calls came out as clear as they can be on the AT&T network. There’s also an improvement on data speeds since the iPhone 4S now supports HSDPA+, and quite a few people have reported online that they are able to get 8MB+ in download speeds. I’m based in the Los Angeles Metro area and I’ve been getting about 4MB-6MB on average on the iPhone 4S vs getting about 2MB-3.5MB on the iPhone 4.
iOS 5 is Apple’s new mobile operating system which launched officially a few days before the release of the iPhone 4S. Although not the greatest of leaps from iOS 4.3, there are definitely a lot of enhancements that are appreciated. There are 200 new features listed on iOS 5, but we are going to take a look at the biggest and obvious additions.
Since the release of the first iPhone, people have longed for an improved Notification System. In iOS 5, Notification Center solves the problem of those obtrusive pop-ups that interrupt the game that you’re playing or the movie that you’re watching on your phone. Just like the Android, if someone sends you a text message or if you get tagged in Facebook, a notification will appear on the top of your screen and fade away without stopping whatever you’re doing. You can pull up whatever you missed; see your missed calls and messages by pulling down the menu from the top of the screen. Sound familiar? Android has been doing it for years without a Jailbreak!
Wireless Syncing and iCloud
Steve Jobs called this a Post-PC World, so why do we need to plug anything in the computer anymore? iOS 5 cuts the cord where you never have to plug your iPhone into a PC or even own a computer. Updates are now done over the air and, better yet, you get delta updates meaning that you just download whatever that needs updating instead of downloading the entire firmware file like we did in the past.
Syncing music and apps with iTunes on your desktop are now done through Wi-Fi. I can drag and drop songs, edit my playlists and download apps from my iPhone or docked MacBook Pro without ever having to use a cable. It can be charging in the other room or downstairs and it will sync and be ready to go.
iCloud is a new feature in that syncs your contacts, calendar, and photos wirelessly onto a remote server when Wi-Fi access is available. The Photo Stream part of iCloud still needs a lot of work. It would be nice to be able to have some basic management functions such as DELETE instead of just leaving all your pictures on the cloud and having them pushed onto every single iDevice with your AppleID on it!
As for backup and restore via iCloud, I strongly recommend leaving a backup on your local computer. I actually did a restore from data I backed up from the iPhone 4 over to the 4S and it was not a good experience. It took almost an HOUR to sync back my contacts and apps even on my 100MB connection, which would only take about 15 minutes if I used a USB cable.
You’ll now be able to tweet directly from your photos and other apps without having to open the Twitter app, making it convenient to share pictures, web links, etc. You will also be able to sync Twitter with your contacts list.
I’ve been waiting for this feature since the first iPhone. In iOS 5, you will now be able to sync with your Outlook and Outlook Exchange Reminders to the phone without a third party app. This is a pretty welcome addition especially when I need to create a quick to-do list or need some reminders without having to flood the Calendar with my personal stuff. What makes this app stand out is that it has location based notifications meaning that instead of setting a time on when to remind you to do something, you can set it based on location. For example, if you arrive at your home, you can have it remind you to put your wedding ring back on so your spouse doesn’t get suspicious…and so on.
Apple’s answer to RIM’s Blackberry Messenger is now included in iOS 5. It is cleverly built directly into the text-messaging program so you can send texts, photos, and videos to anyone running iOS 5 around the world using data and will not count towards your SMS/MMS limit with your carrier if you aren’t on an unlimited texting plan.
The limitation to iMessage as that the other side needs to have iOS 5 as well. If the other party is not running iOS 5 or is on a different platform such as an Android or Blackberry, then it will go off your SMS quota.
Currently exclusive only on the iPhone 4S, Siri is a digital voice assistant that is built into the OS. You can think of it as JARVIS from the Ironman movies — it’s quite not that advanced, but it is getting there. Those who have used Google Voice Search or Vlingo on the Android will find Siri similar to those apps. What separates Siri from its rivals is that you don’t have to talk to it like a robot, but instead talk to it like a person and ask it questions or to do tasks for you. For example, you hold the Home button down to activate Siri, and then say, “Text Joe, ‘hey man what’s up?'” instead of saying “Send a text to Joe Schmoe, ‘hey man what’s up?'” If you want Siri to play a song… you can say “Play something from Green Day” and it will automatically do it.
