iPhone 4S Bullet Review

I got an iPhone 4S last month, and I’ve been wondering how to review it properly. The problem is that so much has been written about Apple’s latest phone since its October release that there’s not much to add. If you’re thinking of buying one, chances are you know all about it already. So I opted instead for a quick bullet-point breakdown of how it’s treating me:

Hardware:

  • The outside of the 4S is the same as the 4. It was the thinnest smartphone last year, but it’s not anymore. It’s positively chunky compared to an iPod touch.
  • The glass and stainless steel sandwich feels incredibly solid. I’m not as afraid of breaking the glass as I thought I’d be.
  • The rear camera is really good. Not as good as my Nikon Coolpix S8100, but that’s up at the high end of point-and-shoot cameras. It compares very well to my old Sony Cybershot or my girlfriend’s camera. I use it all the time, while my Nikon sits and waits for LEGO photo shoots.
  • The front camera is not so good. It’s only useful for cheesy self-portraits and checking your hair after a windy bike ride. And FaceTime, but I’ve never tried that even once.
  • The volume buttons on the side are much more reliable than the rocker on my old iPod touch. The home button still gets dust permanently stuck in it. My black iPod got white fuzz stuck in the button within a week, and my white iPhone got black dust in there. Speaking from experience, it won’t ever come out.
  • I bought the white one. I’m still a big fan of Apple’s “white phase,” probably because I was re-introduced to the Apple world through a white iPod 4g, my friend’s white iMac, and my white MacBook.
  • It’s really fast. Far faster than my girlfriend’s iPhone 4, and I’ve yet to experience any lag or app crashes. Such a massive difference from my glacial iPod touch.
  • The Retina Display is outstanding. I knew it was good from trying out the demo models in the Apple Store, but it’s something else entirely when you see it every day. Every other screen now looks washed-out and blocky. I do wish the screen was slightly bigger though – 4″ might be the sweet spot without getting unwieldily.
  • Battery life is disappointing. I’m a heavy user, meaning that I use it for about an hour straight in the morning as I comb through my RSS feeds. Then I listen to podcasts for the next six hours at work. At night I play Super Crate Box like a crack addict and read Instapaper. All this makes it stoop below 20% battery by the end of the day, and I often end up charging it a little around 5 pm. Even if I barely used it, I doubt I could stretch the battery for two days. The iPhone 4, on the other hand, accomplishes this with ease. We’ll see if iOS 5.1 helps, but it’s pretty clear that the A5 chip is sucking a lot of power.

Software:

  • iOS 5 is a huge step up from 4.2. There’s a lot that’s changed, but suffice to say that I’m mostly satisfied.
  • Apple integrates Twitter with the OS, but not Facebook. It would be great if any service could use this integration, much like they can on Android or WP7. I’d kill for integrated Flickr or Instapaper.
  • Apple needs better stock wallpapers. The gray rain background just doesn’t do it for me, but thankfully the internet has thousands of decent replacements.
  • Siri is ok, but it gets a lot wrong. Keep in mind that Siri is clearly a work in progress, and I’d expect to see it get better over time.
  • Notification Center is handy, but needs to be more visible. My girlfriend, for example, never thinks to use it.
  • Same with the multitasking drawer. And would it kill Apple to rotate the icons in the drawer when the iPhone is in landscape?
  • I haven’t jailbroken it, but I probably will once my warranty expires. Jailbreaking made my iPod touch incredibly slow and unstable, but it let me play Pokémon on a handheld again. That’s almost worth the tradeoff, but we’ll see if I can handle it on my phone in a year or so. There’s also the issue that jailbreaks are getting harder and harder and can’t handle each new software update.

Cases:

  • I thought I’d use a case far more than I do. I have the Smallworks Brickcase and the Apple Bumper. Unlike most people, I actually love the Bumper. It doesn’t make the phone too thick in my pocket and gives just the right feel to the iPhone’s hard edges. I use it when I need to use my phone in lab a lot, because the raised edges mean I can put my phone on the lab bench without worrying about scratches or the bench’s cleanliness.
  • I don’t use the Brickcase as much, but it looks great and provides a lot more protection. I’m ordering some 2×1 plates on Bricklink to make a retro Apple logo on the case, which will make me want to use it a lot more. This is basically the perfect case for a geeky convention like Brickworld or Macworld, which I hope to attend one of these years.

Verizon:

  • Service is great, even in my house that AT&T couldn’t deign to cover. It’s my first Verizon phone, so I haven’t seen much of the company yet. I will say that purchasing it took forever, but the salesman was actually quite helpful. It probably didn’t hurt that I knew exactly what I wanted and had no interest in looking at anything else.

Overall, the 4S is an evolutionary upgrade from my trusty old iPod touch. It’s a little bigger, but the screen size and OS remain pretty much the same. It’s far more reliable, but it hasn’t changed my life since the iPod already accomplished that. If you need a new phone, I’d recommend it over any other smartphone right now, primarily due to the great apps on iOS. Despite Android pushing out some interesting new designs and WP7 looking sharp with the Nokia Lumia, Apple is still the gold standard. iOS 5 is far from perfect, and the 4S’s design is over a year old, but they’re still better than anything else out there. Just please don’t drown the iPhone in a huge boxy case – it can hold up fine on its own and will look far better. Keep in mind that it costs $700 to replace, and you’ll treat it right regardless of what it’s wrapped in.

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