Last year I lined up at the Apple store for the iPhone 4. To be honest, for the first few months after I reviewed it I hardly touched it. I spent most of my time using my Samsung Galaxy S. Sometime earlier this year I finally started using my iPhone 4 and since then I haven’t used Android that much.
I enjoy the current generation of dual core Android super phones but none of them save for maybe the Galaxy S II has really piqued my interest.
Android and iOS have their strengths and their weaknesses. Android has many more hardware choices plus high end phones often have superior hardware. bigger displays, faster processors, bigger batteries, 3D cameras, expandable memory, more affordable hardware, etc.
Software-wise iOS is a tightly controlled ecosystem. You buy all your apps, in-app purchases, videos, music, etc via Apple. You can only customize certain aspects of the iOS menus. That sort of thing. Android on the other hand has a very open ecosystem which is both blessing and curse. It’s great because OEMs are free to differentiate their software. You can have multiple places to buy your content. The downside to this openness is fragmentation. When you buy a Samsung Galaxy S II you’re buying a phone that’s running the Android interface plus Samsung’s own interface on top of it. Then you download apps which look nothing like Samsung’s interface. It’s a bit of a mess. Another problem is that for me personally, is that even when you remove the customizations I don’t think the user experience with Android up to snuff. It’s not bad but it’s not as good as iOS, Windows Phone or even WebOS.
The fragmentation brings another problem: updates. On Android you generally get one or if you’re lucky 2 OS upgrades. It’s true you can go out and hack up your Android phone but for general public you’re not going to go through this trouble. When I got my iPhone 3Gs a few years back it was running iOS 3.x. Since then I’ve gone through numerous updates all the way up to 5 now.
I like to think of it as how well a phone ages. I still have my 3Gs and aside from being a little slower (no it doesn’t feel slow, it just doesn’t feel as fast) it has aged very well and has most of the same software features as the iPhone 4 and 4s. Compare this to its Android contemporary’s the HTC Magic and Dream. The Magic and Dream haven’t seen any significant upgrades in a while though it was nice that they did get 2.1. The Samsung Galaxy (original one) is even worse. It launched with Cupcake and the last official update was Donut.
The iPhone 4s brings both hardware and software changes. On the software side we get iOS 5. iOS 5 brings some new features like the notification center (similar to the one in Android), iMessage, Newstand (just a front end for iBooks), Twitter integration, some new camera features, iCloud support, some new Safari and Mail features. I should point out that all these features are also available on the 3Gs and 4. The big new feature which is Siri. While it used to be available for other iOS devices from the App store it’s now only available for the 4s. Siri is a sort of virtual assistant which uses voice recognition. Among other things you can use it to send messages and add reminders - I’ll talk more about Siri later on.
Hardware-wise it’s mild evolution of the iPhone 4 design.
Inside you get a dual core Apple A5 processor clocked at 800Mhz. It’s the same processor you find in the iPad 2 only that the iPad 2’s processors run at 1Ghz. The 4 had a single core 800Mhz processor. You still have 512MB of RAM. There is now a 64GB model to go with the 16GB and 32GB ones plus you now have both black and white colour options at launch. There is now support for HSPA+, up to 14.4mbps which is up from 7.2 on the 4.
The camera now snaps photos at 8 megapixels and captures videos at 1080P - up from 5MP and 720P.
Compared to my year + old iPhone 4 my 4s’ display colour is a tad warmer. I’m not sure if the displays are actually different or if it’s just a side effect of one display being on a lot older than the other. If I use them side-by-side I actually prefer the 4's display over the 4s but the difference is so minor I don't notice once I put my 4 away. Other then that they’re exactly the same.
The 4s body is slightly different than my GSM iPhone 4. The hold switch has been moved down slightly and the breaks on the edges are bit different. My old Griffin case for my 4 which I got for free during the Antenna-gate scandal doesn’t fit my 4s because the cut out for the hold switch is in the wrong space. However, my Otterbox commuter case which I used with my 4 works with the 4s too because the cut out is bigger.
