Should you get an iPhone 4S?

Should you get an iPhone 4S?

Should you upgrade from whatever you have now to an iPhone 4S? The answer to that depends entirely on what exactly you have now, or whether any of the features of iPhone 4S are compelling enough to makes it worth upgrading regardless of what you have now.

Read on for the full breakdown.

Upgrading from an iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G, or iPhone 3GS

If you're currently using an original iPhone, iPhone 3G, or iPhone 3GS than your contract has likely expired and you can get an iPhone 4S at full, subsidize price. You can also get an iPhone 4S on Verizon or Sprint in the US, which wasn't an option for any of the pre-iPhone 4S models.

The improvements to iPhone 4S for iPhone 3GS owners are significant. For iPhone 2G or iPhone 3G owners, they're stratospheric. Retina display, a much better camera that shoots HD video, silky smooth multitasking, incredible gaming power, FaceTime video calling, Siri voice control -- the list goes on and on.

Also, you get to keep your apps, you maintain easy access to any iTunes music, TV shows, and movies you might have bought, and your cables stay compatible.

iPhone 4S is almost a no-brainer update from those early iPhone models.

Upgrading from an iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S

If you're currently rocking an Phone 4, the answer isn't as easy. You're probably still on contract with the carrier, so you may not be able to get the fully subsidized price unless you qualify for an early upgrade or you lean on them and their retention departments. There's also not a huge difference in functionality -- more speed, a better camera, Siri voice control, availability on Sprint, and world-phone CDMA roaming being the major differentiators.

  • If you're a hardcore gamer or productivity maven whose tolerance for lag is less than zero, the 2x speed and 7x gaming power might tempt you to upgrade.
  • If you're a photo and video enthusiast who really wants the "best camera", that 8mp, F2.4, 1080p lens might tempt you to upgrade.
  • If you want the future now, now, now, or you're visually impaired, the artificially intelligent, natural language interface Siri promises might tempt you to upgrade.
  • If you need Verizon or Sprint at home but have to travel a lot, the ability to roam on international GSM networks might tempt you to upgrade.

iPhone 4S is not a compelling upgrade for most iPhone 4 owners unless you really want or need a specific new feature.

Upgrading from Android, BlackBerry, webOS, or Windows Phone to iPhone 4S

If your current phone of choice runs Android, Windows Phone, or webOS or is a BlackBerry, here's where it gets tricky. If you're not on contract, it's easier. If you are, you need to weigh the pros and cons and see if the features you get outweigh the penalties you'll have to pay.

  • iPhone isn't as customizable as Android unless you Jailbreak it (think root), and that's not always possible at first when a new device comes out.
  • iPhone doesn't have BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), so if that's what your friends use you'll be out of touch -- and out of luck. iMessage will let you talk with other iOS users in an SMS/MMS type way, and there are cross-platform apps, but none of them are BBM.
  • iPhone has the slickest UI and best UX in the business, but it isn't as simple or elegant as the new Metro UI on Windows Phone, or have as good a multitasking metaphor and aggregation system as webOS. It does more (for now) but taste and preference are subjective.
  • iPhone only comes in one style and screen size. 3.5-inch slab. No sliders, no flips, no hardware keyboards of any kind, and no option for 4 to 5.5-inches.
  • No Adobe Flash video. (That could be a pro or con depending on how you feel about it.)
  • No LTE, WiMax, or HSPA+ 21 or 41 mbps options for faster internet.

But iPhone has a lot going for it as well.

