iPhone 4S Reviews: No Disappointments

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The wait for Apple’s iPhone 4S is almost over—it launches on Friday—but already a select batch of reviewers have laid hands on Apple’s latest handset. No surprises here: They dig it. Here’s a roundup of the first iPhone 4S reviews.

Design

As you’ve probably heard, the iPhone 4S looks exactly like its predecessor, with two glass panels and an aluminum trim that the late Steve Jobs once described as resembling “a beautiful old Leica camera.” Joshua Topolsky at This is My Next doesn’t see this as a negative, considering the competition:

“It’s kind of incredible when you think about it. Competing phone-makers have had more than a year (a lot more considering the leaked photos of the iPhone 4 prior to its release) to best this design, and yet no one really has. As frustrating as it is to say this, no other phone on the market comes close to this level of craftsmanship, materials, or considered design.”

(MORE: Why Competing with Apple Is So Difficult)

Performance

The iPhone 4S has a dual-core A5 processor, good for up to a 7x boost in performance, according to Apple. Macworld’s benchmarks didn’t show such significant improvements—Apple’s claims are a best-case scenario, of course—but general performance tests indicate the iPhone 4S is “roughly twice as fast” as the iPhone 4, wrote Jason Snell. In unofficial benchmarks compiled by Anandtech, the iPhone 4S outperformed every other phone on the market. It’s a fast phone.

Although the iPhone 4S gets an hour more talk time than its predecessor, it gets an hour less of Wi-Fi browsing. Still, This is My Next’s Topolsky had no qualms. “The 4S is more than capable of going through a full business day without needing a charge, and if you’re a lighter user, you’ll rarely have to worry about it,” he wrote.

Camera

I like how the New York Times‘ David Pogue described the iPhone 4S’s souped-up camera:

“It has a resolution of eight megapixels, which doesn’t matter much, and a new, more light-sensitive sensor, which does. Its photos are crisp and clear, with beautiful color. The low-light photos and 1080p high-definition video are especially impressive for a phone.”

According to John Gruber at Daring Fireball, Apple dedicated “an enormous amount of engineering attention” to making sure the camera starts up quickly. Apple claims that initial camera start-up time is 1.1 seconds on the iPhone 4S, and 0.5 seconds for subsequent start-ups. Gruber says the reduced start-up time is the most profound difference between the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S cameras. (He also put together a nice Flickr gallery comparing the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and a premium point-and-shoot camera from Ricoh. The iPhone 4S holds its own against the Ricoh.)

Siri

Siri is arguably the iPhone 4S’s most significant addition. It’s a virtual assistant that speaks in a computerized female voice and responds to natural dialog. It’s fun to see how reviewers prodded the system.

Here’s Gruber:

“On a whim, I asked Siri, with no other context, ‘When is my next haircut?’ Siri answered with my appointment scheduled for later this month. I asked, ‘When was my last haircut?’, and it found that appointment from a month ago.”

Pogue:

“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.”

Walt Mossberg at All Things D:

“When I asked it ‘What’s the best phone?’ it said, ‘Wait… there are other phones?'”

Topolsky:

“Asking it “what is the meaning of life?” will bring up a number of responses, both serious and not so serious. The first time I asked, Siri simply said ’42.’ If you ask Siri if there’s a god, the software points you in the direction of the nearest church (oddly, no synagogues, Buddhist temples, or mosques are suggested).”

Macworld‘s Jason Snell sums up Siri’s strengths and weaknesses:

“The truth is, once you start using Siri in earnest, you’ll discover where its boundaries are. It’s great at working with text messages, but not with email. It knows a lot about weather and restaurants but nothing about movie times. Apple says that understanding the words you say is the easy part, and that Siri’s true genius is in figuring out what you want when you say those words and getting you the answer. If that’s true, Siri needs to be tied in to many more information sources and apps. (Including third-party apps, which are not capable of tying into Siri today.)”

The Verdict

All the reviewers cited above gave high praise to the iPhone 4S and found few nits to pick. Pogue even used the word “magic.” I’ll leave the last word to Snell, who finishes his review with some practical buying advice:

“It’s an object of some appeal to people who last upgraded their phones a year ago, and over the next year a great many of them will find it worthwhile to upgrade to the iPhone 4S. But to all those people who’ve been hanging on to their iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS, the wait is over: It’s time to upgrade without any hesitation whatsoever.”

Read more about the life and legacy of Steve Jobs in the tribute book from TIME—Steve Jobs: The Genius Who Changed Our World

MORE: No iPhone 5 Until 2013? Cue the Newest Round of Rumors

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