By Rob Boggan
It’s been a year now since the release of the iPhone 4, Apple’s golden goose smartphone with untouchable sales numbers. AntennaGate, lack of stock, and a complete system crash couldn’t stop the iPhone from selling it’s way into the record books. There certainly would never be a phone that could top the design, performance, and cool factor of the iPhone 4 right? Wrong. The iPhone 4S was introduced a short week ago and has set the public and the internets on fire since its unveiling. Amid reports that Apple stock prices had dropped, and apparent customer dissatisfaction of the obvious exclusion of an iPhone 5 model, the iPhone 4S still managed to smash sales records and capture the hearts of (most of) the world all over again. But what makes this phone so special if it looks and feels like the same old iPhone? Read on to find out how I felt about the iPhone 4S…
First and foremost, if you’re looking for a complete overhaul or stark departure from the iPhone 4 you can stop reading here, the phone is nearly identical. That’s not necessarily a bad thing however, as I’ve always felt that the iPhone 4 was the best looking iPhone to date. Sporting a metal bezel around the frame, and dual glass panes on the front and rear of the phone really classes the design up quite a bit. Potential buyers will be happy to know that BOTH colors will be available at launch, so now you’ll have the choice of getting the traditional black or milky white versions of the iPhone 4S. The design is where the similarities end, as the 4S does it’s best at separating itself from it’s older cohort.
The iPhone 4S rocks a dual core A5 chipset, that is amazingly responsive and speedy when it comes to opening apps. In comparison to my Samsung Galaxy S II however, the iPhone 4S couldn’t hold a candle to it, and in my opinion iOS is really starting to feel like it’s an OS from 2 and a half years ago…..oh wait. One of the biggest things Apple made a stink about was the inclusion of a 14.4 Mbps modem in the iPhone 4S giving users what would seemingly appear to be the first (wait for it…..) 4G iPhone. This couldn’t be any further from reality as every single speed test I did, I never got it to clock anything over 1.4 Mbps (in Michigan, on AT&T). Ouch. All the speed in this device is essentially housed by the upgrade on the processor, and the snappiness of the OS, internet speed remains unchanged. The beautiful thing about this phone is the camera. Apple promised something special with this 8MP shooter and enhanced optics, and they did not disappoint. The camera function on the iPhone 4S may very well be one of the best cameras I have ever used on a cellphone. Auto focus worked to perfection, and the clarity and color scope of pics that had been taken was unreal. Couple that with the inclusion of support for recording videos in 1080p and you have enough to just about get rid of your standalone camera. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, as Apple left the front facing camera literally untouched and unfortunately in a world where those sensors are seeing upgrades to upwards of 2MP, a VGA resolution camera(just under a megapixel) flat out doesn’t cut it.
Those of you who seemed to have issues with dropped calls or poor service on your iPhone 4 will be inherently happy to learn that those issues have been addressed as well. The original antenna design has been scrapped in favor of a new “intelligent” system that sports two different sets of antennae that dynamically switch whenever coverage is spotty. Bottom line: It’s virtually impossible to “death grip” your iPhone 4S (believe me, I tried) and call quality is just as good as it’s ever been. Battery life has also seen a small improvement, but averaged out to about the same as what I got while using an iPhone 4.
The real star of the show here is definitely Apple’s iOS 5 and more importantly it’s new “intelligent assistant” Siri. To describe Siri as a “cool feature” would be an asinine understatement, as Siri will be “the feature” to beat for all upcoming smartphones. I met Siri with scalding skepticism, and a “who the hell would ever really use that” mentality. After spending some time with it, I got my answer: Everyone. Siri isn’t just your run of the mill voice command system and blows the god-awful voice control of the past away. Being able to speak naturally into your phone and get not only the response that you’re looking for, but an even better response than you’d imagined is simply mind blowing. It’s amazing the way Siri understands all your contextual and curious inquiries, and even more amazing the way it responds. You can tell Siri to schedule a meeting for you one day, and then schedule a date on the same day and time as your meeting, and the damn thing warns you and will even ask if you want to reschedule. How awesome is that?!!? Siri functions with just about every feature of the phone bringing a nearly totally hands free experience to the iPhone 4S. The downside: It has to rely on a connection to Apple’s servers in order to function 100%. What this means is if you’re connected to Wi-Fi, Siri will not fail you, ever. But if you’re forced to rely on your specific carriers 3G **ahem** 4G networks, then things could get a little spotty. Not the best thing to hear, but given the amazing level of usability, definitely not a deal breaker.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is where Apple really begins to grind my gears. They are held and considered as this great, innovative ground-breaking company when in actuality they are fair weather thieves. There are so many pieces to the iOS 5 puzzle that has been “borrowed” from other OS’ it’s a shame they don’t get credit for it. First up, the notification center. Most of us have seen this used in ohhhhhh EVERY Android phone ever made, but Apple has somehow found a way to skirt around originality and make it seem as if they created, and perfected the software. How it works is simple, there are no more intrusive, non-personal pop ups that explode onto your screen, instead you get a lovely notification in the top portion of your screen. If you wish to check these notifications, you simply pull down the notification bar “a la Android window shade” and there sits all your messages. The big difference is that Apple was nice enough to include a weather widget with theirs. Next is iMessage which is a complete and total shot to the nuts of BBM(Blackberry Messenger). Same premise here: iMessage allows you to communicate with any other iDevice no matter the carrier, or location. It could be a text messaging killer, as you can send your friends, photos, messages, videos, locations, and various other things all from within the iMessage hub. Ahh the stench of originality…
In all seriousness, as much as I hate to admit it, the iPhone 4S is hands down the best iPhone yet. With it’s yet unmatched design, to the performance of the OS and the inclusion of perhaps the greatest feature known to man in Siri, Apple has a surefire champ on their hands. Sure, the lack of LTE, the small screen, and the aging OS could all be looked at as negatives but in the end, none of these things take away from the cool factor of the iPhone 4S. Would I give up my Galaxy S II for an iPhone 4S? Not in this lifetime, but for you die hard Apple fans out there or people on the fence about what device to get will absolutely enjoy the 4S. It’s cool, it’s fast, it’s dependable, and most of all it’s simple. And for the first time, it’s available on three carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint) which means more visibility. Available right now from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint the iPhone 4S is going to be the phone to get this holiday season. At $199 for the 16GB model, $299 for the 32GB model, and $399 for the 64GB model, there’s one for every budget. If you plan on snagging one, you probably want to set those alarms early to get in line, as AT&T and Verizon have both confirmed to be opening their stores earlier than usual. Me? I’ll go back to playing with my Android phones and I’ll let you know what the iPhone 5 will be capable of next year…..