iPhone 4S: Gizmodo Australia's Review

The iPhone 4S represents a challenge for Apple. It's clearly a challenge the company has met to a certain extent; the sales figures for iPhone 4S have been exceptionally solid, to say the least. But that's a matter for the share price; what's it like as a phone? A note before I start; yes, this is a review. But if I catch anyone over-using the word "objective" in the comments field, I'll be coming over there with a large lump of wood, and I won't remove the rusty nails first. There are parts of a review that should be objective — benchmarks and certain specifications — and there are those bits that relate to personal experience that simply can't be. Anyone who tells you that their review is 100 per cent objective is talking out of their… well, I'll let you figure out where.

Overall Performance

The iPhone 4S is fast; that was my first impression of the handset, and it's one that I've kept for the entire review period. You've seen the tests against the iPad and existing iPhone, so I won't restate the obvious yet again. But across a range of apps, from games to video to productivity, the iPhone 4S consistently starts up quickly and responds with alacrity. I know I'm risking the ire of the readership when I say this, but when I've wanted a task done quickly over the past week, I've been reaching more for the 4S and less for my Galaxy S II, at least in pure speed terms.

Battery

I'm a brutal battery abuser, and it's been less than a day since my last bout of phone abuse.

I'm even vaguely proud about that.

Sad, but true. It's exceptionally rare for any smartphone I've been using heavily — and I've been using a trio of 4S handsets (with due thanks to Optus, Vodafone and Apple) quite heavily over the last nine days — and every single time, I've run the battery out before the day is out. The same is true of, say, the Samsung Galaxy S II, the Nokia N9, the Blackberry Bold 9900 — I could go on. Needless to say, if you're a power user, pack an external battery or charger of some kind; that's what I'll be doing from now on. Apple's claim for the iPhone 4S is that it's got slight advantages over the base iPhone 4 when it comes to battery, but to be totally honest, for better or worse, I didn't really see it.

Camera

The iPhone 4S' camera sits in the upper pantheon of smartphone cameras. That's an important distinction; this thing isn't a DSLR, and anyone who wants one should buy one of those. Equally, though, you can take lousy shots with high end equipment if you don't know what you're doing.

Quick pop quiz: Which of the following two was taken on an iPhone 4S, and which was taken on a Samsung Galaxy S II?

Answers on a postcard, please...

Where the iPhone 4S' camera shines is in lower light situations — I've taken some great night photos of my cat which I won't share here — and in taking quick shots quite well. As an upgrade for existing iPhone owners it's a definite plus; for users of other smartphone platforms it's a very solid competitor.

Signal

I've done some testing of the iPhone 4S versus the iPhone 4, and found little change there in my own limited way. Over the course of last week, I've flipped between the 4S and the Galaxy S II as my hotspot of choice on the train, and there's again little difference there running on Telstra's network in terms of bandwidth throughput. The whole antennagate thing is dead and buried, and for signal purposes, the iPhone 4S performs well, subject to the location and vagaries of your carrier of choice.

One note here for the curious; I've had few phone call problems with the 4S, but that's an inherently shaky test base; is the problem with the phone, the carrier, or on the other end? There's really no way to tell. Outside of duff speakers and the like, there's not much that can be conclusively stated about mobile phone call reception in such a short test period, if ever.

Siri

I know, I know; some of you are sick of me writing or talking about Siri. But it's a matter of fact that it's one of the iPhone 4S' selling points, so I'm obligated. After a week of playing with and using Siri, I'm still not entirely sold, but then I'm not sure I should be. Siri's neat technology no doubt, and clearly something that could be a boon for those with physical limitations. That case aside, though, there's the double whammy of utility and public embarrassment to deal with. I'm not likely to talk to my phone in public — I even feel self conscious doing this with a headset on — so Siri loses some marks there. That's not Apple's fault, to be fair.

The other issue is that Siri's limitations in some cases have more to do with licensing agreements than technology; the ability to ask for directions is the one thing I might use Siri for in a public place. Again, that's a time issue, but it's not a good idea to review anything based on potential. Right now, Siri is crippled in this particular area, and hopefully those are leg irons that'll be shed sooner rather than later.

Would I buy an iPhone 4S just for Siri? No, not at this stage. But the underlying technology is interesting, and I figured nobody would use Facetime either. If anyone can sell the concept to the general public, it's probably Apple.

Conclusions


There are plenty of Giz Au readers who wouldn't buy an iPhone 4S if it came with free money and a luxury villa in the south of France. Fine, if that's your opinion, here's something to keep you happy. I'm happy enough to say that it's one of the best smartphones you can currently buy; before the accusations fly, one of, not "the" best — but then I'm not convinced that a one-size-fits-all approach is appropriate anyway.

