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

Design & Hardware

Different box, same bundle. Included with the iPhone 4S are the exact same items Apple packages with just about every mobile device, which by now should look familiar to any repeat customer. If this is your first time wandering the Apple field, here's what you'll find:

  • Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic
  • Doc Connector to USB Cable
  • USB Power Adapter
  • Documentation

A lint-free cloth would make life a little easier considering the amount of glass on the iPhone 4S, but in it's absence, I've just been rubbing it on my shirt (being careful to avoid the barbeque stains, of course).

The iPhone remains one of the best looking smartphones on the market today. So what if Apple didn't overhaul the exterior, this is a smartphone that's still ahead of the curve in aesthetics. Even if Apple would have outfitted the iPhone 4S with a bigger screen -- and you could certainly argue it should have one -- there would have been inevitable outcries of incompatible accessories and how it was just Apple's ploy to sell more add-ons. In other words, haters gonna hate. And if you are a hater, Apple threw you a bone to chew on. While the overall design is the same, the volume buttons and mute switch have moved a smidgen, which could still render the iPhone 4S incompatible with some cases.

By keeping the design largely unchanged, Apple also leaves itself open to the same criticisms as before, including the Fort Knox approach to locking down its iPhone. If I deem myself intelligent enough to change a battery, shouldn't I be afforded that freedom without having to pick up a special screwdriver to remove the Pentalobe screws and a spunger to pry it all apart, voiding the warranty in the process? The answer to that rhetorical query is "yes."

There's a definite trend in smartphone design to equip new devices with larger screens. Most of these are on the low end of 4 inches, but they're getting bigger and there's at least one (Samsung Galaxy Note) in the works with a 5.3-inch screen -- yes, FIVE POINT THREE FREAKING INCHES. Apple isn't oblivious to this market shift, it's just choosing to ignore it, at least for now. If you're coming from a 4-inch or larger Android or Windows Phone 7 device, the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 4S can be a shock to the system. Having spent the last several months with the Motorola Droid X2 (pictured above, along with the HTC Droid Incredible 2), the very first thing that struck me about the iPhone 4S was how small it looked in comparison. A moment of panic set in as I wondered if this was something I'd get used to, and then I picked it up, spent a few days with it, and really began to appreciate its portability. Not everyone will feel that way, and if this is going to be your first rodeo with an iPhone, do yourself a solid and play with one before committing to a two-year relationship.

Remember what I said about Apple leaving itself open to the same criticisms? Another gripe is the lack of any expandable storage or non-proprietary ports, save for the 3.5mm audio jack. You're stuck with whatever amount of built-in storage you shelled out for from the get-go, and you'll need to use funky adapters for USB (included) and HDMI connectivity (not included).

While the form is largely unchanged, there's been a few improvements to function. One of these is that the Volume Up button now serves double duty as a shutter button. The camera, which I'll cover in a moment, is simply awesome, and it's made even better by having a dedicated shutter button to help you take steady photos.

Another welcome change is the inclusion of dual-antennas. You're now free to hold your iPhone the wrong way -- you know, by gripping it like you would any other smartphone -- without fear of dropping calls, at least as a result of your hands. If your wireless carrier sucks, the iPhone 4S won't change that.

Baby got back, just look at that sexy glass. Unfortunately, good looks are often dangerous, and this is no exception. You'll admire the glass back right up until you drop your phone on the sidewalk or cover it up with a case. I've dropped my Droid X2 a couple of times, and then picked it back up, slapped the rubber battery cover back on, and went on with my day. No harm, no foul. The iPhone 4S? An AppleCare+ or SquareTrade warranty with accidental damage insurance is almost a necessity if you don't plan to shove this thing in a protective case (and you really should).

Source: iFixIt iPhone 4S Teardown

Courtesy of the tech surgeons over at iFixIt, you can get a good look at the Apple A5 processor in the iPhone 4S. This is the main reason why Apple could justify launching another non-iPhone 5 smartphone. It's the same processor Apple uses in its iPad 2 tablet, only reportedly clocked around 200MHz slower based on benchmark performance (Apple didn't disclose the clockspeed). According to Apple, the A5 chip makes the iPhone 4S twice as fast as the iPhone 4, and it's seven times faster in graphics performance.

Source: Apple

Apple is making much ado about data speeds on the iPhone 4S, and specifically that it supports up to 14.4Mbps downloads, which is twice that of the iPhone 4. Marvelous, right? Not so fast (literally). AT&T is the only U.S. carrier with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) technology, and good luck attaining speeds anywhere close to 14.4Mbps. By AT&T's own admission, "HSDPA devices commonly support peak rates of 3.6Mbps or 7.2Mbps, though typical user rates are lower than this." It's not any better over at Verizon and Sprint, both of which are CDMA only and rely on 4G WiMAX (Sprint) and 4G LTE (Verizon) for high-speed data access beyond 3G. But of course the iPhone 4S does not support WiMAX or LTE technologies.

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