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.