I know I’m late to the whole iPhone 4S review thing, but to be honest, I never really understood how you could give a good review of a device after using it for two days – that’s why I take my time. I’ve been waiting for over a year for this new device so I really didn’t want to rush into a quick review without having fully used it for an extended period of time.

Now that I have been able to play around with virtually every feature of the new iPhone 4S, I think it’s time for my late review. There is some good, some bad, and yes, some ugly…

I’m not much of a technical guy. All those RAM, GB, MHz, and processor specs don’t mean anything to me, so I’ll try to leave those out of my review. At the end of the day, I don’t care how much RAM my iPhone 4S has. What matters to me is how it handles real life situations.

This is my review of a black 64GB iPhone 4S running on AT&T.

The Design

Let’s start with the obvious and get that out of the way. As you know, from the outside, the iPhone 4S is identical to its predecessor the iPhone 4. Same look, same design, same feel in your hand.

Like many people, I wish Apple had gone the extra mile and shipped a device with a new design. Don’t get me wrong, I think the iPhone 4 was the most beautiful smartphone ever designed, but like most people, and after a year of using it, I get weary.

This being said, it took me just about a minute to get over the fact that the iPhone 4S was the same as the iPhone 4, because, as Apple made clear, it’s what’s inside that matters, not what you see on the outside.

The Quality

I think it’s important to note that I am reviewing my second iPhone 4S. The first one had a defective vibrator, and I had to exchange it – go ahead and make jokes about my vibrator issue if you want. The vibrator on my second iPhone 4S is better, but still not as good as my iPhone 4’s.

Out of the two iPhone 4S I had this past week, both had the same issue: the volume buttons are very slightly loose. While it’s not a big issue, it’s a little detail that shows that the built quality in the iPhone 4S may not be on par with the iPhone 4’s.

The mute button also feels different. It feels slightly smaller, and makes it a little harder for me to switch it on. Maybe it’s just me though.

S is for Speed

Even though Apple won’t officially admit it, the “S” in iPhone 4S stands for Speed, just like it did for the iPhone 3GS. And boy it is fast, and I mean blazing fast!

You can see the speed improvements as soon as you boot your iPhone. Animations are fast, app switching is almost seamless. Everything you can think of is faster on the iPhone 4S. And so it should be, right? I didn’t fork over another $400 for a slower device.

This being said, my iPhone 4 was incredibly fast when I first got it. Everything felt snappy for a few weeks, and then sluggishness settled in slowly, to the point where it sometimes took a few seconds just to open my Settings app.

So while the iPhone 4S is definitely faster than any iPhone before, I do expect it to get slower in the long run.

The Camera

I think the iPhone 4 did a pretty good job at producing great pictures. With its improved camera, the iPhone 4S does even better. Reading the early reviews of the iPhone 4S, I still expected more though.

If there is one thing that is immediately noticeable in the iPhone 4S camera, it’s the larger aperture, which brings in more light to your pictures. This has always been my major complaint about the iPhone 4: pictures were darker. Because it can let more light in, the iPhone 4S lens gives much clearer, and lighter (as in more light) pictures.

I haven’t had many chances to try the video camera, but I was immediately able to tell what an improvement the video stabilization brought to films shot with the 4S.

My hands are always as shaky as a tweaker in need of crack, and you can usually tell by looking at my videos recorded with an iPhone. But with the iPhone 4S, it looks like I have the hands of a surgeon. Unless I’m shaking on purpose, videos are really, really stable. I’m impressed.

The Antenna

Following the iPhone 4’s “Antennagate” saga, Apple had to make sure this year wouldn’t be a repeat of last year’s debacle. As explained by Apple, the iPhone 4S now has two antennas that the device can intelligently switch between. The result: faster download speed and better call quality.

While I haven’t been able to tell if the call quality has actually improved, it’s pretty obvious that this new dual antenna is working great on the iPhone 4S. AT&T’s 3G network is faster than ever. It’s really obvious.

The Speaker

As we were able to verify before, the iPhone 4S speaker is much louder than the iPhone 4’s. If you haven’t noticed that yet, just launch the Music app on an iPhone 4S and listen to the sound come out of the speaker. It’s loud.

But loud doesn’t mean it’s good. While it’s obviously better than the speaker volume of the iPhone 4, I think the iPhone speaker now needs some depth to it. As it is, the sound is really raw, especially if you listen to something that needs more bass.

All in all, the new speaker in the iPhone 4S is a plus.

The Operating System

iOS 5 is the best mobile OS Apple has come up with so far, but oh boy it’s buggy. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have seen more bugs in iOS 5 in a week of using it than I did in a year of using iOS 4.

