Apple iPhone 4S
$799 i(16GB); $899 (32GB); $999(64GB)
Danny Gorog, Macworld Australia contributor and one of the founders of Outware Mobile, is one of a handful of people around Australia to have had the opportunity to spend the last week with an iPhone 4S before its official launch this Friday. Here is Danny’s review of his experience with the latest iPhone.
The new A5 processor in the iPhone 4S is really fast. The jump from A4 to A5 reminds me what it was like in the old days when you’d get a new computer with a faster processor. You could literally feel the increased speed from the boot-up time to application start-up time.
The same goes for the A5 processor. Because Apple controls the entire experience the A5 chip just makes everything on the iPhone even smoother. Scrolling through lists has always been smooth on an iPhone but it’s even smoother and faster now as one example.
The optics and sensor in the iPhone 4S have been given a substantial upgrade. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say the camera quality is now as good as many dedicated point-and-shoot cameras – plus you have the convenience of having it with you in your phone at all times.
I’ll talk more about the picture quality in a moment, but one of the things I love about iOS 5 and iCloud is Photostream. It’s a feature that only Apple could get right.
In case you haven’t heard about Photostream, the way it works is simple: Take a photo on your iPhone and it’s automatically uploaded to iCloud where it remains for 30 days (or it keeps the last 1000 photos if you’re a compulsive snapper). The photo is automatically downloaded to all your other devices that support iCloud, but also gets downloaded permanently into your iPhoto library.
In reality that means that every photo you take with your iPhone is automatically backed up. Not such a big deal for me but I love knowing that when my wife takes photos of my kids those photos are safe regardless of what happens to her phone.
It’s hard to fault the quality of images that come from the iPhone 4S. According to Apple, ‘The custom lens uses five precision elements to shape incoming light, which makes the entire image sharper. The larger f/2.4 aperture lets in more light, so photos look brighter and better. And the advanced hybrid infrared filter keeps out harmful IR light, so you’ll see more accurate and uniform colours.’
I’m no professional but I’d agree that in my experience photos are brighter, sharper and have better colours.
Perhaps the feature of the 4S I was most excited to try out was Siri.
Before I begin with Siri I think there are a couple of important points that need to be made:
- Siri is still in ‘beta’ so it’s going to improve. It’s unusual for Apple to release Beta products in to mainstream but Google does it all the time so I think you’ve got to allow for some quirkiness.
- Natural Language and Artificial Intelligence are hard problems to solve.
- Practise makes perfect. If you didn’t know how to type it would take you more than a couple of days to become proficient at it. That’s exactly the approach you should take to using Siri.
You can, with a bit of practise, get Siri to reliably do stuff. What stuff? I’ve used Siri to send short messages to family and friends – things like ‘I’m running 5 minutes late’ or ‘I’ll be there soon,’ I’ve also used Siri to schedule reminders.
Combined with the new geo-fencing technology in iOS 5 you can say stuff like ‘Remind me to call Jim tomorrow’, and Siri will set a reminder and let you know about it when you get to work (as defined in your contact information). If Siri recognises the contact name she’ll even ask you which number you’d like to call.
In most cases Siri just works. In cases where it doesn’t you simply tap the small round button that makes Siri listen and start again.
You can also use Siri to answer questions. For example, ‘How high is Mt Everest?’, ‘What’s the exchange rate between the USD and AUD?’, ‘Will it rain tomorrow?’ etc. In most cases Siri returns with an answer from Wolfram Alpha.
In might be my accent but for some things Siri has trouble understanding me. When I say ‘Call Dad’ it always wants to call 13Cabs. So, I’ve learnt to say ‘Call Tom’ instead. That’s what I mean about learning, you’ve got to adapt to Siri, and she’s got to adapt to you.
Siri differs from third-party apps like Dragon Dictate in a couple of ways. First is the deep integration with iOS. When you tap and hold on the home button Siri emerges from the bottom of the screen. You can tap a little ‘i’ to learn all the things you can say to Siri. It’s worth taking the time to read this before you get started, and to keep coming back to it while you’re learning.
Secondly, Siri doesn’t just translate your voice to text but it interprets what you’re asking and gets context. So when you ask ‘Do I need an umbrella?’ Siri looks up the weather. You could also ask ‘Do I need a jacket tomorrow?’ and Siri will respond with ‘The low temperature will be eight degrees.’
Siri can also answer random questions for you, things like ‘How tall is Mt Everest?’, or ‘How many kilometres is 60 miles?’ Rather than read the answer to you Siri shows you answer on screen. Unfortunately, there’s no integration with other services like there is in the US, but I expect that’s coming soon.
I’ve shown my kids Siri and they also love it.
Now, when I do maths practise with my five-year-old son he asks me to check the answer with Siri. She always gets it right. My daughter likes to say ‘Good Night Siri’, and Siri always replies ‘Good Night’. From their perspective, Siri is like a real person that lives inside my phone.
With my developers hat on I’m super excited about the potential of hooking into Siri to make the experience of using apps we build even richer and more powerful for users. In terms of UI it doesn’t get much better than using voice. Lots of interfaces that can confuse and confront users can be removed if tasks can be requested by voice.
We can imagine apps like Snap Send Solve hooking into Siri so that users can report an incident to their local council by saying ‘Report what I’m looking at to my council’, with Siri doing all the heavy lifting in the background.
Also, remind yourself that this is year one for Siri. Think about how far we’ve come with the iPhone as a capable pocket-computer and now imagine where we might be in four years time. It’s super-exciting.
Other random tidbits I’ve noticed about iPhone 4S (in no particular order):
- The vibration feels different and more ‘forceful’ to the iPhone 4. Paired with the ability to set custom vibration patterns in iOS 5, it’s cool
- Call quality seems better. This may be due to the new antenna system in iPhone 4S.
- There’s no way to disable 3G like there is in the iPhone 4. So, when 3G’s not working you can’t drop back down to EDGE.
- iPhone 4S now supports Airplay to Apple TV 2 and it’s a bit freaky to be able to project your iPhone on to a big screen. This will be a killer feature for things like demoing apps to clients and giving presentations.
- The camera app starts up much faster than on previous models, and takes additional photos much more quickly as well.
- iPhone 4S has Bluetooth 4.0. I’m not sure what this means but in reality the new Jabra SPORT Bluetooth stereo headset that I’ve been using works more reliably now. Before I needed to make sure my iPhone was in my right pocket (to correspond with the right-hand speaker) to have uninterrupted streaming. With 4S it works well in my left pocket too.
- Siri requires an active network connection to work.
- Siri works a bit differently over Bluetooth. It will read you everything, including the messages you dictate.
- You can activate Siri by simply lifting your phone to your head.
- Voice recognition is now part of the keyboard. You can either tap the button and dictate, or hold the phone to your ear to dictate. Accuracy doesn’t seem as good as when using Siri but I’m not sure why.
- I haven’t tested battery life but it seems to be better than my iPhone 4