Pros: Speedy dual-core A5 processor; Siri is smart; Fast, bright, and sharp camera; iCloud baked in; Best arsenal of apps; Good voice quality
Cons: Lacks 4G data speeds; Display relatively small
Verdict: Despite the familiar design, the iPhone 4S boats an appreciably faster dual-core processor, a first-class camera, and a truly innovative voice-controlled assistant.
No sloppy seconds here. The iPhone 4S has arrived on Verizon at the same time as the AT&T and Sprint versions. Starting at $199 for 16GB (our 32GB version costs $299), has the same exact design as its predecessor but features a speedier dual-core A5 processor, an 8-megapixel camera that shoots bright and colorful photos as well as full 1080p HD video, and Siri, a digital personal assistant that deciphers the natural-language commands you speak into your phone. Still, the iPhone 4S has a smaller screen than its Android-powered enemies and lacks 4G LTE speeds. Is it really your best bet on Verizon?
Editors' Note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the AT&T iPhone 4S. Also, the $479 price reflected above applies to an unsubsidized Verizon iPhone 4S available for sale with our partner.
Made of glass and steel, the iPhone 4S is as elegant-looking as ever, and it feels sturdier than plastic phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II. Users can hold the iPhone 4S comfortably in one hand and still reach out to the far corners of the display with their thumb. However, many hoped for a larger screen and they won't find one here.
The iPhone 4S measures 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.4 inches--precisely the same as the iPhone 4--and tips the scale at 4.9 ounces, a scintilla more than the iPhone 4 (at 4.8 ounces). The Samsung Galaxy S II features a much larger screen (5.1 x 2.7 x 0.4 inches), yet even this phone is a sliver of an ounce lighter (also 4.8 ounces) than the iPhone 4S. Still, the iPhone 4S is much lighter than the Droid Bionic (5.6) ounces.
The iPhone 4S will have more competition in the design department when the Droid RAZR arrives in November, which sports a 4.3-inch screen but lighter than Apple's device and features a Kevlar back.
One of the biggest attractions of the iPhone 4 was Apple's gorgeous Retina display, and nothing has changed on the iPhone 4S. Still the sharpest and most detailed screen you'll find--for now--the 960 x 640-pixel resolution corresponds to an incredibly dense 326 pixels per inch (ppi), which presents articles, photos, videos and games beautifully.
The iPhone 4S also boasts one of the brightest screens you'll find on a mobile device--it's a marked improvement even over Apple's last model. When we played the trailer for the upcoming film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the 4S' display was visibly brighter. Colors looked slightly more vivid during Oskar's peripatetic meanderings through New York during the day, while the nocturnal 9/11 remembrance scene yielded more detail.
When we used our AEMC Lightmeter (which tests for the brightness of mobile device displays), the iPhone 4S scored 575 lux compared to the iPhone 4's 510. The Samsung Galaxy S II only managed 284 lux.
Those who have grown accustomed to Android's much larger screens (typically around 4.3 to 4.5 inches) may feel constricted with the iPhone 4S' 3.5-inch display. Most websites and articles can only be read easily after executing a pinch-to-zoom gesture. And as with the iPhone 4, ham-fisted folk may make some spelling errors on the 4S' miniature on-screen keyboard--but regular Apple users should have no problems.
According to Apple, the iPhone 4S' dual-core A5 processor (which first appeared in the iPad 2) packs twice the power of its older counterpart, and up to seven times the graphics performance. The Verizon iPhone 4S earned a GeekBench Score of 615 points, compared to 374 for the original iPhone 4 running iOS 5. This shows about a 1.7X difference.
We also ran GLBenchmark, which measures graphics performance. In the GPU Skinning test, the iPhone 4S notched 1,921 to 883 for the iPhone 4 (a 2X difference), and in our tests, there was a 5X delta in single-textured fill rate.