I’ve noticed that the 4s feels different when it vibrates compared to the 4. The 4s’ vibrate actually reminds me of my old, old Motorola ROKR E1. Here’s some trivia: The ROKR E1 was the first phone to sync with iTunes.
While there are numerous changes to iOS 5 to me there are 4 which really stand out. iMessage the new notification area and iCloud and Siri.
I love the camera on the iPhone 4 for a number of reasons. It has pretty good image quality - both indoors and out. Indoors it doesn’t on the flash as much as other camera phones. These are all great but to me the best thing about the iPhone 4 is that it focuses quickly and most importantly it uses realistic shutter speeds. A lot of camera phones use slower shutter speeds (they keep their shutter open longer) so that pictures come out blurry. The camera generally launches very quickly plus it usually has excellent shot to shot times (the time it takes from when you capture an image to when it’s ready to take another).
Anyways, most of my iPhone 4 camera comments apply to the 4s’ except that the image quality is even better. The 4s captures more resolution while at the same time to my eye there is more or less the same amount of noise. I have noticed that the 4s focuses just a tiny bit slower than my 4. I’m guessing it’s due to the faster lens which is not to be confused with a faster shutter speed. When I talk about a fast lens I’m talking about one with a bigger aperture (opening). Lens aperture is measured by f stops (it’s actually a ratio). The smaller the f number the faster the lens. Anyways, the lower the f number the shallower the depth of field. I’m guessing that the shallower depth of field is the reason why the 4s is slightly slower at focusing.
Video is captured at 1920x1080 which is up from 1280x720. Video quality is very good though the 4s tends to pick up a lot of handling noise - though to be fair most phones have this problem too.
The front facing camera only has a resolution of 640x480 but it captures surprising clean, usable images - especially compared to many other phones which have higher pixel counts. It’s also capable of capture video which is also very usable. Many if not all Gingerbread Android phones can’t capture video using their front facing cameras.
In iOS 5 you can quickly launch the camera from the lock screen by pressing the home button twice and then pressing the home button. I love this convenience.
Image quality and performance aside what really stands out to me is what a disruptive device the iPhone 4s is. Over the years camera phones have always trailed dedicated digital cameras in quality and performance. That said camera phones have been steadily improving as have dedicated cameras. In my opinion the 4s’ camera (and even the 4 to a lesser degree) bring enough performance and quality to the table that many people no longer require a dedicated one. It’s especially true when you consider that it brings sufficient performance and couples it with the portability of a phone. It’s true there will always been a need for something more powerful - I won’t be throwing out my Panasonic LX-5 or my Canon 7D - they have their uses - but I find myself taking an awful lot of pictures with the iPhone 4s.
With iMessage you can send messages other people running iMessage free of charge. Supported devices include iPhones which can run iOS 5 (3Gs or newer), iTouches and both generations of iPads. iMessages are sent to the same application that handles text messages. So messages from both your buddies with iPhones and those with out go to the same place.
iMessage messages can be sent to both your phone number and or your email address. At a minimum make sure your iPhone touting buddies send messages to your email address. I recently went to Nokia World in London. While I was there I stuck a prepaid SIM card in my 4s. Even though I had a new phone number I was still able receive iMessages from my buddies.
I love how iMessage integrates into the messages app which up until iOS 5 was just used for MMS and SMS. This makes for a very seamless experience. Another thing I like is that if you stop using an iPhone your friends can still SMS you as long as they have your phone number. If they have an iPhone iMessage is smart enough to check if you’re still using iMessage before it sends an iMessage as an SMS.
Apple new pull down notifications is similar to one on Android. To bring it up you just put your finger on the top of the display and swipe down. By default it shows the weather, messages and stocks. Third party apps can display notifications here as well. You can control which ones have permission to post in your notification area.
Siri is a sort of virtual personal assistant which uses voice recognition. Besides voice dialing Siri can read you your messages, answer questions, find points of interest, that sort of thing. When I’m cooking I find Siri very useful for converting units of measure. For example I can say ‘how many grams are in 12 oz?”. My 2 favourite Siri functions when I’m driving are getting it to read me my new messages as well as reply to them. I’m able to use Siri through my car’s bluetooth. The only catch is that I have to start Siri by pressing and holding the home button on the 4s for a second. Pressing the button on my car’s Bluetooth just brings up the voice dialing.
