Apple iPhone 4S (64GB) review: Apple iPhone 4S

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Silky-smooth operation. Great camera, great features. iOS App Store is still top of the pops.

The Bad Design feels stale in such a dynamic market. Small screen compared to competition. As fragile as ever.

The Bottom Line Without a good reason to look elsewhere, the iPhone remains the smartphone of choice. The software still holds the edge where it counts.

CNET Editors' Choice Nov '11

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Apple iPhone 4S(Credit: Apple)

iPhone 4S is the best iPhone ever. Anyone who wants an iPhone right now should buy it. It just isn't an iPhone that demands an instant upgrade for iPhone 4 owners.

In hindsight, it was exactly the iPhone we should have been expecting. Just as the 3G and 3GS before, the iPhone 4S was the "under the hood" upgrade of the model that came before it. This two-year tick-tock product cycle suits the mobile phone industry and its 24-month contracts perfectly. It also supports the iAccessory industry and gives them confidence that their latest products will largely suit a new design for two years.

But rumours love hyperbole, with expectations higher than any reality distortion field could contain. And two years is a long time in the bustling smartphone market to stick with the same design. How can Apple get away with it?

Design

Inch for inch, the iPhone 4S is the iPhone 4. You'll find just a few slender adjustments to the glass and brushed metal exterior. An antenna redesign has shifted the position of the black strips found on the metal border. In turn, these changes have led to a minor shift in the position of the mute switch and volume buttons. While only slight, this has been enough to make the 4S incompatible with more than a handful of iPhone 4 cases.

About the only other thing you can spot that is different is when looking closely down the barrel of the rear camera lens, or the shift from Phillips head to Pentalobular screws (a move that had already started on later iPhone 4 models).

That the design is near-identical was the critical disappointment for many when the 4S first appeared. If you hated the iPhone 4's appearance, you'll maintain your rage against the 4S.

The problem has been how quickly the competition has evolved in the past year. Slicker, thinner and bigger screens. New textures surrounding the glass and covering the back that make other handsets feel fresher in the hand. The iPhone is simply not the most beautiful piece of smartphone hardware on the market anymore. But should that trump performance?

Experience

It's what you do with an iPhone that still gives it its edge. iOS 5 is now available for iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S, so this is not a specific advantage to people who already own older iPhones. iOS 5 even improves basic benchmarks for older handsets for a snappier overall experience.

With iOS 5 on iPhone 4S, general day-to-day use is silky smooth. The dual-core A5 processor removes a few slight delays when launching apps or changing tasks compared with the iPhone 4. Side by side, there is a clear superiority. When used away from each other, the iPhone 4 still feels sharp enough, so this is no critical reason to throw away the last phone to make a quick upgrade to the new — unless you simply cannot live knowing you are no longer the fastest iPhone in town.

If there's a key advantage on alternative platforms, it is still Android's live home-screen widgets. Deep diving in iOS just to toggle Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is painful once you've toggled such settings on an Android phone.

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Where to Buy

Apple iPhone 4S (64GB)

Part Number: CNETApple iPhone 4S (64GB)

Typical Price: $999.00

See manufacturer website for availability.