The app itself is very intelligent. Just for my own personal ego boost, I have Siri call me “Master” from now on. All I had to do was say, “Call me Master” and Siri will remember it. You can also assign aliases on your contact list as Siri will remember who your brother is or if you have nicknames for your friends.
Since Siri is integrated into the OS, you can simply ask what the weather is like in Rome, what time it is in Hong Kong, etc and it will give you an answer. The OS integration reaches into the email program as well. You can simply tell Siri who you want the email sent to, what the subject line is, and then dictate your message. Once you’re done, you can have it read out to you before sending, and make modifications if you have to (just like in iMessage).
You can also use Siri to set your appointments or even location-based reminders when using your voice. What’s really cool about this is that Siri will tell you if you’re going to be running into a schedule conflict and you can give it another time in a conversational manner instead of having to re-initiate the entire voice command.
To be honest, my first impressions of Siri when it was announced was that it was a gimmick used to give people the incentive to buy the iPhone 4S, but as I use it more and more, it has become a very useful tool, especially when I’m driving. Being able to send messages and play songs that I want on my iPhone while on the road using my voice is a very useful feature. It’s also much safer than fumbling with the phone and or the head unit of the car while driving.
I can go on and on about this as there are a lot of possibilities. Siri is still in beta at the time of the iPhone 4S release and I’m excited about the upcoming and ongoing improvements in the near future.
When it comes down to the variety of mobile applications and games, the iOS platform is still the one to beat — there are over 500,000 apps to choose from, If you are a fan of video games, you should be happy to know that Konami, Square Enix, Capcom, and Electronic Arts are among Apple’s third-party lineup. And for the most part, Apps usually come out on iOS before they reach Android and Blackberry, such as Angry Birds and Spotify. The App Store itself is well organized and the issue of fragmentation is nearly nonexistent since only Apple makes the iPhone.
And of course, there’s the built-in Music and Movie Player with AirPlay support, so if you have an Apple TV or AirPlay capable device, you can stream your audio and video collection to it. There’s also a variety of Apps that support AirPlay as well. My favorites are Crunchyroll and Stream to Me which I use to stream my movies and anime onto my TV. If you don’t have an Apple TV, you can buy an HDMI adapter and connect it directly to your TV as well.
If you’re a point-and-shoot photographer/blogger, then you’ll be happy with the 8MP camera on the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4 itself already took great pictures and video, and I’ve been using it daily to post photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc… It has completely replaced my point-and-shoot camera which has been collecting dust over the past year.
Now comes the new camera on the 4S with higher megapixels, a CMOS sensor that improves photography in low-light situations, and faster camera performance thanks to the A5 processor. Photos are noticeably sharper and clearer and pictures at night come out a lot better.
With iOS 5, you can crop and auto-enhance your photos directly from the camera roll without a third-party app. One thing that could be improved about the photo edit feature is that you should be able save your edited image as a different file, instead of overwriting the original one. Here are some photos to compare between the 4 and the 4S.
You can also now record video in 1080p at 30fps, which is a nice jump from 720p on the iPhone 4. Video recording is jaw dropping:
Editor’s Note: Several weeks after the debut of the iPhone 4S — and after this review was published — Apple released a system software update that significantly improved the battery life of of this smartphone. It is now capable of going several days with light to medium usage.
This is where the iPhone 4S falls short. The battery actually drains quicker than the iPhone 4, which had excellent battery life. In doing some intensive battery testing between the two devices, the iPhone 4 outlasts the 4S more than 2X longer. I spent a day with each phone doing similar tasks: texting, web surfing, scheduled talk times, etc. In fact, I had a much busier day when I was testing the iPhone 4 where I took it off the charger at 8:12AM with 100% battery life, and then didn’t even plug it in overnight. The next day, about 24 hours later, it still had 16% battery life left!
On the iPhone 4S, I took it off the charger at 8:31AM at 100%, but at 8:45 pm that night, it was already down to 1% left!!!