At the same time, many wrote the iPhone 4S off as "just playing catchup", and that's an accusation I'd say was fairly baseless as well. Apple's long been happy essentially playing in its own yard, and within the yardstick of other iOS devices the iPhone 4S is a solid upgrade. There's a few positions to take regarding this. If you're an existing iPhone 4 user and you're happy with what you've got in terms of camera usage and performance, I'd say sit still, especially if you're on contract. 3G and 3GS users will find the upgrade remarkable, but then that's a two-plus year jump, so it's to be expected. Those currently sitting in opposing smartphone camps would be wise to at least consider the 4S; it may not be the phone for you, but it's a premier competitor in the current smartphone market. I still haven't quite decided if I'll make the jump back to iOS from Android — but I'm very solidly tempted.


Comments

    Top photo iphone, bottom s2 is my guess. iphones are usually reliant on high contrast and punchy processing. The bottom image is more evenly exposed.
    Just a guess.

      The bottom one is overexposed by at least 2/3 of a stop. I'd say your guess is right though.

    damn you guys are just paranoid now about these reviews. every complementary or negative comment gets qualified as not to upset. you're walking on egg shells.

      I can take the negative feedback -- fire away. For what it's worth, I'm personally happy with the 4S, and I hope that's the impression that comes through.

        no, that's not what i meant. i think the review was a pretty reasonable. it just seemed like you were apologising a lot. i think given that your own phone is an android, that last sentence was the most interesting of the whole review but you didn't elaborate.

          I think it's fantastic that he keeps these reviews fair and balanced. Maybe people who're a little younger in their mindset and a little more fannish would prefer reviewers to completely endorse the product they themselves also prefer, in an unqualified manner, in order that they can feel a sense of validation, but that would just be sad and uninformative.

            did you even read what i wrote? just re-read the review and see how much of it is qualifying and apologising as not to upset. that's what i was pointing out and also requesting more of an insight into the reviewer's personal subjective position. perhaps you rushed into your own comment there a bit.

              It was those aspects of your comment to which I addressed my reply. Perhaps my phrasing sounds unfairly pejorative? I apologise for that.
              Less subjectivity and more qualification in online reviews is what I crave. It's a welcome return to the days of quality tech journalism, sorely lacking on the US gizmodo and sites like Cnet and PCworld.

                Take away the subjective comments and all phones these days are pretty much the same. You could only compare basic specs which isn't informative at all. You can get more details from the basic specs from the manufacturer websites. Whats important is how features work in the real world. I really dislike people apologising for their own opinion. If you think you're fair with your assessment, you don't need to. In any case, I understand your point of view, but I've bought a few toys after reading initial great reviews only to find they're useless to live with. When replacements came out just months later, the same reviewers are then saying the new models address the things that made the original a pig to use. There's no point in being polite. People rely on reviews to decide where to spend their money. If there is something that the reviewer finds frustrating, those are the things you want to know. You can then decide whether or not it bothers you.
                I do also agree the quality of giz au is excellent.

    First Pic is Galaxy s 2? Second is Iphone 4s?

    First Shot looks better :)

    I personally prefer the second shot, but have no idea which one is which. Would like to know though... :)

      how on earth..? it's overexposed and blurry :\

    Comparison pictures of your cat would have been better. Rather than hinting at the potential cuteness that could have been forthcoming.

    After having a 3GS and 4, it would be fair to say that I've sort of become bored with the iPhone. Both my kids have Android handsets and I've been toying with the idea of going to a Galaxy S II. Then it hit me - I just can't. My car has iPhone/iPod integratation and I love having the ability to control my music from the steering wheel.

    I haven't heard of any vehicle manufacturer that offers Android integration so for me it has to be an iPhone for the foreseeable future. Bummer!!

      Yeah unfortunately this is one field where Android and WP7 have been left behind in the dust. While Apple has a set standard on their proprietary connection, they have allowed (and early market dominance has encouraged) no shortage of third party integration. Android with its various different locations of dock connections, and different form factors is next to impossible to design a “one fits all” solution.

      The silver lining to this though, is that Android has no issues streaming music via Bluetooth, and can happily be controlled by a Bluetooth remote (such us a head unit). That being the case, I’d much rather have my phone in my pocket when I get into the car, switch on the ignition, my phone automatically sync’s then resumes my last playlist, auto-launches Car Dock mode, and will read aloud any txts as soon as they come in. When you can do that, who wants to plug their iPhone into the head unit anymore?

        As far as I know Ford Sync does intergration with ios, Android and WP7. Treats them all slightly differently but yeah works with them all.

