Notes on iPhone 4S

The iPhone 4S had, as usual, already been reviewed to death even before it launched to the public, let alone now. But since I acquired a work-related iPhone 4S on launch day, I thought I might as well jot down some points that I personally found worthwhile mentioning.

Physically the phone is, of course, identical to iPhone 4. Not much more to say about it. I always liked the design, brittle though as it is, and build quality is top-notch. The screen is still great, and I for one do not want a bigger screen if it means a bigger form factor – I find devices with a 4.5″ screen are too big for my taste.

The camera was one of the biggest reasons I was looking forward to the 4S. I take a lot of photos, though mainly still with my DSLR – however, the best camera is the one you always have with you and so the camera on my phone matters. On one trip, I actually carried a Nokia N8 just as a my point-and-shoot camera as I didn’t want to take along a DSLR but didn’t want to rely on the iPhone either. Since the N8 is considered to have the best camera in any mobile device, I took some comparative photos with my “old” iPhone 4, the new iPhone 4S and the Nokia N8.

First, a small version of a scenery and a close-up taken with the three phones. You can click the image to get the original-sized pictures of all six (it’s a 16MB image and note the images are in different order in the big one):

Below is a 1:1 non-resized crop of the above; i.e. all images below are at the native resolution, 1 pixel here representing 1 pixel from the image file:

As you can see, the exposure and white balance varies quite a bit among the three devices. The 4S seems to do a better job at shot exposure than the 4, with the N8 probably being the closest to truth in terms of white balance. The Nokia N8’s 12MP seem to be a bit of an overkill, with the 1:1 cuts showing distinctly “softer” pixels than either iPhone.

Overall, the camera on the iPhone 4S is pretty good and will work well as a P&S replacement. Even though the N8 is probably still better, it’s not better by a very big margin – as such, I will leave it home from now on. The much-improved camera startup time is also a welcome thing.

I have not done any comparative low-light testing yet; I find even the good “real” P&S cameras suck at low light, so I have not attempted to do any serious low-light photography without my DSLR. I doubt this will change with the 4S.

Biggest surprise

The biggest positive surprise was Siri. The natural-language speech recognition-driven assistant actually works well – much better than I expected and definitely well enough to be very useful. It’s cool, convenient and a big time saver, too. For example, setting a timer (I timed these :)) took me 7.5 seconds on my lock-enforced iPhone 4 and just 4.5 seconds with Siri’s help on the 4S.

Disappointingly, it cannot look up services, locate maps or give directions in Australia yet – lack of restaurant info in Australia I can understand since Siri so far relies only on Yelp, but I can’t figure out why it doesn’t do directions.. It helps to have a good network to run the phone on when using Siri as the speech recognition is a server-assisted process. Oh, also: do not even attempt to have Siri read Finnish text to you :)

I wish the speech synthesis would improve (it’s pretty robotic as it stands), that it would be integrated with more services, that it would still improve the recognition accuracy (it’s very good, but not perfect) etc etc – but the bottom line is that it’s very useful as it is and will likely only become more so. I still remember when some 14 years ago, I & a friend were testing the then-state-of-the-art speech recognition system with the phrase “testing speech recognition” – and the result was “the whole world had nothing to eat“. Back then I thought the technology is maybe not quite ready for prime time yet, but now? Now I’d say it is.

Other improvements

Naturally there are many other improvements as well; one thing that had bugged me for two years is now solved – the calendar works in landscape mode and has a sort of a week-view that works very well. More speed across the board is always welcome, from in-device to network connectivity. With regards to network-connectivity, HSPA+ seems to work; testing just now, I got 89ms RTT, 8.75Mbps downlink and 1.1Mbps uplink – not too bad (naturally YMMV here depending on your network).

In conclusion, I’m quite happy with the 4S. So no star-rankings here, spec or performance comparisons or that other typical stuff, but if the user is happy that’s all that matters, right?

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