The iPhone 4s looks just like the old one but it is better-ish. Its camera is as good as a low end point and shoot. It’s faster. The battery lasts longer. And like the iPhone 4, it has many high-quality apps, a sharp screen and the most polished phone software around.
But what the 4s has that makes it very special is a voice assistant called Siri. Siri is a powerful way to interact with your phone by talking to it instead of punching on the little touchscreen keyboard while you’re dodging people and other cars while driving and walking.
Siri Voice Controls Are A Big Deal
In 1987, Apple released a concept video for a voice controlled touchpad called Knowledge Navigator. In the video, which was set in the future as science fiction, had a date on the screen: September 2011. As Waxy put it, “So, 24 years ago, Apple predicted a complex natural-language voice assistant built into a touchscreen Apple device, and was less than a month off.”
Apple’s voice concierge, Siri, will let talk to read or write to calendars, emails and messages; check the weather, directions, traffic, stock prices, and set alarms and timers; you can even ask Siri what you can ask Siri. But that’s kind of baby stuff.
The breakthrough is how accurate Siri is at recognizing the words that are not necessarily part of a limited library of words. You can use it to search for random and strange things and it will search the web for you. Like, “find me French food in Hong Kong.” Or, “Play me some Yeasayer.” Brian Chen told Siri he was drunk and that he was going to kill himself and it offered up cab and mental services. It interfaces with the Wolfram Alpha scientific search engine and so you can ask it how far away the sun is in inches or what the population of Zimbabwe is. Sometimes it will read the answers back to you; sometimes it will display text results on screen. Sometimes Siri will get sassy. A lot of nerds have been asking Siri if she knows they love her; her response is, “I hope you don’t say that to those other mobile phones.” Oh that’s right: Siri’s voice is that of a woman. And I hear if your iPhone is a UK model she’s got a British accent.
Next to Siri is a general dictation engine that can be used in any program. John Gruber says it works in crowded bars remarkably well.
Siri activates when you hold it up to your face. Friends of mine who worked on it say you’re not supposed to talk to it like a communicator, but like you’re on a phone call.
The Hardware Is Improved, Gently
Compared to its predecessor, it has a better everything. Except case (it uses the same outside as the iPhone 4.)
The camera is an 8MP model that is capable of taking shots that Apple says will print out nice 8×10 photos. The sensor is backlit and the lens wider, so it’s a lot better at dim light shots–David Pogue says it’s as good as a $200 point and shoot.
Battery life is a smidgeon improved. (Everything helps.)
The screen is the same Retina Display–super sharp, but not as large as some android phones.
The antenna’s better, says Apple, but some reviewers say it still drops calls on AT&T. On AT&T it’s faster than on its Verizon and Sprint networks because of a technology that lets it get to 14mbps–when the network can connect.
There’s more RAM and a faster processor inside. Apple claims it’s A5 chip is 7x faster. Anandtech says it’s almost as fast as an iPad2, yet Joshua Topolsky says it opens apps a little faster and runs games a little smoother, but it’s not much faster.
More on the Phone’s hardware here.
Here’s some of the New Software Tricks the new and old phones are getting:
The iPhone 4s ships with Apple’s latest operating system, iOS5. The thing is, iPhone 4 also gets this software, too–basically everything but Siri.
Notification pop ups aren’t annoying anymore! All your popups get kicked into a little screen that you can check by sliding your finger from the top of the screen down. It’s like a window blind that is filled with tweets and emails and text messages.
You can edit photos on the phone. Red eye reduction. Cropping. NBD.
Friends and Family: Find your friends who also have iPhones, on a map. Cool as shit for meeting up in busy places without having to do that stupid text/phone call triangulation.
iCloud: Back up your data to the internet for free. Synchronize your music, photos and documents (but not videos) across all your Apple gadgets including a Mac or PC. So basically you’re still going to have to sync to your PC by Wi-Fi to download your videos to your pc from an iPhone. Kind of bursts the fantasy about having everything connect automatically, huh?
There are a lot of them. Good ones, too.
What Carrier Should I Get?
Verizon is the best network. But the iPhone can’t take advantage of Verizon’s dominant 4G network. If you’ve got no strings attached, the Sprint model looks pretty good with unlimited data for cheap. But the AT&T model will have faster data in some areas. You should read my guide to buying an iPhone 4s–and on what carrier–for advice. Or email me.
Should I Get an iPhone 4s If I Have an iPhone 4?
I am really against buying new gadgets. But when it comes to smartphones, I think you should consider keeping up with the best. Here I will quote myself (Am I allowed to do that? Doing it anyhow.)
Unlike other gadgets, I think you should get the best one you can and upgrade whenever you want. Go buck wild. For me, that’s about every year…Why? Because the smartphone is the gadget that can do anything, anywhere, any time. And its hard to think you won’t get a lot of utility and use out of the latest and greatest when it something you use that often. Also, a new handset is just an fraction of what you’re really paying for–your cellphone plan. The cost of a new handset is a few hundred dollars; the network, a few thousand over a few years. That’s pretty simple math.
I’d say a good rule of thumb is never pay more than 2/3rds of a phone’s value in early termination or early upgrade fees. That logic holds especially true since the iPhone 5 is probably a year away.
How About an Android Phone?
Android phones are ok. They’re powerful and have big screens. You can customize them. But they’re still too sloppy and a bit unintuitive to use. And their app libraries are big but the general quality of software is still not as good, overall.
What Will You Do?
Me? Funny you should ask. I’ll be staying on AT&T because of my grandfathered unlimited data plan and the faster speeds. I’m also not that unhappy with AT&T these days.