Apple's long awaited iPhone 4S won't hit store shelves until this Friday but a few lucky reviewers were able to get the device into their hands ahead of schedule. Their reviews have just now begun to go live and the overall consensus is very positive. Despite not being the anticipated iPhone 5, most praise the handset for its faster performance, improved camera, and slick Siri voice recognition skills.
Of course, the few who have tried out the iPhone 4S admit it represents an evolutionary upgrade and not a major leap forward. They also agree that in many ways the device plays a little bit of catch up to what Android smartphones have been able to do for a little while now. Let's take a closer look at what the reviewers are saying about the iPhone 4S's major features.
Design and Chassis
Reviewers acknowledge that the iPhone 4S looks identical to the iPhone 4 so design-wise not much has changed. David Pogue of the New York Times explains, "what showed up was a new iPhone that looks just like the last one: black or white, glass front and back, silver metal band around the sides." Joshua Topolsky at This Is My Next agrees stating, "there isn’t anything notable about the exterior of the iPhone 4S in comparison with the company’s previous flagship phone". Of course people loved the original iPhone 4's slender looks and hi-class styling as do we.
iOS5, iCloud and Siri
Part of the appeal of the new iPhone 4S is its software. The phone runs Apple's latest iOS5 operating system which brings a wealth of new upgrades and enhanced capabilities. These include iCloud that syncs personal data between multiple Apple devices, iPad, iPhone, MacBook, for free. Reviewers liked the new iMessages feature too which lets people send messages free of charge among other iOS product owners. Ed Baig of USA Today says, "The beauty of iMessage texts compared with standard SMS messages, is the ability to receive receipts when your message is delivered and (sometimes) read, along with an indicator when someone is typing a response."
Much of the talk concerning the iPhone 4S's new abilities centers around the Siri voice recognition feature, with reviewers saying that they used the function more than they expected. They also enjoyed Siri's almost human-like behavior. David Pogue said, "It’s even more amazing how Siri’s responses can actually form a conversation. Once, I tried saying, 'Make an appointment with Patrick for Thursday at 3.' Siri responded, 'Note that you already have an all-day appointment about ‘Boston Trip’ for this Thursday. Shall I schedule this anyway?' Unbelievable."
Brian Chen at Wired confessed a fondness for Siri saying, "It’s kind of like having the unpaid intern of my dreams at my beck and call, organizing my life for me. I think Siri on the iPhone is a life changer, and this is only the beginning."
Performance and Speed
Increased speed is always a good thing and reviewers expressed gratitude for the new iPhone 4S's bumped up dual-core A5 processor but weren't blown away by this upgrade. David Pogue pointed out that, "More speed is always better, of course. But it’s not like people were complaining about the previous iPhone’s speed."
Joshua Topolsy agreed saying, "As far as processor performance is concerned, the iPhone 4S isn’t kidding around… though don’t expect mind-blowing speed differences between this device and its predecessor." Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal concurred admitting, "I didn’t notice a dramatic speed gain, but the phone operated rapidly and surely, with smooth scrolling and swiping.".
The iPhone 4 was widely lauded for possessing an excellent camera and it looks like the iPhone 4S carries on the tradition. David Pogue said, "this phone comes dangerously close to displacing a $200 point-and-shoot digital camera." Others appreciated the iPhone 4S's ability to snap pictures both swiftly and directly from a locked state. Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg also liked the iPhone 4S's camera and explained, "I particularly appreciated the ability to take pictures even when the phone was locked".
Joshua Topolsky went so far to say that the phone's camera "took some of the nicest, cleanest photos I’ve ever seen from a mobile device. If you’ve ever thought about using a phone as a replacement for your point-and-shoot, feel free to start taking that concept seriously."
Walt Mossberg enjoyed the iPhone 4S's built-in photo editing features stating, "Perhaps the nicest feature is on-phone photo editing, which allows you to crop, and auto-enhance any photo. In my tests, it worked great."
Connection and Call Quality
This is the first time the iPhone will be available across three different major US carriers (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T) so users have the most choices yet for purchasing the device. Most importantly, Apple claims the new iPhone 4S's antenna array has been redesigned to put fears of Antennagate safely to bed. Reviewers who had time to test reception on the iPhone 4S didn't report any major issues. Joshua Topolsky mentioned, " I certainly didn’t notice any pronounced issues while testing the phone in New York. I did have a few dropped calls, but I also have dropped calls on my Nexus S."
Brian Chen of Wired explained that, "The phone’s new antenna design seems to have reduced the number of dropped calls over AT&T’s much-maligned network, though my sample was admittedly limited."
The response overall to Apple's new creation has so far been very warm, even if reviewers admitted that the iPhone 4S isn't exactly groundbreaking. In fact many reviewers have posited that the device mainly keeps the Android Juggernaut at bay temporarily, with the iPhone 4S bringing much needed enhancements Google handsets have had for a while.
David Pogue explained that, "Android phones seem to come out every Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. Apple updates iOS and the iPhone only once a year. So Apple had a lot of catching up to do" Even so he described the product as possessing "A lot of amazing technology. And some of it feels like magic." Even Walt Mossberg who typically waxes poetic about Apple hardware said, "The iPhone 4S is one of Apple’s less dramatic updates, but, when combined with the Siri, iOS 5 and iCloud features, it presents an attractive new offering to smartphone users."
We hope to have our own in-depth review of the iPhone 4S posted by early next week so check back for our impressions.