Thursday, October 20, 2011

CM Reviews the New iPhone 4S

After nearly 4 years with the iPhone 3G, it was time to upgrade. Not only because my old phone was slowing down at a rapid rate (despite numerous “re-toolings”), but also because the new Operating System, iOS5, was not compatible with it. So, biting the financial bullet, I waltzed into the AT&T store on “release day” and walked out with a lighter wallet.

In the week since, there are a number of things that I like and dislike about the phone*. And while there are plenty of forums out there with user reviews, I offer my own for anyone thinking of upgrading or switching from another phone to an iFruit.**  With that, let’s begin. . . .


1)      The A5 processor chip: This is the same one in the iPad 2, so the speed is remarkable. Certainly far better than the average cell phone. I wouldn’t call it “screaming” fast, more like “high-pitched wailing” fast. Safari loads pages quickly, even on 3G. Faster on Wi-Fi. Both are above my expectation.
2)      Screen Resolution: Excellent. There are a number of complaints regarding yellowing or less-than-adequate pixilation, but my phone seems fine. Very bright, very crisp. Games and apps look fantastic.
3)      SIRI: Yes, it’s a gadget and yes, I love gadgets, but SIRI (the voice assistant) has been not only fun, but useful. During a drive into DC, I activated the assistant and asked her for directions from my current location to my friend’s apartment in DC (had to give the address since it was not already loaded in my contacts page). SIRI connected with GoogleMaps and in no time had me on the right path. There are a number of “Easter eggs” planted by the programmers, so have fun finding them (or cheating and Googling them). Ask her to “Open the pod bay doors” and snicker away.
4)      GoogleMaps: The updated version on the iPhone 4S is a huge improvement to the “old” one on my 3G. It now offers the ability to lock onto your location (via a small, blue, pinging dot), and follow as you travel along your route. The map also rotates with you as you move. The downside is that it still pales in comparison to the GoogleMaps on CobraMrsFit’s Verizon Android. That version (still considered a “beta”) offers turn-by-turn voice nav as well as moving map. I suspect my version is limited because AT&T has a navigation program ($10 a month) and doesn’t want the free app to compete with it. Still, it does a decent job and is free.
5)      iCloud: Love the concept, don’t really use it. It’s great to have the option to store stuff “in the cloud”, but being a cautious person, I’m not too thrilled with the thought of off-site storage. Still, it’s a boon for people that want it.
6)      iMessage: Without a doubt, this feature (offered only to iPhone users who updated their OS to iOS5) is a money-saver. It’s essentially a free text message to anyone with the iPhone’s iOS5. Of note, iOS5 is only compatible with 3GS and newer phones, so those still using the 3G or that one person with the 2G, aren’t capable. iMessage figures out the “free person” automatically and iMessages appear in blue while non-iMessages are green. My sister is a texting ninja, so this alone will save me moolah in the long run.
7)      Face Time: It’s like Skype. Video chat with other iPhone users. I believe it still requires a wi-fi signal to run, but, it’s a great idea. Use it or Skype as desired.
8)      Camera: The 3G had a 1.3 MP camera. The 4S has an 8 MP. The difference is exponential. For iPhone 4 users (the previous generation), the camera makes only a 3 MP jump from 5 to 8 MP. There is an ability to focus on certain objects within the frame by tapping. You can also zoom and the flash is nice. It won’t take professional-quality shots, but the pics are very nice and the video HD-esque. Besides, 99% of the time, you’re using a phone camera to snap a pic of the crazy guy at the party, not win an award for photography. On the downside, the higher resolution means pictures take up more space, but iCloud (or downloading to an external hard drive) fixes any storage issues.
9)      Reception is fine: No antenna issues here. Calls are clear and crisp. Haven’t dropped a call yet.
10)  More durable screen: The Apple people claim it’s the same material used in military planes and helicopters. I had one Apple sales-guy say that means it’s nearly bullet proof. Having seen what a Cormorant can do to a canopy at 140 knots, I’d argue the nigh-invulnerability of the screen. Plus, I’ve seen friends shatter both sides by dropping it. But, the screen is much more durable than the 3G or 3GS.

