With the recent passing of CEO Steve Jobs, the future of Apple’s dominance in the portable smartphone/media player market is anyone’s guess. All that aside, the new iPhone4S couldn’t have come at a better time. My iPhone4
was getting sluggish with all the features introduced in the latest 3 updates and my camera application hasn’t been turning out videos and stills as sharp as the cameras on newer phones. An upgrade was inevitable.
Keeping up with the times, Apple has loaded the iPhone4S with its new dual core CPU, an upgraded operating system, an 8 Megapixel camera (which is probably the best in the smartphone market) and a voice command system that will change the way you interact with your phone for sure.
While I will talk about the major changes I’ve noticed thus far in this review, the stand out features of the matured iOS are an unobtrusive notification system, a weather app with hourly updates, a calendar that offers friend invites and a revised Safari that offers a “reading list” to store url’s for later use. CELLULAR PREFORMANCE
AT&T, unlike Verizon has spotty service in the primary areas where I use my phones, but, the reason I stuck with AT&T was that AT&T supported internet browsing and voice calls simultaneously. This comes in handy while on hold. Now, the iPhone4S improves upon that by combining CDMA and GSM antennae into a single chipset governed by a switch – allowing you to talk while you websurf on either the GMS or CDMA network!
Voice calls so far have been just as clear as on the iPhone4, and signal strength is even stronger thanks to a new dual mode antennae that prevents the “iPhone death grip” from occurring unless you wet your hands and cover the entire antennae band.
It’s a bit disappointing that the iPhone 4 still does not offer “4G” performance, but, the trade off is that it is more energy efficient on GSM and 3G. I don’t use my phone to talk as much as I use it for web browsing. There is a new battery timer which counts down time between charges for more accurate battery life tracking. With 4S, I’m still recharging every 10 hours under normal use. In that time, I listen to Sirius XM radio for 3 hours and intermittently browse the web or post to Palringo or Facebook. Near the end of the 10 hour span, my battery life is down to critical levels - below 20%. Battery life is respectable for a phone that does so much, but, it isn’t groundbreaking yet.
Standby time has been noticeably reduced. I've noticed that the battery capacity percentage decreases faster than before, even when the screen isn't constantly on. This is obviously due to the higher power needs of the new processor. Hopefully firmware updates can improve efficiency. CAMERA UPGRADE
I have a major problem with design of the iPhone4S’ camera. The glass covering the sensor is flush with the phone’s case and is susceptible to scratches. As both the 4 and 4S are the same physical outerbody, I'm disapointed the camera wasn't reworked. Going back to the very beginning of my iPhone 4’s camera roll, I can see crystal clear pictures. Move to the bottom of the roll and the pictures become much more smudged and hazy due to light scratches – which I didn’t believe the “optical quality glass” would incure. Another problem I’ve had was with upgrades to the iOS4 which caused the camera app to respond sluggishly when opening and shooting pictures.
I experienced these problems when upgrading from iPhone 3GS to iPhone4 because iOS4 was too beefy for 3GS to run. Fortunately, iOS5 runs smoother on iPhone4, than I expected it would, but, it becomes obvious while browsing through the apps that you’ll need to have an iPhone4S to benefit from iOS5’s improvements. iPhone4S’ CPU makes iOS5 shine and the camera app is no exception. It opens faster and it shoots faster.
The real story here is the new camera sensor. Since I use my phone as my main resource to make my Youtube videos, a good camera and HD camcorder is a necessity.
iPhone 4S packs an 8MP camera with a resolution of 2448x3264p which is linked to the phone’s gyroscope for motion stabilization. It also includes face detection to help focus on the subject. Before, I constantly had to tap the screen to correct the autofocus which never seemed to want to focus on what I wanted it to focus on. Then I had to wait for it to dim the light so I could take a picture – all the while, holding extremely still so as not to smudge the picture with movement.
iPhone4S’ camera is not only faster at shooting pics, but, it’s autofocus is faster and the pictures look far better in terms of color saturation. When I make my 2012 SRT8 300C and Charger videos, I’ll be using this phone and you can judge the quality.
