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A weekend with the new iPhone 4S

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The iPhone 4S: like the old iPhone, but not.

Except for the first iPhone, I’ve owned them all, and I have purchased each of them on the day they were released. This weekend was no different. People are asking me the same question they ask me each year, “Should I buy this thing?”
And as always, my answer is “maybe … but probably.” Style or substance: Even though it looks exactly the same on the outside to its predecessor, and that’s quite a let down, the inside is what really matters. That means you won’t be able to show off your latest gadget to strangers without first explaining that you actually own the new one.
It’s the network: For me, there was one compelling reason to upgrade: to get off AT&T’s network and onto Verizon’s. Since Friday, I’ve yet to drop off a call or fail to send a text, even during Sunday’s playoff game at Miller Park. I have, however, already noticed the minor inconvenience of not being able to have a conversation while using the Web at the same time. But that’s pretty minor. Overall, call quality has been quite good.
Your wish is its command: The star of the show is Apple’s artificial intelligence engine, Siri. Much has been written about it, so I’ll just add this: it’s fairly accurate, mostly intuitive and possibly very useful. However, dictating a text message while driving actually feels more distracting than typing; at least right now. But the functionality, while still in its infancy, is incredibly impressive. Once Apple integrates it everywhere, this could get good. (Right now, you can’t tell Siri to tweet something, for example. You have to open the Twitter app then click the microphone.)
It’s still fairly “beta,” but knowing Apple, it will eventually become a game-changer. Once again, Siri will force everyone to play catch up, and those who say it’s the same as Android’s voice recognition tools are mistaken.
Better pics: The iPhone’s camera also received a substantial upgrade, though in my limited tests, I don’t yet notice a huge difference. To me, the f/2.4 aperture lens is as important as the megapixel bump. Features like auto-enhance are nice, but red-eye removal will rarely get used, because the iPhone’s LED flash is still horrible.
The video camera is also bumped to 1080p, so consider that it will create big files, and you might find yourself out of space if you opt for the 16 GB version.
Subtle speed: Beyond that, the iPhone 4S feels nearly identical to my iPhone 4. I know it’s dramatically faster and more powerful, but other than Siri, it’s not immediately obvious. Battery life is said to be much improved, but like every new phone, I’ve been playing with it – and draining it – constantly, so time will tell.
It’s clearly designed to take best advantage of iOS5, which was not the most pleasant installation experience (it took hours). iCloud remains, how shall I say, nebulous, and I still don’t fully understand what’s going on behind the scenes here. “Photo Stream” is a little confusing, and I consider myself among the more advanced Apple users. iMessage just works, and it means you can lower your text message plan – trust me on this.
Do you need a new iPhone to use this stuff? Nope, and if you’re mid-contract and happy with your carrier, you might be better served waiting until the real iPhone 5 is released next year.
In conclusion: So, the form factor feels a bit dated to me, especially because a practically mandatory case will obscure the industrial design, and the other features are almost all available on the previous generation phone. But still, Siri alone might be reason to upgrade – especially if you took a pass on the iPhone 4 or are ready to switch carriers.
Starting at $200, it’s like having a little computer in your pocket. But this little computer talks to you in a way that you won’t believe until you try it. For most, myself included, it’s a worthy upgrade.

Andy Tarnoff

Andy Tarnoff

10 thoughts on “A weekend with the new iPhone 4S”

  1. Lads the iphone just isn’t the best phone. A guy at work was planning on buying the new iphone . Couldn’t give a good reason why. He just was. There are better phones out there already. Iphone’s starting to fall behind barely catching up with HTC and Samsung in terms of specs. And you’re not buying a very slightly different product if you buy one of those.
    Iphones. The proof that marketing DOES work!

    1. I will say this is true, but for a turn it on and use it phone, I don’t think you can beat an iPhone, but for a power user the iPhone is leagues behind Android, and if you are going onto one of the phone companies with real 4G you are going to miss out on speed for sure. So if you are going to stay on AT&T or TMobile and you are not technically minded then the iPhone is good, but it just does not make any sense to use it on Verizon or Sprint at all, as you are missing out on the LTE speeds. And 4G is growing fast and covers more than half the US population.
      And no I am not a Verizon fan boy, I am actually leaving to go to TMobile, as I cannot afford Verizon anymore, but will be going with an Android phone.

  2. I upgraded as well and stayed on AT&T. The call quality and data speed has improved with the 4S. I ran iOS5 on my 4G and noticed a huge improvement on speed with the 4S. The screen transitions are smooth and crisp on the 4S.
    Overall, I believe it is a worthy upgrade.

  3. Like Mike, I too am here for shaving. We can hear about the iPhone at any number of technology-oriented sites. The last I want to do is hear about Apple’s failure of an updated phone.

  4. I fail to see how this is at all relevant to shaving, unless there’s some new app to turn one of the phone antennas into a razor blade that I haven’t heard about.
    Seriously, I’ve been following Mantic’s blog because of interest in shaving techniques and products, not to hear about the latest iCrap.

    1. I kind of like deversions once in a while. Shaving can remain the main stay, but if Mantic59 has and opinion on a piece of technology I say bring it. Alwaya interested in opinions that have not been process like Spam through the standard media filter.
      Keep It Up Big Cat!

    2. The ground rules call from some diversion.
      Quote from Sharpologist Mission Statement – “We promise not to take ourselves too seriously, though: we’ll also include the occasional “off topic” article.”
      I have the phone and read the article. One positive thing about the article is that is wasn’t too techie. Steve Jobs has changed how we do things as did King Camp Gillette. Who knows maybe the iPhone will one day shave your face. 🙂
      SHAVETOPIC: I took a picture of my mug shaving with the iPhone 4S today. Camera still worked afterwords!

  5. Having had them all including the original I was sort of let down by the same look but I understand it, developers would have to rewrite all their apps again for a resolution change. They’re are still apps that don’t utilize the retina display as it is. Apple is very much against fragmentation and for better or for worse its a welcome change to freak show that is android.
    For the pictures I had to get them on my computer or AirPlay them on my AppleTV to really tell the difference, on the device I couldn’t tell the difference.

  6. Andy,
    Thanks for the writeup! I’m on the waiting list here in Japan, and I have no idea when I’ll be getting mine…but I’m upgrading from my 3GS and I can’t wait.
    One question: does the 4S not come pre-loaded with iOS5? Strange, that…

    1. It does come pre-loaded with iOS5. However, I put it on my iPhone 4 first, and the iCloud upgrade and data transfer took hours upon hours to finish. Plus, it crashed a few times, as well.

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