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Apple iPhone 4S review

Apple iPhone 4S review

No, it’s not the iPhone 5. But for all that, Apple’s latest handset has still sold upwards of four million units less than a week after it went on sale.

It seems that despite initial disappointment among tech watchers and critics, the phone that redefined the smartphone space continues to be one of the most sought-after gadgets in the world.

But how does the iPhone 4S stack up under close inspection? And should iPhone 4 owners be looking to upgrade their year-old handsets? Read our review now to find out.

First impressions

iphone 4s triplicate

There’s just no escaping it. The iPhone 4S looks exactly like the iPhone 4. But that’s not to do Apple’s new phone a disservice. The antenna up top has been shifted and can now choose between signals in order to bypass any nasty ‘death grip’ issues. But that’s just about the only physical difference you’ll notice.

However, it’s what happens when you fire up the iPhone 4S for the first time that leaves a lasting impression. The handset can be set up without being connected to iTunes, with users able to create an Apple ID, sort out email access and fire up location services via a simple on-screen walkthrough.

It’s reminiscent of Apple’s Mac OS X start up and makes using an iPhone for the first time infinitely easier. That said, there’s no escaping the fact that this shift has been influenced by Google Android’s breezy single sign-on. It’s great, but has been present on Android phones for years.

8/10

Design

iphone 4s duo

As mentioned above, the design of the iPhone 4S is identical to the iPhone 4. But it is still the best looking, most beautiful smartphone available. And the glass-backed body is sturdier and sharper than that of the Samsung Galaxy S and the HTC Sensation XL.

Neither of these phones are ugly, but Apple’s excellent rethinking of the iPhone last year still stands up. The industrial look and black (or white) finish is unsullied by awkward battery flaps and large camera lenses and is all the better for it.

There is perhaps one minor niggle. The iPhone 4S still has a relatively small 3.5-inch screen. That’s significantly smaller than all of its key rivals and does mean that reading web pages and iBooks can be awkward on the eye. iOS 5’s Reader feature goes some way to fixing this, but surely the next-gen iPhone will amp up the Retina Display.

9/10

Features

iOS 5 Siri

The iPhone 4S’s biggest draw is Siri, the ‘virtual assistant’ which aims to kill off any lingering doubts about the world of voice control. It’s certainly impressive when it comes to digging out contacts and sending text messages and emails. However, it does take some getting used to and isn’t perfect first time.

Apple says it’ll learn your voice, but it often read back errors in our emails when we couldn’t have been clearer and spoke slowly. That said, the fact it finds web pages to answer questions, books appointments and tells you about appointment clashes is ace.

However, Apple’s failure to launch the Yell-backed information service in the UK is a real disappointment, confining Siri to novelty status on these shores. You can’t bring up maps or pub and restaurant suggestions, making it a function to show off down the pub once and then quickly forget about.

Apple says we’ll be seeing Siri get full functionality in 2012. But with no partners as yet, we’re not too sure exactly when that’ll happen.

The iPhone 4S’s camera impresses, though. Combining iOS 5’s excellent photo editing smarts and iCloud’s Photostream feature with an eight megapixel sensor, it confirms the iPhone’s status as the best camera phone going. Shots look glorious on the phone’s screen and even better when opened up on a Mac or PC.

Likewise, the 1080p video is gorgeous and can be edited easily with the iMovie app (which should really be native to the device rather than a £2.99 extra from the App Store). The phone’s A5 processor ensures editing is lightning quick and far better than on the iPhone 4.

8/10

Software

ios5 notifications

As mentioned in our iOS 5 review, Apple’s new software is peerless. It’s snappy and is a dream to use, especially on the 4S. The email app has been rethought superbly, while iCloud’s presence at the front and centre of the device makes stashing content on Apple’s servers easy and possible at every turn.

9/10

Ease of use

The fact you can now start and run an iPhone without iTunes makes Apple’s blower even easier to use than before. The design of the OS is joyous in its simplicity, while the ability to use the camera while in lock mode makes this a proper point and shoot (especially as you can use the 'volume up' button to take snaps without hitting the touchscreen). Set-up is breezy and spotlight makes finding lost files easy as ever.

So, should you get one? If you’ve never owned an iPhone or are looking to upgrade an iPhone 3GS, emphatically 'yes'. Apple’s services and stunning software, not to mention great design, makes this a brilliantly rounded smartphone. Chuck in some very competitive deals from the likes of Three and you really can’t go wrong.

But if you’ve got an iPhone 4, we’d recommend loading it up with iOS 5, seeing your contract out in 2012 and getting an iPhone 5 (or whatever it’s called). This is an iterative update and one that iPhone 4 owners don’t really need right now.

10/10

Specifications

  • 3.5-inch 960x640 pixel Retina Display
  • Eight megapixel camera 1080p Full HD video recording
  • Siri voice control
  • 200 hours standby time
  • 8 hours 3G talk time -1Ghz A5 chip
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Overall Mark: 9/10

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