The iPhone 4S is due out Friday, Oct. 14, but already the early reviews are pouring in. They’re easy to sum up (people like it) but it’s also worth zooming in on some of the individual takes from the better reviews popping up around the web to get a sense of what exactly is and isn’t pleasing about Apple’s latest.
David Pogue of the New York Times says Siri, Apple’s new voice-powered virtual assistant, is so good it has demoted the on-screen keyboard to “a glorified Plan B,” but he also reveals some interesting tidbits about how much it owes to voice recognition software company Nuance:
Apple won’t admit that it’s using a version of Dragon Dictation, the free iPhone app, but there doesn’t seem to be much doubt; it works and behaves identically. (For example, it occasionally seems to process your utterance but then types nothing at all, just as the Dragon app does.) This version is infinitely better, though, because it’s a built-in keyboard button, not a separate app.
Like Pogue and many other reviewers, Walt Mossberg of AllThingsD focused on Siri in his appraisal. Mossberg’s reaction to Siri is generally more level-headed than Pogue’s, and in fact, early on he sums up his take on the 4S in general in very moderate tones:
Despite Siri, the iPhone 4S isn’t a dramatic game-changer like some previous iPhones. Some new features are catch-ups to competitors. I sense Apple chose to focus more on software and cloud service than on hardware. But, in my tests, the iPhone 4S performed very well. It’s a better iPhone for the same $199 entry price, at a time when some competitors are pricing their flagship smartphones starting at $299.
Macworld editor Jason Snell dives headlong into the issue of cellular signal attenuation, which was a problem with the iPhone 4′s design. He talks about the extensive media storm that surrounded, and then notes that Apple seems to have paid attention:
In all my tests, the old iPhone 4 “death grip” had no impact on the speed of cellular downloads on the iPhone 4S, nor did a reverse grip at the top of the phone. Only when I took both hands and performed a “death grip” that covered the entire phone (or at least touched all four corners of the phone simultaneously) did I see any signal attenuation.
Joshua Topolsky of This is My Next looks at the classic body design of the iPhone 4S (which is the same as the iPhone 4, unless you look very, very closely) and finds nothing wanting about it:
That said, the iPhone 4 design does stand the test of time (or 16 months in this case). Compared with most (if not all) of its Android competition, this industrial design looms tall. Though enthusiasts might be bored of seeing the same hardware for more than a year, this still feels like the phone to beat in the looks department. The glass back — while incredibly prone to shattering on impact — feels as sleek and sexy as ever. The metal antenna and solid, machined buttons feel high-end, expensive even. If this were a car, it would be a Mercedes.
TechCrunch‘s MG Siegler notes that despite some disappointed reactions from onlookers, this is definitely “the best iPhone yet,” and starts off his review with a focus on the things that make that true. His first subject of praise is the new dual-core A5 processor:
Apps that used to take a longer time to perform a task — applying a filter in Camera+, for example — now work much faster. More generally, every app seems to load quite a bit faster. The best way to see this is to load the Settings app that is built into iOS. On the iPhone 4, it can take up to 3 seconds to load. On the iPhone 4S, it loads in less than a second. And the 4S is faster at switching between apps when multi-tasking.
Finally, Vincent Nguyen at SlashGear expresses some shutterbug love for the new iPhone 4S’s improved 8-megapixel rear camera. Discussing the improved sensor, as well as the refined aperture and new infrared filter, he says:
Does it all work? You bet it does. There are two noticeable improvements – quality and speed – and the best thing is that they’re clearly evident from the start. Sharpness and detail are significantly boosted in the iPhone 4S when compared to what the iPhone 4 can achieve; there’s less noise and less color bleed evident. Aberrations such as fringing around the edges of the frame are cut right back, a benefit of that five-lens array.
So is the iPhone 4S a hit? Judging by the tone of these reviews, I’d say it definitely is. Almost all start out talking about the unrealistic expectations that observers had for the iPhone 5 ahead of launch, and then go on to explain why those expectations don’t matter, and why Apple has managed to hit one out of the park yet again. Bottom line: No matter which phone you’re upgrading from, you’re sure to find something that makes you feel good about the decision.