iPhone 4S Meta-Review: It's the Same, But Like Better

Illustration for article titled iPhone 4S Meta-Review: It's the Same, But Like Better

The first reviews are out for the iPhone 4S and they're a lot like we expected, which is to say, exactly what we expected: the same phone on the outside but much better on the inside. It's faster, has a much better camera and packs a golden bullet with Siri.



First of all, the iPhone 4S blows away the iPhone 4 when it comes to speed. For the past week, I've been testing all of my most-used apps and the differences range from solid to awesome. At first glance, the speed difference may seem subtle. But over time, it adds up and becomes apparent. I would switch back to my iPhone 4 and get frustrated by the lag.

Apps that used to take a longer time to perform a task - applying a filter in Camera+, for example - now work much faster. More generally, every app seems to load quite a bit faster. The best way to see this is to load the Settings app that is built into iOS. On the iPhone 4, it can take up to 3 seconds to load. On the iPhone 4S, it loads in less than a second. And the 4S is faster at switching between apps when multi-tasking.

This Is My Next

The iPhone 4S took some of the nicest, cleanest photos I've ever seen from a mobile device. If you've ever thought about using a phone as a replacement for your point and shoot, feel free to start taking that concept seriously. The 4S produced crisp, balanced, colorful photos that were surprisingly low-noise and never over-saturated. The iPhone 4 sometimes seemed to be compensating for its limitations by exaggerating colors, but the iPhone 4S looks and feels like a real camera capturing true images.

Slash Gear

There are two noticeable improvements [in the camera]—quality and speed—and the best thing is that they're clearly evident from the start. Sharpness and detail are significantly boosted in the iPhone 4S when compared to what the iPhone 4 can achieve; there's less noise and less color bleed evident. Aberrations such as fringing around the edges of the frame are cut right back, a benefit of that five-lens array.

In brightly lit environments there's less over-exposure; in darker scenes the iPhone 4S is less prone to crunchiness in shadow areas. We've been able to shoot low-light images without resorting to the single LED flash, and still make out detail thanks to the boosted sensitivity.



The 4S isn't a "4G" device, but my tests showed it to be as fast or faster on AT&T's network as phones being sold as "4G." (Verizon and Sprint users won't see that kind of performance, owing to those carriers' slower 3G networks.)
Using Ookla's Speedtest app, I compared the 4S with Samsung Electronics Co.'s new Galaxy S II, which AT&T labels as 4G. In dozens of tests in and around San Francisco, the iPhone 4S registered faster download speeds more than two-thirds of the time.



In all my tests, the old iPhone 4 "death grip" had no impact on the speed of cellular downloads on the iPhone 4S, nor did a reverse grip at the top of the phone. Only when I took both hands and performed a "death grip" that covered the entire phone (or at least touched all four corners of the phone simultaneously) did I see any signal attenuation... Still, I am happy to report that it seems that Apple has eradicated this problem entirely. If you shied away from the iPhone 4 because of attenuation issues, it's safe to go back in the water.



To give you an idea of how convenient Siri is, it takes about three seconds to create a reminder with a voice command, as opposed to the 10 seconds it takes me to manually type an event into a to-do list or calendar entry. Before, with the standard iPhone calendar, I would often forget to add an event because I was too busy to type it, and as a result I would forget I had something scheduled altogether. With Siri and Apple's new Reminders to-do list app, it's unlikely I'll forget anything important again because the process is so effortless.

It's kind of like having the unpaid intern of my dreams at my beck and call, organizing my life for me. I think Siri on the iPhone is a life changer, and this is only the beginning.


All Things D

In my tests [with Siri], I was able to dictate emails and text messages, even in the car over Bluetooth, without looking at the screen. Accuracy wasn't perfect-about 20% of the time I had to try twice to get all the words correct. But, in most cases, Siri didn't make more errors than I do typing on a virtual keyboard.

Siri can read incoming text messages and let you reply via voice. If the message is about a date, Siri will even consult your calendar and tell you if you're busy at that time, and then remember to return to the message reply.

The system understands multiple, colloquial forms of a question. I asked, "Will the weather get worse today?" and Siri answered, "I don't think the weather is going to get worse" and displayed a weather chart.


NY Times

It's mind-blowing how inexact your utterances can be. Siri understands everything from, "What's the weather going to be like in Tucson this weekend?" to "Will I need an umbrella tonight?" (She has various amusing responses for "What is the meaning of life?")

