Apple iPhone 4S Review

Introduction and Design
UPDATE: You can now read our iPhone 5 review!


Talk about a long time in the making, especially when the iPhone 4 established itself as one of the most indelible smartphones in the last year alone, but close after a year and a half of being on the market, we’re finally seeing its successor in the long awaited Apple iPhone 4S. Just like what we saw with the iPhone 3GS in the past, the iPhone 4S is nothing more than an incremental upgrade. Donning a near replica of its predecessor’s design, most of the smartphone’s juicy new features are found internally as its packs a dual-core processor, upgraded 8-megapixel camera, support for CDMA & GSM connectivity, and its innovative Siri intelligent assistance service.

There’s no kidding that many people were hoping for something more next-generation, even more when Apple’s rivals have been cranking out some quality smartphones that push the envelope with today’s technology.  In any event, there’s this magical aura of some sort surrounding the handset that entices us to fancy over it no matter what. For starters, we truly adore that the three national carriers are carrying it, which is sweet considering there are more options now than ever, but it’ll need to really excel in execution and performance to keep it shining brilliantly in this fierce landscape. With that lengthy wait, does the iPhone 4S still have the perfect ingredients to stand firm amongst the competition?

The package contains:

  • Apple iPhone 4S
  • USB cable
  • Wall Charger
  • Stereo Headphones
  • Apple Decals
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Important Product Information Guide


Generally, the first thing to capture our attention with any device is its looks, but seeing that the iPhone 4S utilizes a rehashed design, we’re not that compelled this second time around. Rather, we’re accepting of its solid construction and premium feel, but it’s essentially the same phone that we know and love. However, the only subtle difference found with the iPhone 4S is the new arrangement with its antenna design – though, the details to it are almost negligible. Of course, we adore the glass like plates that are sandwiched together with its brushed stainless steel band, which utterly aids the handset in retaining its premium feel. Yet, our mind tells us that the handset wouldn’t handle even the smallest of drops to the pavement – so yeah, you might want to be careful with it.

You can compare the Apple iPhone 4S with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Last year, we were completely blown away by the Retina Display since there was nothing remotely close in producing its sharp details and realistic colors. Not surprisingly, we’re not as impressed this time because we find the same old 3.5” IPS display that’s featured with last year’s model. Nevertheless, its high resolution of 640 x 960 and screen size provides the perfect combination in giving us a wicked pixel density of 326 PPI – thus, making even the tiniest of text more than discernible to the naked eye. In an age where saturated color production appears to be what enthralls people initially, we still adore the realistic and natural looking colors dished up by the Retina Display. Add in its high contrast ratio and wide viewing angles, we’re able to effortlessly see everything on-screen without a pinch of degradation to its quality.

Of course,  this wouldn’t be an iPhone if it doesn’t pack that iconic home button below its display, which is tactile with its response, but it also executes functions to get toggle the multi-tasking pane and activate Siri. Meanwhile, a front-facing 0.3-megapixel VGA camera sits close to the earpiece to offer us the convenient features of FaceTime – or simply snap some self-portraits.

Just like before, all of the handset’s buttons, switches, and ports are found in their usual locations. These include the separated volume controls, vibrate switch, dedicated power button, noise cancellation microphone, 3.5mm headset jack, microSIM card slot, speaker, regular microphone, and its proprietary dock port.

Turning it over, the other major upgrade to the iPhone 4S is found with its higher 8-megapixel auto-focus camera with LED flash, which features backside illumination and a larger f2.4 aperture. Meaning, it’s supposed to offer superior performance with low lighting shots – we’ll be the judge of that later on.

Apple iPhone 4S 360-degrees View:


Fully modernized thanks to the new dual-core Apple A5 processor under the hood, coupled with the same old 512MB of RAM, it’s able to provide that peppy response that we’re accustomed to seeing with the iPhone in general. Depending on who you talk to, it’s mentioned to be running at a clock speed of 800MHz or 1GHz. Regardless of what you believe, there’s no arguing that it’s blazing over the performance that we see with its predecessor. Naturally, it’s difficult to gauge its raw processing power while navigating its homescreen, which is buttery smooth as usual, but after running some benchmark tests, there’s no kidding it’s a speed demon with its operation.  So if you thought the iPhone 4 was fast, you’ll be astounded by the instantaneous speed of the iPhone 4S.

Love or hate it, iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S maintains the simplistic and straightforward approach that has been established since the first iPhone – though, the latest version of the platform brings forth some appreciable enhancements. We won’t get into the specifics since they can all be found in our review of it, but out of all the new features accompanying the latest update, there’s no arguing that we absolutely love the new notifications system in play with the platform. Specifically, they’re no longer obtrusive! However, it’s still relatively limited when it comes down to personalization seeing we’re only able to change the background wallpaper and rearrange the layout of the icons on the homescreen.

