iPhone 4 vs iPhone 4S – should you upgrade to the iPhone 4S?

As the glitter settles on Apple’s star-spangled iPhone 4S announcement, it’s time to open up the 4S and take a look under the bonnet. Set for a simultaneous US and UK release on 14 October, the iPhone 4S will be priced at £499 for the 16GB version, with other pricing still to come.

But should you upgrade to the iPhone 4S from the iPhone 4 or iPhone 3GS? Is it worth splashing out half a grand on? We look at what you get for your money.

Apple A5 Processor

While it’s been shoved out of the spotlight by the Siri voice recognition system, the improved Apple A5 processor is probably the most meaningful, nuts and bolts change on the iPhone 4S.

The A5 is the same chip that powers the iPad 2 and its dual core processor promises 1GHz clock speed. According to Apple, the A5 will – along with an increased 1GB of Ram– make the 4S twice as fast as the iPhone 4, perfect for running multiple applications and high-end graphics.

8 Megapixel camera

With the iPhone 4 featuring a decidedly meek 5Mp camera, the 8Mp camera packed inside the 4S is the headline grabbing improvement – but there are also some other fairly decent tweaks. The camera will snap pictures a third quicker, has better filters for white balance and colour and an increased aperture which should improve capture in poor lighting conditions.

It all sounds a bit geeky but the sample photos Apple waved around at the launch were genuinely impressive for a camera phone.

Improved battery life

Yes, it’s better but it’s hardly impressive. The short battery life on the iPhone 4 of 7hrs talk time on 3G – in factory conditions – has long been a grumble among users. So the 8hrs of 3G talk time offered by the iPhone 4S can still be considered a little disappointing.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the iPhone 4S also has a number of features – such as Siri – that could be potential power hogs. Day-to-day use may prove to actually offer less battery life.

iOS 5 operating system

Apple made a big song and dance about its iOS 5 operating system at the launch event and it does look like it’s well worth a Tango or two. Of the 200 improvements to the iOS the stand outs are iCloud wireless synching, an iMessage system that let’s you text other iPhone users for free, and an improved Safari web browser that brings better navigation and faster loading times.

All good stuff; but you won’t actually need to upgrade to an iPhone 4S to get iOS 5. Owners of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS will all be able to get the new operating system for their phones.

Siri voice recognition  

The blockbuster announcement of last night and the feature that Apple hopes is going to propel the iPhone 4S to world domination was Siri. Essentially a voice recognition system, Siri can operate most features on your phone by voice command.

For example, Siri can Google a search for you and read back the results – ask her where the best pizza place is in Plymouth and she’ll tell you the best rated. You can also use Siri to set your alarm and schedule a meeting or find and call a number or write and send an email.

Perhaps most intriguingly – or worryingly if you’ve seen Terminator and are familiar with Skynet – Siri will also remember and build on responses, placing your questions in context. In theory, Siri could be revolutionary but it very much depends how the system works in practice. You will need to upgrade to the iPhone 4s to play with this as it’s an exclusive.

The verdict

That’s it. We won’t be making any snap decisions until we put the iPhone 4S through a rigorous work out in our lab; but that is what has been promised so far. What do think? Is it worth spending the money to upgrade?

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Categories: Apple, Phones

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10 replies

  1. Following all the hype leading up to the release I was expecting more, although in fairness to Apple the hype seems to have mostly been coming from observers trying to anticipate what the phone would offer with Apple being normally tight lipped prior to the release. The fact that Apple have chosen to name the new phone, 4s and not 5 indicates to me that they consider it an updated version of the iPhone 4 and not a completely new model.

    As far as the improvements go, I’m not sure that the increased processing power will really be noticed and I agree that the Siri voice recognition will be seen by most as a gimmick and probably will get used about as much as Facetime does by most users.

    As you have indicated battery life was not great on the iPhone 4 and this area most needed improving in my opinion. I think Apple (and other manufacturers) underestimate the importance that consumers put on this aspect – particularly as the battery cannot be replaced with a spare when flat.

  2. I think you are correct Garry. I’ve read a lot of blogs and comments on “Apple ripping us off after all the hype” etc but what people fail to realise or think about is that Apple were not publishing blogs, articles and news stories about their release. The media were.
    Not sure whether I will upgrade to the 4S though. Contract is up this month and the iOS upgrade alone looks like it ticks most of the boxes so I may just keep my iPhone 4 rather than spend the money to upgrade to a phone that would only be marginally improved over my 4 with iOS 5!

  3. I agree also and can’t wait for the iOS upgrade which will so important to so many. I think smart phones have opened up to the the world new technology. iOS 5 will change everything for so many not having to have a computer but I cloud. My first iPhone was also my first personal computer (i got an iPad as soon as they were released) and having to ask family or friends to use their iTunes took the new tech independence away. In a few days I will be independent at long last!

  4. I’ve pre-ordered an iPhone 4S for delivery on the 14th.

    For years I’ve used cheapo handsets – frequently hand-me-downs from my family, But I’m going to treat myself to the very best this time.

    I did think long and hard about the iPhone 4, which has now dropped in price by around £80. As those above have pointed out, much of the improvement is down to iOS 5 not the phone itself.

    I think Siri is a waste of time and I really, really cannot se me using it. Ever. But I suspect we’re getting a glimpse of the future and voice control will be routine in, say, ten years time.

    Oh, and for the record, battery life is NOT better. Talk time on 3G has improved by an hour. But standby time has dropped from 300 to 200 hours. I’d happily sacrifice one hour of 3G talk time for 100 hours of standby!

  5. I think Siri could be very good, particular in a car for hands free telephoning without even looking @ the Phone. Some years ago I was an Orange network user only because of their “wildfire” voice recognition system. I was able to call all my contacts, look up contacts, all without touching the handset. The only people I know who had trouble with the service usually had poorly installed car kits without noise cancelling microphones. This was all pre bluetooth headsets and sophisicated car maker built in audio systems. So it should be pretty easy to use Siri to get much safer use of phones in vechicles now. In fact if it stops just one of the idiots I see every day driving with handsets to their ears it will have succeeded.

    1. That’s a good point but at the same time just because you’re not using your hands I don’t think that means its entirely safe for use while driving. If you’re busy checking the weather forecast, organising meetings and whatever else how much attention are you paying to the road?

    2. In my view only essential phone use should take place in a car and I believe based on my personal experience with Wildfire Siri could make that much safer. I would never check on weather, organise a meeting or any other similar things by using a phone in a car. But every 30 mins or so when I am driving I see other drivers with handsets to their ears talking. That is the most important thing that technolgy like Siri could eliminate.

  6. Having got one of the new 4S at launch, I can say that battery life is worse at the moment. The phone doesn’t seem to last through 24 hours; although to be fair I have been using it a bit. As an experiment, I charged it up at midnight last night, and it was showing 65% by 8am this morning.

    However, the Siri feature I have found very useful and it seems to understand about 75% of what I say. Note the mapping features of Siri are US only at the moment – so you can’t find the best pizza shop in Plymouth! However, it will google search for businesses and addresses, so not totally shabby.

    1. After reading the Which review, I bought an unlocked 4s from the Apple store in Norwich. So far I am very impressed. Being unlocked I haven’t got the phone service provider’s software directing me to their sites and trying to get me to use the phone network instead of wi-fi all the time. In fact I feel I own a Hand held pc rather than a phone which is brilliant. I have been in IT since ’68 and this is the first Apple product I have bought; it IS a revelation it really does just work. Only Downside is, as Which says, it is expensive.

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