Things freeze all the time, the keyboard gets stuck, settings change by themselves, etc. Apparently I’m the only one seeing so many problems in iOS 5, but I think it’s worth noting – and yes, I set up my iPhone as a new phone, so my problems are definitely not from a bad backup restore.

This is just software, though, and I’m confident any little issue will be fixed in an upcoming update.

Much has already been said about iOS since the first beta was released, so I won’t go over this. Yes, it’s great because it brings over 200 new features, but to me, there is one thing iOS 5 really needs: it’s a goddam facelift!

After using iOS for over 4 years now, I’m kind of over the whole graphical UI. Don’t get me wrong. It looks good and everything, but a little make over wouldn’t hurt. Maybe I just got spoiled by WinterBoard and DreamBoard?

Siri

Siri is without a doubt the main reason you’d want to get the new iPhone 4S.

I use Siri all the time now. I use her to create calendar events, reminders, check definitions of things on Google, play music, etc. Siri really makes your life that much easier.

As a French native, I speak with a thick French accent – ask other iDB team members! I was really worried that Siri wouldn’t be able to understand me, but turns out she gets 90% of what I’m saying. The 10% remaining is what frustrates me about Siri.

I sometimes try my best to pronounce something but she still won’t get it. For example, I was not able to tell Siri that, “my wife’s name is Tina.” She would come back at me saying, “Ok, your wife’s name is Gina.” I probably tried 40 times. She still wouldn’t get it. In the end, I had my wife herself tell Siri that her name was Tina. Siri finally understood!

Because English is not my native language, Siri is a great teacher for me. She helps me learn how to pronounce words better. For example, the word “fahrenheit.” It took me a few minutes of frustration to get it right, but now I know how to pronounce that word. Obviously, if English is your native language, you shouldn’t have this problem.

Dictation

Siri and dictation are both tied together, but they are also two different features.

Now that I can dictate to my iPhone, I do it as much as possible. Most of the time, I start typing something and I realize that I can now dictate it. When that happens, I usually erase what I just typed, and start dictating it instead. Because it is so new, I am trying to get into the habit of dictating instead of typing.

Just like Siri, the dictation feature is not 100% accurate with me, but again, it is mostly due to my French accent. If I take the time to really articulate and pronounce words correctly, dictation gets it right about 90% of the time as well. Even if it doesn’t get it right, you can always easily and quickly correct the word that dictation didn’t get.

At the end of the day, this feature is a time saver, but be ready to look stupid if you want to use it in public, as this is not socially acceptable yet.

The Battery

With great power, comes great battery drainage. At least that’s what you would expect.

While there has been reports of questionable iPhone 4S battery life, I’m not sure where I stand on this, even after using the device for a week. Sure my battery drains fast, but to be honest, I am constantly messing around, using Siri, and just using my iPhone much more than I normally do.

At this point, it would seem unfair to say that the iPhone 4S battery life is not as good as it used to be on the iPhone 4. I’d much rather wait a few more weeks, until I have completed a few full charge cycles. These consist in draining the battery all the way down to 0, and recharging it to 100% several times. It’s a way to “train” your battery to operate at its full capacity.

The Verdict

The iPhone 4S clearly is the best iPhone so far. But again, that’s to be expected from a new device. If you don’t buy an iPhone 4S for its looks, the speed and the Siri/dictation combo should make it a compelling device for you.

Should you buy an iPhone 4S? It all depends on your situation. If you don’t own an iPhone yet, or if you have an iPhone 3G or 3GS, I think you’re due for an upgrade. The iPhone 4S will feel like a breeze of fresh air to you. You will undoubtedly love it.

If you already have an iPhone 4, I don’t think the small hardware bump is worth the price. Sure it’s faster, it takes better pictures, and you can talk to it, but that’s a lot of money for not much more, especially if you’re not eligible for a full upgrade with your carrier.

No matter what you decide to to do, you can’t really go wrong with an iPhone, but of course I’m a little partial.

Do you have an iPhone 4S, if so what do you like and dislike about it? Share your mini review in the comments section below.

  • pa1

    iOS 5 is buggy for me too (i’m on i4). By now i’ve noticed : weird animations, weird phone app stuck, weird overlapping labels, etc.

    Oh and i’ve used 2 iphone 4z (plural, cant use 4s :P) and both had the lose volume keys that you mentioned. I dunno whats up with that.

  • Dale Jones

    Thank you for the review. I really enjoyed your perspective as one who has used it for several days before posting. One question: do you really have to use profanity to get your point across about the face lift? Seriously? Otherwise, a very informative review. I have a 3GS and am seriously considering the upgrade.

    • Bob Newhart

      goddamn, profanity? Lulz.

