Apple iPhone 4S: What's In It For You vs iPhone 4?

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Camera, Software and Siri

Without a doubt, the built-in camera is one of my favorite features of the iPhone 4S. Apple didn't just bump up the number of megapixels from 5MP to 8MP, it also outfitted the iPhone 4S with all-new optics and an extra lens. It uses a larger F/2.4 aperture to let more light through, and the end result is you can can snap larger, better looking photos in almost all lighting conditions. The difference in picture quality compared to the iPhone 4 and other smartphones is especially noticeable in low light photo shoots.

It also loads fast. From tap to snap, it took me 1.7 seconds to load the camera and take a picture. Repeating the same test on my Droid X2 took 3.7 seconds. That doesn't sound like much, but when a spur of the moment photo opportunity presents itself, 2 seconds can mean the difference between getting the shot you want and not getting one at all.

As I previously mentioned, the the Volume Up button can now be used as a shutter button. On the software side, there's a built-in grid you can turn on to help follow the rule of thirds if you fancy yourself a professional photo guru in the making. There's also an HDR function, and the ability to perform basic edits, like crop and quick color enhancements.

Left: Original Shots, Right: HDR Enhanced

If you enable the HDR function on the iPhone 4S, it will capture three photos at different exposure levels, layer the shots together, and create a single photo. By default, the iPhone also saves an original image along with the HDR photo in the Camera Roll so you can compare the two.

The HDR function works fairly well, though it's not always the better option. You really need good lighting to take advantage of the HDR feature, something I'm in short supply of here in the midwest (Michigan, in case you're wondering). In the photos above, the left are the originals and the right are HDR captures. Other than resizing for the web, no post processing was performed on any of the images.

1080p HD Video Footage:

Apple also upgraded the video capabilities of the iPhone, which is now able to record in Full HD 1080p. Videos further benefit from image stabilization and temporal noise reduction technologies, both included in the iPhone 4S. The clip above shows fast moving traffic on a rainy, overcast day.

Apple's "Let's Talk iPhone" served as the launchpad for both the iPhone 4S and iOS 5. I'm not going to cover all the finer points of Apple's latest and greatest mobile OS -- there are over 200 feature additions -- but there are some points worth mentioning. Keep in mind that unless otherwise noted, these features also apply to the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation), iPad, and iPad 2.

One of my favorites is the Notification Center. It offers a pull-down curtain view of all your notifications, a feature that's old hat to Android, and one Apple was wise to emulate. I could do without the stock ticker, which I was able to disable in Settings > Notifications > Stock Widget.

Another feature I'm excited about is tabbed browsing in Safari. This is something that's old hat to everyone, and it's about time Apple included it here. I'm also enjoying Safari Reader, which cuts out the clutter and displays a website's main article in a more friendly manner.

There are three things that set the iPhone 4S apart from its predecessor. We've covered two of them already -- the dual-core processor and much improved camera optics -- and the third is Siri. When I watched Apple's promotional video for Siri, I thought, "Wow, that's really cool, but I bet it sucks. There's no way this thing works as advertised." I was wrong.

Some of you are already familiar with Siri. Prior to the iPhone 4S, a less awesome version of Siri was available in the App Store, one that didn't always work right. Apple pulled the app and integrated an improved version into the iPhone 4S, and it's truly an amazing piece of technology. Here's an example of how one of my exchanges went:
Me: Is there a Red Lobster nearby?
Siri: Ok, here's Red Lobster; it looks pretty close to you. (Siri pinpoints Red Lobster's location on a map)
Me: Hmm, how about any other seafood restaurants?
Siri: I found 4 seafood restaurants fairly close to you. (Siri lists them starting with the closest one)
Me: Actually, I think I'm in the mood for steak.
Siri: I found 4 steak restaurants fairly close to you.
Me: Send a message to Tammy and tell her to meet me at Great Steak.
Siri: Here's your message to Tammy. Ready to send it?
Me. Yes.
This is a basic example; Siri's capable of a whole lot more. She's also a little sassy from time to time, and almost always accommodating. She's also able to connect the dots while keeping you out of trouble. Tell her you need to hire a prostitute, for example, and she'll let you know about any local escort services rather than directing you to the Red Light District. She responds to things like, "Beam me up, Scotty!" and once the novelty of trying to discover Easter eggs wears off, you're left with a useful piece of technology that can send text messages, set reminders, schedule meetings, and more.

* Editor's Note: This staff at HotHardware does not condone Paul's sinful ways.

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