Update, September 12, 2012: A new product in this line is now available. Read our review of the iPhone 5 here.
Editors' note: On November 10, 2011, Apple delivered iOS 5.0.1, which promised to fix the battery life issues affecting some users. The update also fixed a security flaw that allowed third-party applications to add unapproved features.
For the first time since the iPhone was born four years ago, a new model didn't arrive in June this year. The wait set the iPhone 5 rumor mill frothing to overflow, so when the iPhone 4S arrived as an incremental upgrade, fanboys commenced an Internet-wide rending of garments. Some critics grumbled that they didn't get more, and I sympathize...kind of. Yes, the lack of 4G is disappointing. And yes, a totally new design would have been fun. But this is hardly the first time that Apple has chosen to make a subtle upgrade. Remember the iPhone 3GS?
The truth is that the 4S brings healthy improvements to an already excellent device. iPhone owners finally get a 64GB model and a better camera, the dual-core processor delivers more speed, and Siri, the iPhone 4S' personal assistant/robot friend/gofer, adds a new and sassy experience. iOS 5 also trots out changes big and small, and we're glad to see Sprint join the Apple family with a true world phone. So while the iPhone 4S isn't the Jesus phone, it's quite enough for plenty of other people-- more than a million, actually.
Not everything impressed me. I'd prefer a slightly larger screen and my list of iPhones misses remains hefty. Performance on the Sprint model is satisfactory. We encountered slower 3G data speeds than on the Verizon phone, but Sprint has a slight edge in call quality. Remember that there will be a discernible difference between the 4S versions (just like we found with the AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4S) so it's important to choose your carrier wisely.
In the end, the decision to buy an iPhone 4S will depend on your current carrier contract. If you aren't eligible for an upgrade with a rebate, I don't think the new features are worth paying full price (at least $500). But if you can upgrade with a discount, or if you're a Sprint customer waiting to get your hands on the iPhone for the very first time, there is enough here to warrant a switch. Sure, there's the chance that a better "iPhone 5" will come next June, but that's a long time to wait. Besides, in the cell phone world, something better is always around the corner.
As I said, the iPhone 4S is indistinguishable from its predecessor. For the most part, that's fine with me. Having lived through the thin phone craze started by the Motorola Razr, I'm not aching for a slimmer device. Granted, the 4S can feel bulky at times, but I continue to enjoy its solid feel in the hand (something that's not always there with skinny phones). I don't have any problems with the handset's general aesthetics, either. A thinner phone may be prettier, but it's what's inside that really counts.
I also can live without some of the rumored "iPhone 5" features, like a wider Home button and a curved profile. The Home button has never plagued me, after all, and I'd prefer to rest the phone flat on a table and tap away. The glass back continues to concern me a bit, particularly after seeing a handful of iPhone 4s fall to their doom. That shouldn't be an issue if you have a case, of course. But speaking of which, some iPhone 4 cases will not fit on the iPhone 4S because Apple moved the ambient light sensor. So if you're looking to dress your 4S, make sure the case fits perfectly before buying. And if you need suggestions, Executive Editor David Carnoy has a few.
My real design gripe is that the iPhone's display is beginning to look rather small when compared with some of the Android competition. Keep in mind that the iPhone's screen has remained at 3.5 inches since the first edition appeared in 2007. At that time, it was plenty big, but as smartphone screens have crept above the 4-inch mark, I now consider 3.5 inches the bare minimum size for a high-end device.
Absolutely, the Retina Display remains stunningly beautiful (as do many Super AMOLED screens), but its size isn't always practical for in-car and hands-free use. Even worse, it can get rather tiring watching a full-length film with the iPhone perched on your airline seat tray table. How much bigger would I want? Nothing too big--the 4.5-inch displays on some Android models are a bit ridiculous--but something in the range of 3.75 inches or 4 inches would be a Goldilocks just right. I'll leave that up to the next iteration of the phone.
At the iPhone 4S' unveiling, one of the biggest elephants in the room was whether the company would mention any differences to the antenna following the iPhone 4's "antennagate." Yet, when Apple VP of Marketing Philip Schiller took the stage, he revealed that the iPhone 4S has two antennas that it can choose between to find the best signal (more on that later). Even if you can't see any changes on the outside, it appears to fix what I found to be a very real problem.