      • Steve

        Oh no profanity…wah wah wah. Cover your eyes Dale….and yes….seriously.

    • kurt

      he’s very liberal. what do you expect

  • Andrew

    The build quality of the iPhone 4S buttons is slightly cheaper feeling than the iPhone 4? Very interesting.

  • Andrew

    The build quality of the iPhone 4S buttons is slightly cheaper feeling than the iPhone 4? Very interesting

  • Zllusk

    My battery run out like its has only 1000mAh one 🙁 But I think that iOS5 causes this problem. But you all know, it’s really annoy :((

  • Bob Newhart

    I have definitely noticed iOS5 to be quite buggy as well, many crashes and just plain odd behavior.

  • I don’t own a 4S and I don’t plan on buying one either. I’ll be using my 4 on T-Mobile until the 5 is released.

    Saying that, I really enjoyed your review of the 4S. It’s good to see someone really give a solid review of the phone after heavy usage. I am of the same belief that you can’t possible give a real review of something 1-2 days after using it. That type of work is just to get hits early and somewhat necessary. I also like how you say you don’t care what the specs are as much as you care how it handles stuff. That’s always a good point to remember!

    Thanks for the great review!

    • boblovers

      the iphone 4s is the 5 so it would be the 6

  • Ken

    Today make your day bro, Sebastien.
    Thanks for the review.

  • Alex

    Very nice review!

  • Egill Skall

    Nice review. You’ve convinced – if I needed convincing – to wait for the iphone 5. By the time it is out I will be eligible for a discounted upgrade.

  • MrBig

    It’s really funny you learned how to pronounce “Fahrenheit” from Siri, as it is a german word and I bet if I tried to make Siri recognize it from me (native german speaker), she wouldn’t understand at all… So my tip is: Set Siri to german and hear the real thing! 😀

    Also nice about Siri is that everyone curious enough can ask her to read Audi, Porsche, BMW and some other well known words, als they are often mispronounced by americans.

    I also had to learn the difference between Houston (NY Street) and Houston, Texas! 😛

  • MrBig

    I support your request for a new UI. New apps like Reminders have a complete different look (calendar view) than the calendar app and it’s much better in black, as is the new slide down menu. Those two new things don’t match with the ugly notifications that come up in the old style like the yes or no buttons. Thanks to the new top notifications we do not have to see them very often. Even in iCloud they use those ugly buttons like you were on iOS…

    What do you think, would black or the slide down menu black look better for the whole UI?

  • Johari

    Thank you Sebastian for the review…..well i just got my iphone4 white earlier this year….so i guess i’ll just have to wait for the next iphone…..thanks again Seb….Bon jour ..!!!

  • AppleBits

    I went from the iP4 to the S, and have been using it for about a week. I have to agree with much of your analysis, Seb.
    Here’s what I’ve experienced:
    I had to keep re-entering my Apple ID and my iCloud ID (different). Now it seems fine..remembering both.
    Some apps just crash back to the main screen. Irritating. But this has only happened maybe twice.
    Another weird thing – the phone has done a few self re-boots at some random times. ??? I look over at it, and it’s got the boot Apple on the screen…it loads, then searches for my ATT connection. It’s done that twice, also.

    The camera – I’m not overly impressed, or under. I would NOT justify the purchase of this phone on the camera, tho. It seems to me the iP4 had a much faster shutter speed, which meant much clearer photos, and basically no pixelation unless in a dark environment.
    This iP4S, however, I’m finding EASILY gives me slightly blurred photos almost all the time, unless I can hold perfectly still. And when I do get a good shot, zooming in is way more pixelated than the iP4 photos were.
    I’m not a great photographer…but I’m wondering if this new f2 to add more “light” to the pics also equates to adding more shutter-open time to allow that light in. When the shutter is open longer, the chances of a blurry photo are increased. I haven’t tried video yet.

    Oh, the front facing camera…yea, mine is way overkill with light washout! IF I hold a finger slightly above the sensor, it’s pretty normal. Otherwise, worthless…washed out. Not sure I get that. (No, I did not have a light faced directly at it, either.) And on that note, while trying the front camera, the screen suddenly went black with streaks of weird colors – ever so briefly, then back to the normal washout look. ?? This makes it useless to me. I won’t pay for useless.

    None of my volume/mute buttons are loose. That’s good.

    I TOTALLY agree on the facelift. But I’m with you…Winterboard/Dreamboard spoiled me, I guess.
    I wish Apple would just open up enough of a basic phone (non-jailbroken) to enable users to truly modify the look that WB or DB allows. It’s very refreshing.

    The vibration on mine is good. It seems faster vibrations, but shorter time of vibration…if that makes sense. But it’s fine.

    Siri – still trying it out..but love it for messaging so far.