In real-world use, we noticed a marked improvement with the iPhone 4S' A5 chip. When loading the full desktop versions of the NYTimes, it trounced the iPhone 4 (4 vs 8 seconds) and ESPN.com (5 vs 10 seconds) over Wi-Fi. However, the iPhone 4S had only a one-second edge on mobile sites such as CNN (4 vs 5 seconds). The newer iPhone 4S also fired up trailers faster than the iPhone 4 on Apple's Movie Trailers app, loaded Pandora about 3 seconds faster, and took 6 seconds less to load the first level of the Asphalt 6 game.
The biggest difference between the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 can be seen when you're playing demanding 3D games and doing multimedia-intensive tasks such as editing iMovie video. The iPhone 4S launched Infinity Blade 3 seconds faster than the iPhone 4, and we saw some lag when gaming. The experience was similar to seeing the difference between an original iPad compared to the iPad 2.
One other benefit of the iPhone's dual-core processor is its mirroring capability via AirPlay. That means you can stream whatever is on your iPhone 4S's screen to an Apple TV. Apple says games such as Real Racing 2 will let up to four players compete on the big screen at the same time. No other smartphone can do that.
When we connected the iPhone 4S to an Apple TV on the same Wi-Fi network via AirPlay, photos looked crisp and colorful, and the Asphalt 6 streamed smoothly enough to make turns and stay in the race--and get a little dizzy. However, we noticed some audio stuttering and pixelation, especially when we performed a turbo boost. 1080p videos took a while to buffer, but looked brilliant when they started playing. We could make out the text on a taxi door from about 10 feet away.
iOS 5 introduces more than 200 new features, but one of the most prominent is Notificaiton Center. Similar to Android devices, the Notification Center sits at the top of the screen and can be expanded with a swipe downwards. iOS notifications are generally more polished and tidier than Android's. When you tap on any alert in the pull-down menu, you're taken right into the appropriate app.
Now, iOS 5 users can tweet from YouTube, Safari, or even Maps. You'll also notice a new address field for Twitter handles in the stock Contacts app. Now, if only it did the same for Facebook.
A new messaging system, iMessage, works among all iOS 5 devices, but there's no cross-platform messaging to Android and Blackberry users here. The neat thing with iMessage, however, is the ability to start a conversation on one device--say, your iPad--then continue it on your iPhone as you're running out the door.
The new Reminders app lets you jot down quick notes for chores, and then alerts you either using a location-based trigger (detected by the iPhone's GPS), or through a more traditional method of setting a particular time for a task.
Users can now activate the iPhone 4S camera by double-clicking the home button, and use the "+" volume rocker as a shutter. Finally, Camera comes with built-in photo editing tools to help you perfect those spontaneous shots.
Other notable iOS 5 features include Newsstand, a virtual shelf exclusively for magazines and periodicals, a new Safari with Reading List for reading longform articles offline, a new Mail app that comes with rich text formatting, and the ability to cut the (USB) cord with the advent of over-the-air iTunes syncing.
The general consensus on voice commands, pre-Siri, might have been that they were potentially helpful, but too much of a bother to use on a daily basis. Now, you can be sure that much, much more of the iPhone-wielding masses will be talking to their phones. Siri understands natural-language questions, so you can--to some extent--carry on a conversation with her. She also has the ability to string queries together, interject, and even responds in a sassy way to certain lines.
For example, you can tell Siri, "I'd like to get some food." She'll respond, "I found a number of restaurants not far from you," and lists these below. If you continue, "How about breakfast?" She'll understand that the query is tied to the earlier one and says, "I found a number of restaurants whose reviews mention breakfast fairly close to you." Complicate it further and ask, "Which is the best?" (pictured above left). She'll drill down right to what you are requesting: "I found a number of restaurants whose reviews mention Breakfast… 23 of them are fairly close to you. I've sorted them by rating." However, when you tap on the result, Siri does not take you right into Yelp (where the results came from). Instead, you jump into the Maps app.
Siri can also set appointments and alarms (pictured above right). Tell her, "Wake me up at 6 a.m.," and she automatically configures the alarm for you. Say, "Schedule a meeting with Camille Tuesday at 11 a.m.," and she'll ask which Camille you mean, pulled in from your contacts. After you select the right one, she'll say she's scheduled the meeting for you. Ask her to move it, and she can do that too. It's pretty incredible.