The 4S inherits all the standard iPhone features from the preceding models, including the calendar, voice memos, weather and stock apps, the various clock features, Google Maps, the compass, text messaging and e-mail, and the Notes app. The iPod player is there as well; the 4S splits your music and video libraries into two separate icons. In another change, the 4S also offers an upgrade to Bluetooth 4.0. Though still a growing technology, Bluetooth 4.0 uses less power and will enable the iPhone to talk to small battery-operated devices like Nike+ sensors and fitness machines at the gym. For more on Bluetooth 4.0, check out this deeper dive from Nicole Lee.
The feature that Apple is touting most is the new voice assistant called Siri. It doesn't completely replace the current Voice Control feature--that's still there if you want it--but it certainly does a whole lot more. Basically, Siri both follows commands and answers your requests for information. For example, you can check the weather, ask for a contact's address, set up a reminder, get directions, and ask for obscure trivia. You speak to a robotic female voice (you can't change her identity) and access the feature by holding down the Home button (just as you do to access Voice Control). It uses both your location and a Google search to find a response, so you will need to have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. The feature is in beta mode and supports English, French, and German. More languages will come later.
On my very first pass the day the 4S was announced, I asked for the next day's weather, the mileage between Cupertino, Calif., and Seattle, a reminder to book air tickets to Chicago, and the capital of Canada. It responded to most of my questions and commands quickly, but it flaked on finding that Ottawa is the capital of our neighbors to the north (according to Siri, she "didn't have enough information"). I'm not sure why that was a problem for her; Siri uses Wolfram Alpha to check facts, which has information on the Canadian city.
On my next pass I tried asking the time in Hong Kong, the current date, where I could get the best burrito by the CNET office, and if Brian Tong is the coolest person ever. It answered the first two questions without any problems, but poor Siri didn't understand our question about Brian. And this time, she did identify Ottawa correctly.
I meant the question about Brian as a joke, of course, but Siri is quite adept at answering a range of queries. When I asked about the best local burrito, she used GPS to give me a list of nearby taquerias with rankings. Yet, not all questions for a preference turned up a good answer. Asking for the best camera, for example, just gave me a list of camera stores. I'm not being critical, since the information Siri delivered was useful--except for listing a Japanese restaurant as a burrito joint--but it is worth noting. On the other hand, Siri didn't hesitate to tell me the best cell phone on the market. "The one you are holding," she replied. Yeah, she can be a bit sassy. I've explored Siri further in this post.
By all means, Siri is a fun and useful feature. Like with FaceTime on the 4S, I got a big kick out of it around the office and I imagine that lots of other people will, too. Over time, I wonder just how much I'd use it, but features like this can surprise you. I asked the same question about FaceTime and I ended up using that pretty frequently while traveling. The challenge for Apple will be to fully integrate hands-free technology. You will be able to activate Siri with a Bluetooth headset (no word on if you can do it with a wired headset), but I understand that car integration is "coming." Given the abundance of hands-free driving laws, it's important that Siri is fully accessible to drivers while they keep both hands on the wheel. Also, it's important to note that even when your phone is locked with a passcode, Siri is usable without entering the code. That means that anyone could use your phone to send a text message, access your calendar, or make a call. You can disable this security flaw in the Settings menu, but bypassing the code is the default option.
The iPhone 4's 5-megapixel camera was already great--especially when you add a third party app--but the iPhone 4S' is significantly better. The 8-megapixel camera offers autofocus, flash, f/2.4 aperture lens, and a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that allows 73 percent more light than the previous sensor and should deliver better low-light performance. A hybrid IR filter is also onboard for better color accuracy. Apple also claims the new camera performs 33 percent faster than the iPhone 4's camera, and the A5 processor has a built-in image processor that adds face detection and 26 percent better auto white balance.
From the start I noticed a difference in image quality over the iPhone 4's camera. Colors were brighter, and the focus was a little sharper with a bit less pixelation. Not surprisingly, the camera also does better in low light, though flash continues to be a little overpowering at times. Here's an in depth look at how the iPhone 4S' camera compares with the iPhone 4. And for more photo fun, Senior Editor Lori Grunin compared the iPhone 4S to the Canon PowerShot 100 HS.
The user experience is almost the same, from the tap-to-focus feature to the video toggle and the shutter control. You will, however, notice a new "Options" icon between the flash control and the button for switching between the cameras. Press it, and you'll find both the HDR feature and an option for adding gridlines to the viewfinder.