  • iPhone has multiple layers but the first layer is so incredibly easy to use that the most non-tech savvy of people, people who are moving up from feature phones, can pick it up and get going with it immediately. At the same time it's highly appealing to expert and veteran smartphone users who want to spend their time getting things done, not getting their phones to do things.
  • Apple was the first to put a usable web browser on a phone and absent Adobe Flash, Safari is still the most powerful HTML5 browser in the business. Likewise the built in Mail app shows rich content with pictures. VPN, ActiveSync, and other enterprise-friendly features are also built right in.
  • It's become a cliché but there really is an app for almost everything on the iPhone. Pretty much every major app and currently all the best games are easily available in the App Store and are so functional people actually use them more than the great web browser these days.
  • iTunes and now iCloud, which does a lot of what iTunes used to but without the cable, lets you easily sync your existing content and also gives you access not only to the App Store but iTunes music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, iTunes U (University) and overall more content in more parts of the world than any other service.
  • Apple Stores: If you live near an Apple Store, and you have a problem with your phone, there's no passing the buck between carrier and manufacturer, there's no sending your phone away for lengthy repairs. You make a Genius Bar appointment, you show up, they fix your phone or swap it for a new one (if you're still under warranty or Apple Care). They'll also help you set it up and teach you how to use it. If you're new to phones, this is the single best reason to go Apple.
  • More: Apple itself creates a ton of other products to supplement the iPhone, including Mac computers, software for Mac and Windows, and together with their partners provide more cases, chargers, docks, car kits, and accessories of every kind. No other smartphone has the quantity or quality of extras, from fashionable to functional, that iPhone has.

If you've only been using another platform because you were waiting for the 2011 iPhone on your choice of carrier -- go get it.

If you like your current platform but are curious or considering the jump to iPhone 4S, wait until you can try one at the store and really get a feel for it.

Upgrading from a feature phone to iPhone 4S.

Yes. Do it now.

(If you're really hard up for up-front cash, consider a $99 iPhone 4 or free iPhone 3GS, but if you can scrape together the $199+ for an iPhone 4S, considering the contract will cost you ~$2000+ over two years, it's not really much of a savings.)

Any questions?

If you're still not sure, hit up our iPhone 4S Forums to get the help you need to make up your mind.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Did Apple delay Facebook's new iPhone app, iPad app and iOS web platform?

Next up →

AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint: Which iPhone 4S should you choose?

Reader comments

Should you get an iPhone 4S?


I might be getting a 16gb one for my almost-12th birthday.... But chances are my sister will be getting that and I'll be getting her old iPhone 4 :(

i think AT and T will be losing a lot of customers with this launch. i will save about $15 per month with my plan and discount if i switch to sprint

Well, you do have to agree that the iPhone 4S is not a compelling upgrade for an iPhone 4S user. :)

Seems pretty compelling to me to upgrade from an iphone 4. But this article seems premature as well until it's reviewed.
2x processor, 7x graphics, hspa+ , 2x storage, better camera, 1080p recording, video stabilization, Siri, wireless mirroring, tweaked antenna, and hopefully better battery. What about that isn't compelling?

...because in a few months there will be an iPhone 5 with even better specs and you will be kicking yourself in the **s for not waiting.

Actually it doesnt have a better battery. iPhone 4 has 300 hours total and iPhone 4S has 200 hours total. But other than that, it is totally worth an upgrade to any phone.

I disagree, the 4s had been invaluable to me because of the Siri feature, the features for disabled people, the camera and video quality alone are worth the upgrade, plus the fantastic speed. I am not sure how or why upgrade programs work, but after purchasing my first Iphone in May, 2011 I was eligible to upgrade my phone to the Iphone 4s by October 22nd, with no raise in cost, or change of plan, other than making it full 2 years again. So what did I loose? 0 What did I gain? My Iphone 4s. I got it for the cost of a first time or out of contract smartphone buyer. I'm completely happy. Also if you are not using gigabytes of data, the $15 a month data plan serves me well, I have never gone over it so no overcharge fees have been charged to me.

I have a 3GS. I will be waiting for the 5 whenever it arrives. I was looking forward to getting one this year. The 4S is not compelling enough to get me to upgrade, so I shall wait.

