Thanks To Siri, The iPhone 4S Is A Serious Upgrade [CultofMac’s Big Fat Mega Review]



The big question about the iPhone 4S is whether it’s worth the upgrade.

The answer is yes, and that’s because of Siri, the talking personal assistant.

Siri is unbelievable; a paradigm shift. It’s new way of interacting with computers that’s as big a breakthrough as the original Macintosh with its mouse, windows and icons. In fact, it’s bigger. It’s a much more natural way to interact with machines. It’s a glimpse of the future of computing.

Like the first Mac, it’s far from perfect. We’re at the very beginning of this revolution. But if you want to join the party, you need the 4S.

The Magic of Siri

Siri is a blast. I’ve had a ton of fun messing around with it, running it through this list of commands.

Some of the stuff it can understand and do is astonishing. Siri did all this, first time, with few errors:

  • Set up a meeting at 9.30 on Monday with John Brownlee.
  • My daughter is Nadine. Siri added this info to my Address Book.
  • Call my daughter’s cell phone.
  • What does the rest of my day look like? Siri returned a list of appointments and scheduled phone calls.
  • Wake me up tomorrow at 8am.
  • Change my 8am alarm to 8:15.
  • What time is it in Tokyo?
  • What’s the date next Wednesday?
  • Set a timer for 45 minutes.
  • Mail Traci about dinner and say I’ll pick her up at 7.30.
  • Get directions to my 666 Grove Street. This is where I encountered my first glitch: I had to repeat the address a couple of times.
  • Find sushi joints in Bernal Heights. Siri returned a list of four or five sushi restaurants.
  • Send a text to Traci on her mobile saying dinner is at 7.
  • Play Lippy Kids.
  • Pause.
  • Skip.
  • Note: get a new hose or hose repair kit.
  • Reminder: take my coat when I leave home. (I ran up the block to make sure the Reminder triggered when I left home. It did.)
  • What’s the forecast for this weekend?
  • Who is Mike Elgan?
  • How many calories in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? (920!)
  • Search the best brownie recipe.

Maybe this seems trivial, but I was amazed. I laughed with delight when it recognized phrases (even with my British accent) and shook my head in disbelief when it followed complex commands. This isn’t voice recognition, it’s real AI.

To wake up Siri, you hold down the Home button and begin talking. Or you can lift the 4S up to your ear, and the accelerometers trigger the system. I prefer holding the Home button so I can see what Siri’s up to.

Apple says Siri learns as you use it, but I did a bit of prep work. I told it my spouse, home and work addresses, and made sure birthdays were noted in my calendar.

Siri works with most of the built-in apps: iCal, Address Book, Maps and so on. Here’s the list. It can set alarms, calendar dates, or remind you to pick up milk when you get to work.

From now on, there’s no way I’m tapping the screen to perform these tasks. I can see instantly that it will transform the way I interact with calendars, reminders, and send texts and emails.

It’s not perfect. Far from it. Trying to tell it my son’s birthday, it couldn’t recognize his name. I tried it over and over. I was soon swearing at it. It fluffed plenty of other things too.

I resorted to entering the data manually. No big deal, but it shows a big shortcoming. Unless Siri works well, really well, it won’t take off. No one’s going to work hard at changing their habits. Who’s going to use it if it doesn’t work?

Our own Mike Elgan noticed a couple of interesting things. You can ask Siri to call you anything you want: “Siri, I want you to call me Sugar Buns.” From that point on, that’s what it’ll call you.

There are some strange limitations: Siri can’t open, read or delete email. When Elgan asked Siri why this is, it said: “I don’t know. I’ve wondered that myself.”

Siri works with hands-free in the car. I played and paused music, sent a text to my wife, initiated a phone call. I didn’t try it while driving, so I can’t say if cabin noise affects the system.

I did try it while sitting in front of the stereo. It didn’t understand a word. It won’t work well in noisy environments.

It may soon work with a wider range off apps — and be able to converse and reason. I’ll have a story about this shortly.

