Archive for October, 2011


Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Can’t wait for the iPhone 5? Get your minor improvements with Apple’s latest instead.

IT’S A revamp rather than a breathtaking redesign but Apple’s iPhone 4S is a worthy heir to the throne.

Extra grunt under the bonnet, a spruced-up camera and improved reception – that’s the iPhone 4S in a nutshell. It’s an incremental upgrade in the tradition of the iPhone 3GS, retaining the form factor of the previous model while improving the spec sheet to give resource-hungry apps more headroom.

The iPhone 4 is certainly no slouch but the 4S raises the bar with its A5 processor, first seen in the iPad 2. That extra grunt isn’t immediately obvious, especially as the iOS 5 software upgrade doesn’t appear to have slowed the iPhone 4 (a welcome change from previous iOS updates).

You will also want to upgrade to the latest versions of Lion and iTunes to take advantage of all of iOS 5’s features, which will chew through almost two gigabytes of your monthly data allowance (perhaps more if you have multiple computers and iGadgets).

Spend time with the 4S and the A5 processor’s extra grunt peeks through in several places.

The time it takes to launch the camera has always been a telltale sign of a sluggish iPhone. With nothing else running, an iPhone 4 running iOS 5 takes about 2.5 seconds to launch the camera and open the iris so it’s ready to shoot. The 4S cuts this down to about 1.5 seconds.

Under iOS 5, you can also launch the phone’s camera from the lock screen and use the volume button to capture shots, which is an improvement for when you’re trying to quickly capture the moment. The volume button trick is one of many features owners of hacked iPhones have enjoyed for some time and it’s good to see Apple finally acknowledging the iPhone’s shortcomings rather than dictating how people should use their devices.

There’s also extra grunt from the new processor when browsing the internet. Throwing complicated webpages at the mobile version of Safari, such as the non-mobile version of and other media sites, shaves anywhere between 10 per cent to 40 per cent off page loading times. We’re only talking about a few seconds of difference, but it is clear the 4S’s faster powerplant helps.

The A5 processor really makes its presence felt when you start to push the phone. For example, the iPhone 4S is clearly happier than the iPhone 4 when running the TomTom satnav app while playing music in the background. The iPhone 4S also has less trouble keeping up when editing large files in Apple’s Pages word processor app.

Along with a performance boost, the A5 also lays the foundation for new features.

Graphics-intensive games don’t always look better on the iPhone 4S but this is deceptive, as some games now tone down the effects for older iGadgets. Firemint’s Real Racing 2 is a classic example: it plays almost as smoothly on the iPhone 4 but look closely and you see the effects are ramped up when running on the 4S’s faster processor.

Apple has also introduced AirPlay mirroring to the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. Rather than just streaming video clips and photos to an Apple TV via your home wi-fi network, these devices can now mirror any application on your television. This could be handy for work and play, whether for business presentations or using the handset as a gaming controller while watching the action on television.

AirPlay mirroring is an obvious threat to the Wii, particularly as some games such as Real Racing 2 are adding split-screen support for multiple devices. This lets up to four players race on the television simultaneously, like Mario Kart Wii.

In terms of hardware, the improved eight-megapixel camera is the iPhone 4S’s other big drawcard – not just the extra megapixels but also the new optics and improved aperture. You’ll see more detail in your photos, particularly when peering into the shadows of an otherwise bright scene. Low-light photos contain less fuzziness, or ”noise”. Unless you’re a purist, the 4S’s camera is probably good enough to replace your digital happy snapper.

The iPhone 4’s reception issues are well documented but the 4S’s redesigned antenna eliminates the so-called ”death grip”. Reception suffers if you hold the iPhone 4 the wrong way but not so with the iPhone 4S Livewire used, on loan from Vodafone. Even if your telco’s network is partly at fault, the new 4S should be happier in areas with dodgy coverage.

Most of the iPhone 4S’s other improvements are courtesy of the iOS 5 software upgrade. Older models miss out on a few features, such as the Siri voice-interaction system, which is in beta. Early reviews have been a little gushing – Siri is a technological marvel but not always the most practical way to interact with your phone. Frustratingly, Siri’s location-aware features are restricted to the US for now.

Siri alone isn’t reason enough to upgrade from the iPhone 4; it’s a sleeper that will mature in time.

So, what’s the verdict? The iPhone 4S is an impressive upgrade and the extra grunt lays the foundation for a new generation of apps and services. If you’re buying a new iPhone today, spending extra on the 4S compared with a discounted 4 is a wise long-term investment. But the improvement isn’t enough to ditch your iPhone 4 if you’re in the middle of a two-year contract, unless there’s a feature exclusive to the A5 processor you simply can’t live without.

Unless the iPhone 4 is already starting to feel sluggish, current owners might want to hold out for next year’s mythical iPhone 5.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha