Should You Upgrade? The 411 on the iPhone 4S

Friday, the newest generation of the iPhone busted out in sparsely decorated Apple stores nationwide. You can probably see a line winding its way from an Apple store to where you’re standing. Last week, when Apple’s dapper new CEO Tim Cook took to the stage, we’d thought we had collectively dreamt the iPhone 5 into reality. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, and we were left with a lackluster announcement of the iPhone 4S, a modest update akin to the iPhone 3GS. Of course, Steve Jobs passed away at the age of 56 the following day, and we all mainly forgot about the iPhone as the web went into a weird grieving pattern that no amount of Shiny New Things could cure…at least not right away.

Like the iPhone 3GS before it, the iPhone 4S is a nominal upgrade; as the smartphone equivalent of keeping up withe the Joneses, Apple has decided to boost processing power and keep its camera on top while Android marches ever forward. It might not blow you out of the water, but in the true tradition of a great many iPhones before it, the iPhone 4S will be the best smartphone available on the market — for the average consumer at least. Android still offers more choice, and a vast breadth of customizable menus, options, and widgets, but with iOS 5 (available for the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and new generations of the iPod touch). And unlike the iPhone 4S, iOS 5 is definitely something to get excited about. Apple has snagged one of Android’s best features and rolled it up into its own Notification Center, killing incessant pop-ups once and for all.

iPhone 4S feature overview:
+ Improved camera sensor/bumped resolution
+ A5 processor, same as iPad 2 (gaming will see this improvement)
+ 1080p video capture
+ Sprint is a new iPhone carrier (and Sprint still offers truly unlimited data plans, unlike its competitors)

+/- Siri voice controls: This is another Android-esque update, one that is perhaps only interesting for Siri’s ability to parse extremely weird requests.

– No physical redesign (boring)
– It’s not the iPhone 5 (also boring)

Full feature list/tech specs from Apple.

iOS 5 goodies:

+ Notification center (It’s a drop-down shade at the top of the screen!)
+ iCloud syncing
+ Multitouch gestures (iPad 2 only)
+ Location-based reminders

Apple’s full iOS feature list

Should you buy an iPhone 4S if… 

  • You have an iPhone 4 and aren’t a hardcore mobile gamer/mobile photographer: Probably not – wait til next year.
  • You’ve got an aging 3GS: Sure! Why not?
  • You want to switch to Sprint for unlimited data: Yes, this makes sense depending on your ETF with your existing carrier.
  • You have a dumbphone and want a smartphone for the first time: Yes.
  • You have an Android phone and it irritates you because you just want a smartphone that is simple and works out of the box: Yes
  • You like a lot of customizability and love to tinker: No. Get an Android powerphone! Check out the super sexy Galaxy S II lineup and keep an eye out for next week’s Nexus Prime announcement.
  • You use iTunes for everything and maybe even had a MobileMe account: Yes
  • You just bought the iPhone 4: Probably not, unless a specific new feature is really important to you.
  • Your camera is your fave feature of your iPhone 4 and you have so many cats to take pictures of you just don’t know what to do: Yes.
  • You want to see how many profane things you can get Siri to say to you: Yes
  • You are terrified by Siri and know the singularity is nigh: No. Stick with your busted Nokia.
  • You are a power user/power bottom: No, get an Android.
  • You just have to be different: Join the single digit count of proud Windows Phone 7 owners!
  • Irony is important to you: Get a Jitterbug.
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Back in the day, Taylor Hatmaker was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle's tech sister site, Technostraddle, may it rest in peace. Now, Taylor writes about technology for ReadWrite.com and Entrepreneur Magazine. For Autostraddle, she writes essays, takes pictures of thing and draws comics on occasion too, if you ask real nice.

taylor has written 109 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Apple iPhone 4S (64GB, white, Verizon Wireless) – CNET | Trend Tycoon!

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    Another feature of iOS 5… Apple has drastically improved their Accessibility options for users with hearing, vision, mobility, and cognitive disabilities. Changes include the option to create custom vibrations (which is seriously addicting and fun to play with, by the way), an LED flash setting for all alerts, zoom, voiceover in 36 languages, black/white inversion, closed captioning, visual voicemail, assistive touch, improved predictive text technology, and (with the 4S) Siri.