Video quality hasn’t noticeably changed. You now shoot in 1080p (up from iPhone4’s 720p) and can choose whether or not to upload HD quality video to your social networking sites or Youtube. Still picture quality is immensely improved. Colors take on a more natural and less-exaggerated tone. Thanks to image stabilization, the edge of the photos are sharper and less prone to errors. I also like the macro photo performance. If Epinions had a photo upload option I could show you some pictures I took of Chinese yuan so you could see the great color reproduction. This may be the first 8MP camera so convenient you could leave your point&shoot at home. If you want to show your friends and family your HD videos, you can now output to an HDTV at 1080p using proprietary connectors - none of which are included.
The new features for the camera app are definitely helpful, but, not perfect.
You can now double click the home button while on the lock screen to open a Camera app icon which gives you instant access to the camera without having to actually unlock the phone. From this point, you can use the volume (+) button to take pictures. Inside the camera app, you’ll find a new “grid” function that allows you to shoot pictures in a grid format and a quick toggle for the iPhone’s HDR camera function.
There is also a problem with this setup. When I shoot pics in landscape mode, I use my right trigger (index) finger to push the (+) button and my middle finger ends up, awkwardly, right in front of the camera’s lens. It’s actually difficult to properly position my middle finger so I don’t block the shot. I believe the camera’s lens needs to be shifted to the opposite side in order to avoid this problem.
Why isn’t the camera icon already on the menu screen?
Why couldn’t the (-) button be given a user defined function such as turning on/off the flash or HDR?
What really would be nice is if the iPhone got a dedicated camera button. I doubt that will ever happen. iMESSAGE
I personally refuse to spend money on the text plans offered by AT&T. Unlimited messaging would add an extra $20 to my monthly bill. I prefer to find other efficient and free methods of “texting” people. Since virtually all of my friends are on Facebook, MSN, or AOL Instant messenger, I find a free app like Palringo to be the perfect integration of all the available messaging services.
Some users have tried apps that offer free texting such as “text free” and “Text Now”, but I really don’t send enough texts to even bother with those. They force you to watch ads in order to use them and they don’t seamlessly integrate with iOS in some cases.
Well – iOS5 on the iPhone4S now includes a service called iMessage which is an Apple based service that allows you to send text messages to your friend’s iOS devices free. Registered contacts appear blue while non registered users appear green. If your contact info for the recipient of the message is not registered with Apple, then the software will recommend a possible contact method you can use to escape text fees.
This will come in handy when my iPhone owning friends message me, but, most of them use Android phones and we communicate through Facebook apps. This probably won’t make much of a difference for me, but, it’s nice to have. iTUNES Wi-Fi SYNC
The new Wi-Fi syncing worked considerably better than I expected it would. In fact, it was seamless. Your iPhone will automatically pair with the computer which you are running iTunes on to sync and backup your files. To activate Wi-Fi synching, you merely have to go to Settings, and hit the Sync button located with your Bluetooth and Network submenus. Wi-Fi synching is obviously not as fast as synching over the cable, but, it works well enough and gives you the freedom to charge your phone away from your computer.
Unfortunately, you absolutely must be charging the phone while synching. Wi-Fi synching deactivates itself if the phone is not plugged into a power source. While I understand the logic behind this… less freedom is still less freedom. If I must be plugged in to a power source for wireless synching, then it really isn’t wireless is it? Might as well just connect it to the computer. iCLOUD
iCloud is a revamped version of MobileMe, which is free of cost. It is essentially a way to synchronize your iPhone with other iOS devices over-the-air while on the go. iCloud will backup, mail, contacts, calendars, reminders, bookmarks, notes, photo stream, documents and the Find My iPhone application, but, it can’t be used to wirelessly sync iTunes because it has a relatively small online storage capacity of 5GB. Photos do not decrease your capacity, but, you are only allowed 1000 photo uploads. If you absolutely must have more space, you can add 10GB for $20, 20GB for $40, and 50GB for $100 annually.
While I do see the benefit of being able to synchronize my contacts and events/reminders with my desktop and iPad2, iCloud is unnecessary if you don’t have multiple iOS devices; or if you regularly sync/backup your iOS device each and every time you connect it to the desktop to charge. It also has its benefits if you are always at risk of losing your device.
