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




The iPhone 4S is the still the phone you’ve been used to holding if you previously carried an iPhone 4. The iPhone 4S shares the same stark and striking design of its predecessor — it is glass on the front and back with a stainless steel band holding it all together with two screws. It feels solid in your hand and oddly a bit heavy too, but not much or any more than the iPhone 4 did. It weighs only 4.94 ounces (140 grams).

It fits well in your hand. You can use it with your thumb while holding it in one hand. The screen size perfect for that. Sure Android users can boast about their big screens, but seriously you almost need two hands to work one of those — or seriously long fingers. Like Freddy Krueger’s claws or Edward Scissor Hands.

Design and Build Quality

One of the biggest knocks on the 4S is that it looks almost identical to the iPhone 4.

This is a good thing.

To paraphrase Sir Lancelot in Excalibur, the best iPhone has been bested. The iPhone 4 was the best iPhone to date. It’s as tough as nails, even though it’s made of glass. I’ve dropped my iPhone 4 multiple times, a couple of times on my bike. I watched in horror as it bounced across the pavement. But it’s got just a few nicks and a small crack near the camera. It’s one tough mother.

It’s also just the right size for one-handed use; it slips easily into a pocket; and cleans up nicely with some spit and rubbing on your pants. Everything is tough and durable — the buttons, the screen, the dock connector, the speakers and mic. Why mess with success?

The iPhone 4S is changed where it counts — inside.

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). Although these changes are great for antenna reception, it also means that many iPhone 4 cases won’t fit the iPhone 4S properly.

New Hardware Inside

The internal components of the iPhone 4S are completely different from the iPhone 4, starting with a powerful new A5 processor. The A5 is the same dual-core chip that makes the iPad 2 so much fun to use (but it’s running at about 800MHz, just a tad slower than the 1GHz clock speed of the iPad 2).

Credit: iFixit

Apple is mum about the subject, but the iPhone 4S is notably faster than the iPhone 4 in many ways. Launching apps, using the camera, rendering web pages all feel much faster.

The only thing I was disappointed about was that it has only 512MB of on-board memory for applications and not the 1GB that everyone, including me, was hoping for. On the storage side the addition of a 64GB model doubled the amount of available storage available on the iPhone 4, which shipped with a maximum capacity of 32GB.

Apple also claims that the A5 inside of the iPhone 4S delivers up to two times more power and up to seven times faster graphics than it’s predecessor. We haven’t yet tested these claims, but so far the games, apps, and other graphic intensive tasks I’ve thrown at the iPhone 4S look great. I could feel the difference between the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 immediately.

Antenna Design

The antenna is another big change you can be grateful for. According to word on the street last year’s “Antennagate” is a thing of the past. The iPhone 4S takes the new antenna design a step further by implementing a method of intelligently and instantly switching, in real-time, between the two new redesigned exterior antennas. This even works while there is a call in progress.

I tried gripping the phone several different ways and even wrapping it with both hands. In my office, which has sketchy reception, it never lost reception no matter how I held it. So maybe the “Your holding it wrong!” jokes are a thing of the past. We’ll see. As the iPhone 4S makes it into the hands of more users as each day passes, we’ll see if things are looking good in on the reception front.

Cellular Wireless Technology

Credit: iFixit

The cellular modem that supports wireless networking is a quadband UMTS / HSDPA / HSUPA (850, 900, 1,900, 2,100MHz) and quad-band GSM / EDGE (850, 900, 1,800, 1,900MHZ) device. It also offers a dual-band CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (900, 1,900MHz) at the same time. The iPhone 4S will support 3G data technology on practically every carrier globally. The AT&T model is allegedly the fastest (I’ve yet to test this, but I don’t doubt it) since it offers the closest thing to 4G — 14.4Mbs HSPA+ services.

AT&T would like to call this 4G and rumors state that they want the iPhone 4S to display that on its screen instead of 3G, but it doesn’t look like Apple is going to buy into that just yet. If you would like a good explanation of HSPA+ and when it is real 4G or not check out this article.

Bluetooth 4.0

The iPhone 4S uses Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology — a version of Bluetooth that is designed specifically for small, battery-powered devices. It needs almost no power to run. One example: the Nike+ running sensors for use with iPods and the iPhone. This technology is also included in the new MacBook Air released this past summer. Although this technology is new and not widely adopted, it is nice that Apple included it in the iPhone 4S. It can also wake up Siri.

Next: Screen, Battery and the awesome new Camera

  • 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