Aside from Yelp, Calendar and Clock, Siri integrates with several other apps: Phone (for calling), iPod, Reminders, Maps, Email, Weather, Stocks, Address Book, Web Search, and the new app Find My Friends. We liked how dictating messages was quite accurate; you can even say punctuation marks out loud and Siri inputs them for you.
Siri can pull in data from the vast knowledge resource WolframAlpha. Ask her something completely ridiculous like the one from Monty Python, "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" and she comes back with an input interpretation and result taken from Wolfram's extensive database. (The answer, in case you were wondering, is 25 mph.)
Initial reports of Apple's servers being overloaded because too many people are talking to Siri have already started to trickle in. We aren't sure if that was the case when Siri momentarily stopped working for us, but at one point, the violet light circled incessantly around the microphone icon, then she finally returned with, "OK, I give up… could you try it again?" Relaunching solved the problem, though.
Simply put, the iCloud is wireless backup and syncing of all your data--songs, apps, books, photos, videos, contacts, calendars, files and documents--across all of your Apple iOS 5 devices. Each iCloud user gets 5GB of space, and can fill it up with music, videos, photos, or books, and once uploaded, all will be ready and available to access on the go.
iTunes sees some of the biggest benefits. First, you can now sync your music collection over the same Wi-Fi network. iCloud also makes it possible to download music and videos without accidentally paying for content twice. In fact, a feature in Settings/Store will automatically download music, apps, and books to all your iOS devices at once after you purchase something on one of them. And then there's iTunes Match, which will match the tracks in your music library with files from the iTunes music store, and let you grab a legit copy--upgraded to a 256 kbps AAC file--which you can access anywhere, and re-download anytime. It costs $25/year, and doesn't count against your 5GB limit for iCloud.
Any time you take a picture on your iPhone, Photo Stream will upload it automatically to iCloud, then beam it down to all your other iOS devices. Photos stay on Apple's servers for 30 days. The downside of the service is it only works over Wi-Fi; no 3G. Also, Photo Stream stores only your last 1,000 pics or 30 days' worth of iOS images--and there's no easy way to delete them once they're uploaded.
iCloud is free for an initial 5GB of storage, and purchased content doesn't count against this cap. You can upgrade to yearly subscriptions of $20 for 10GB, $40 for 20GB, or $100 for 50GB.
Camera and Camcorder
The back-facing camera on the iPhone 4S is now up to 8 MP and sports a new custom lens with a larger f/2.4 aperture paired with an even better backside illumination sensor and new Hybrid IR filter. Side by side, the iPhone 4S started up almost two seconds faster than the iPhone 4. When taking continuous shots, the iPhone 4S was faster than both the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Amaze 4G (although the Amaze 4G's camera started up fastest, thanks to its dedicated camera button).
A Grid feature helps you line up your shots, and HDR functionality lets you avoid overexposed and underexposed shots. Tap the new Edit button, and you'll see options for Auto Enhance, red eye removal, and cropping. Compared to other camera phones, however, the 4S misses out on several functions: There's no Panorama mode or Burst mode.
Finally, the iPhone 4S' 1080p video recorder makes owning a point-and-shoot camera almost pointless. We took the camera out to Times Square, and were quite impressed by the results. Despite displaying some rolling shutter problems (evident mostly on the displays in the square), the quality was crisp and passed for pro-grade. Audio was soft at a distance, but grew loud and clear when the gap between you and the subject closed.
When comparing video shot alongside the Galaxy S II and Amaze 4G, the iPhone 4S did a better job handling transitions from darker to lighter areas. However, the S II delivered comparable detail and smoother footage when tracking moving objects.
Apps and Media
As we noted in our earlier review of the AT&T iPhone 4S, the iTunes Store now contains a staggering 500,000 apps, 360,000 of those for the iPhone. Moreover, the App Store continues to hold the most polished versions of apps out there (a good example is Facebook, pictured), and many first releases of the best games start out with an iOS version.