Maybe the novelty will wear off. It can be slow and ponderous. It doesn’t work without a network connection. It’s crippled in countries outside the U.S. And Siri works only on the iPhone 4S: it needs the faster hardware, Apple says.

For now, Siri is like the Mac in 1984. It shows incredible promise, but it’s a work in progress. When the Mac first appeared, Douglas Adams noted that people loved the idea but not the actual machine, which was underpowered and slow.

Siri is like that today. It can be slow and wrong and sometimes frustrating but the idea of Siri is extremely powerful.

Who knows how long it will take, maybe decades, but it’s clear we’re entering the Star Trek era when we’ll be talking to computers and smartphones instead of tapping on screens or keyboards.

Next: Design, Guts and Antenna

  • Vlad

    “I don’t know. I’ve wondered that myself.” Looks like it actually can think =)

  • VGISoftware

    Computers don’t think. Never have. Never will.

    Real thinking is a quality of life–not a quality of machines.

    What may confuse this matter is that some people don’t know how to think other than like what machines do, which is merely to REACT to outside stimuli.

    Machines will never be able to ORIGINATE thought or action without external stimuli–because there is no LIFE in them.

  • David Keith Riddick

    @ Daniel. I think that you are dead wrong about that. Think about the quantum leap in tech that we have experienced in these past years. It may take time, but machines WILL be able to generate thought. Siri is the first step in that direction. Stellar review.

  • takeo

    Never will? Don’t say that.
    It’s just most unlikely that we will ever see/experience it in our lifetime.

  • Krewds

    Nice post but Siri is useless in Australia! 

    I tired it this morning at one of our music store (JB HI-Fi) and the places to eat didn’t work, directions wasn’t available in Australia. 

    I’ll wait until it comes out of Beta till i upgrade.  

  • Ivan

    Maybe Chinese can use it to practise the english-speaking.Practise makes perfect

  • prof_peabody

    Thought is a by product of consciousness so at minimum, a machine would have to be self-aware/conscious.  

    No machine, even so-called “AI” computers, have ever even *tried* to replicate consciousness (they work through pattern recognition or  machine learning instead).  

    Despite millennia of pondering the problem, no one really knows why or what consciousness is, or how it comes about.  

    So … never say never, but … if a “thinking machine” is the goal, we haven’t even got to the point of proving that such a thing is even theoretically possible, let alone started to figure out how to make one.

  • prof_peabody

    nitpickers alert

    “The controls, metal frame, and glass exterior are practically the same as the iPhone 4 with a few minor differences. The button for ring/silent has been moved slightly (It has the same exterior antenna configuration as the Verizon version of the iPhone 4).”  

    should be:

    “The controls, metal frame, and glass exterior are practically the same as the iPhone 4 with two minor differences. The button for ring/silent has been moved slightly and it has the same exterior antenna configuration as the Verizon version of the iPhone 4.”

  • Shameer Mulji

    you just answered your own concerns.  It’s in BETA.  Right now Siri only works in like 3 or 4 countries.  Apple has stated on their website they will roll out to more countries & languages starting some time next year.

  • takeo

    I’m not saying you’re not right. But it’s like saying there will never be a man on the Mars,…. like 100 years ago.
    Things change and I give it a few thousand years and then we have something like intelligence that “thinks” and isn’t human or natural.

  • hozo1

    I am so there with you …this is MAJOR … no more typing, no more auto-correct and can read texts threw my car bluetooth … amazing stuff

  • Alfiejr

    all you tech reviewers must not bother much with snapshots/vids, working with them in iPhoto/iMovie afterwards. since you all have missed the huge camera software improvement that is evident in all the sample pix/vids that are being posted:

    The auto exposure software is varying the exposure levels in real time for the darker/lighter areas in the field of the image you capture. so both areas are exposed properly, instead of either bright areas being overexposed or shadowed areas can make these adjustments to an existing image file now in iPhoto separately (the Highlights and Shadows sliders in the Adjust submenu), and it can make a big difference in improving pix you have taken. but the 4S software obviously is doing both adjustments at the moment you take the pix automatically. it Just Works. same with video!

    no question incorporating this iPhoto technology has been made possible by the huge boost in graphic processing power in the A5 chip.

    this is a really big deal for casual users. dark/light exposure conflicts where lighting conditions are complicated, including backlight, sun/shadow in same frame, etc., are one of the top reasons for badly flawed pix/vids.

    i don’t know if any competing smartphone cameras can do this too. but i doubt it …?

