iPhone 4S review

Full review of Apple's 2011 iPhone 4S: Faster, better camera, smarter antenna, and Siri

iPhone 4S is minor spec bump over last year's iPhone 4. Except it's not. It's a full on assault of the senses, with eyes, ears, and feel far beyond any previous mobile device. Yes, the hardware bumps specs to be certain -- faster chipset, better camera -- but it's what Apple's iOS 5 software and iCloud services do with that hardware that makes iPhone 4S so compelling, including one feature in particular that makes it the biggest leap forward in mainstream computer interfaces since multitouch on the original iPhone -- Siri.

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It's fast, the antenna is rock solid, the camera is amazingly good, and Siri just might be the next big leap forward computer interfaces.

It's the same design as last year, including the glass backing, which may rankle potential buyers who'd hoped for a change.
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Apple has produced an incredibly compelling upgrade from feature phones, and the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS. iPhone 4 owners have little reason to upgrade unless speed, camera, or Siri are unusually important to them.

Previously on iMore

iPhone 4S is the 5th generation iPhone, and one of three models on the market for 2011. While an incredible amount has changed, there are still a lot of features that have carried over from years past. Here, then, are those reviews.

iPhone 4S hardware

From the outside, the iPhone 4S looks almost identical to the iPhone 4. It's the same iconic shape, the same Braun- and Leica-inspired slab of glass and stainless steel. It may no longer be as fresh as it was when it debuted some 16 months ago, but it's still among the best designed and certainly the best built hardware on the market. It's also just as fragile, with chemically treated glass on both front and back, and an exposed antenna array all along the sides.

There are some small, subtle differences between iPhone 4S and iPhone 4. They're both 0.37 inches (9.3 mm) thin at 4.5 inches (115.2 mm) high and 2.31 inches (58.6 mm) wide but iPhone 4S is just a tad heavier at 4.9 ounces (140 grams). That's 0.1 ounces (3 grams) heavier than the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS.

Like the original AT&T/GSM iPhone 4, all iPhone 4S models have a microSIM tray. Like the later Verizon iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S has symmetrically aligned gaps in the external antenna array -- two on both sides.

All the buttons and ports are where you'd expect them. 3.5mm headset, noise-canceling mic, sleep/wake button, microSIM card slot (even on CDMA models, see below), speaker, 30-pin dock connector, phone mic, volume up and down buttons, and the ring/silent switch. On the front, below the screen there's still a home button. Above the screen is the ear speaker and the VGA camera. On the back is the LED flash and the new 8 megapixel still, 1080p video camera.

Sensors also remain the same, with aGPS, a digital compass, ambient light, proximity, accelerometer, and gyroscope.

Design evolution

While iPhone 4S is the 5th generation iPhone, it's only the 3rd major casing design in the product's history. Here it is compared to the original iPhone (2007) and the iPhone 3GS (2009).

8 megapixel, 1080p camera

Apple chose not to improve the front-facing iPhone camera. Even though Macs have gone to FaceTime HD in 1280x720 (720p), iPhone 4S remains disappointingly 640x480 (VGA).

The rear-facing camera is another story entirely. It's been increased to 8 megapixels and is capable of recording 1920x1080 (1080p) video. Apple has also improved the backlight sensor, added an f/2.4, wide angle lens to capture as much light and picture as possible, and added an extra piece of glass into the assembly to increase sharpness. There's also an infrared filter to improve colors, face detection for better exposure and focus on portraits, and image stabilization to keep your videos from shaking.

We asked our app editor and resident photographer, Leanna Lofte to put it to the test.

Overall, the iPhone 4S did a phenomenal job with landscapes, especially considering the broad range of lights and darks. With HDR (high dynamic range) enabled, the results were excellent. The f/2.4 lens lacks manual controls but handles motion far better than last year's iPhone 4.

Face detection works impressively well, even when the subject is moving around and the face partially obscured. The improved backlight sensor does far better in low-light situations, capturing shots that were impossible with iPhone 4.

Macro photography, however,