So by now you’re probably wondering what’s the biggest justification to go with the iPhone 4S, right? Especially when you can get the iOS 5 experience with the iPhone 4 right now too. Fear not, that’s because the iPhone 4S packs a trump card under its sleeve with the innovative features of Siri – the all-in-one digital personal assistant that actually works! At first, we were skeptical with its capabilities, but after playing around with its specific intricacies, we’re enthralled by its vast and deep offerings. In fact, it’s best described as a self-aware and evolving voice recognition service that’s consistently in touch with your daily routines. From scheduling a reminder for yourself or sniffing out the demographical information of a city, Siri is able to present us with pertinent information – plus, we have a lot of fun having intelligent conversations with it.


On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot new going on with the Contacts app, but rather, the introduction of Apple’s iCloud service quickly enables us to get our contacts onto the smartphone. Well, you can still accomplish the same feat since we’re given the option to sync contacts when setting up our email services – like Gmail. Compared to the competition, which incorporates social networking aspects with the phonebook, there’s nothing a whole lot going around with that aspect on the iPhone 4S.


Keeping firm to its roots, all of the core organizer apps found with the iPhone 4S remain the same with their functionality. So whether it’s the calendar, clock, or notes apps that you’re using, there’s nothing dramatically new seen with any of them. Still, the recent introduction of the Reminders app with iOS 5 warrants some attention from everything else since it’s further complemented with Siri’s aid – that’s because the whole process is sped up as we’re telling Siri what to do, as opposed to manually jotting things down ourselves. In all honesty, Siri is astoundingly efficient in monitoring and organizing all of our daily tasks – and to think more about it, they’re accomplished simply by our voice.


We’ve gone through the new things found with iMessage with our review of iOS 5, but in terms of the overall messaging experience with the iPhone 4S, it’s tastefully excellent in more ways than one thanks to its awesome on-screen keyboard. As much as we’d love to see the keyboard layout stretched out on a much larger display, we’re accepting of its responsiveness and accurate performance in typing lengthy messages. Throw in one of the best auto-correct features on any platform, the iPhone 4S keyboard continues to be one of the most usable ones out there.
Interestingly, we’re finally given an alternative thanks to the new transcribing functionality that’s accessed by tapping on the microphone icon on the keyboard. To our amazement, it’s pretty accurate with most things and provides us with an acceptable hands-free experience that’s enriching – albeit, background noise can hamper its ability.

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Running the camera app, we presented with a familiar non-cluttered layout that quickly gets us to the point, which is none other than snapping some candid shots. Sure there are no manual settings available with it, but the beauty in it all is that it simply works to capture the absolute best shots based on the conditions. Of course, you can toggle the option for HDR photos, which enables the handset to enhance photos with post-processing effects to better capture its most optimal appearance. With iOS 5 though, taking photos is easier than ever before since we can activate the application directly from the lock screen. Moreover, we can also snap a shot by pressing down on the volume up button – as opposed to the on-screen shutter key.

Much like its predecessor, we’re extremely fond of the quality exhibited by the handset’s upgraded 8-megapixel auto-focus camera, which features backside illumination and a larger f2.4 aperture. Simply, photos taken in plentiful of lighting are filled to the brim with luscious fine details to make even the most distant objects visually elaborate – plus, its realistic color production is on the neutral side to make shots very accurate looking. Bettering itself even more, the iPhone 4S manages to retain a decent amount of clarity with photos take in low lighting. For the most part, shadows are well highlighted in the shot, but the overall shot tends to be on the fuzzy side. Nevertheless, the LED flash is profoundly potent with its output – while maintaining a natural color production. Finally, its shutter speed is extremely quick to allow us to come out of nowhere to snap those candid moments.

Taking a picLower is betterTaking an HDR pic(sec)Lower is betterCamSpeed scoreHigher is betterCamSpeed score with flashHigher is better
Apple iPhone 4s3.5
Apple iPhone 5s3
Samsung Galaxy S43.4
HTC One3.4
No data

Equally as appealing, the iPhone 4S excels in recording 1080p high-definition videos that are gloriously filled with plenty of eye-candy goodness. Showing off its worth, videos are brilliant to watch thanks to their sharp details, gradual exposure, consistent capture of 29 frames per second, natural looking colors, and crystal clear audio recording. We also like the image stabilization, eliminating most of the shaky-hands problems. However, it would’ve been really awesome to finally see continuous auto-focus thrown in – but alas, we’re only given the typical touch-focus option with the handset. Needless to say, we’re not all that bummed about it since It’s not that bad at all because as it also adjusts the exposure as well.

