Mobile Phones Guide

Apple iPhone 4S review

Apple iPhone 4S - Smarter Than Before

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Overall rating 9/10
Design:
8.5
Features:
8.5
User-Friendliness:
9
Performance:
9
Value:
8.5
THE GOOD
Excellent image quality
Speedy performance
Refined iOS 5
THE BAD
Expensive
Siri voice recognition still in beta


Performance, Multimedia and Battery Benchmarks

S for Speedier  

The one-year old iPhone 4 is getting outpaced by some of its competitors which sport dual-core processors with higher clock speeds. Therefore, it was a no-brainer that we would have come to expect a dual-core processor on the iPhone 4S.

First seen on the iPad 2, the Apple A5 processor chip makes its second debut on the iPhone 4S. An important finding by AnandTech revealed that the iPhone 4S's processor is actually underclocked at 800MHz. Nevertheless, Apple claims that the it can deliver up to two times more processing power and seven times the graphics performance compared to the iPhone 4. Well, we put the iPhone 4S up against the iPhone 4 to determine whether Apple's claims are valid for some basic tasks where people are most likely to appreciate speed gains, if any, from a newer processor. Both phones were run on Apple iOS 5 and were rebooted before the test. We also ensured that no apps were running in the background. Note that the phones were connected to the internet via our internal Wi-Fi network.

Here's a summary of our findings from the video:

  • The iPhone 4S starts up about two seconds faster than the iPhone 4.
  • When activating the camera, the iPhone 4S is at most a second ahead. A nail-biting close race between the two! 
  • The difference is more apparent when we ran the Angry Birds Free version app on both iPhones. The iPhone 4S left the iPhone 4 in the dust. 
  • One of the key improvements we observed was the speed at which web pages loaded. Our HardwareZone website finished loading two seconds earlier on the iPhone 4S.

From our observations and experience using the iPhone 4S, the experience was definitely snappier, even if it meant the difference was just merely milliseconds apart. Many folks, including ourselves thought the user experience on the iPhone 4 was already very good. Well, the iPhone 4S is even better. No lags were noticed when using the iPhone 4S. Some of the apps opened and loaded significantly faster such as YouTube, Camera and Maps.

This is even more surprising when you take into account that the iPhone 4S ships with the same amount of RAM (512MB) as the iPhone 4. This is in contrast to the 1GB of RAM you would find in the top range Android smartphones today. Theoretically, more RAM would mean that multitasking would be more effortless since the phone is able to run smoothly with the extra memory buffering whatever apps and services needed to be run simultaneously. However, Apple proved that it is not just about hardware and was able to integrate both hardware and software aspects of the iPhone 4S to run as smooth or even better than other smartphones with more RAM.

 

The Best Camera Phone? 

The other key hardware feature of the iPhone 4S is the new 8-megapixel camera. It also has a backside illuminated CMOS that is able to take in 73% more light. Apple states that the new camera incorporates a five element lens with f/2.4 aperture that produces images which are 30% sharper than before. Coupled with the A5 processor is an in-house designed image signal processor that enables the iPhone 4S to have face detection and better auto white balance. Now that you know about the specifications of the camera, we put the iPhone 4S through our camera test to assess its performance.

Truth be told, we are really impressed with how Apple consistently improves the camera quality and capabilities on its iPhones. What was once upon a time its weakness, it has been improved to become one of its leading features. The iPhone 4 is a good testament as it is the most popular camera for uploading pictures on Flickr. Don't be surprised if the iPhone 4S quickly ascends to the top of the chart in the months ahead since it is a better camera phone. We also particularly liked how fast the camera captures images. There is very little shutter lag between shots, which we felt that consumers will appreciate. Last but not least, the iPhone 4S catches up with the competition with its 1080p HD video recording. You can bid farewell to low resolution or shaky video recording as the iPhone 4S takes remarkable videos.

Since Apple claimed that the iPhone 4S might have the best camera ever on a mobile phone, we decided to pit it with the other 8-megapixel powerhouses to see how it fared. As the article is not a shootout of the camera capabilities, we did not declare a winner and let the pictures speak for themselves as to what people can expect out of the box.

