iPhone4S – Why I Sent Mine Back

I was pretty let down when the iPhone4S was announced, where was the 5? The redesign? The larger screen? But then after a few days I figured I’d give the 4S a go, after all the 4 was (is) a great phone and the 4S, albeit identical from the outside, has some great improvements on the inside.

I posted my initial thoughts after the first weekend with the 4S, and although the title of this post will have already made it clear, here is why I haven’t kept it.

First, some background, I am at the end of a 24 month contract with an iPhone3GS as many people upgrading to the 4S would be. So this upgrade represents another 24 month commitment to my network, Orange. I was lucky though, and about a year ago I picked up an iPhone4 so I have been using that since then, and loved the improved screen, speed and camera.

I pre-ordered the 4S as soon as Orange announced availability, and received it on the Friday release day. There was a lot to like, but a few things niggled at me and in the end I decided to send it back.

Here are my issues with the 4S, some of which simply relate to the value of these new features versus the new 24month commitment to get them.

Form factor

Ok, obviously the 4S is pretty much identical to the 4. There is the slight shift of the side buttons, just enough to make some cases not fit, but the advantage is all of the accessories still work.

Camera

The better 8MP camera, with improved optics and faster shutter and picture-to-picture times are great. But there was never really a problem with the camera in the iPhone4. For all online publishing and all physical printing the few times I’ve needed it, pictures taken with the 5MP iPhone4 have been absolutely fine.

Processor and ‘Redesigned Antennae’

Faster, more powerful processor? Quite possibly, but nothing I really noticed. The odd intensive task was maybe marginally snappier, but nothing couldn’t live with. The Antennae might have swung it for me, but in all my testing the iPhone4S showed no better performance than the 4. It might provide faster downloading capability, but as long as I’ve got good 3G signal I’ve never sat there wishing my photo would upload faster.

Siri

Siri is definitely impressive, with great capabilities taking it past the current voice integration of the alternatives in Android and Windows Phone. But there were a couple of niggles that made it less useful for me.

Despite the wonderful Apple use case videos, I could really be bothered using Siri when I was sitting down at my desk or sofa. I can compose an email or text quicker with touch. Yes I can create a basic appointment with my voice, but if I want to invite attendees, set reminders, change it to all day – again I’m back to doing it the traditional way. No the only scenario where Siri was of real benefit to me was in the car while driving.

Composing or reading (having read) a text message was a serious benefit. I use my iPhone a lot in the car for listening to podcasts. My car Bluetooth system lets me play music or podcasts and pause or skip them. If a call comes in it will switch over and let me answer or reject the call, all via steering wheel controls, all safely without touching the phone.

The problem however, is Siri simply wouldn’t work accurately over my car system” the recognition dropped to that of something circa 2001 with barely 50% accuracy. I resorted to loudly enunciating one word at a time, and even then it made numerous errors. Disconnecting from the car kit and relying on the iPhone microphone was much better, but then I lost all of the advantages listed above.

The other issue with Siri is the requirement for data. All Siri commands are sent to Apple for processing and then sent back to the phone. Ars Technica have done some research on how much data Siri uses, and it’s actually less then I feared. But in my car usage scenario I sometimes lose signal and then Siri is suddenly useless. Admittedly this is an issue specific to where you live, travelling to rural areas this is more of an issue for me than it will be for other users. But more annoyingly is that the previous voice recognition in the iPhone 3GS/4 works without data fine. So in my periods without signal not only am I unable to use Siri for emails or appointments etc. but I can’t select a podcast or playlist to listen to either. Siri really should be able to handle limited ‘on device’ requests without having to check in with the mother ship.

iPhone5

Rumours of the iPhone5 kicked in almost as soon as the the 4S announcement finished. Many centred around the common themes of redesigned form factor and larger screen. It will obviously launch sometime next year, but there is some evidence that it will return to a June launch rather than being November 2012.

This means that my two year commitment if I’d kept the 4S would leave me watching the a new model come out within 9months!

Of course that’s speculation, it might be a November launch again, but either way the 4S simply wasn’t worth the upgrade value for me, so I will stick with the 4 for now and wait for the iPhone5 to launch.

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