  • liveinabin

    Until you have a full understanding of what ‘life’ actually is, it’s impossible to say whether a machine will properly think or not.

  • mechachrist

    anyone else having battery issues with their 4S? My iphone 4 was normaly at 50% by 8pm and right now its 4pm and my 4S is at 34%.  This concerns me…

  • AleGlad

    A key step forward would be the advances in quantum computing. The current failure in producing “thinking” machines is that they are binary. As for pattern recognition, you do realize that this is exactly what we do, don’t you? The difference is that we work on yes/no/maybe not yes/no. Take a look into some of the advances in quantum computing that give us a chance to develop this understanding. We aren’t completely clueless, but we do have a lot to learn.

  • Andres Oliver

    But hey, why Siri doesn’t know who Steve Jobs is?? 

  • Hey

    it’s “practice”.

  • Allan Cook

    And I bet Siri knows you meant to write “through,” too. 

  • Techy8789

    Siri > iPad

  • danwarne

    Those iPhone 4 photo examples are way worse than they should be — suggesting your lens cover on the iPhone 4 is significantly scuffed or dirty.

  • jp

    actually, the noun is practice, and the verb is practise.  Americans couldn’t spell, so they decided to “change” spelling in order to become better in grammar.  

  • markevans5

    I had a similar experience. My phoned died completely by 6:30 pm. I took it off the charger with a full charge at 7am.

  • John Lehmkuhl

    Yea, battery life is not as long as I was expecting….

  • John Lehmkuhl

    Yea, battery life is not as long as I was expecting….

  • FailGif

    Siri is definitely useful, and fun!

    I find myself adding reminders for very minor things because it is so convenient…

  • Vicente

    Didn’t iOS4 have battery complaints?  Maybe this is just an iOS issue that will be fixed with next update.

  • Manuel Viramontes

    Leander- I was one of the original persons who bashed on the 4S for not being what everyone had hoped for. But immediately reading your post pushed me to buy the iPhone. So now I’m waiting on a brand new shiny iPhone 4S 16gb white by Sprint! Thnx Leander for the post!! 

  • Robert Norris Hills

    rolf – “The begining of it’s revolution” 

    No. Idiot. Go check out voice controls for the s2…..

  • Aj Tk427

    agreed, those look terrible and I’d question the iPhone 4 camera.  Yes the 4S is better, but my 3G takes better pics than those iPhone 4 pics they posted.

  • Allan Cook

    And it’s “its” in this case. Really, “The beginning of it is revolution”?

  • Allan Cook

    The idea of SIri may very well be “extremely powerful,” but the reality of it is that it is a beta app that only works on a wi-fi network. If that is the best reason to upgrade from the iPhone 4, I’m going to wait. 

  • GQB

    No, it works on 3G just fine.

  • Morituri Max

    rolf or rofl?

  • Morituri Max

    Mophie juice pack air for the 4s when they release it (if they need to make a different one to fit the 4s)..

  • Jonathan Beadle

    Why can’t people get Jonathan Ive’s name right? It’s Jonathan Ive. There is no ‘s’ at the end of Ive. I’d expect better from Cult of Mac.

  • snookasnoo

    Voice control on Android is a pale comparison to Siri because it only recognizes a few keywords and does not work across the OS and apps as Siri does.
    Android kids are funny.

  • Josh

    I believe Siri is using the proximatey sensor not the accelerometer.

  • Carterh63

    Lets not be a grammar gremlin. 

  • Clamdigger 63

    1 – Get a pig
    2 – Put lipstick on it
    3 – Pass it off as a completely new type of pig
    And away you go…

  • Clamdigger 63

    Jonathan Beadle you are a complete asswhole with an w added in for good measure

  • Allan Cook

    That’s “let’s” not be a grammar gremlin.