It's even more amazing how Siri's responses can actually form a conversation. Once, I tried saying, "Make an appointment with Patrick for Thursday at 3." Siri responded, "Note that you already have an all-day appointment about ‘Boston Trip' for this Thursday. Shall I schedule this anyway?" Unbelievable.


Stephen Fry for The Guardian

Siri, the high quality and ultra-fast camera, 30 fps 1080p HD video, globally available voice recognition and the introduction of two antennae (the phone seamlessly switches between whichever is getting the strongest signal) are features that make the 4S irresistible; what is more, the unchanged form means that a whole new range of covers and accessories won't be required.



Actual tangible reasons why Siri is not amazing.

1. The mere fact that it can correctly understand what you're saying as input to then gather the correct response is hardly amazing. As the argument has been heard many times already, Android voice search is pretty much correct all the time, and with the ability to understand various accents as well.

2. The underlying data/search engine outside of the phone's functions (making calls, dictating texts, etc.) are powered by Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha has been around for quite awhile, and anyone that's even a casual internet user is already desensitized to it's "amazing" AI-like responses. They're all canned responses, they just come from a big ass can.

3. The total "OOMGG" revelation people are having after using Siri is laughable. I remember back in the day a small design firm called Barbarian Group made an "interactive" flash movie for Burger King for a viral ad campaign. It featured a guy wearing a ridiculous chicken costume, seemingly standing in front of his shitty webcam. When you typed in commands, no matter how weird or original, the guy obeyed in "real time". Basically, they spent countless hours pre-recording responses into a database with potentially thousands and thousands of possible inquiries. It would do string searches within people's requests, formulate the most appropriate response, and the chicken would do it.

In fact, it was so accurate, hundreds of thousands of people actually thought they had some idiot in a costume streaming live, obeying their every command. Microsoft also did something very similar, with an experimental site called "Ms Dewey". I believe that one was created by an agency called "EVB". It wasn't as expansive as the Burger King ad, but at it's foundation, the same concept. Also years and years old.

That's it... it really is.

A. The system has to be able to accurately decipher the voice input, nouns, verbs, actions, etc. Android has done that extremely well for years.

B. A lot of the responses outside of dictating phone actions, are simply powered by a search engine, like every other voice search. It just so happens the answers are in statements with commas, pronouns, couple of linking verbs. It sounds more intuitive. It's not because the technology is better, it's just a different approach. It'll come in handy when people want 1 answer for 1 question. Unfortunately, if that's what the masses really wanted, Wolfram would be bigger then Google right now, which it isn't.

C. The humdinger of Siri, the intuitive recognition and "AI"-like decipering, it's just a combination of A, B, with an algorithm and database that just puts everything together, and outputs it into logical action and responses.

My suspicion is that this is why it's only supported on iPhone 4S. Regardless of how smart an algorithm is, it still has to access an extremely large database of multiple appropriate actions and responses, gather them all up together, then output it so fast that it seems almost conversational.

While the technical power of the iPhone 4 doesn't seem THAT different from the 4S, it hasn't been custom tailored to handle the amount of power Siri requires.

Look, I'm not saying any of this was EASY. Inevitably, I expect someone to say "CAN YOU MAKE A SIRI!@?!?!". That's not the point . Obviously I can't. My point is, none of this is new, and Apple did what they do best. They take technologies and ideas that have been around the block, figured out how to enamor the layman with it, then release it to the masses.

To their credit, Apple did it first, and did it well. But no one ever wants to just admit the truth that Apple took 8 minute Abs, and just made 7 minute abs (movie reference anyone?)

But in the end, it still doesn't change the fact that they're metaphorically just bringing electricity to jungle natives. Everything SEEMS amazing, because the single biggest base of mobile users are iPhone users, and iPhone seems so impossibly gimped, when something like this comes out, it's a revelation.

If I had to guess, I think Siri will lose it's wow factor very quickly. Apple will tout metrics about how 2 million people are using it, but in reality, you'll never meet anyone who actually uses it extensively. Yes it's faster then typing, a lot of things are faster then typing, but everyone types. Sometimes it's not about getting things done faster. I have yet to see anyone in an office actually creating documents using Dragon.

That all being said, I still barely use my Voice search, even though it IS faster then typing. I'm interested to see how often my wife will use it on her new 4S.