Apple iPhone 4S

Apple iPhone 4S review: The iPhone 4S may look identical to the iPhone 4, but it boasts several improvements under the hood

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Apple iPhone 4S
  • Apple iPhone 4S
  • Apple iPhone 4S
  • Apple iPhone 4S
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Improved 8-megapixel camera
  • Siri voice assistant

Cons

  • Identical design to predecessor
  • Upgrading from an iPhone 4 less appealing

Bottom Line

If you're upgrading from an iPhone 4, Apple's new iPhone 4S is best described as an evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrade. However, for current iPhone 3G and 3GS users, or those switching from another platform, the iPhone 4S is a significant upgrade. A higher quality camera and video recorder, a faster processor, a better graphics chip, more memory options and Siri voice control make this one of the best smartphones on the market.

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iPhone 4S: Hello, my name is Siri

A feature available exclusively available on the iPhone 4S is Siri, described by Apple as an "intelligent assistant". It’s a voice assistant that lets you talk to the phone to perform tasks like asking for the weather forecast, making a calendar appointment, setting your alarm or converting currency. Siri is activated by holding down the home button on the iPhone 4S, or by simply holding the phone up towards your ear when the screen is on. Oddly, Siri is actually switched off by default, so you have to into the settings menu and turn it on.

The idea of talking to your phone may sound odd, but there are a few places where this makes sense: one of these is in the car and the other is when you're listening to music through wired headphones, just to name two examples. The benefit of Siri will depend on how and where you use it, but there is no doubt it is genuinely impressive — albeit incomplete — in action.

There are various commands Siri understands. You can tell it to call a person in your contacts, use it to send a text message or e-mail, ask it to set a reminder or calendar appointment for you or even ask it a mathematical equation. Siri can also play music on your phone by simply saying a track or artist name, set alarms and timers and check the weather forecast. One feature missing is the ability to search for businesses, addresses and directions through Google Maps: Apple says this is a US-only feature at present and will be available in Australia sometime in 2011.

Siri is far from perfect, but it's almost scary how you can interact with it as if it's another person. It has a conversational tone rather than simply sounding like regular voice commands. If you ask it personal questions, it will often reply with a witty comeback. As an example, we asked "what is the meaning of life" to which it responded with "Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live in harmony with people of all creeds and nations." To be fair, it has about three or four answers to that question, but the conversational tone and interaction remains impressive.

Perhaps the best feature of Siri is its ability to set location based reminders using the default iOS reminders app. You can set these manually, but it's actually much faster using Siri to set them. Simple phrases like "Remind me to take the bins out when I get home" or "remind me to pick up some bread when I leave work" are examples of what Siri is capable of. If Siri doesn't know something, it will perform a Google search and bring up Safari with the answer. If it does know something, it's likely to be from the WolframAlpha database: it displays results on what looks like a sheet of printed paper.

Siri is far from perfect. It often struggles with Australian pronunciation and typical Australian slang. You can't call it your mate, it doesn’t know what a shrimp on the barbie is and it often misinterprets simple statements. However, for basic tasks like sending a text message or creating a reminder it works very well. In addition to Siri, the iPhone 4S can also dictate: a small microphone button on the virtual keyboard (to the left of the space bar) allows you to speak into the phone and the software will attempt to transcribe your voice into text. It works similarly to Siri — its hit and miss at times but genuinely impressive when it works.

iPhone 4S: iOS 5 software

The Apple iPhone 4S runs the latest version of Apple's operating system, iOS 5. The latest release of iOS 5 is also available on the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS, so the features aren't exclusive to the iPhone 4.

If you've used an older iPhone the experience will be familiar. It's mostly a case of more of the same for Apple, with the familiar swipeable home screen enhanced by folders, and the consistent Apple UI look and feel extending across all of the standard applications. However, there a number of new features including an overhauled notifications system, an 'iMessage' service that uses data to send free messages, PC-free synchronising, a 'Newsstand' app that encompasses magazines and newspapers, and built-in Twitter integration.

The most effective of iOS 5's new features is the notification centre. It can be accessed by swiping down from the status bar on any screen and displays a range of notifications including missed calls, voicemails, text messages, push notifications from third-party applications, and optional stock and weather ticker updates. Notifications appear as a banner on top of the screen and can be simply ignored without inhibiting on a currently open app. Notifications also appear on the lock screen and can be swiped across to access. As an example, swiping on a message notification on the lock screen will take you directly into that message in the messages app. The reminders app is also new and allows you to create a reminder based on time, date or location — very handy for remembering to pick up some bread on the way home from work, for example.

iPhone 4S: Battery life

According to Apple, the iPhone 4S has slightly improved battery life over the iPhone 4. It promises eight hours of talk on a 3G network (14 hours on 2G), six hours of 3G Web browsing, nine hours of Wi-Fi Web browsing, 10 hours of video playback and 40 hours of music playback. Strangely, the iPhone 4 had an extra hour of Wi-Fi browsing and an extra 100 hours of standby time compared to the iPhone 4S.

In our tests, we found the battery life of the iPhone 4S comparable to the iPhone 4, but not significantly better. Depending on your usage patterns, you won’t notice a major difference if you're coming from the iPhone 4 — the iPhone 4S should last you a full day in most instances, just like its predecessor did. We did notice that when connected to a Wi-Fi network for a sustained period of time, such as in the office, the iPhone 4S' battery tended to last a little longer than our iPhone 4 did.

iPhone 4S: Australian availability and pricing

The Apple iPhone 4S is sold by all three major Australian telcos: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. The iPhone 4S is also sold outright through Apple's Retail Stores and through Apple's online store. The iPhone 4S comes in 16, 32 and 64GB models with Australian pricing starting at $799 for the 16GB model. The 32GB model will set you back $899 and the 64GB version will cost $999.

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