  • TylerHoj

    Actually, take a pig. 
    Take out it’s guts and replace it with a horse.
    Call it a horse. 
    Ride it into the Sprint store and buy an iPhone 4S. 
    Suck it up. 

  • TylerHoj

    I was SO wanting to buy an iPhone 4S. But Siri sucks in Canada and Apple isn’t updating its international usage until 2012. So, I’ll wait until iPad 3 in the spring and go buy both I guess, hopefully a redesigned MacBook Pro round that time too! :) 

  • kentonecloude

    Watch It  Here iGenius: How Steve Jobs Changed The World  In Megavideo Live Streaming for Free:

  • Gojo

    While the other one of us would be a sucker. Is that was the S stands for?
    Think your horse is probably lame.

  • Clamdigger 63

    Talk about someone with more money that sense. Do you want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge while you are at it.

  • Clamdigger 63

    Mr Cook you are one horse’s rear end. Have you elected yourself to go around and point out everyone’s grammatical errors? Get a life.

  • Grandma-tical Errors

    You iSheep make me laugh. You spend 80% of the time finding faults in each others grammar.

  • Mr Peas a dull arse

    Your one person who loves himself Professor Peabrain. If you head was any bigger it would explode. Talk about a person who loves the sound of his own voice.

  • Chris Killen

    Fucking Seabiscuit. 

  • Chris Killen

    That’s “let’s,” not Be an grammar Gremlin.

  • Chris Killen

    It’s actually “Are you for sirious?” 

  • Chris Killen

    SIRI KILLED STEVE!!!! This is like that movie Eagle Eye. 

  • mechachrist

    Yeah, I’ve been keeping track of how rapidly the battery depletes and it went from 37% to 18% in less than an hour.  After a lot of hassle with the radio shack from which I bought the phone, I have to ship it to apple and am getting a replacement within a week or two.  This is what sucks about getting the phone on launch day :-/ 

  • Mafo5000


  • Matt Morris

    I got to test the macbook and keep it for free at

  • Immel

    The camera looks nice and Siri sounds fun, but I’ll probably keep my 4 until the 5S comes out.

  • McMegan

    Oh my god when is the iPhone going to make it easier to turn on Bluetooth? It’s about 7 touches to initiate something that’s supposed to be hands free! Please let Siri do that in the next upgrade!

  • poppa1138

    there a couple of similar personal assistants on Android market,TalkToiT and Vlingo, not as polished in performance as Siri, also will Siri be as good with non American accents?

  • Steve

    Maybe it’s iOS 5? My iPhone 4 also looses battery power faster since the update.

  • Jimmy Pickle

    It’s “you’re” not “your” pal. Get it right.

  • joewaylo

    Siri is affected by background noise by the way. I went to Apple in a far away mall to play with it. The crowd was so loud, I had to repeat my instruction four times at least of many examples like “Search for pet stores” and after four or five times it found pet stores.

    But the crowd like I said was very loud it’s like being at a football game and the crowd roars when your team hits a touchdown. If you try to voice a touchdown, you won’t get it very well.

  • TylerHoj

    I have more money than sense? Why because I’m saving for iPhone 4S and tax time is in the spring…aka, extra money. It doesn’t take a rocked scientist to figure out expenses. 

  • professores365

    Imagine Siri in Ipad and on the macs,its going to be awesome!

  • Carterh63

    Let’s not be a plain dick.

  • Clamdigger 63

    Is this a forum about Apple computers or English grammar lessons courtesy of a$$holes.

  • jauhari

    Maybe you are right iFixIt has been show up that battery on iPhone 4S much bigger… but this didn’t mean that iPhone 4S much good on real tester.

    iLounge has been tested and here is the results… on this test said that iPhone 4 is better than iPhone 4S battery usage….

  • teretererete

    Hahaha, check this video definition for Siri for Japanese People… This I think is the biggest problem with Siri. It’s too frustrating if it does not understand me.

  • teretererete