          @Pinkus - via what connection out of curiosity, USB or Bluetooth?

          That I'm aware of, I didn't think Android had the ability via USB to be remote controlled and stream music (which is different to mounting /sdcard as a storage device).

        Ever heard of that technology called bluetooth?

          @Anthony - Yeah I have, read my whole comment smartass.

          I have no idea what iOS is capable of with Bluetooth, but I just gave a perfect example of how smoothly Android sync's up using it.

      That's why I bought an iPod touch to work in tandem with my GS2. It's got 90% of the iphone features, all the apps, and a data connection via my GS2 wifi hotspot. So now I've got the best of both worlds :D

    A great review, Alex - aside from the abject fanboys (Apple and Android), I think your readership just wants a balanced review that allows for the possibility that the iPhone isn't always the "jesus-phone". You've given a fair accounting of your experiences with the 4S, and that's been surprisingly hard to find amid all the fawning loveletters out there that have been passed off as reviews, so thanks for that.

    I have no problem acknowledging that the 4S is a good phone, or that it will be the best phone for some users - you're certainly allowed to like the thing! It may not be for me, but I appreciate getting an actual opinion of what did and didn't impress you - you're heavy on detail, and light on fluff. And it certainly raises the credibility of your praise when it's leavened with pragmatism like this. Flame shields down - I reckon you're safe on this one...

      +1

      Agree with that. While some "reviewers" (using that term loosely) deserve critism for their blanket worship of anything Apple, I think Giz Australia (note the qualification) gets a bad rap from over-sensitive Android enthusiasts....

      Well done Alex, good review

    I’ll say off the bat that I’m an Android user; and I’m not likely to make the jump to a different platform anytime soon. Both are due to my own reasons that I won’t go into here. That said, I’m happy for iPhone to co-exist, and think it’s great that there’s competition between various smart phone platforms to give consumers choice. I didn’t read the review for any reason other than curiosity, and I had no intent on commenting until I read the below quote.

    ...At the same time, many wrote the iPhone 4S off as “just playing catchup”, and that’s an accusation I’d say was fairly baseless as well. Apple’s long been happy essentially playing in its own yard...

    I’m not being drawn into the “catchup” discussion either, but I can definitely see how that comparison can be made. First off – iPhone/iOS and Android are both direct competitors in the smartphone market. Just because Apple has a different means of doing business and designing/marketing their products to Google/Microsoft/RIM, it doesn’t mean that direct comparisons aren’t fair. It’s not like we’re comparing a phone with say, a laptop – or other consumer electronics. It’s comparing a phone with a phone.

    In having said that though, it’s like comparing Rugby League with Aussie Rules – they’re both codes of football, they both market themselves in common territory and they both share a few common traits; but what separates them is the way they play their own game.

    This review is utter crap. You say you took cat photos and then don't post them? I am so sick of the anti-cat photo agenda Gizmodo seems to have.

    Cat photos are the cornerstone of any modern smartphone. How can you expect consumers to make informed decisions if you withhold critical information like that?

      Here you go: http://www.xmission.com/~emailbox/funnyphotos.htm

      I'm glad someone had the courage to say what we were all thinking.

    Re Siri; I remember what I felt like using a mobile phone back in the early 90's when hardly anyone else had one. Very self conscious! It'll take a little time for people to adapt to Siri but when you realise that you speak to your mobile every time it rings or you make a call, I don't think it'll take long.

    So your review boils down to "If you're on an old iPhone and thinking about upgrading, the latest one isn't a bad choice".

    Very enlightening.

      So your comment boils down to 'I thought this article was a waste but not so much of a waste that I didn't come in here and make the effort to actually write a comment.'

      Very enlightening.

    Has anyone noticed the iPhone 4 (not s) is a bit more laggy since the upgrade to ios5? Maybe it's just my imagination (and far be it from Apple to behave like a mega corporation and deliberately build in obsolesence) but just when sliding from screen to screen it's a bit jerkier that it used to be. Does anyone know of any benchmarking that has been done on ios5 versus ios 4.x on an iphone 4?

      I would agree with this conspiracy theory, in the week while i was waiting for my 4S to arrive I had several moments with my 4, where I was like 'why are you being so sh!t phone?' lagging and locking up etc. A few of my friends had their 4's also play up, dfu mode etc.
      But nothing that you could repeat, hence prove...

      No way, quite the opposite, my 4 is running much smoother than before. Rarely lags with anything.

      Agree. There will be an update shortly no doubt.

      I remember using my original iTouch it was so fast to begin with, then with the updates with the ability to move the icons and the wriggly effect it became slow...

