Though it's not the iPhone 5 many Apple fans were hoping for, the iPhone 4S nevertheless boasts "healthy improvements to an already excellent device," says Kent German of CNET. Sporting the same sleek design as the Apple iPhone 4 (*Est. $100 and up with contract), the iPhone 4S has an A5 dual-core 1 GHz processor (the same as in the iPad 2), a dual-core graphics processor, as well as the new iOS 5 operating system.
The enhanced hardware lives up to Apple's promise of the 4S being twice as powerful as the previous iPhone, reviewers say, and graphics performance is five times faster, according to reviewer tests. With its reconfigured antenna for better call quality, 8-megapixel camera and a slightly sassy voice-activated personal assistant called Siri, the iPhone 4S "may not look different from the outside, but inside it's a very different beast," says Vincent Nguyen of SlashGear.com.
Potential customers worried about dropped calls due to antenna issues can rest easy, reviewers say; the iPhone 4S contains two antennae that switch back and forth to find the best signal. The 8-megapixel camera is an upgrade from the iPhone 4's 5-megapixel camera, but what really makes the difference is the backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that allows 73 percent more light than the previous sensor for better low-light performance. The new camera is "much more like a point-and-shoot," says CNET's German. "Colors were brighter, and the focus was a little sharper with a bit less pixilation."
Of all the upgrades to the 4S, reviewers say Siri steals the show, taking voice recognition technology to the next level. Users can ask questions ("What's the weather today?") or state commands ("Call mom."), and Siri will respond accordingly. Reviewers agree this "crisply accurate, astonishingly understanding, uncomplaining, voice-commanded minion" -- as David Pogue of The New York Times describes it -- is one of the main selling points for the iPhone 4S.
No longer exclusive to AT&T and Verizon customers, the iPhone 4S is now available for Sprint as well. The carrier you have, however, will make a difference, the Times' Pogue points out. "Sprint is the only one with an unlimited iPhone data plan," he says. "AT&T says it has the fastest download speeds. But if you care about calling coverage, Verizon is the way to go."
Regardless of the carrier you go with, the new iPhone is a world phone, a definite plus for international travelers. And unlike many smartphones, all that extra power won't come at the expense of battery life. Vincent Nguyen estimates the iPhone 4S can handle up to nine hours of active use, easily enough to make it through a day without running for a charger.
Still, reviewers say the iPhone 4S will be most popular with new customers or those upgrading from the iPhone 3GS. The iPhone 4 has dropped to $99 while the iPhone 3GS is now free, both with a two-year contract. "My advice is that owners of the iPhone 4 needn't rush to upgrade; they can get the new operating system," says Walter S. Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal. "But owners of older iPhone models, or those with basic phones, will find this latest iPhone a pleasure and a good value."
Several reviewers test the new features and performance enhancements on the iPhone 4S. TechRadar.com presents the most thorough review, while CNET and PC World both cover all the newest features in depth. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also weigh in on the iPhone 4S, as does SlashGear.com.
Gareth Beavis covers all the details of the new iPhone 4S in a 12-part review. He gives it a score 4.5 out of 5 stars, describing it as "one of the best phones on the market at the moment."
Review: iPhone 4S Review, Gareth Beavis, Oct. 17, 2011
Awarding the iPhone 4S 4 out of 5 stars, Kent German offers a detailed review of the iPhone's latest features along with test results for web speeds and processor performance.
Review: Apple iPhone 4S, Kent German, Oct. 13, 2011
Jason Snell describes the improvements to the 4S, providing a table of speed test results in addition to test images from the iPhone's camera.
Review: iPhone 4S Review: It's a Sure Thing, Jason Snell, Oct. 11, 2011
4. The New York Times
In a two-page article, David Pogue looks at what's new with the iPhone 4S and how this may affect users. He concludes that the iPhone 4S has "a lot of amazing technology. And some of it feels like magic."
Review: New iPhone Conceals Sheer Magic, David Pogue, Oct. 11, 2011
Breaking the iPhone 4S review into sections covering each of the latest upgrades to features and hardware, Vincent Nguyen provides an insightful look at the smartphone's performance as well as plenty of images and videos of it in action.
Review: iPhone 4S Review, Vincent Nguyen, Oct. 11, 2011
6. The Wall Street Journal
Walter S. Mossberg examines the upgrades to the new iPhone 4S. He concludes that while it is "one of Apple's less dramatic updates" it still presents an "attractive new offering to smartphone users."
Review: The iPhone Finds Its Voice, Walter S. Mossberg, Oct. 12, 2011