Dislikes/Meh items:

1)      Wireless iTunes Sync: Being able to sync your phone to iTunes without needing a cord is a great feature, but mind-bogglingly inefficient. 99% of the time, I want to plug my phone in because it needs charging anyway.  Suffice to say, I don’t use the wi-fi sync very often. Also, the computer needs to be “ready” to accept the wireless connection and sometimes it simply forgets (which means the phone can’t “see” it.). Finally, the wireless sync is buried in the Settings tab, which means you have tap the “Settings” icon on the main page, then tap the “iTunes Wi-Fi Sync” option, and THEN tap on “Sync Now”. Three steps to sync a phone. It’s possible you can adjust automatic settings on iTunes, but I have not researched that option yet. Again, one plug of a cable syncs and charges automatically.
2)      Not 4G: Honestly, this isn’t THAT big of a deal since the 4G network is still slooooooow to grow, but some people are nuts over names/titles. Long story short, the improved processor allows the phone to operate at near-4G speeds on the 3G network, but it is not a 4G phone. The Verizon iPhone 4S is also not LTE capable. It’s not even in the design. Maybe the iPhone 5 will be, but we’ll see the iPad 3 long before the next generation of iPhone arrives. Still, I’ve tested it on the 3G and wi-fi modes and both are pleasantly fast for downloads, loading web-pages, and playing “online” games.
3)      The Cases: With my old iPhone, I had an OtterBox Defender which made the phone nigh-invulnerable. My experience was so great that when I upgraded, I didn’t think twice about another OtterBox. The case is good, but less substantial than the 3G. The only case I’ve seen that compares to the previous rendition of the OtterBox is by a company named Ballistic. The case, however, is a huge, triple-threat of rubber and plastic, so it takes up pocket space. There are plenty of cases out there, so picking on that fits your needs is key. Despite the “smaller footprint” of the new Otterbox, it does its job and I am pleased with it.
4)      The Battery: It’s better, but still suffers. Apple claims 6-8 hours of talk/video/whatever, but you can tap the system pretty hard and drain it faster than that. There are cases that are mega-batteries which will recharge the phone, thereby almost doubling the life, but you have to spend between $80-$100. I didn’t, so I passed on it. Also, both battery-cases do not protect the face of the phone like the OtterBox or Ballistic. This may not be an issue if you’re gentle with a phone. I am not. Phone batteries are getting better, but it’s always a double-edge sword between more capabilities and battery life.
5)      SIRI: More often than not, you need to be very specific with the questions you ask her. It’s not a detractor, but if you have marble-mouth (which I do) or speak too fast, she’ll look up some wacky stuff. Also, her voice is a mechanical, text-to-speech sound and only comes in “female.” I’m betting Apple with offer a “male” version at some point and likely make the voice more natural. The SIRI dislike is a small nit-pick.
6)      Not a true “New Generation”: There was a lot of hype about the iPhone 5 and some people (not me) felt let-down. But in all honesty, the guts of the 4S are enough to argue that it is a new generation crammed in the older shell. Personally, I prefer it since the market is flooded with cases and third-party hardware for the iPhone 4 already and that means more goodies to choose from.
7)      Newstand, iBooks, and Reminders: Three mostly useless apps that come standard with the phone. The potential is there, but there are other, more ubiquitous apps on the market already. Kindle for iPhone, for example. Also, Reminders isn’t sync’d to your iPhone’s calendar, so you’d have to enter your note in twice. Sync the two and it would be an awesome app. Right now it sits lonely and unused.


            Overall, the iPhone 4S is an impressive cell-phone with nigh-tablet like capabilities. There are some detractors, but the “good” far outweighs the bad in my opinion. I have been pleased with it, especially considering the cell-dinosaur that I was carrying beforehand. iPhone 4 users may not want or need to upgrade since the cost is astronomical unless you’re at the end of your contract. But for a new phone, this one packs a lot of punch and has plenty of fancy gadgets.

*Keep in mind, moving from the 3G to the 4S is like transitioning from a VW Beetle to a Porsche Boxster. I love both machines, but one is much faster and sleeker than the other.

** HUGE disclaimer: I am not, in ANY way, being paid or coerced into this by Apple, AT&T, OtterBox, Ballistic, or any other company that I am using/reviewing. This is 100% my experience with a phone and the carrier which, overall, has been pleasing enough for me to say so to the online community. Other phones and carriers are equally excellent (my wife loves her Android and Verizon) and customers should choose the right product and plan for their needs. This happens to fit me for now.

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