    One interesting thing about the review is battery life. Given that none of Alex's phones will last a full day, surely a phone without an easily swappable battery should be marked down? I mean, if necessary, you could buy two or three spare batteries for your SGII and swap them out through the day, charging them all up again overnight. I got a wall-charger and two spare batteries for my Focus for less than $10 delivered (dunno why, it usually lasts 3 or 4 days on a charge).
    I had a good, solid play with a friend's iPhone 4 yesterday and it is very impressive. I'd probably take one over an Android but there was nothing about it that would tempt me away from WP7. I really liked it's smaller form-factor, I can't ever see myself going larger than my current 4" phone and something slightly smaller, like the iPhone, is about the perfect size for me.

      Yes I feel the size is perfect. I can't see me using a 4.3" device everyday as a phone. It feels uncomfortable in my pocket, and it feels like I am putting a Casio Scientific Calculator up to my ear when I talk on it...

    Hey Alex, could you find us that offer of the free money and a luxury villa in the south of France with the purchase of an iphone?

    Id take that up lol

      The day that becomes a lunchtime deal is the day I retire. Just sayin'....

    The poorer quality picture is clearly from the Galaxy 2.

      Nice one Rob

    When I saw the photos, I thought you'd stolen my photos from the other day.. lol.. they are almost identical to the ones I took on my Galaxy S II the other day! :)

    Well.. ok.. looking at the photo now, I can see it's a different time of day and different angle :) Still.. a little spooky :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/light487/6178911559/in/photostream

    Typo: The Siri section, third paragraph. "Would I BUT an iPhone 4S just for Siri?"

    Does anyone else here have a 4S? Mine does this... 'thing'... where, if you tap it gently, something vibrates inside, kinda like a spring or something. I tried it with my brother's 4, but it doesn't do it. Don't know anyone else with a 4S yet to try it out.

    But does your do it?

      I have noticed this with my iPhone 4s too, I guess that's how they are built.

      Hey yeah, mine does that too.... I thought it was just me.

      That strange vibrate function is stolen from the S2. Mines done that since like forever.

    nice short review of the 4S, I reckon you should address the video stabilisation features of the 4S, IMO it is the second best feature after SIRI.

    Re the 2 pictures, as IP4S should be able to resolve more details i.e. @ the shadow area under the bridge, also intrinsic photo processing by IP4S should give less "spiced up" color images than that by SGSII, so I think the top photo is taken by SGSII and bottom by IP4S.

    @100% crop, I think IP4S should give better resolution on the same object than SGSII but I would be happy with either camera if photos are to be posted on facebook or other webapplications which they will be compressed anyway.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...
    Very funny review on the Iphone 4s

    Dammit cleared EXIF Data, well image one has more unique colours.

    I've come to realise one thing about the smart phone market and technology community at large: phones are a very personal choice. One can read as much as they want about this phone or that, but at the end of the day, only you yourself can decide once you've had a play with all the devices on offer. Good on you for doing a review with that in mind. In my opinion you cannot truly review such a personal electronic device only objectively.

    Simply dismissing [Insert OS] and not even trying it out because you've always not liked them is at your own loss. You're only cheating yourself by narrowing your choices simply because of stubbornness (or whatever you want to pretend it is).

    Personally I find the 4S nearly perfect in the following areas:

    Size- I felt the GSII was just overwhelming in size, it felt uncomfortable in my pockets and could not be operated fully using one hand (with my thumb only) which is imperative in some cases.

    Speed- It's very very fast. Boots into IOS5 in 30 secs (timed it) and all apps launch/run and flip quickly. In general, it works as fast as I can, as opposed to working slower than I can...

    Build quality- Glass on glass, heavy, solid. GSII felt like I could break it by twisting it without much effort...

    Camera- it is an amazing thing considering it's a phone. No it's not as good as my 5D but it's pretty handy in a tight spot!

    One thing that I do find is the screen abit small. Yes the AMOLED of the GSII is very nice for surfing. But now having owned the 4S for a few weeks I've discovered that 1) a bigger screen means I can't operate it properly with one hand (see above) 2) If I do want to surf properly, I get in-front of a computer or tablet anyway.

    It's everything I need in a phone, and even the shortcomings are not that bad. Overall it does what I want fast, and that's all I want.

    Lastly, if I had a GSII I think it'd be equally OK and happy with it. To be honest, it aint that big of a deal!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsVEbRt6g94
    Very funny review on the Iphone 4s

    Well, it was still a LOT more balanced than the Giz US 'review', so bravo for the second opinion.

    Giz US's review was not a review, there were no Cons.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now