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Full Review

The iPhone has been a massive success despite its obvious flaws (think no Flash support; mediocre camera; lack of customisation) and Apple manages to get away with releasing phones at a very slow rate compared with other manufacturers, so we’ve been waiting a long time for what we all thought would be the iPhone 5, but in reality turned out to be the iPhone 4S.

So what is it we’ve all been waiting for? Well, the big news is the new operating system, iOS 5, a faster processor and some new apps – and yet, while this might make us scoff at another phone maker’s efforts, once you unwrap your beautiful shiny new iPhone, there’s something that sucks you in. Yes, it looks pretty much like the last handset release but it still manages to woo the user.

Deja Vu

Anyone who is already the proud owner of an iPhone 4 won’t really need to read the forthcoming description of the iPhone 4S, because little has changed. It’s the same size and weight (140g and 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm). In fact it’s one of the less weighty smarties on the market, but the fact that it is constructed from glass and metal makes it feel far more solid and classy than the slimmer Samsung Galaxy S II with its plastic body.

The circle-shaped volume buttons and silver edging are just as they were on the iPhone 4, although the ‘+’ button now also acts as a snapper shutter, and it has the same excellent Retina display, which still measures 3.5 inches and offers a resolution of 640 x 960.

If you looked away earlier, start reading now, because here’s where the changes begin… The chip under the hood is the same ARM-Cortex A9 dual-core 1GHz model that runs the iPad 2 and there is also a new improved graphics processor which, claims Apple, is seven times faster than the previous version There’s 512Mb of RAM onboard, which means that there is virtually no lag in performance. Battery life is also improved. It’s a slightly bigger 1432mAh battery that will take you right through the day – but beware that GPS can be a power drainer.

Picture perfect?

The camera is also out to impress. It has an eight-megapixel lens, as well as an LED flash, and with an f/2.4 aperture it should be better at taking images in low light. You can grab video at 1080p and 30fps.

Low light images on the iPhone 4 were overexposed and subject to a yellow cast, but the larger aperture on the iPhone 4S has rectified this to some extent, although we still found that dim areas were far darker than we would have liked.

Apple has kindly provided you with visible grid lines, that help the user to line up the centre of focus, and there’s now an ‘Edit’ mode that lets you get rid of red-eye, auto-enhance and crop. It’s not a great selection when you compare it with the offerings of the Samsung Galaxy S II or Nokia N8, for instance, but still, they work really well – and anyone looking for a load of filters for their photographic exploits can download all kinds of apps from the App Store to help out.

Once you’ve taken your photos, it is possible to share them via text, email or Twitter – if you want to send them to the likes of Whatsapp or Facebook, you’ll have to actually go into the app and choose to send an image from there. You only get a measly 5GB free on iCloud, so if you want to save your photos, a nifty way to do it is by choosing to have them automatically saved to Photo Stream – this wirelessly sends all your pictures to your iOS 5 devices.

When it comes to moving pictures, you’ll find recording in 1080p video speedy and smooth – and the resulting movies look amazingly sharp on the Retina screen. If you just take the odd bit of video, the iPhone 4S will happily stand in for a dedicated camcorder. However, if you want more in the way of editing facilities, or take a lot of video at night, you’ll want a standalone device. 

iOS 5

As we said at the top of this review, the big changes really come with the new operating system, iOS 5. At first glance it may not appear that altered – you’ll see the same icon-based screens that offer a minimum level of customisation – but you’ll also see there’s now a notifications bar. This brings it in line with the likes of Android and Blackberry handsets. Swipe down from the top of the screen and you’ll be rewarded with a notifications menu, where you’ll see reminders, social alerts, messages and calendar appointments. It also is home to stock update and weather widgets (not something you’ll see on Android and Blackberry devices). If you decide you don’t want all of the notifications, you can alter this in the Settings menu.

In the Cloud

One of the major achievements of iOS 5 is that you no longer have to have a computer to sync and download – you still have to have an iTunes account to activate your iPhone – but you can simply sync and connect over Wi-Fi.