LTE is dependent on location. Many won't see LTE come to their area for a long time. By all means though, if you live in an LTE area, you have this to consider.

i have a droid inc and i was waiting to see what apple was going to bring to the table, i was a little disappointed but the camera and retina display draw me in, BUT i do want lte since it's in Tucson now and well the flash thing, how bad is it on the iphone, i mean you say the best web browser but if ain't getting the whole web then what good is it? Then i think about oct 11 wit google/samsung and well verizon does have a 15 day return policy right? choices choices

I don't understand if you have an 3GS what are you waiting for I mean really the 3GS doesnt even compare to last years androids. The iPhone 4 is a huge upgrade over the 3GS and the 4s is better than the 4. it just doesn't make since not to in my opinion. I have an LTE android as well I'm not impressed. It's like having a sports car that you never drive because it's the shop all the time for repairs. sure it's fast but at the end of the day it's android native apps crash and force close all the time. Unexceptable.

I believe that Siri is also available for an iPhone 4 on iOS 5. So software-wise 4s and 4 are pretty much same just hardware better to the extent which I do not feel very compelled to cancel out my current remaining contract. Any thoughts?

Rocking an iPhone 3G here... Was hoping this would have been the 4" screen, but I'm still thinking the iPhone 4 was awesome and this of course is the same just better... going from a 3G to 4S is major as you said, so can't wait!!! I do know one things for sure....... I'll have to pretty much learn everything over w/ all the new stuff now on this computer...

I think ill wait for that other phone that looks to have NEW innovative features and not 6 month old specs. Think its going to be announced Oct 11th.. You know, the one for big kidsadults,not that kids toy stuff.

Im not so sure guys. Help me please. I've sold my iPhone 4. So should I switch to an Android phone?? I need more storage though.

I'll probably go ahead and upgrade from my iPhone 4, but not for a while. February of next year is when I can get the subsidized pricing again, so I'll probably snatch a 64gb one then. It'll be nice to have ALL of my music on my phone for once.

Just remember before you get locked in to a 2 year contract, the iPhone 5 is only 8 months away...
Quad-core A6 chip
4" screen
Super retina display
Curved glass design

Who says that the reason the iPhone was not released til now was so that apple could change the product cycle?
So the next iPhone (which wouldn't be iPhone 5 as its not the 5th generation, it'll be the 6th, so therefore stupid to call it iPhone 5) would still be 12 months away.

There is no guarantee the iPhone5 will be out in 8 months. I was in the same place as Aenean14 (3Gs) back in April but with my new baby, I needed a better camera so I couldn't wait and bought the iPhone4. You can't just wait for the next thing, cuz there will always be a new next thing.

8 months is an eternity. Especially if it becomes 12 months. Always buy now. Never wait, unless it's out really soon, or you are stuck in a contract. The waiting crowd always misses out, while the rest of us are enjoying what's here and now. Very Zen, don't you think. Haha.

Will upgrade to a White 64GB iPhone 4S from iPhone 4 after Novemeber 16th when I can get full subsidized pricing.
I really want the Siri feature while driving, I want the faster processor for a smoother ipod playlist experience when lots of songs are on it, I want the faster 7x graphics for gaming since I play games quit a lot on my iPhone when i'm bored and not busy..oh and im 28 yrs, also want the better camera since I hardly ever carry around my expensive SLR everywhere I go. Capturing a picture in the moment is worth having a good 8mp point and shoot on your hip/pocket.

AT&T nominally doubles your speed with the 4S over the 4, at least in some areas. That's worth it to me, especially since they offered me the "unlimited" data plan (that I've had from the beginning). We'll see what the 5 looks like when it comes out. I may buy it, too, if they offer upgrade pricing.

My biggest issue is whether I wanna stay with ATT or switch to Verizon. Verizon has WAY better coverage here BUT it does eat at me that I cant do voice+data at the same time (I do it ALOT)

i have a htc thunderbolt that i have had nothing but problems with. good news i talked verizon into an early upgrade this morning after having it replaced 4 times i will be getting a black iphone 4 32G for 199. the few new features of the 4S is not worth it to me. Espically when i can now get a new 32G iphone 4 for $100 cheaper than it was last week

Correction: There is very limited multitasking in iOS.. to say it's silky smooth is a bit of a leap since it doesn't fully exist.