Speaking of starting Siri, you can also start it by putting the phone up to your ear. Now all Apple needs to do is add a magic word function where you can say a certain word to start Siri. Old Ericsson phones from 8 years ago used to have this feature.
iCloud allows you to sync: Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Bookmarks, Notes, Photos, Documents and Data plus the Find my iPhone features with Apple’s cloud services. They give you 5GB for free. Personally 5GB isn’t big enough since I take a lot of photos and video. You can buy up to an additional 10, 20 or 50GB a year for 20, 40 or $100 a year. I sync works in the background whenever you’re connected to WiFi and the screen is locked.
iCloud can also sync to your PC or Mac. On my PC, mail, contacts, calendars all sync with Outlook (I don’t have it installed). Bookmarks can sync with Internet Explorer. Photos sync with folders which whatever folder I specify.
Personally I turned it off because I switch between Android and iOS (with the occasional Windows Phone and Blackberry) a lot.
Things that haven’t changed much include the browser which aside from a lack of flash support works well. Browsing does feel faster, chalk that up to the dual core processor and the HSPA+ support.
When it comes to buying content for the 4s iOS is a tightly integrated ecosystem. You put in your credit card number (or an iTunes gift card) and then use that along with your Apple login to buy apps, music, ebooks, videos, in app purchases, etc. It’s both good and bad. Personally, I enjoy it because it’s a very seamless experience. The downside is sometimes having more than one choice is a good thing.
RF performance is mostly good though I did notice something strange. Every now and then when I take the 4s out of my pocket I find that it’s in EDGE mode. Perhaps it’s some sort of energy saving feature but it’s also worth noting that there’s no option to choose either 3G or 2G mode. I’m still testing RF performance and sound quality so I’ll update this paragraph when I’m done.
Predictably battery life is awful. The 4s has a dual core processor but the same sized battery as the iPhone 4. If I don’t pace myself I can drain the 4s’ battery in a couple of house so make sure you buy an extra charger for work.
I really enjoyed using the iPhone 4s. That said, if you currently own an iPhone 4 and you’re not a phone geek and you don’t need Siri I’d say there’s no need to upgrade to the 4s. The iOS 5 update brings most of the new features. With the 4s you don’t get any more screen resolution and no extra RAM. It’s true you get a dual core processor which is really fast plus an awesome camera. The thing is; speed-wise the iPhone 4 is no slouch and its camera is already excellent.
As far as RF goes I drove between BC and Alberta via the Rockies with a brand new 4S and 4 side by side in the car on Rogers just after launch... The 4S held a signal far better than the 4 with typically a two bar higher signal even up to the point the 4 had switched to searching. Also in 3G fringe areas where a strong edge signal was present the 4S would drop and lock on to edge way more often than the 4 would... This sucks for speed sometimes however resulted in more reliable availability for calls and notifications.
Not a bad review, except for the part about iOS being a tightly controlled ecosystem. That really isn't a fair analogy. iOS doesn't allow for side loading of apps or for adding repositories, both Android OS and iOS are controlled to a point. Offensive apps can be pulled and removed from Android devices and app stores the same as iOS and devices.
Many people allude to Android's freedom, but neglect the carrier's and handset manufacture's control. Android may represent choice in hardware, though finding one that has all the features, if not most features, one wants is sometimes difficult. With iOS, this problem tends to be solved on the hardware side by utilizing the unified 30 pin dock connector with Apple designed or 3rd party add ons. It isn't perfect, though it is a sweet customizable feature of iOS devices that Android lacks.
This is a great review. It's long but I read it word for word and I totally agree. This review pretty much tackles everything we want to know about the iPhone 4s. Also it's a great comparative analysis between the ip4s and the ip4 and very informative too. Thanks for the camera tip too and interesting trivia.
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