    During our pre-launch day morning hype up/meeting, a coworker of mine told us about a friend of his who was so excited for iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S to launch, because these kinds of functions will give him the ability to spend a fraction of the time it normally would have. He texted him later yesterday morning simply saying it took 10 seconds rather than 10 minutes to send a text message.

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      If an individual has Parkinson’s, Graves Disease, Cerebral Palsy, or any other of a variety of other issues (as was the case in the anecdote I used as well as a handful of other Apple owners I have personally spoken with in the past couple days)… Sending a text might very well take ten minutes. The point I was making regarding the accessibility options is that Apple is making a sincere effort to make their products easier for everyone to use, including those with specific disabilities, diseases, or impairments.

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      update iTunes, then sync your phone. There were some problems fairly recently with contacts being wiped out, so beware of that, but otherwise you’ll be able to do it pretty easily.

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    It’s the funniest thing – we *just* went phone-shopping today. I went with the non-S iPhone 4 – partially because my parents weren’t keen on getting me anything too pricy unless I wanted to pay for it myself, but mostly because assorted discounts led to it only costing $50. Which is awesome.

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    now, now, no knocking the jitterbug. i mean, my phone is not a jitterbug, but the reviews for it online did describe it as “dumb phone” and “good for granny.” BUT, I can accidently drop it (aka fling it across a parking lot) and it survives!

  5. Pingback: iPhone 4S nabs Android switchers due to iOS 5, Siri, Sprint, Verizon – Beatweek Magazine | Android News

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      That’s why I use Virgin Mobile. I had Verizon on a contract once and by the end I wanted to find their headquarters and commit arson.

      Even when my service wasn’t working properly, there was nothing I could do. I had to jump through Verizon’s hoops: wipe my phone, send my phone in a get a new one, sit on the phone with them repeatedly, etc. and my problem was still never solved. I eventually just said “fuck it, I won’t be able to receive text messages for a while” and waited for my contract to end a couple months later.

      On Virgin Mobile, I pay half of what I paid on Verizon for double the minutes and data, basically. I get unlimited text messages, unlimited data and 1200 anytime minutes for $40 a month and I can drop down to their cheaper level or cancel whenever I want. Service is great, even in the crappiest parts of this state. Only drawback is they don’t get new phones as often or as quickly as the contract services and you don’t get the phones free (but over the life of the contract, you definitely spend less buying the phone upfront on Virgin Mobile and most their phones are in the $100 to $150 range. You can also buy a new phone whenever you want from wherever you want.)

      As far as I’m concerned, contract carriers can go fuck themselves. :)

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    Great article. Does Siri really work that well? I mean, Android has a pretty good voice command system. But, it’s just not that practical. The only time I’ve ever used it is while driving; I will dictate text messages. Mostly, I feel like a weirdo talking to a phone (not a person on the other end of a phone) and I consider navigating my phone a silent activity. A lot of people have talked about how cool Siri is — I guess saying “How many grams are in an ounce” is faster than typing it into Google yourself, but marginally. And if Siri messes up, it will take longer. My friends with thick southern accents say voice recognition stuff usually has trouble with their diction. I guess the main thing is… speech commands feel to me like video phones or The Clapper. (Clap on! Clap off!) Cool technology, but basically unnecessary. I think the most important things in a smartphone are the phone, the price/plan, reliability, features/available apps and personalization. For me, Android checks all those boxes. So to the question of an upgrade to iPhone 4S, unsurprisingly I vote “Why sell your soul to Apple when you can upgrade to Android, the world’s most popular smartphone OS?!” :)

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      Speech commands are the worst. But Siri isn’t powered by speech commands. With other voice command systems, they are just that. You have to input a very specific command in order to get other phones to do what you want. With Siri, you can say what you’re trying to do without the command prompt. Siri is meaning based rather than command based. It understands the meaning of what you’re saying and gives a response rather than relying on specific formulaic command codes. I feel like that’s confusing when written out, but it really is pretty cool. The other day Siri asked me if I would like it to remember that “M” is my girlfriend and added her into my information. Seriously.

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    I was buying jeans the other day and the woman helping me was talking about people waiting in line for iphones… “I bet they already have phones, they don’t even need a new phone. I guarantee they need new jeans.”

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    7x faster is more than a nominal upgrade. :) If these improved specs came out with a “5” on the end, things might sound different. I think people just aren’t all wowed because it’s the same on the outside.

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