I've been on Android dying to go back to iOS... just waited to see what was announced. Since I don't want to waste my upgrade on a 4S (since I was previously very happy with the 4) I'm picking up an iPhone 4 for a pretty good deal, since everyone is dumping them off for the 4S.
I've picked up two 16GB Black iPhone 4 for $200 each. The people just wanted the money to cover the price of the 4S. :-) Pretty good deal if you ask me - it's still a fantastic phone... oh how I've missed that Retina Display.

HAHAHAH, sorry I had to comment...
"iPhone doesn’t have BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), so if that’s what your friends use you’ll be out of touch — and out of luck. iMessage will let you talk with other iOS users in an SMS/MMS type way, and there are cross-platform apps, but none of them are BBM."
I'd switch to iOS messenging and get new friends. Who wants to be friends with Blackberry user? LOL. What would you talk about? "This Blackberry make my thumb hurt"...

how can it be the most powerful web browser if it does display everything...the gs2 has the best web browser and it runs smooth and lagless even with full flash lol i dont use flash that much but the fact the iphone 4 does not cannot make it the best browser...

Pretty good write up. I don't see the 4S as a compelling change for me right now given the similarity to a IP4, but I preprdered a white 32 4S for my wife to replace her old 3GS. Personally, as I'm a gadget geek, I'll be looking hard at the iPhone 5 in a year or so.

That's interesting. I just picked up a Bionic and could return it and switch to a 4S, but I'm not inclined to do so. I've had iPhones since the original 2G version (and every generation since) but I don't find the 4S to be a compelling move for some reason. On the other hand, I love the conceptual pics I've seen of a thinner IP5 with the unibody look.
As for LTE speed, if you don't have it where you are then you're right, it's not a compelling argument. But if you have it, woooooosh. What a difference!

Would you like to win an android fire kindle tablet? Join the contest here
The contest is open to anyone. When you enter the contest, you can get up to ten chances to win. When you enter, you get one chance, when you click to Like or Tweet the contest page or any deal on the website, you get one point each time. So if you like/tweet nine deals, you get nine more chances to win (plus 1 for entering, so 10 chances in total).
Let’s get the kindle here

I have over 80 gb of material on my Itunes account. My question is will the Icloud feature save all my content without charging me extra money because I would like to accesss all my content on the iphone 4S instead of always having to bring to device everywhere I go.

If cost is the issue, you can trade in old phones and iPods at places like Best Buy or Target - they will give you a gift card for whatever they determine your old stuff is worth and you can then use the gift card to help pay for the new phone. If the iPhone 4 is $99 and the 4S is $199, but you have items to trade in, you could probably get the cost of a 4S down from $199 to $99 or lower. I traded in old iPods & old cell phones and got enough of a credit that I paid $0 for the 4S - my old stuff was worth more than I thought. It's a great option! P.S. Best Buy is more generous with trade-ins than Target...

I think im getting a iPhone 4S for Christmas hopefully....16gb or 32gb, in black :)
Im so excited because my HTC ChaCha doesnt work, so im getting a new phone. I need help though!!!!
Im on a contract with Orange UK and i have a normal SIM card, and my parents will be getting a SIM-free one. My problem is, im staying on the contract that i am already on with Orange. So i know that iPhones use mirco SIM cards. I know you can cut your SIM to mirco size, but does it actually work and get reciepition when you have cut it and inserted it into the iPhone?
Please let me know if you haver done it/or know someone who has and if it worked. Its just i dont want to cut my CONTRACT SIM because if i do it wrong, theres gunna be so so so much trouble :/
Thanksss! ;D x

You're truly a just right webmaster. The web site loading speed is incredible. It seems that you're doing any unique trick. Furthermore, The contents are masterpiece. you've performed a wonderful activity on this matter!

You made some respectable factors there. I appeared on the web for the issue and located most people will go along with with your website.

Um I'm 13, I have the htc wildfire s from metropcs , so should upgrade to the iPhone 4s in sprint?