Issue: 10.1 (November/December 2011)
Author: Dave Mancuso
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IN BRIEF Product iPhone 4S Manufacturer Apple, Inc. Price 16GB version $199, 32GB version $299, 64GB version $399 with 2 year cellular phone contract Contact Info http://www.apple.com/iphone/ Pros Fast, responsive. The assistant Siri software can become indispensable once a user becomes familiar with it. Cons Siri is a beta, and could use more features, hooks into applications, and developer access. Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.7
Reaction to the new iPhone 4S was mixed. The traditional rumor mill had so well conditioned the public to expect an iPhone 5 that the new iPhone 4S seemed like a letdown. Press reaction seemed to reflect this. iPhone 4S orders and purchases, however, reflected strong demand. It seems that after initial reactions faded, it became clear that the new iPhone, in all but form factor, is in fact an iPhone 5 in iPhone 4 clothing.
At first glance, the iPhone 4S looks exactly like its predecessor, hence the disappointment in the lack of an iPhone 5. However, everything inside the case is new. In effect, the new components make this a completely new device. In fact, even the antenna is redesigned to use alternating transmit and receive sides for better tower connection. I've seen slightly better signals with the new phone, but I never had the issues that others had with the old iPhone 4. I'm not as swayed by new form factors as I used to be, and I was happy with the iPhone 4 case, so this new phone is fine. In fact, being able to use all of my old cases and accessories makes the iPhone 4S more attractive to me than a new form factor would have.
The new phone is faster and more responsive, a nice upgrade from former iPhone models. I think the speed increase will be most noticeable to 3G or 3GS users who upgrade. If you haven't moved up from an iPhone 3 or 3GS, now is the time.
The most noticeable hardware upgrade is the iPhone 4S' new camera. For the first time it provides 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. In my tests, the camera performed well with video. In addition, the camera will automatically stabilize video being taken, great for handheld use. I don't use video much with the iPhone, but it's up to the task for a consumer. (Professionals may have an issue with the frame rate since film speed is 24 frames per second, something the iPhone doesn't offer.)
The still camera has been upgraded as well. Its pixel density allows you to take pictures that can be output at 8 by 10. If you're taking pictures with an eye to framing them on the wall, you've got a contender with this camera. The lens seems very small, but Apple has assembled optics with five elements for greater quality and precision, with an f/2.4 aperture. The pictures I took seemed to be of better quality than the iPhone 4, but it was a case of almost best vs. best. It was apparent that the new iPhone 4S camera captured better detail in low light situations. Although graininess still occurred at times, I could capture much better low light pictures than any camera phone I've used in the past.
In addition, you can now edit photos on iPhone with very basic cropping, red-eye reduction, and "Auto-Enhance" tools. It's nice to have options in the Crop tool to fit your photo to standard photo sizes like 4 x 6, 5 x 7, 8 x 10, and so on.
The crown jewel of the iPhone 4S is Siri, Apple's personal digital assistant, to resurrect the phrase. Siri was a purchased technology for Apple that's been integrated deeply into iOS. It's only available on the iPhone 4S. Although it's been made to run on other iPhone models by hackers, it runs sluggishly. On the iPhone 4S, Siri runs fairly well. At times it does take a bit of time to respond, but Siri always gives feedback like "working on this" if it's taking a while to process things. Somehow this works very well in keeping users from minding the occasional lag in response. Note also that Siri is beta software, so a final version may improve performance (and possibly be spread to other iOS devices). Regardless, I was very satisfied with Siri's performance.
It's important to note that Siri requires an Internet connection to work. It was annoying at times to have no access to Siri when I was in a cell signal dropout area.
To really appreciate Siri, you have to use it and experiment with it. I thought that the Apple feature demos were a little silly at times, but the first time I set alarm by voice, I wondered why I ever did it any other way. The convenience and ease of even this simple task was a relief. Setting reminders with Siri was even easier. Once I started using it, I realized that my workflow style had changed forever. "Remind me to give the kids five dollars each tomorrow at six-thirty am" and various other reminders made me realize that actually capturing the fleeting, on the run "I need to remember this" thoughts during a day has become a snap. Taking a note is just as easy.
Finding things is just as easy. I was driving in a distant town on a visit, and "Can you tell me where the nearest movie rentals are?" resulted in a spoken response and list of nineteen RedBox outlets, listed on a map for me. I turned in two blocks down the road and rented a movie for the night. Getting directions is just as easy. Once again, there's nothing new about the Maps app, but accessing and using it has become incredibly convenient. Getting directions while driving with my voice and Siri means that I can concentrate on driving and actually use the iPhone when I often need it. Getting the weather was just as easy, and I was surprised at how often in conversation with friends that I used this feature for current or forecasted weather.
It was also very easy to dictate and send texts. I found it to be more fluid and convenient than Dragon Dictation for text messages. Siri was pretty accurate, as long as there wasn't significant background noise. If the message wasn't what I needed it to be, I could simply say "Change It" and re-record it. I did find it annoying that Siri has options to review a message, send it, or erase and change it, but no option to append to the end of a dictated message. It would be a good feature to add.
In my tests, calling people was mildy annoying, because Siri is slower at the task than the old voice dial command software in other iPhones. Other than that, it worked well, and asked me for clarification when it was confused or misunderstood my words.
It's also very helpful to have Siri dictation available in some applications as well (if you see a little microphone next to the spacebar on the iPhone's online keyboard, you can tap it to use voice dictation). I've used it in Mail and SMS text messaging with good results.
One thing I didn't do much of was to have Siri read me my texts, but I don't doubt that I'll be using it in the future, especially if I'm driving.
Finally, asking Siri questions is a a good way to experiment with its capabilities, and good fun as well. I was disappointed that Siri couldn't tell me how many contacts I had in Philadelphia, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well Siri captured things I said and correctly interpreted them as commands.
Asking Siri odd questions was fun too. I haven't scoured the web for things to ask Siri, but friends supplied many of the fun questions to ask it. Siri acted humble when asked what it was, rebuffed expressions of love ("Oh, stop."), and in a Halloween spirit even located good places to hide a dead body ("I found several swamps near you."). Some people have become much more excited about silly Siri answers than in the practical applications of the software.
If you're getting the idea that Siri is a large part of the attraction for the iPhone 4S, you'd be right. The iPhone 4S' features are all improvements over previous models, but Siri is the leap forward that changes the game. There are good applications to duplicate Siri's functionality like Dragon Dictation and Vlingo, but as usual, Apple has integrated Siri so well with its hardware and other software applications that it's a killer application for the new iPhone. It was an internal debate for me to move to the iPhone 4S from the iPhone 4, but Siri has proven worth it (of course, the good price I got for selling my iPhone 4 helped as well).
Between hardware improvements, software updates, and Siri, the iPhone 5 (sorry, I mean iPhone 4S) is well worth the upgrade.
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