Apple iPhone 4S Sample Video - Daytime:

Apple iPhone 4S Sample Video - Night:


You’d think that after sporting the same old iPod music player interface since the first iPhone, we’d finally see some sort of update to the classy player – well, it’s more of the same! When you have a good thing going, it’s naturally hard to stray from that tried and true recipe. So that’s why we’re appreciative and content to find the good old layout. And to tell you the truth, we’re still enthralled to this day by the visual eye-candy that accompanies Apple’s trusty cover flow mode. Audio quality is pretty strong with its output, but when it’s placed to the maximum volume setting, things can sound a tad bit sharp to the ear – thus, coming off as irritating. Yet, selecting the appropriate equalizer option under the music settings balances its tonal output.

We’re still dreaming of the day when we’re able to watch high-def videos on a significantly larger display on the iPhone, but despite that yearning, we’re accepting of experience we’re given on the iPhone 4S. In fact, videos play swimmingly with no pause or slowdown during its playback – plus, they’re filled with plenty of magnificent details  to make the experience gratifying. So yeah, we’ll take its quality for now, but we’re itching for the day when things get super-sized to make it easier on our eyes to handle.

Alright, we’re over the fact that we won’t be seeing a microHDMI port of some sort with the iPhone, but much like some of the competition, you can actually gain video out with the use of an optional A/V adapter that connects to the handset via its dock port. Sure it’s a dangling extremity, but we’re grateful for the available feature with the iPhone 4S – well, it’s better than not having it at all.

Seeing as far back as our eyes can look, we’ve always associated iPhones to come in either 16GB or 32GB capacities, but with the availability of the iPhone 4S, Apple has something for those who need more – a whole lot more. For those not interested in dishing out $200 or $300 for the other capacities, you can opt to plop a rock solid $400 to pick up a 64GB version of the iPhone 4S with a contract.

Headphones output power(Volts)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 4s0.34
Apple iPhone 5s1
Samsung Galaxy S40.38
HTC One0.68
Loudspeaker loudness(dB)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 4s69
Apple iPhone 5s74
Samsung Galaxy S477
HTC One78

Internet and Connectivity:

By now, it’s almost unfathomable to see the web browsing performance on the iPhone 4S to take a step backwards – even more when the iPhone established the tasteful modern experience we tend to see nowadays. Combining its lightning fast dual-core processor and high-resolution Retina Display, the web browsing experience is a very engaging one. Naturally, navigational controls are remarkably tight and responsive to give us complete control in all of its aspects. We’re over the fact that there is no Flash support, but we definitely like the usefulness found with the Reader function of mobile Safari, which simplifies things to make it reading friendly.  Of course, we dig the quick page loads when connected to a Wi-Fi network – though, Sprint’s connection is clearly lagging with its speeds.

Featuring an updated radio and antenna system, the iPhone 4S is a world phone – meaning, it has support for CDMA and GSM networks. Using our Sprint iPhone 4S unit, we’re impressed with its unflattering data speeds, which gives us average upload and download speeds of 1.39 Mbit/s and 0.22 Mbit/s respectively. On the other hand, with AT&T’s version of the iPhone 4S, its HSPA speeds are able to theoretically get 14.4 Mbit/s on the down and 5.76 Mbit/s on the uplink.

Even though we’re not shocked to find aGPS and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi on board with the iPhone 4S, we’re actually intrigued to find Bluetooth 4.0 in for the ride. It might not be a big thing right now, but as more devices adapt to take advantage of Bluetooth 4.0, we’ll surely see some useful applications for it.


Just like before, we find the usual suspect of standard applications that we’ve grown to love by now on the iPhone 4S. Specifically, we find things like the Weather, YouTube, Game Center, iTunes, App Store, Compass, Voice Memos, and Stocks app with the handset. In all honesty, there isn’t a whole lot new with any of them, but nevertheless, they function perfectly like what we’ve seen before. However, it still would’ve been nice to see some sort of update with them – like some sort of new makeover to their layout and presentation.

We mentioned it in our review of iOS 5, but the photo gallery now provides us with some basic editing functions, which include rotation, red-eye removal, auto-enhancement, and cropping. Needless to say, we’re  glad to see them available, but we’re aching to see deeper sharing functions with it – well, at least you have Twitter integration baked into iOS 5.

For the bookworms out there, the Newsstand app will surely come across as a useful tool for those interested in reading newspapers and magazines. Not only are we notified for new activity with our subscriptions, but it’s laid out in a simple to read format much like the Reader function that we see with mobile Safari. Frankly, it’s a nice addition to further the handset’s use in our daily lives, but the paltry 3.5” display of the iPhone 4S doesn’t make for the most optimal experience.


