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iPhone4S – Initial Thoughts After One Weekend

I received my black iPhone4S Friday morning about 09.30 thanks to a very speedy service from Orange UK, and have been using it over the weekend testing and comparing with my previous iPhone4.

External

Externally there are very minor changes to the 4, if they weren’t pointed out you possibly wouldn’t even notice.

  • Proximity Sensor – this has been moved to above the earpiece rather than near the front facing camera. On the black model its pretty much invisible but on the white model its visible.
    iphone4s white proximity sensor
  • Antennae – Apple has reworked the antennae system on the 4S after the issues with the 4. The 4S can now ‘intelligently switch between two antennas to transmit and receive’ which Apple claim will make call quality better and provide faster data speeds.
  • Because of the reworked antennae, particularly the new spacer you can see on the image above, the mute button and volume keys have been moved down slightly. A minor issue except that some 4 cases will now not fit the 4S.

I typically have poor reception in my house on the iPhone4, my wife’s HTC Desire, also on Orange, is fine, so I know the coverage itself is good. I mostly have 1 bar and will often see ‘Searching’ or worse still the phone sitting with ’No Service’ displayed. Talking on the phone while holding is is extremely unreliable and I resort a headset most of the time. I was hoping the 4S with its intelligent switching between two antenna would make this issue go away,but as yet I haven’t noticed much improvement.

I have to believe Apple have nailed the signal issues on this redesign, but its not the dramatic improvement I’d hoped for and if you’re someone who has experienced moderate signal with an iPhone4, the 4S may not solve this for you.

Inside

The key new features of the 4S are the new A5 processor, new 8 mega-pixel camera with larger f/2.4 aperture and Siri Personal Assistant.

The A5 dual core processor has ‘up to two times more power and up to seven times faster graphics’ which translates to better more powerful gaming and generally improved responsiveness in the OS. I haven’t noticed the gaming improvements yet, but I haven’t specifically gone after any games coded to take advantage of it yet. I would say iOS5 runs more smoothly on the 4S than on the 4 but its difference is minor. Starting certain Apps is quicker and loading and displaying data like Contacts and web pages is a bit snappier, but nothing that makes it stand out. Apple also claim the A5 is more efficient and gives better battery life – a bit too early for me to say on this, but I’ll know more this week as I start to use the 4S uncharged during a typical work day.

Camera – the new camera is a definite improvement, the pictures taken with the lens system are of noticeably better quality and Apple has improved things like auto white balance, colour accuracy, face detection and applied reduced motion blur which makes even quickly snapped photos come out looking much better. The new A5 chip with built in image signal processing produces much faster focusing and virtually no shutter lag.  I haven’t played with the 1080p video recording yet, but I expect this to have similar improvements.

Siri – this is pretty much the standout new feature of the iPhone4S and Apple has gone to great lengths to produce many videos extoling its virtues and showing ‘real world’ examples of how Siri can help you improve your daily life on a handsfree basis. Siri is limited to the 4S, and Apple have intimated this is because Siri requires the processing power of the dual core A5 chip to run, although this has already been largely disproved.

Siri allows you to do a multitude of things ‘handsfree’ such as searching for information, reading or composing text messages and composing emails (reading emails is not supported yet). It can create diary appointments for you, answer general knowledge questions and more.

However, is it a complete novelty? I’ve used it a few times so far, mostly to play around and test it, the single biggest benefit is composing a text message in the car which can now be done entirely handsfree – barring the initial long hold on your headphones to activate Siri.

Then there is the obligatory funny Q&A sessions, “beam me up scotty” and “what’s the meaning of life”. Sites have already spring up cataloguing Siri’s amusing answer database such as sirifunny.com and shitthatsirisays. All most amusing, for about 10 minutes, then you’re left wondering how much will you actually use this new expensive feature? I’ll reserve judgement for now until I’ve learnt more Siri commands and tried using it for a wider range of tasks.

iphone4s siri not available without internetMy other issue with Siri is its requirement to be connected to the internet. Without an internet connection Siri just refuses to work. I understand the voice analysis is done offline via Apple but this makes it fairly restricted – why is my ability to voice command a song or playlist removed because I have no internet connection?

The old voice command on the iPhone4 and 3GS would work without an internet connection. I understand Apple’s utopian ideal of universal internet, but this just isn’t the case at the moment here with patchy UK coverage.

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