    Battery….pure drain. Thank goodness I have a couple ZaggSparqs around. It’s a juice junkie for sure. But that’s a definite FAIL.

    Well, that’s all I really can report for now. But, honestly, although I’m not regretting getting the S, knowing what I know now, I’d probably wait for the next gen and keep the 4. If I had a 3G or 3GS, I’d def trade up to the 4S, no question about that.
    I suppose I could return this one…but it is still a spectacular device, and the flaws currently are very small in comparison to the things I find really good about it. My post obviously only reflects some negatives…but only to confirm what has been seen elsewhere. I love the phone.

    I’m nervous, tho, about the camera. If it’s truly a hardware issue, I need to exchange it in my 30 days. If it’s due to iOS5 bugs…I’d hope an update would happen before that 30 days. Otherwise, I’m exchanging it, just to be safe. These days, don’t most of us use our phones for on the spot shots?? If I can’t do that with some level of trust the pics will be good, not blurry, then that’s a deal breaker.

  • Radu

    Just ordered mine yesterday!
    I already own an iPhone 4 but I was able to sell it for 500 euros, so I thought that’s a pretty fair deal, 240 euros more for something a little bit better.
    But I agree with you, I would have never bought it if I hadn’t been able to sell my current phone for that price.

  • Mike

    If you are worried about price, you can sell your old iPhone 4 on eBay for about the price (or more) than a new iPhone 4S (with contract).

  • Are you giving away your iPhone4?

    • Haha. No. My iPhone 4 is going to my iPhone museum, along with my first iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS, on the shelves in my office.

      • BLckAapL

        Likewise! ;D

  • Carl

    Ive gone from a 4 to 4 s and there is a whole lot of difference faster more responsive smother better signal Siri better camera but the best one was signal as I’m on giffgaff it’s a O2 sister company and never had signal at work now I have 5 bars and 3G signal upgrade it’s well worth the tiny price

  • Mattia

    Nice review. I’m still getting an iPhone 4S. I’m in love with it.

  • Xavier

    SalIt Seb! J’aurais jamais cru que t’était francophone, dit. J’ai du mal aussi parfois, avec les noms de ma famille. Genre ma mère s’appelle Odile. Va prononcer ça avec un accent anglais, ça fait bizarre. As-tu trouvé une façon de demander à Siri de passer de l’Anglais au Français, et vice versa, par commande vocale?

    • Nan il n’y a pas moyen pour l’instant de switcher entre Siri Francais/Anglais.

      Si tu vas dans les contacts et edite le contact pour ta mere, Odile, tout en bas, va sur “Add Field” et tape “Phonetic First Name”. Tu pourras taper le nom de ta mere en phonetique. Par example, “Odeal”

      • Xavier

        Merci! Tip de pro! 😉

  • Oliverf

    One thing I noticed in ios5 on my 4s is I cannot select a second image from my camera roll withing the SMS app. Nothing happens

    • AppleBits

      I can, I just can only pick one at a time. You just have to keep tapping the camera icon, and pick the 2nd one, repeat for more. 🙂

  • SAB

    I’ve been told over and over again by several apple support/store employees that you do not need to drain down and fully recharge ur battery to improve capacity. There is no memory in today’s cell phone batteries.

    • Perrson

      Correct, deep-cycling batteries was important for Nickel–cadmium, but reduces the lifespan of Lithium-ion.

  • Peter

    I agree with you on the blurry photos all the time, iPhone 4 actually takes clear photos, what’s the cause of this?

  • Austin

    Excellent review.

  • Scott

    I’ve noticed a few bugs on my iPod Touch 4, the notification center will freeze up causing a springboard crash, apps taking for ever to switch as well as few settings changing by them selves.

  • Really good review, well done

  • Jo Po

    Keyboard has a bug too. Iv’e used the iPhone since 2007 and this 4s cause me to space and end sentences prematurely. My wife has the same problem. Maybe we just type wrong……

  • Francesco

    lolz i have an iPhone 4S, i ha to pay the fll price of 705.00, but it was worth it 🙂 🙂 🙂 loving every penny of it 🙂 and even thou ma parents and brothers says it such and shit… i dont give a sh@t 🙂 …………. loving it all the minute i have with it

  • Traci

    Funny because my volume buttons are the complete opposite. The volume down button is just fine but the volume up button is really hard to press.

  • 4u250ut

    Hmmm..Iphone4s got only 500mb of RAM..but Droid Bionic got 1Gb…

  • Stephen Blake

    Im getting my 4s today between 12 & 3. Will review when I have used it as I have never had a apple except the ones you eat. I vowed I wouldn’t be part of the clan who say “I HAVE AN IPHONE” Heres to a good review.