Probably the next most important aspect of the iPhone 4S is the battery life. During the launch event, Apple declined to comment much on the battery performance of the iPhone 4S. These are what we know from its website:

  • 8 hours talk time with 3G enabled (one hour more than the iPhone 4)
  • 200 hours of standby time (a drop of 100 hours compared to the iPhone 4)
  • 9 hours of internet use on Wi-Fi (the iPhone 4 specifies 10 hours)

Looking at the statistics provided by Apple, it appears that Apple managed to maintain a decent standard of battery performance for the iPhone 4S despite equipping it with a dual-core processor and more powerful camera module. Unfortunately, reality tells a different story. 

iPhone 4 users have voiced out their concerns on the Internet about the poor battery mileage of the phone. Some users blamed it on the Setting Time Zone function in iOS 5 that kept the location tracking system running in the background, leading to a shorter than expected battery life. Others reported that the Calender application was in hyper drive mode, causing it to reorganize events and meetings constantly when it is turned on in the Notifications Center. It took close to a month before Apple formally acknowledged that there was indeed a battery drain problem and promised iOS 5 bug fixes in the coming weeks. 

With this in mind, we monitored our review set for a few days to check if it suffered from the same problem. Thankfully, we did not encounter such problems. Subsequently, we ran our battery test on the iPhone 4S and compared it with the Samsung Galaxy S II and HTC Sensation XE. Both devices are easily among the top Android phones available in the market at the moment, and it will be interesting to see how they fare. The HTC Radar is also included in this test as it runs on Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, and we want to see how the latest Windows Phone device handles the competition. Last but not least, we also included the iPhone 4 into the mix to see whether it can trump its successor. 

Our intensive battery test involves looping a 480 x 800 pixels resolution video at full screen brightness and maximum volume. We also turned on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for constant data streaming.    

Specifications/Device Apple iPhone 4S Apple iPhone 4 Samsung Galaxy S II HTC Sensation XE HTC Radar
Processor
  • Dual-core 800 MHz
  • Single-core 1 GHz
  • Dual-core 1.2GHz
  • Dual-core 1.5GHz
  • Single-core 1GHz
Display Size
  • 3.5-inch
  • 3.5-inch
  • 4.27-inch
  • 4.3-inch
  • 3.8-inch
Display Type
  • IPS TFT
  • IPS TFT
  • Super AMOLED Plus
  • S-LCD
  • S-LCD
Display Resolution
  • 640 x 960 pixels
  • 640 x 960 pixels
  • 480 x 800 pixels
  • 540 x 960 pixels
  • 480 x 800 pixels
Dimensions
  • 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm
  • 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm
  • 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm
  • 126.1 x 65.4 x 11.3mm
  • 120.5 x 61.5 x 10.9mm
Weight
  • 140g
  • 137g
  • 116g
  • 151g
  • 136g
Battery
  • 1432mAh
  • 1420mAh
  • 1650mAh
  • 1730mAh
  • 1520mAh

 

From the results above, you can see that the iPhone 4S took a slight dive in battery life compared to its predecessor. Still, it clocked a rather good up-time of  421 minutes, which translates to about seven hours of battery life. Although it is about 22 minutes less than the iPhone 4, we are willing to trade that extra battery mileage for faster performance on the iPhone 4S.

The two Android smartphones fared on the extreme ends of the test, with the Samsung Galaxy S II still taking the lead. This is expected as it has a bigger battery capacity (1650mAh) than the iPhone 4S (1432mAh) and has lower power consumption. On the other hand, the HTC Sensation XE faltered badly despite having the biggest battery capacity (1730mAh). This is mainly due to its more powerful 1.5GHz dual-core processor which is also a source of bigger battery drain. HTC Radar, being the lone Windows Phone 7 device in this test, did not fare too well either.

As a result of the minor differences in battery life, the iPhone 4S exhibited a slight increase in power consumption compared to its predecessor. Nonetheless, it is still very impressive and is almost on-par with the Samsung Galaxy S II. 

Taking into account the dimensions, weight and battery performance of the iPhone 4S, it managed to score the third highest in our Portability Ratio Index. It only trailed behind the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S II. Looking at it from another perspective, the Samsung Galaxy S II took the crown because of its plastic build which contributed to its lightweight form factor. If you are looking for a smartphone with a more solid build and feel, the iPhone 4S is by far your best bet.