Reviewers on the iPhone 4S: Bad Name, Great Phone

Gadget critics are now on the same page with consumers who are buying in record numbers

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A week Apple's big announcement, iPhone 4S reviews are out. Despite the initial disappointment at a refresh rather then a new model, consumers didn't seem to care, showing up in record numbers. And now reviewers are on the same page. After spending some quality time with the latest iGadget bloggers have reached a general consensus: Bad name, great phone. Here are the five things everyone's saying about the iPhone 4S.

What's up with that name? 

The New York Times's David Pogue bookends his review with an iPhone 4S name breakdown. Final consensus: It doesn't matter.

What’s in a name?

A lot, apparently. Apple’s new iPhone is called the iPhone 4S. But what people really wanted was the iPhone 5...

The question isn’t what’s in a name — it’s what’s in a phone. And the answer is: "A lot of amazing technology. And some of it feels like magic."

TechCrunch's MG Siegler defends Apple's name choice.

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of talk in the blogosphere following the unveiling of the iPhone 4S last week. Some pundits seemed underwhelmed by what was unveiled on stage. "Where’s the iPhone 5?," many wondered. Arguing over names is silly — Apple could have easily called this device the "iPhone 5″. But I assume they chose not to for the same reason that some actually felt underwhelmed: the iPhone 4S looks exactly like the iPhone 4. Fair or not, if a device looks the same, many will assume it is largely the same.

But that would be selling the iPhone 4S well short. While it does look the same as the iPhone 4, the 4S contains innards that are a significant upgrade over the previous model. 

Actually, it has the perfect new name, explains Wired's Brian X. Chen.

Apple never specified what the "S" stands for in iPhone 4S, and it may as well stand for Siri.

Walt Mossberg over at AllThingsD elaborates on that point: There's something powerful beneath that familiar hood.

Sometimes, as we all know, looks can be deceiving. While Apple’s latest iPhone doesn’t look different, and may not be the kind of blockbuster people expect from the late Steve Jobs’s company, it thinks different, to quote one of Apple’s old ad slogans. Inside its familiar-looking body there lurks a nascent artificial-intelligence system that has to be tried to be believed.

Siri spoils you.

While Chen believes "Siri is the reason people should buy this phone," he points out its limitations.

The only other problem with the iPhone 4S is that once you start using the robot assistant, you’ll wish it did a lot more. It is limited, but really good at what it can do so far.

Pogue admits Siri works mind blowingly well, calling it "crazy good, transformative, category-redefining speech recognition." But he too finds it limiting.

She is not, however, as smart as “Star Trek’s” computers. She draws an apologetic blank if you say things like, “How many AT&T minutes do I have left this month?” or “How do you get ketchup stains out?” And it’s surprising that she doesn’t interact with more of the built-in apps. It would be great if you could open an app by voice (“Open Angry Birds”) instead of hunting through 11 screens, or turn on Airplane Mode by voice, or display a certain set of photos.

After detailing all the amazing thins Siri can do, like read text messages and dictate e-mail, Mossberg laments its shortcomings.

Siri has limitations, in addition to imperfect accuracy. It can’t read the contents of email. It can’t provide flight information or movie times. But Apple says it intends to link Siri to more databases over time. Also, Siri can reveal private data you’d rather it didn’t unless you adjust your passcode permissions.

A camera to replace your digital camera. 

An 8 megapixel beast, Pogue lauds the camera's capabilities.

Its photos are crisp and clear, with beautiful color. The low-light photos and 1080p high-definition video are especially impressive for a phone. There’s still no zoom and only a tiny LED flash — but otherwise, this phone comes dangerously close to displacing a $200 point-and-shoot digital camera.

Siegler thinks its the phone's best feature

The camera is an even bigger deal to me. As I’ve been following for some time, and Apple noted last week, the iPhone has become the most popular camera in the world if you go by the images uploaded to Flickr. And it’s not even close. This new camera in the iPhone 4S goes above and beyond. And it’s going to push that lead even further.


If the point-and-shoot market wasn’t in trouble before, it will be now.

Apple even made getting to the camera app easier, which Mossberg likes.

Also, Apple finally has matched some competitors by allowing you to quickly get to the camera, even when the phone is locked, by just pressing the home button twice; and by letting you use the volume button to snap the picture. (These features are part of the free software and aren’t unique to the 4S.)

A5 Chip: Faster is always better.

The iPhone 4 wasn't all that slow, explains Pogue, but he's not too upset about the upgrade.

There’s a faster chip, the same one that’s in the iPad 2. More speed is always better, of course. But it’s not like people were complaining about the previous iPhone’s speed.

It also makes the camera faster, which Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky appreciates.

The camera is also noticeably faster, thanks to the phone’s new dual-core A5 processor, the same brain used in Apple’s iPad 2. Indeed, the faster processor, combined with changes to the graphics, software and antennas, makes the iPhone 4S zippier across the board -- in launching and running apps and even in downloading data.

But really, it's a ton faster, especially when it comes to gaming explains Siegler.

First of all, the iPhone 4S blows away the iPhone 4 when it comes to speed...

Better still is the performance boost that games get. Apple showcased Infinity Blade 2 during their demo last week, but the improvements to even less graphic-intensive games is impressive. 

iOs 5 is a much needed upgrade.

It's a much needed upgrade with a few glitches, explains Pogue.

Android phones seem to come out every Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. Apple updates iOS and the iPhone only once a year. So Apple had a lot of catching up to do, even some leapfrogging. There are some rough spots here and there; for example, every now and then the 4S’s camera app gets stuck on its startup screen. And while the battery still gets you through one full day, standby time is shorter than before (200 hours versus 300). But over all, Apple has done an excellent job.

Mossberg seconds that: Apple played catch-up with this one.

Apple claims the new iOS 5 operating system has 200 new features. These include some catch-ups, like a pull-down panel that combines your notifications of alerts and reminders, and new messages, plus a stock ticker and weather info. Also, like some other phones, the new system will allow you to swipe on an alert and go to the content, even if the phone is locked.

But it also has some pretty rad features, like wireless synching and smarter auto correct, which The Guardian's Stephen Fry loves.

iOS 5.0 allows Over The Air updating and iTunes syncing, gives (AT LAST!!) a glossary so that we can make up our own text abbreviations and correct bad auto-correct habits (if ever I type "tou" it now automatically becomes "you"), offers a vast, customisable range of notification options, including a draw-down curtain familiar to Android users. iOS 5 also integrates Twitter globally so that I can go to a website, for example, and see that "Tweet" has been added to the list of sharing options available.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.