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iPhone 4S Impressions

Compare hero iphone4s

TWO WEEKS AGO my new iPhone 4S arrived and I'm loving it. Here are some general impressions of the 4S hardware and iOS 5 software.


I'm in love with the physical hardware of the iPhone 4S. The blend of glass and metal are stylish, solid and feel great in my hand. I like the organic shape of my iPhone 3GS, but the hardware feels cheaper.

The iPhone's weight and heft feels substantial and luxurious, its metal buttons and switches are firm and work crisply. I've heard the iPhone 4/4S described as something Braun's Dieter Rams' would design — an apt description.

However, the glass front and back of the 4S seems more breakable and a little slippery, so I've kept the iPhone in a case since opening the box. With a curious 2 year old in my life, a protective case truly is a necessity.

I've chosen the Griffin Elan Form Graphite case, which I quite like the look and feel of, not to mention the 'curious 2 year old' protection features.

Retina Display

Coming from a standard 320x480 resolution screen, the Retina Display is simply beautiful. I can't imagine going back to a standard screen.


Again, compared to the iPhone 3GS, which was released in 2009, the iPhone 4S' A5 chip just flies. This might be less of a speed gain for an iPhone 4 user, but seems to confirm that the iPhone 4S is aimed squarely at people upgrading from old phones of all sorts — both smartphones and dumbphones.

Battery Life

I found the battery life great on the 4S, especially compared to the life of my old 3GS. While not as amazing as the iPad's 10 hours under heavy strain, going a complete day with battery life left in the tank is great for a device like this.

Some iPhone 4S owners are reporting terrible battery life. I found an article at Macworld by Christopher Breen that may help if you're having battery issues.


Apple's iOS 5 update has worked well on the iPhone 4S and worked well on the iPhone 3GS as well — though the speed is of course much better on the 4S.

Generally speaking, the update is subtle, with added features and new details added in a way that feels like a very natural improvement.

I'm making limited use of iCloud right now, choosing to sync and backup the iPhone to my Mac, while having preferences and other standard details synced up to iCloud. I'll need to review this as time goes on.

Graham Spencer wrote a very helpful article for MacStories on migrating/managing an iCloud account if you had been sharing a single .Mac account with a family before updating to iCloud and iOS 5.

Siri and Text Dictation

I was most skeptical about Siri when the 4S arrived, but I'm becoming a believer in this feature after 2 weeks of use. I have a 20-30 minute commute from home to work 3 days per week in which I won't text or make calls on the road.

Siri has allowed me to check my schedule on the way down to the office and then dictate texts to my wife before leaving work in the evenings — to pick up groceries or food on my way home.

I've just bought a Plantronics Marque M155 Bluetooth headset this week, and I'm excited to start using it to make full use of Siri during my commute time.

Text dictation overall seems stunningly accurate, which encourages me to make use of it when it makes sense.


The camera is amazing. Compared to the 3GS, well there is no comparison. While my Canon S95 shoots incredible photos, the lens in the 4S is quite close for a point and shoot. I'm most amazed at how bright the lens in the 4S is.

Harley toy

The video camera is also similarly amazing. I've only explored it briefly this past weekend, shooting some experimental HD footage at DrawCamp Milwaukee:

Video this good has me thinking about a little tripod and maybe a steady cam rig to start shooting more video with the iPhone 4S.

Here are a few more samples of iPhone 4S video — first a comparison of footage from a Canon 5D Mk II and iPhone 4S by Robine Films and second, is Framed, an artistic short story from Mael Sevestre shot completely on a 4S:

iPhone 4S / Canon 5d MKII Side by Side Comparison:


Overall Impressions

The iPhone 4S is a very solid, elegant device. The integration of software and hardware make it a wonderful machine that suits my needs perfectly.

Reader Comments (5)

Mike, I'm glad to hear such positive impressions of the 4S after Mike Elgan slammed it earlier this week. Because you mentioned that you're a former 3GS user, I have a question for you:

At the time OS 4 came out, there were lots of stories flying around about how badly it deteriorated the performance of the 3GS - in some cases, rendering it almost unusable. That has scared me off from doing any OS upgrades to my 3GS. I'm still on OS3.xx. Is it safe to make the upgrade to OS4 or 5? Did you encounter any issues when you did so?

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Frey

Yep, I'm impressed and think Mike Elgan is off base and probably seeking page views more than anything.

I've always kept with the latest OS updates and have had no major issues on the 3GS. It seemed to run at about the same efficiency as 4. I think Apple is generally pretty good about tweaking for all devices in their update patches.

OS 4 did seem to use more resources than 3 and I suspect 5 would as well. If you're holding out for a new device entirely, I'd say leave it at 3, and go to the new device. The upgrade process from 3-5 might be tedious - unless there are features you really, really want in 5.

October 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

Mike, I'd be interested to read a post about your new Kindle!

November 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim Eichholz

really nice review.
i'm just waiting for iphone5.
anyway Thanks for this :)

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTenman

You're welcome!

November 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

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