Using iCloud, you’ll find any device that is linked with your iTunes account will sync with books, apps, calendar contacts, music and email – which means you can access your content from any phone or computer with iCloud access. It’s a shame that you only get 5GB of free storage, especially when Windows Phone 7 offers 25Gb on its SkyDrive – and Google has an unlimited amount of storage available. If you want to keep more than the 5GB, you’ll be subject to a yearly fee – and as the iPhone 4S comes in 16, 32 and a new 64GB model, that is highly likely.

Web browsing

Twitter is integrated everywhere – it is possible to sync contacts to your phonebook as well as share photos, videos and weblinks. This is still not available with Facebook (although it is on other phones).

More improvements are apparent with the Safari browser, which now has a Reading List option – which lets you save a webpage and read it later either on your phone or on other devices – and tabbed browsing.

Free messaging

BlackBerry devices are really popular with young users because of their ability to provide free messaging with the Messenger service. And iOS 5 brings that facility to the iPhone 4S – and indeed any iPad or iPhone 3GS/4running iOS 5. How to tell the difference between an iMessage and a regular text? The chat bubble pops up blue rather than green – it will be useful if you’re on holiday abroad and don’t want to pay roaming text fees. It also shows you when the other person is typing……

In the same way as BBM, you can pick up the same iMessage conversation using any iOS 5 device linked to your account – useful for iPad owners. 

Your own PA Siri

Also new to the iPhone 4S is the voice recognition app Siri, a ‘digital personal assistant’. Siri comes in two flavours – an American female or British male voice – and allows you to control your new Apple device using voice commands. Siri is good at understanding and we asked her "can you wake me up every day at 6am?" and also "wake me up in one hour". To activate Siri you can simply hold the device to your ear – or hold down the home button. This works even if you have the display locked. We found Siri worked impressively – recognising most words and if there were no command related to them she would suggest a web search instead. They’ve obviously has a lot of fun with Siri and there are loads of Easter Eggs hidden away – try asking for a story, for instance.

Siri can help out with decisions, place recommendations and information – but Siri is not set up to deal with searching UK businesses as yet.

Whether voice control is really needed on a mobile is a moot point at the moment – although we can’t see it being anything but helpful for the visually impaired phone user. We found Siri accurate when making calls and launching apps but a bit hit and miss when we tried to dictate emails and texts. There are other accessibility features such as larger fonts and voice-over for text screens.

Siri is a 4S feature rather than an iOS 5 feature, so may well be the incentive for anyone who is visually impaired to splash out on the new phone.


Our conclusion

While it’s not the ‘whole new phone’ that we might have been expecting from the iPhone 5, the upgrades to the iPhone 4S mean that it offers pretty much everything that you’ll find on other high-end smartphones. Siri is a boon for the visually impaired, and other users will enjoy using it too; the notifications bar brings it in line with Android and BlackBerry handsets, and the eight-megapixel snapper is worth a punt if you’re due to upgrade your phone anyway.

It still has the same old iPhone issues – no Flash support, and lack of customisation. And some of its new features come with caveats – iMessage is great but is more useful if you use it on your iPad, iCloud is a good backup service but becomes pricey with only 5GB available for free; and transferring media can only be done via iTunes – which is desperately in need of an update. Oh – and why is there Twitter integration, but none for Facebook?

The iPhone 4S, like all the iPhones before it, is built to please but the real star of the show is iOS 5 and you might be just as happy using that on your old iPhone.



Type of phone:



candy bar


115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm




16 million colours




Eight megapixels

Special Camera features:

LED flash, auto focus

Video recording:


Video playback:


Video calling:


Video streaming:


3.5mm jack port:


Handsfree speakerphone:


Voice Control:


Voice Dialling:


Call records:

Practically unlimited


Practically unlimited

Ringtones customization:


Display description:







White, black

Standard color:


Launch Status:






Operating system:



Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Announced date:

October 2011

What's in the Box:




International launch date:

October 2011

Battery life when playing multimedia:



Dual-core 1GHz

FM Radio Description:


Internal memory:

16, 32 or 64GB

Memory Card Slot:



SMS, Email, IM, MMS

Internet Browser:


E-mail client:

IMAP4, Push email, POP3, Attachments, SMTP







Data speed:





480 minutes


200 hours

Display size:

3.5 inches



Audio recording:



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