iPhone 4 vs. iPhone 4S: Graphics

We decided to put some of the more high-quality current games side by side on the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S to see if we could spot any major difference.

Shadowgun
Shadowgun Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

With the iPhone picking up steam as a gaming platform, one of the biggest announcements for gamers was that the iPhone 4S' graphics would be seven times faster than its predecessor's. Even though no developers have released a game optimized for the device so far (Infinity Blade II is set to launch December 1), I decided to put some of the more high-quality current games side by side on the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S to see if we could spot any difference.

The reason for all the extra speed is the iPhone 4S' dual-core A5 processor, which supposedly has enough horsepower to render complex 3D graphics with significantly high frame rates. This bump in processor power should become particularly apparent once we see some of the new games being developed for the device, but I simply didn't want to wait that long.

Instead, I picked out a group of graphically demanding games and grabbed screenshots from both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Not all the games showed a significant difference in quality, but in a couple the 4S definitely had a leg up on last year's iPhone 4. One thing that was easily noticeable was that the 4S looked better in action in all the games; looking around a 3D world was smoother, atmospheric effects were more pronounced, and details like reflections were much more realistic.

Of the six games I picked, only two showed a noticeable difference, and it's probably because the developers added some tweaks for the iPhone 4S. Even Shadowgun, using the Unity 3D engine, didn't differ visibly between the iPhones. Still, I figured I would show a few screenshots of these games to give you an idea of what I saw. The way I set it up was to have the iPhone 4 screen on top with the iPhone 4S screen right below so I could make them as big as possible for easy viewing.

Epic Citadel

Epic Citadel
Epic Citadel - iPhone 4 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET
Epic Citadel 4S
Epic Citadel - iPhone 4S Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Epic Citadel came out as a tech demo in September 2010, demonstrating what the Unreal Engine 3 could do on an iOS device. Like many who downloaded the free app at the time, I was amazed and excited for the games that would inevitably follow.

Even though it's beautiful on both devices and the iPhone 4S has a better frame rate while you're moving around in the game, the graphical differences are negligible in a still screenshot. The same thing was true for the next game, but I think it's still worth showing...for science!

Dark Meadow

Dark Meadow
Dark Meadow - iPhone 4 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET
Dark Meadow
Dark Meadow - iPhone 4S Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Dark Meadow is a fairly new touch-to-move story game with great-looking visuals as you explore and slowly unravel a mystery. The game looks great on both the iPhone 4 and the 4S, but while the frame rates are improved on the 4S when moving around, again, you can't really tell the difference in a still screenshot. The next two comparisons are a bit more striking.

Infinity Blade

Infinity Blade
Infinity Blade - iPhone 4 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET
Infinity Blade
Infinity Blade - iPhone 4S Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

As I said before, the developers of Infinity Blade II have already said the new game will take advantage of the added power of the iPhone 4S. But even with the original Infinity Blade, you can see that the edges are a little bit smoother, the shadows and lighting are a bit more vibrant, and smaller details look better on the iPhone 4S.

Real Racing 2

Real Racing 2
Real Racing 2 - iPhone 4 Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET
Real Racing 2
Real Racing 2 - iPhone 4S Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Well known as a graphically beautiful racing game, Real Racing 2 shows the biggest difference between the two screenshots. I've noticed that with each new iPhone release, Real Racing developer Firemint is always one of the first to tweak its games to take advantage of the new technology. Everything from shading and reflections to better-looking models (note the roof of the building on the right) adds depth to the visuals to give you a much more realistic experience.

Conclusion: Too soon to tell?
Maybe it was too early to do a post like this one, but I thought it was worth checking out the differences between the two devices. It's important to note that in all the games tested, the frame rate difference was very noticeable, which isn't to say the iPhone 4 performed badly; it's just that the iPhone 4S performed better.

One thing we do know for sure is that as developers start creating games that are meant to take advantage of the dual-core A5 processor, we're going to be seeing some amazing-looking games in the weeks and months to come. And with the holiday season almost upon us, you can bet that there will be a whole slew of games hitting the iTunes App Store in the near future.

 

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