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Savvy Duck Reviews: iPhone 4S


Apple has become one of the world's most successfull compaies, due in no small part to the success of the iPhone. The latest version of the device, the iPhone 4S, includes Apple's dual-core A5 processor, a transciever that can be used worldwide, the voice-activated assistant called Siri, and fixes to the antenna issues that plagued the iPhone 4. However, the cost is hefty: $200 to $400 with a two-year contract. You can get a cheap computer for this price if you do some digging! Read on to determine for yourself whether this advanced device is truly worth the expense.

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Resolution
Features

The features of the iPhone 4S are improved over the iPhone 4, but in some cases, only slightly.
Appearance and First Impressions

The iPhone 4S has an almost identical industrial design to the iPhone 4, but I am glad Apple kept the design for another revision; it is slick, clean, and just looks all around snappy. I must make clear in this section that I upgraded to the 4S from the older 3GS model, so my experience may differ from someone upgrading from a 4, but my first impression while using the 4S is that it is FAST. My higher-powered games that had previously been choppy are now smooth as silk, but the most noticable improvement to me was the camera speed. I can take a picture within two seconds of opening the camera (as opposed to 5+ on the 3GS), and I can take subsuquent pictures almost immediately thereafter. Backgrounding is no longer the problem it once was; my apps switch almost immediately and resume where they left off without a significant delay. Color me impressed. I have posted an unboxing video to give you a first impression.


Voice and Data

I am still evaluating the voice quality on the 4S. I have had a few questionable experiences when talking on the device, and they are frequent enough that I am still trying to decide whether the problem is with the phone or other factors such as network or location. Most notably, when I am talking as I am riding in a car, the phone tends to cut out briefly now and then, probably when switching towers During these times, the audio quality tens to be particularly low. This isn't an antenna problem because I keep the phone in a case, but this also is not a problem on the other end of the line since it seems to be related to my position and physical speed. I will withhold judgement for now, but I may update this review later with more information.
Speaking of the antenna, when the phone is out of its case, I have had no signal issues no matter how I hold it. I haven't even gotten the signal to reliably drop when I cover the entire antenna with both hands. The new dual-antenna system seems to be an extremely good solution to the signal issues that plagued the iPhone 4.
As for the data quality, I have no issues with it whatsoever. The data is extremely fast, especially when it switches to the faster HSPA+ network, and it seems to switch very smoothly between various networks and WIFI, which is blasing fast on this device. Good experiences all around.


Siri's Interface
Siri

The much-touted new feature on the 4S is Siri, the voice recognition software that is included with the device. Siri has two modes; one mode where you hold down the home button and give it commands or make requests for information, and another mode where you can tap a microphone in any text entry field and tell it what to type. I find that the command entry mode works extremely well considering the difficulties involved. I find that using the voice interface to play a song, set an alarm, or look up weather in my natural speech patterns is much quicker and easier using Siri than it is to find and tap on the right app in the home screen and then manipulate the settings manually. In fact, since becoming used to Siri, I have not used the clock or weather apps at all.
With that said, I have had a lot of difficulty using Siri to write notes, set reminders, or for voice entry into text fields. Basically anything that requires Siri to interpret freeform, non-command speech seems to give it a little trouble, especially if there's background noise such as a busy room or the hum of a moving car. However, it is a relatively new technology and I'm sure it will be improved in the future.
One aspect that I have enjoyed and must mention is the number of 'easter eggs' hidden in Siri's interface. Ask it what its favorite color is, how much wood a woodchuck can chuck, or to open the pod bay doors and it comes back with amusing, often snarky answers. I'm glad that the good folks at Apple still have a sense of humor.
On the flip side, one aspect of Siri that I do not prefer is its reliance on Apple's servers to interpret speech. Not only does this make Siri useless in areas of weak to no cell signal, but I have encountered at least two occasions in the week that I have been fiddling with Siri where the servers were simply unavailable, despite a strong internet connection. I prefer functionality to be on a local device rather than to be shipped out over the internet, but I understand that the processing constraints involved in speech recognition on this level makes local interpretation computationally prohibitive for now.


Reminders List
Reminders

Reminders is a relatively simple app released with iOS5 on the new iPhone. It allows the scheduling of timed reminders for anything you want to type in, but even more interestingly, it allows the greation of location-based reminders. For example, if you want to remind yourself to pick up milk when you leave home, Reminders will monitor your location and wait for you to leave the vicinityt of your home to pop up the reminder. Due to the factthat I'm extremely forgetful, I have found this to be an exceedingly useful feature, and it has already come in handy several times.

Conclusion

I am very impressed by the iPhone 4S. It is an extremely advanced device on the bleeding edge of what is possible for a handheld computer. However, if you have the iPhone 4, I don't think it is necessarily a big enough leap to justify the cost of upgrading. It is faster and has Siri and an improved camera, but unless you need to have the best of the best, these features may not justify the cost. On the other hand, if you're stuck with the 3GS like I was or are still looking to get into the smartphone market, I would highly recommend this device.


iPhone 4S
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