iPhone 4S review

What Mobile
November 24, 2011

The iPhone 4 was a massive upgrade to the iPhone family and it’s fair to say the smartphone market was never the same again. The Retina screen stunned the most cynical of onlookers and the enhanced processing power kick-started the next generation of apps and games. Rivals were left open-mouthed and have been playing catch-up ever since. The fact that iPhone 4 had some problems making actual phone calls proved nothing but a minor headache for Apple, as consumers embraced the immense selection of apps that changed the way we live and work.

While opinion differs on whether Apple scored a dramatic own goal or did precisely the right thing by waiting for Apple design geniuses to come up with the next big thing before christening it ‘iPhone 5’, iPhone 4S pre-orders topped those for iPhone 4 by almost 40 per cent globally. Apple would suggest that the figures speak for themselves, cynics would say distribution and demand is now higher and some might say that the iPhone 4S would be called iPhone 5 if the casing wasn’t identical to iPhone 4.

The iPhone 4S offers a big processor upgrade that is capable of much more than the ‘S’ name change suggests. The familiar case is (almost) identical to the iPhone 4 design and the only giveaway is two small black strips on the side of the iPhone 4S. This is to combat the antenna issues that plagued the original iPhone 4. Either way, reception through Orange was clear and no calls dropped. There was no need to use a bumper, case or the variety of add-ons that reduced the initial antenna issues of the original iPhone 4.

iOS 5 vs iPhone 4S

In pure tech terms, the iPhone 4S has got double the processor speed thanks to a dual-core A5 chip, which powers iPad 2. The real question is how much does iPhone 4S offer someone who has already downloaded iOS 5? A faster processor is great but ultimately it’s the apps (and games) that the processor enables, which satisfy and entertain. More than ever before, Apple has focused on its operating system as a unique selling point. Rival manufacturers can always develop faster phones with more features but it’s the user experience of iOS 5 that Apple is banking on alongside iPhone 4S.

In fact, it’s hard to talk about the features of iPhone 4S without pointing out the best bits of iOS 5 – the line between software and hardware has become increasingly blurred. Yes, everything is faster, the camera is better and there’s more storage options via a 64GB version, but it’s Siri, Apple’s iPhone 4S exclusive voice assistant that is the extra for iPhone 4S customers, alongside the ability to shoot 1080p video.

Siri – Apple genius?

The idea of using a voice-activated assistant seems both old-fashioned and futuristic, conjuring images of a power dressing digital personal assistant from the ’80s and a space-age advisor. In reality, Siri isn’t like either of these things. It’s in beta stage at the moment and feels like a fun toy that you know will grow but isn’t really practical at the moment. You hold the home button and ask Siri questions about the weather, restaurants or anything you like, really. A robotic voice replies and you’re left feeling that, really, it would be quicker getting these answers by using your fingers as usual. As a sign of things to come, it’s important and will grow in ability during the coming months but it’s going to have to prove itself quickly. We got several comical responses and used it for two days before the novelty wore off. If you’re a business person who is constantly on the road, it’s going to have many uses, but for the majority of iPhone users and Apple fans, it’s an embryonic signpost of things to come.

iPhone 4S: camera

The most obvious enhancement you’ll want to sample after unboxing is the camera, up from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels and packing new shooting modes and 1080p video. It’s not up there with the very latest lenses from Sony Ericsson (see p16) and Nokia, but iPhone 4S gives you a better lens than iPhone 4. The new lens also means motion shots will look better and if you’ve used the camera on your iPhone 4 extensively or use a budget compact camera, you’ll spot the difference instantly. If you’re sharing your photos on a monitor, TV or tablet, that is. The difference won’t be a revelation if you’re looking at your photos on iPhone 4S. Sharing and printing your photos is where the difference in photo quality really makes a difference.

If your compact camera is a budget model, this is finally the iPhone that means you can leave your compact camera at home. Photos now weigh in at around 3MB per shot, which means they take up more of your valuable storage space. You’ll rarely want to send a full resolution snap by email if using 3G, but it’s as simple as ever to reduce the file size before sending. During our test, sending snaps via iMessage was very quick, however.

The real bonus that accompanies the new camera is the ability to shoot from the lock screen (using the volume button) and the software tweaks that allow face detection and image editing on the iPhone 4S. The enhanced 8 megapixel snaps are ideal for sharing on TV via AirPlay or a Smart TV sharing service like Flickr, Picasa or Facebook. Of course, Apple’s own iCloud storage system is now there for you too, in iOS 5.

You can happily produce and edit decent A4 photo prints on the fly. Editing your photos through iOS 5 might sound like an added extra but it will make the difference between uploading that shot to Facebook or leaving it in your private collection. Cropping and trimming shots is easy and just as the iPhone did away with the need to boot your home computer to check emails, the new image editing options will mean that fussing over family snaps on a laptop is now a thing of the past for many casual camera users. Thanks to the A5 processor, it’s probably much faster than your old laptop.

The speed at which you can now snap from when the button is depressed makes a real difference; you won’t see the slow, grey, closing swirl as you snap, like on iPhone 4, for example. Apple has never put such effort or importance on the iPhone camera and it’s refreshing to see that the iPhone 4S can begin to compete against rivals. Pinching to zoom is a habit Apple introduced to many and now that’s exactly how you zoom when using iOS 5. The new A5 processor gives iPhone 4S the ability to shoot 1080p video – the best resolution your HD TV can display. The technology isn’t new but it’s a first for Apple and, like your compact camera, the 1080p video function makes you question whether you really need a dedicated personal video recorder. Try shooting 1080p video at a concert or an outdoor event, then watch it on your TV and you’ll instantly be impressed.

iPhone 4S: A5 processor

While the A5 processor heralds a new world of apps and games in the future, in the here and now, you’ll notice every app and function feels blindingly fast. Google Maps is the most obvious, with faster drawing speeds and being less sluggish when scrolling through expanses of land. It’s the A5 graphic prowess that Apple is trumpeting for bigger, better games too. You can expect iPhone 4S to herald the next generation of Apple-powered games, as Sony and Nintendo continue to compete with dedicated handheld consoles.

Unrelated to the processor, but still worth a mention, is the instant speed and power of iMessage. Yes, it might not be original, but chatting in the Apple ecosystem is easier than ever and makes SMS seem old-fashioned in comparison.


The iPhone 4S is a practical and powerful upgrade, which is a showcase for iOS 5, rather than a revolutionary leap. If you’re upgrading from a 3GS creaking under the weight of iOS 5, the iPhone 4S feels like a Ferrari gunning for the finish line. Siri is a novelty but iOS 5 is a revelation and iPhone 4S makes it sing.

FEATURES     4/5

What Mobile Test Vedict 5/5


About the Author

Share this article