Review – the Apple iPhone 4S smartphone

3 Nov 2011

The Apple iPhone 4S

John Kennedy checks out the iPhone 4S with Siri voice recognition artificial intelligence. The sleek device powered by iOS 5 packs a serious punch with its A5 dual-core processor and 200 new iOS features.

The rumour mill leading up to the launch of Apple’s latest smartphone meant that collectively everyone was expecting a tear-shaped device called the iPhone 5.

Instead we got the iPhone 4S and another lesson in the pattern of product introductions from Apple. When the iPhone 4S was unveiled by Apple CEO Tim Cook, just about a day before Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs died, most commentators expressed disappointment that the device came in the same body as the iPhone 4. I remember commentators in the US saying how folks at Google must be doing a little dance. Everyone wanted something shiny and different from the last device.

But if you think about it, they actually did get something different. The lesson, ultimately, was that rumour mills can create their own reality distortion field.

Firstly, the iPhone 4S packs a lot of horsepower under that beautiful chassis. Firstly, there’s the dual-core A5 chip that is twice as fast as the iPhone 4, and let us not forget the graphics performance is up to seven times faster. And might I just say the body of the iPhone 4 and the new iPhone 4S, with a glass panel that sweeps right to the edge, is a testament to good, functional design. How can you improve on perfection?

The iPhone 4S is comparatively faster all right, and the best measure of that can be found in the camera, which takes pictures at a rate 33pc faster than the iPhone 4, and this is noticeable when you recall in the past waiting for photos to settle before you take the next picture. It can also record HD movies with 108Dp HD resolution.

Speed matters, and in cycling through all the various features, whether you’re recording a video or tidying up a photograph, the experience is remarkably smooth.

One of the stand-out features of iOS 5 is the new notifications centre, by the way, which captures tweets, Facebook updates, calendar changes, etc, in a neat and tidy way and presents it on your home screen. I also love the fact you can now take pictures and give instructions to Siri (we’ll get to that in a minute) without unlocking your phone.

8-megapixel camera

The three stand-out features of the iPhone 4S in my book have to be the processor, the camera and the new Siri feature.

We’ll start with the 8-megapixel camera, which has a larger aperture. Again, you really notice the speed of the processor acutely when taking snaps but what I found myself doing a lot with the new device was editing photos.

The thing about camera phones, at least until recently, is you always forgave a photo taken on a mobile phone for being poor. You never edited them, you left them in their blurry, red-eyed state because they were camera-phone shots and they’re going to be poor. But the quality of cameras on mobile devices has been improving steadily over the years. Apple, in its briefing notes, pointed out that more people take photos with an iPhone and upload them to Flickr than any other camera, including DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon. I’m not surprised.

On the iPhone 4S, you can now take a really good sharp image and if there are any imperfections – such as red eye, you simply touch the edit button, hit ‘remove red eye’ and point to what you want to remove. A magic wand feature automatically improves the image in terms of light and colour.

The quality of photos the camera takes are remarkable. The device can capture 60pc more pixels than the iPhone 4 and 73pc more light. The device is intelligent enough to know how to adjust to light setting such as low light, candle light and other conditions. A new face-detection technology tells the camera if you are taking a portrait or group shot of up to 10 faces in the frame and balances exposure accordingly.

The Twitter integration on the iPhone 4S is also automatically apparent in the camera as you can now automatically tweet photos as soon as you’ve taken them. With Photo Stream in the iCloud, new photos are also sent automatically to your other iOS devices.

Hello there Siri, how can you help me?

OK, everyone wants to know about Siri, Apple’s new voice-recognition artificial intelligence technology that doubles as your personal Jeeves. I have to admit it was the first thing I wanted to try out when I got my hands on the phone and certainly it’s the one thing that people ask about when you mention the new phone.

To get Siri working, you just keep your finger on the home button and then a little purple microphone logo will appear, asking you what you need help with. You then just say what you are looking for:

“Siri, how many calories in a bagel?”, “Siri, what’s tomorrow’s weather like?” “Siri, can you send a text message to …” You get the picture.

The device is programmed to UK English, which provides you with a masculine voice eerily similar to Kit in Knight Rider. Switch to US English and you get a female voice with an American accent.

You have to speak clearly and background noise does tend to disrupt what you try to tell it. But speak clearly and it can do the most amazing things. I have used it to dictate and send text messages and email messages, as well as set up appointments in my calendar.

It can do web searches for you, it can get you the weather, it can get you the latest news regarding the Premiership, it can get you the latest FTSE stock prices and more, besides.

And of course you can have lots of fun with it.

Q – “Siri, what’s the meaning of life?”

A – “I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.”

Q – “Siri, will you marry me?”

A – “Let’s just be friends, OK?”

Q – “What do you think of Android?”

A – “I think differently.”

If you are looking for specific information, such as a definition of something or other information, Siri will go off and source that information from Yelp and Wolfram Alpha. While this is all state-of-the-art and I do believe it puts Apple years ahead of the competition, it is not without its flaws.

Searching for defined things is easy, but unfortunately, if I want to find all the Chinese restaurants that are nearby at present, Siri will tell me, “Sorry, I can only look for businesses in the United States, and when you’re using US English.”

So there’s clearly some work to be done in terms of hooking Siri up with some local databases, etc. But I like Siri a lot and I’m excited about where Apple could go next with the technology. It would be a godsend on the iPad and let’s not forget the rumour mill that has sprung up lately around the possibility of an Apple TV product that will do away with the need for multiple remote controls.

In recent days, Apple revealed it will be bringing out a software update to deal with complaints from some users that the location settings in iOS 5 are using up precious battery life on their devices. Through using both the iPhone 4, as well as the iPhone 4S, I can honestly say I haven’t experienced those issues myself and the battery life on the iPhone 4S is very good, if not better than the iPhone 4.

To sum it up, the iPhone 4S has a lot more going for it than some of the early commentators suggested. They were victims of their own hype curve. I don’t think the iPhone 4S has anything to be worried about. Sales in the first weekend topped 4m and I expect that the iPhone 4S could generate enough momentum to help Apple regain pole position in the smartphone business. Time will tell.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years