Apple iPhone 4S 5 Stars

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At last! It’s been a long time coming but at last the iPhone 5 is here… oh, hang on, it’s not the iPhone 5 at all. After all the hype, rumours and teasers, we finally got to see the new iPhone – and it was the iPhone 4S. So is it what we have been waiting for? Well, to look at, it doesn’t look that different from the iPhone 4 – of course that metal and glass design is good looking, as you’d expect from Apple, but most of the major changes are actually taking place beneath that stylish chassis.

The major change comes in the shape of the iOS5 operating system, along with some new apps and a speedier chip. Now for most manufacturers this would not be enough to impress us after such a long wait, but Apple’s phones always manage to appear desirable

Looks familiar?

If you already have an iPhone 4, you’ll be familiar with how the iPhone 4S looks. It weighs the same and is the same size (115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm and 140g). It’s actually lighter than a lot of the high-end smartphones, and yet because it’s made from metal and glass it feels far more solid. It has the same silver edges and circle-shaped volume keys as the iPhone 4. The plus button now also doubles as a camera shutter, though. The Samsung Galaxy S II, for instance, has a plastic body, which doesn’t convey the same feeling of quality and class.

The display is the same as the iPhone 4’s fantastic Retina screen, with a resolution of 640 x 960 and measuring 3.5 inches.

So far, so pretty much the same. Now on to what’s different… The graphics chip is faster – seven times speedier than the previous one, says Apple, and the processor is the ARM-Cortex A9 dual-core 1GHz version that also powers the iPad 2. With 512MB of RAM, performance is great – with minimal lag evident. Also, battery life is much improved from the iPhone 4 – you’ll get a full day out of a full battery, even if you’re surfing the net and using GPS (although the latter does use up a lot of juice).

Snap happy

On the iPhone 4, images suffered from a yellow cast and overexposure when taken using the flash in low light, But Apple has managed to address this on the new model – the aperture is now f/2.4, which allows more light in – although some dim areas still ended up darker than we would have wished. There’s an LED flash, an eight-megapixel lens, and the camera can also shoot video at 1080p and 30fps.

Other features include an edit mode, which lets you crop, auto enhance and get rid of red-eye, along with visible grid lines, that allow you to line up your centre of focus. Okay, it’s not really up there with the camera facilities on offer from the Nokia N8 or Samsung Galaxy SII, for instance, but if you really want more flexibility and filter options, just head to the app store and download some relevant apps.

When you’ve taken your images you’ll probably want to share them via Twitter, text or email, which is simple. However, should you wish to share then on Facebook or Whatsapp, you’ll actually have to head into the app to do so. Saving photos could get costly as iCloud only offers 5GB of free storage – but choose to automatically save them to Photo Stream and they can be wirelessly sent to any iOS 5 device.

Moving pictures

You can shoot 1080p video and we found it smooth and fast – the films looks great on the Retina display, too. If you only happen to take the odd video clips you’ll do very nicely with the iPhone 4S, but don’t expect it to replace a proper camcorder if you want to take a lot of night time video or want to have more control over editing.

Five-star system

As we said previously, the major changes on the iPhone 4S come from the new operating system – iOS 5. It may look the same at first glance but look closer and beyond the icon-based screens you’ll see there’s a really useful notifications bar, which is reminiscent of those on BlackBerry and Android phones. To see the notifications menu, swipe down from the top of the display – this will show you social alerts, calendar appointments, reminders and messages. You’ll also find weather and stock update widgets – if there’s any notifications you’d rather not receive you can alter these in the Settings menu.

In the Cloud

iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage service, which also allows you to sync and download without needing a computer – you’ll need an iTunes account, but then you can connect using Wi-Fi. Any of your devices that are linked to the iTunes account will sync with your phone – whether its calendar contacts, music, email, apps or books. So you can get at your content from any computer or phone with iCloud access. It’s just a pity that Apple only saw fit to allow users a measly 5GB of storage for nothing – not great when you consider Windows Phone 7’s SkyDrive gives you 25GB and Google offers unlimited storage. For anything over 5GB there is an annual fee, and as the iPhone 4 comes in 16 and 32 GB models, as well as a new 64GB version, we reckon that is pretty likely.

On the net

The Twitter integration on the iPhone 4S is excellent – you can sync contacts from your phonebooks, and share weblinks, links and video. Why Apple hasn’t done the same for Facebook, we don’t know.

The safari browser has also seen some improvements – including tabbed browsing and the Reading List option, which allows you to save a web page and take a look at it later either on the phone or other devices.

Talk for free

Apple has cottoned on to the free messaging service that makes BlackBerry phones so popular with the younger user and now brings the same option to the iPhone 4S – or indeed any device running iOS 5. An iMessage will appear blue, rather than the green bubble of an ordinary text – useful if you’re holidaying overseas and don’t want to pay roaming text charges. iPad owners will be glad to hear that you can pick up an iMessage conversation on any of your iOS 5 devices that are linked to the same account.

Introducing Siri

Something that is exclusive to the iPhone 4S is Siri, a digital personal assistant, which can be assigned two voices – either an American female or British male voice. Siri lets you control your phone using voice commands – and it is pretty intelligent – we asked "can you wake me up every day at 6am?" and "wake me up in one hour". To get Siri started you can just hold your phone to your ear or press down the home button (this can work even if the screen is locked). Siri impressed – it recognised most words and if it could not detect a command, it would suggest a web search instead.

The developers have obviously enjoyed working on Siri and there are loads of Easter Eggs hidden within – try asking it to read you a story for instance! Siri is also able to help you make decisions, find information or places, although as yet it is not capable of searching businesses in the UK.

The option for voice control is going to be a boon for anyone who is visually impaired – Siri was really accurate when launching apps or making calls, although we find it a bit unreliable for dictating text and emails. Voice-over for text screens and bigger fonts are also great accessibility features.

If you really want the voice controls, you will want to get an iPhone 4S, as this is not an iOS 5 feature.

Our conclusion

While we might all have been a bit disappointed that the iPhone 4S didn’t turn out to be a completely new phone, the changes do mean that it is up there with the best of the high-end smarties. The notifications bar means it is much like the Android and BlackBerry handsets, Siri is excellent for the visually impaired, and that eight-megapixel camera is excellent.

Bear in mind that there are still some of the usual iPhone issues – little in the way of customisation and no Flash support, for instance. While iMessage is great, it’s more useful for iPad users and the iCloud storage could be pricey. It’s also a pity that media transfers need to be done via the old and sluggish iTunes and that there is no Facebook integration.

If you’re due an upgrade, then the iPhone 4S is a desirable phone, but iOS 5 is the real star of the show and bear in mind you can just use that on your existing iPhone.

Pros:
Most responsive screen ever; handy notifications bar; excellent camera; fantastic choice of apps; top hardware.
Cons:
The best additions come via iOS 5, which you can download onto an iPhone 4; iCloud storage has to be paid for after 5GB.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 5 Stars
  • Ease of use 5 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 4 Stars
  • Battery life 4 Stars

Final verdict: 5 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice