Apple iPhone 4S first look

CHOICE tries out the Apple iPhone 4S to see if it's a worthy upgrade.
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Apple iPhone 4
Price: 16GB $799. 32GB, $899.  64GB, $999. 

4 1/2 stars out of 5

Don’t judge an iPhone by its cover. The new iPhone 4S looks almost identical to the iPhone 4 but inside it’s a whole new ballgame.

Those who were expecting Apple’s latest wonder phone to be an iPhone 5 with a different shape may be a tad disappointed that the 4S doesn’t look much different than its predecessor, the iPhone 4. But though it keeps the familiar exterior, the iPhone 4S has some big improvements inside:

  • A much faster processor
  • Higher resolution camera with better optics
  • Dual antennas for better reception are the main upgrades

This brings the hardware up to par with the best of the smartphone opposition.

iPhone 4S now comes with the same, dual-core processor found in the iPad 2, the camera handles up to 8 megapixels (up from 5MP on the iPhone 4) and has an extra lens included to assist with low light shots, while the video resolution has been bumped up from 720p to full 1080p.

Video: First look iPhone 4S

A look at the performance and features of the new iPhone 4S, including a speed comparison with the iPhone 3GS.

Cutting-edge operating system

It's the software that really sets the iPhone 4S apart from the opposition. It comes with iOS 5, which Apple claims has 200 new features, including a new notification centre, free SMS-style messaging of text, photos and video between iOS 5 users and a new digital magazine store called Newsstand.

i-phone-4S010Importantly, iOS 5 means this is the first iPhone that doesn’t need to be hooked up to a computer, thanks to its integration with Apple’s other big new release, an online storage service called iCloud.

This replaces Apple’s Mobile Me service and backs up and synchronises your documents, contacts, calendars, photos, purchased music, and apps, and enables you to switch between Apple devices seamlessly using the same information.

The more Apple devices you have, the more you’ll benefit from iOS5 and iCloud.

Newfound intelligence

How does it perform? When it released the iPhone 3GS model two years ago Apple said the S stood for speed. Well, the iPhone 4S is reportedly more than twice as fast as that model. Apple hasn’t said what the S stands for this time, but we expect it stands for Siri.

Siri is the iPhone’s new artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistant software that lets you talk to the phone request information and give instructions and it’s arguably the standout feature for the 4S.
And typically for an Apple product, it’s something that we didn’t know we needed till it arrived.

More than just voice recognition, Siri recognises and responds to conversational language, recognising the context of queries rather than just specific voice commands. And it also talks back to you.

This may well be remembered as the year we started talking TO our phones, rather than just talking on them.

i-phone-4S015Siri doesn’t force you to phrase questions a particular way. It also tries to grasp the context and either replies or displays a response onscreen. And it also learns as you use it, so it effectively becomes smarter at understanding what you want. Ask Siri if you’ll need your jacket today and it will give you advice and a local weather report.

  • Siri can read text messages to you, so you can reply by voice.
  • Any mention of dates will have Siri consulting your calendar automatically so you can schedule events and reminders.
  • Siri is activated by holding down the home button or by holding the phone up to your ear when not making a phone call.

Being cautious, we started off talking to Siri a little carefully, much as you would to a small child, but after using it for even an hour or so you find you can relax and just talk normally and it still does an impressive job of understanding what you mean. In fact, I’m starting to get on really well with Siri and I think we’ll become good friends.

Unusually for Apple, Siri is labelled as beta, meaning it’s not the final version but a work in progress. It’s far from perfect, but seems to have great potential and is a big signpost on the road to tomorrow’s consumer technology.

CHOICE Verdict

If you have an iPhone 4 you probably won’t feel compelled to upgrade to the 4S and neither should you. The iOS5 software update is free, along with iCloud, for users of the iPhone 4, 3GS, iPad and latest iPod Touch models. But you won’t get Siri.

Taken as a stand-alone smartphone, the iPhone 4S is up there with the best of them, but no other maker offers the type of AI you get with Siri, or the integrated ecosystem of iCloud and iTunes.

If you need a new phone, and possibly a personal helper, its definitely worth a look.



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