Apple’s iPhone 4S looks pretty much identical to the previous model, retaining the eye-catching glass and steel body, something which left a lot of would-be upgraders pretty unhappy.
The complaint seems to boil down to: If everyone doesn’t know you have the very latest shiny gadget, why bother having the very latest shiny gadget?
But while outwardly the iPhone is pretty much indistinguishable from its predecessor, inside the device has received a number of welcome upgrades.
The most important in terms of day to day performance is a redesigned antenna which no longer dampens signal when you hold it.
For someone who is often in low signal areas, this is the difference between being able to make lengthy calls or endlessly redialling.
Also beneath the hood is Apple’s A5 dual-core processor which also powers the iPad 2.
While my iPhone 4 is no slouch, used alongside the iPad 2 it could feel slower and, at times, less responsive than its big brother. The new processor removes any discrepancy, real or imagined.
The iPhone’s rear camera has been updated to a new 8 megapixel version which can shoot full HD video for uploading to YouTube or sharing with your friends.
To my eyes, still images are significantly better than on the iPhone 3GS and 4.
Some users have been unhappy with battery performance. I’ve been using an iPhone 4S since mid December and haven’t experienced any significant issues.
On a typical day I send a few emails, make some calls, surf and tweet. In all I probably clock up about 2-3 hours of actual use and around 9-10 hours of non-charging standby.
On such days I generally end with between 60-70% of battery remaining.
As always, it’s sensible to see manufacturer battery life claims as ‘best case’ times and remember that the more features you use – for example location services and bluetooth – the shorter the time you’ll get from a single charge.
The 4S also ships with the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system (OS), iOS 5. This brings a number of new features to the iPhone, some of which have been available on other platforms for some time.
In the case of the notifications tray which displays reminders, new emails and text messages, Apple have borrowed liberally from Google’s Android OS, with a pull down list of new updates.
The most talked about feature is Siri, a voice activated personal assistant capable of placing calls, sending and reading text messages and managing your diary. Siri can also search the web and act as your researcher. I recently wrote in detail about Siri here.
The new version of iOS runs on the iPhone 3Gs and 4, with Siri the only notable feature which is exclusive to the 4S.
The most asked question is whether the iPhone 4S is worth buying.
The simple answer is that if you’re midway through a contract and have an iPhone 4, there’s probably not enough new to justify paying for an early upgrade unless you’re desperate to play with Siri.
However, iPhone 3or 3G users due for an upgrade will be delighted with a new phone which enjoys a crisper, higher resolution display, new features and a definite speed increase.
Our verdict: 4.5 / 5