As mentioned earlier, the iPhone 4S is a world phone, which means that one and the same version will be available on every carrier. There won't be differences in hardware or software, but you should still keep in mind that call quality, data and battery performance will vary, depending on the carrier. For our review, we used a unit activated on the Sprint network.

Muting things on both ends of the line, we can hear a subtle amount of background noise through the handset’s earpiece – however, it drowns out when we begin conversing. Voices on our side have a tendency to sound  choppy, but thanks to its piercing volume output, we’re able to recognize voices without much falter. Meanwhile, our callers are happily impressed by the clear audio tones they’re presented on their end of the line. Finally, the speakerphone is actually a pleasure to use thanks to the robust and audible tones it’s able to produce.

Touting its improved antenna design, featuring two antennas, we got  an average of 3/5 bars in high coverage areas most of the time. Sure it’s not exactly at its full capacity, but we’re thankful to not experience any dropped calls during our testing in the greater Philadelphia region. And while some other phones might be showing more bars when used in the same areas, we should keep in mind that this isn't really a reliable indicator of signal strength.

On another note, we’re rather disappointed with the battery level of the iPhone 4S – especially when it was mentioned to offer better battery life than its predecessor. Strangely, we’re able to get a little bit under 7 hours of continuous talk with a full charge, which is less than the 8 hours it’s rated for. In our day-to-day usage, we don’t find its battery life to be any better than the iPhone 4 since we’re able to get at least one day of normal usage. However, power users will still want to charge it whenever the opportunity arises to keep it at a good level – though, we’d recommend charging it nightly as well. Who knows if it’s something to do with the dual-core processor or something else, but we were expecting more out of its battery life.

We measure battery life by running a custom web-script,designed to replicate the power consumption of typical real-life usage.All devices that go through the test have their displays set at 200-nit brightness.
hoursHigher is better
Apple iPhone 4s
5h 4 min(Poor)
Apple iPhone 5s
5h 2 min(Poor)
Samsung Galaxy S4
4h 59 min(Poor)
6h 48 min(Average)


After all the wait, we’re still scratching our heads in confusion as to why it took this long to release this incremental model. Obviously, we wouldn’t be all that concerned if it were released during its usual summer time frame – much like all of its ancestors before it. But considering that the threshold has been established by the competition, namely by the trove of Android smartphones like the Motorola DROID BIONIC, HTC EVO 3D, and Samsung Galaxy S II, there’s nothing next-generation or completely out-of-this-world with the iPhone 4S. Sure we find those incremental upgrades appreciative to strengthen its appeal, but it’s not like the unprecedented features presented to us by the iPhone 4 last year.

Unless you’re a diehard fan of the iPhone and have an unlimited stash of moolah lying around waiting to be used, or simply have an upgrade available, there’s no denying that you’ll find the iPhone 4S as the most amazing one yet. Sure we love its faster dual-core processor and improved camera, but the single best feature with the smartphone is found with Siri – it simply just works! However, not everything is peachy with the handset, which is evident by its less than gracious battery life. Our biggest gripe with regards to the iPhone 4S's features is the lack of 4G, which means it will provide slower data connectivity compared to LTE handsets on Verizon, for example. However, it should be noted that the iPhone 4S is just as fast as some 4G-branded smartphones on AT&T and T-Mobile. You can find out more details about that in our dedicated article right here.

Well, if you happen to be an Apple iPhone 4 owner, we really don't see too many reasons why you should upgrade. However, if you have an older iPhone, the iPhone 4S will obviously be an awesome choice, due to its beautiful design, outstanding performance and cool features. If we have to compare it to the top of the line Android handsets of today, we believe the iPhone 4S has what it takes to compete successfully. Of course, whether you should side with it or a high-end Android phone depends entirely on your personal needs. One thing is certain – the iPhone 4S is not perfect, and neither is any product from the competition. They all have their pros and cons, but considering the current state of the landscape, we wouldn't go as far as to proclaim an ultimate leader. Frankly, the iPhone 4S will appease the appetite for now, but if it’ll take a full year before we see its successor, it might find itself in a disadvantage in the long run, as Android and Windows Phone continue to gain steam with each device that’s released into the market.

Right now, we believe the Apple iPhone 4S is deserving a rating of 9/10, when we consider its overall quality, features and price, but we'll actually give it an 8.5, because it is only an incremental upgrade from last year's iPhone.

Software version of the reviewed unit:
iOS version:  5.0 (9A334)

Apple iPhone 4S Video Review:

UPDATE: You can now read our iPhone 5 review!


  • Innovative Siri personal assistant
  • Fast dual-core processor
  • Shoots amazing photos and videos
  • World Phone capabilities


  • Battery performance is unchanged
  • No 4G connectivity

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