For months, we pontificated about the launch of the new iPhone. The iPhone 5 would be slimmer, have a bigger screen, be capable of predicting lottery numbers and establish world peace.
In the end, we got an iPhone 4 with an S on the end of the name. But make no mistake, this is not merely a minor upgrade.
Design and build
The iPhone 4S looks exactly the same as the iPhone 4. It's the same length, same width, almost the same weight (a couple of grams heavier) and comes in the same black or white colours. You'd be hard pushed to notice a difference other than the fact that the aerial around the side is slightly different now to avoid a repeat of 'antennagate'.
For readers who've been on Mars the last 18 months, it's an elegant design: a rounded rectangle shape with just a single home button on screen beneath that pin-sharp retina display. It's typical Apple: minimalistic and stylish with both the front and back made of glass that is (allegedly) toughened though we have first hand experience of it smashing at the slightest drop. If you buy one, get a case.
The display is unchanged from the iPhone 4. It is the clearest on the market, says Apple, which is technically true. It gives you a 960 by 640 resolution with a pixel density of 326ppi which is pretty unmatched. It's called 'retina' because the human retina can't detect pixels at that level and is pretty accurate.
As always, it's capacitive so relies on electrical signals from the fingers and supports multi-touch. We had no issues and found it to be uber-responsive every time.
Interface and OS
The 4S ships with iOS 5 - Apple's latest operating system which was announced in the summer and made available to existing iPhone owners as a beta over subsequent months.
It looks almost identical to the older iOS 4 on the surface and Apple has clearly not wanted to change too much and risk alienating users. New additions include a notifications bar that swipes down from the top (exactly as Android has done for years) plus the ability to sync over wifi rather than cable. In fact, Apple says the PC is no longer needed and it's correct in that you don't have to sync with a desktop to use it for the first time anymore.
Apple now gives us iCloud which allows the syncing of photos and music and much more. Location reminders are also a new addition, allowing you to get your phone to ping when you enter a certain zone - although probably at a cost to battery life.
The camera on the 4S may look the same but it is a lot better. The already not-too-shabby 5MP unit has now been upped to an 8MP snapper to match the best on the market. There are also better optics in there now too and a larger f/2.4 aperture which will allow more light in.
We were pleased to see facial recognition which worked with true Apple ease of use and that LED flash is bright enough to illuminate most subjects. The zoom is digital rather than optical but this is true for pretty much all camera phones.
As for video, full 1080 HD is now taken and it is mind-blowing with anti-shake technology really doing what it says on the tin. Once shot, you can edit your videos using the built in editing software or go for something a little more expensive but professional from the App Store. They can then be sent by message, email or to various other destinations with a tap. Genius.
Apps and Browser
There's a new girl in town - her name is Siri. Actually, in the UK, Siri is a bloke for some reason. Apple's voice recognition 'virtual assistant' has been the main selling point and poster-boy of the 4S.
Activated by holding down the home button or just holding the phone to your ear from the homescreen, you can ask it anything. Daft questions tend to yield daft answers, obvious ones tend to work but if it doesn't understand, it just throws up a Google search result instead. Lots of bits of it (like places search) sadly don't work in the UK yet as officially, it's still in beta.
Apple's other apps are there from the obvious iPod (now labelled Music) to things like compass, voice recording and calculator. The Mail app is seamlessly brilliant and the safari browser second to none. It may still not run flash video but offers a brilliant browsing experience with pages looking beautiful on that screen and loading within seconds. Multiple windows are supported and you can even add web shortcuts to your homescreen.
Performance and Battery Life
The 4S is definitely a worker. Inside, the A4 chip has been bumped up to a dual-core A5 and this baby flies along. Apps already opened quickly - now they're up and running in a fraction of the time and it is impossible to bring this phone to a halt with too many open apps. It just copes. And you can put as many on this as you like with storage sizes of 64GB now added to the 16GB and 32GB options.
Battery life appears to be on a par with the iPhone 4 meaning that a day of moderately heavy use is possible but really heavy use will leave you needing a charger by early evening. Some users have reported terrible battery life which appears to have been caused by a bug to do with location services though our unit had no such issues and we were suitably impressed. With no usage, expect to lose 1-2% an hour though the display being on and the A5 processor whirring away will obviously eat into that.
- Amazing camera
- Fast processor
- Brilliant screen
- Still the most coherent and professional app store
- New iOS 5 brings better functionality
- Siri not working 100% in the UK yet
- Almost no design evolution from the iPhone 4
- Glass scratches and shatters easily without protection
- Almost impossible to get right now because of demand
Verdict: It isn't the bright and shiny new iPhone 5 many were hoping for, but that hasn't stopped the iPhone 4S selling by the bucketload and a month on, you still can't get it in stores unless you pre-order. It's a worthy upgrade and a good step forward from the iPhone 4, but with the iPhone 5 likely to arrive next summer, you may want to think twice before signing on for a 24-month contract.
More info: Apple iPhone 4S spec
Price: From £499 SIM-free also available on Three.co.uk