Apple's iPhone 4S comes with all the features you want in a smartphone, but unlike its predecessors, there's little about it that makes rivals jealous. It feels like a half-step on the way to a new version -- it comes with some better parts and upgraded features, but the jump from the iPhone 4 and the 4S isn't enough to justify the hype.
That's not to say it's an inferior product: the 4S is every bit as beautiful as its predecessor, with a premium glass body held together by a stainless steel ring. It's the same size and shape, but Apple made adjustments to make sure there aren't any antenna problems.
The 3.5-inch screen boasts the same screen as the iPhone 4, but that can't really be a mark against it, since the 960-by-640 Retina display still holds up to most Android rivals. You get crisp definition and vivid colors, and the graphics for games look vibrant. Is it a little disappointing? Yes. Apple didn't bother to improve it at all. It's still excellent, but the competition has caught up, and in some cases, surpassed it.
Apple didn't change the look, but it definitely changed the camera, upgrading it to an outstanding 8-megapixels. There's also a better f/4.2 lens. A larger aperture means more light, so if you take photos in the club, your photos will turn out brighter. You'll take extremely defined photos. There aren't many controls to touch up pictures -- but there are apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic for that.
The video is just as strong as the photography. With advanced image stabilization, you won't have trouble recording those special moments -- even if you have wobbly hands. Those 1080p clips will look great.
The other big change is the software: it runs on iOS 5. Hardware changes are relatively minor, but the software is a major upgrade. You get a new messaging system, called iMessage, which aims to replace popular apps like WhatsApp. One advantage: it works across the iPhone, iPad and iPod, kind of like an Apple version of BBM. You can also send photos and videos, and did I mention it's free? If you don't have an Internet connection, it'll default to text message, so be aware. One way is to look at the color: blue means iMessage, green means you're on text, and have to pay money.
Apple also launched iCloud, a free service that syncs all your iOS devices, from apps and music, photos and contacts to even bookmarks. The biggest feature is Siri, a sophisticated assistant that uses voice recognition, logic processing and a text-to-speech program to -- kind of -- intelligently answer your questions. Siri responds to your commands like, "How is the weather?" and "Where is the nearest gas station?" If you like to talk and prefer to hear your directions, you'll love it. But it's limited. While Siri is one of the most advanced voice systems, a lot of times, it won't understand what you're asking.
Now, iOS 5 is wonderful, and best of all, you don't need to buy the iPhone 4S to use it. You can just upgrade your iPhone 4. So I can't really count it as a distinct advantage of the phone. If you just want the operating system and you don't care about the improved camera or Siri, take a look at a cheaper iPhone 4.
Then again, the 4S does have a powerful processor. It comes with an A5 dual-core chip that has seven times the graphical juice of the A4 chip in the iPhone 4. It can also run tasks up to twice as fast, so your apps will load quickly and run smoothly.
Let's get this out of the way; the iPhone 4S is a great phone. It's easily one of the two or three best phones now, but it's not light years ahead of the market. Apple markets it around Siri, and while the feature is great, it's not the great leap you've expected from past models.
The 4S also goes up against greater competition. Samsung's Galaxy S3 is arguably just as good, if not better. Android made a big jump with ICS too -- Apple's software advantage isn't as large as it was in the past. So if you want a bigger screen, defecting to the competition doesn't sound as crazy as it once did.
The iPhone 4S is a beautiful device with great features and great software. Apple could have made it more exciting, like added a bigger screen or mix up the design. And Siri is good, but not as great as Apple seems to think it is -- yet. But still, it's hard to knock a phone that does so many things so well. You won't have a bad time with the iPhone 4S, but considering Android, or waiting for the iPhone 5 doesn't seem unreasonable either. ♦
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