Some of my data contains “sensitive” information so I choose not to sync emails or photos with iCloud. After all, big brother is watching. Why so SIRIus?
Though the iPhone4S offers a better camera, an upgraded notification system and slightly improved wireless syncing functions, the big thing this year is voice control through a firmware component called “Siri”.
I used iPhone4’s voice control regularly to voice dial friends and family. It made me more conscious of how I inputted information into the Contact app – since you absolutely had to differentiate between location based phone numbers, and it made me more conscious of the cadence I used to speak to the phone – since you absolutely have to speak relatively slow and clearly.
Siri is definitely not ready for a Turing test, but, it does expand on the voice control introduced in the previous iOS. The voice command database has been vastly expanded and thanks to the snappy dual core CPU, responses are at least twice as fast as before.
#1 Siri takes control of voice dialing, but, increases its presence with the ability to take your dictation and send text messages to your contacts. The experience reminded me of using “Dragon Naturally Speaking” on my PC. Attempting to send long messages is futile and frustrating because Siri is not smart enough to automatically input symbols or punctuations where needed. Short messages, however, are far easier to send – especially while you are driving a car. Of course, you still need to actually touch the activation button to use it. Hopefully in the future, the device will simply listen out for you to say “Siri, I need you” or something like that.
One problem, however, is that Siri isn't as good at voice dialing phone numbers as it is listening to general commands. It listens too long and gets confused easily between multiple contacts with similar names.
#2 Siri can be used to set the Alarm, reminder and calendar functions. You can say “set alarm for 12:00 PM” for example and it will quickly set it for that time. This line of orders can even be used to prepare a timer in case you are like me and need to timeyour parking meters. You can set up an event in the calendar. You can even set a reminder such as “remind me to take my Viagra when I meet my wife” and it will prepare a reminder for you.
#3 Siri can read your texts aloud if the message are simple enough and not heavily laden with obscure internetspeak or typos. Emails are currently too complicated to read.
This comes in handy if you recieve a text from a contact and want to reply to them by voice. You may simply say: "reply _______" and Siri will automatically know to reply to that specific person who sent the message.
#4 Siri can be used to locate movie times, sports information, nearby stores, restaurants and map locations via Google maps. Maybe you could say: “Find Italian restaurants nearby” or “Find Burger King”. Either one will open the map system and show you locations very conveniently.
I also like the ability to automatically consult a dictionary for instant definitions.
#5 Siri even has a math degree. Ask it "what is 9.7 x 11,045" and it will reply: "107136.5". Even better, Siri can be asked to do conversions (How many inches are in 1000 feet?) or can give you Physics standards such as "acceleration due to gravity on Jupiter".
If you don’t have time to read the help guides for Siri, you can simply ask it “what can you do” (among other help commands) and Siri will return a list of possible commands. Very, very cool.
The only downside is that Siri isn’t extremely sophisticated yet and many of your requests will go unfulfilled. However, just playing with Siri is fun and it will probably get better once the command database grows. Of course, you’ll try using profanity with Siri (on Siri?) and be rebutted with inane computer responses claiming you are saying “insensitive things”. It can actually be quite amusing - like listening to GLaDOS insulting Chell whilst playing Portal
iPhone 4S is a much needed revision rather than an all new phone.
It’s disappointing that iPhone hasn’t gotten a screen larger than 3.5” yet and it’s becoming painfully clear that the 4 available hardware buttons are simply not enough to manage the growing number of features contained within. What I can say is that, despite all the phones I’ve tested, iPhone is still the best. Though some phones boast faster processors and 12 megapixel cameras, the combination of coherent features, software, and firmware added to the already solid hardware is virtually unbeatable.UPDATE: IOS 5.0.1 - November 25, 2011
Apple released an update that was supposed to offer a battery optimization. I've been using the phone and thus far, have noticed no improvements to battery life. My iPhone4S's battery drains about 15% faster than my iPhone4. The iPhone4S also doesn't leave overnight charges at 100%. After a charger charges the phone to 100% it decreases output to protect the battery. Apparently, the 4S drains so much power in standby or idle that it's hungry even while on the wire. Charging via AC adapter is quick but USB charging is painfully slow unless you have a newer Mac with high wattage USB ports.