Find My Friends displays your friends as dots on a map. Instead of hopping on to the check-in bandwagon, the app simply keeps track of where your friends are. Thankfully (and rightfully), it's all opt-in.
Cards provides you with 21 different layouts to let you create and send out a missive to the recipient of your choice. You can snap a picture (or use one already stored in your device), include a short message, and put the finishing touches to your design. Afterwards, Apple will drop the physical card in the mail for you. It'll cost $2.99 for domestic delivery and $4.99 for international delivery.
Apple's new Movie Trailers app isn't as straightforward as it initially appears to be. Yes, you can watch movie trailers on it; and it includes the vast library that you'll also find on Apple.com/trailers. But aside from that, you can buy tickets, find nearby theaters, and plot film releases straight onto your calendar.
Finally, Apple's Airport Utility lets you control your wireless network--for instance, changing the password or updating the firmware-- even without your desktop or laptop.
Data and Web Surfing
The iPhone 4S has a new dual-antenna design, which means that it can not only switch between the antennas for sending and receiving data, but can also operate on both GSM and CDMA networks. That means you can bring your Verizon iPhone 4S overseas, provided you get it unlocked first.
However, this is still a 3G device. Downloads on the Verizon iPhone 4S averaged 1.2 Mbps from a location in New Jersey, with its fastest download speed being 1.7 Mbps. It fared worse than the iPhone 4S on AT&T, which can take advantage of that network's HSDPA data speeds (2.2 Mbps on average in our tests). Needless to say, the Verizon iPhone 4S falls well behind the 4G-enabled T-Mobile Galaxy SII (12.6 Mbps) and the Motorola Droid Bionic on Verizon (11.6 Mbps).
When surfing the web, the iPhone 4S was noticeably more sluggish than both 4G smartphones and consistently slower than the AT&T iPhone 4S as well. It took the handset 12 seconds to load the mobile version of ESPN (10 seconds on the AT&T iPhone 4S), 12 seconds for CNN Mobile (12 seconds on the AT&T iPhone 4S), and 28 seconds for the full version of NYTimes.com (23 for the AT&T iPhone 4S). Verizon and T-Mobile's latest 4G phones take less than 5 seconds to load mobile sites and 10 seconds or less for the full NYTimes.
Over Wi-Fi, you do see faster page load times on the iPhone 4S versus the iPhone 4 because of the A5 dual-core chip.
Call Quality and Battery Life
We made multiple phone calls over the span of three days, and Verizon's service stayed as reliable as ever. There was only one dropped call, and the persons we spoke to said call quality was always very clear. We noticed voices on the other end grew blurry for a second, though that may have just been because we were going through a short tunnel at that time. Otherwise, callers were loud and clear throughout.
The iPhone 4S has slightly worse battery life compared to its predecessor--only 200 hours of standby time, down from 300 hours on the iPhone 4. In our daily testing, the iPhone 4S didn't seem to hold up significantly longer than the iPhone 4, which is the regular phone we use--battery life felt just about the same.
Despite the same outward appearance, the iPhone 4S is a marked improvement over Apple's last device. You will notice the difference that the dual-core A5 processor and the bright and sharp 8-MP camera makes. iOS 5, iCloud, and Apple's unrivaled collection of apps only add to the to the list of reasons to get this device. Adding Siri to the mix will seal the deal for Apple enthusiasts. Those looking for a smartphone with a bigger screen and 4G speeds might prefer an Android phone like the Motorola Droid Bionic or Samsung Galaxy S II. But it's hard to argue against the iPhone 4S' near-perfect combination of hardware and software.
|Form Factor||Candybar Touchscreen|
|Operating System||iOS 5.0|
|Networks||CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz)|
|Data||EV-DO Rev. A|
|Memory Expansion Type||none|
|Display (main)||3.5-inch qHD Retina (960 x 640)|
|Bluetooth Type||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Front Camera Resolution||VGA|
|Camera Resolution||8 MP|
|Talk / Standby Time||Talk time: up to 8 hours on 3G / Standby: up to 200 hours|
|Size||4.5 x 2.3 x 0.37 inches|
|SAR Rating (Head)|
|SAR Rating (Body)|