Thanks to iOS 5 (more on that later), you also get new choices for cropping and rotating your shots, red-eye reduction, and a single-tap color correction option. The red-eye reduction is a simple process that offered instantaneous and impressive results. Similarly, the single-tap color correction tool balances your colors and, in my tests, did indeed make the image look better. Though I welcome these additions, Apple is way too late to the photo-editing party, as this functionality has existed on basic phones for years. I'll take what I can get, but I'd love even more user control.
iOS 5 also adds several requested features to the camera app, making it much more like a point-and-shoot camera. You get a shortcut on the lock screen that will launch the camera immediately, even bypassing the lock code. A simple double-tap of the Home button brings up both the basic music controls (as before) and the camera icon in the lower right. You then can use the volume control to snap a photo. The picture is saved to your Camera Roll, but for security (having not used your access code) you'll only be able to delete the shot (keeping unwanted users from browsing your iPhone photos).
Videos also get a boost with the ability to shoot 1080p HD video clips at 30 frames per second and with video stabilization. Videos continue to be sharp with fluid movements and sound that matches the action on the screen.
The Sprint factor
In the weeks leading up to the iPhone 4S' unveiling, its imminent arrival at Sprint was one of the wireless world's worst-kept secrets. I'm always a fan of customer choice, so it's great to see these two crazy kids get hitched. What's more, it further releases the iPhone from its AT&T shackles.
Sprint's commitment to keep its unlimited data plans is a very big point in its favor over the tiered options from AT&T and Verizon. I wouldn't be surprised if Sprint eventually changed its mind as well--nothing lasts forever in carrier land--but for now I admire Sprint's chutzpah.
On the other hand, we'll have to see just how the increase in data-hungry users will test Sprint's network and how the carrier's strong Android lineup will withstand the new competition. We'll also continue to see how its model fares against its rivals once all those new iPhones go online. Sprint's WiMax 3G EV-DO Rev. A network typically delivers average download speeds of 600Kbps to 1,400Kbps and average upload speeds of 500Kbps to 800Kbps. If you're used to 3G you won't see a difference, but if you're accustomed to the carrier's 4G WiMax network, the change may be painful.
Verizon's promised 3G data speeds are comparable, but AT&T is doing everything it can to boast that it has a faster HSDPA 14.4 network that's capable of reaching theoretical speeds of 14.4Mbps down, 5.8Mbps up (twice the speed of the iPhone 4, if anyone is counting). Note, however, that AT&T has taken some liberties with its marketing by also saying its iPhone 4S is compatible with even faster HSPA+ speeds. To really be classified as HSPA+, its iPhone 4S would technically need to be capable of reaching theoretical download speeds of 21Mbps, such as the Samsung Galaxy S II for AT&T. At present, Apple's device isn't there yet.
For making calls, I'm glad to see that the Sprint and Verizon handsets are dual-band world phones. That means you'll make CDMA calls at home, but then switch to GSM when roaming abroad (Verizon's iPhone 4 is CDMA-only). Sprint and Verizon say that they will unlock the iPhone 4S' preloaded SIM card on request for customers in good standing. Just remember that the handset uses a Micro-SIM, which may not be easy to find for prepaid international service. On the other hand, AT&T will limit international GSM roaming to its specific partners. Oddly enough, the AT&T phone also has the dual-mode chip inside, but the CDMA functionality has been deactivated. It will continue to support all four GSM bands (850/900/8100/1900) for international travel, though.
Unfortunately, the CDMA models still won't permit simultaneous voice and data transmission. That's a current limitation of the CDMA technology (see our Verizon iPhone 4 review for a more detailed explanation) and though new chips are coming, I'm thinking they'll arrive in the next model. So if you really need to be on the phone and surf the Web at the same time, then you should stick with AT&T.
Admittedly, one of the biggest letdowns from the 4S' unveiling was the lack of 4G for Verizon and Sprint. Though AT&T's LTE network is inching along with just six cities at the time of this writing, Sprint and Verizon's 4G coverage (WiMax and LTE, respectively) is quite widespread. What's more, the networks perform well and both carriers offer a wide range of compatible handsets.
Apple has its reasons, no doubt. Battery life remains an issue for 4G phones and Apple must have decided that, at this point, it couldn't offer its optimal customer experience on a 4G handset. Customer experience, after all, is really what Apple loves most. Secondly, the company never jumps on a technology that is still growing, and it must think that 4G doesn't cover enough people quite yet. Remember that 3G networks were pretty developed when Apple rolled out the first iPhone, but it chose to wait a year later until unveiling the iPhone 3G.
Editors' note: Senior Associate Editor Jason Parker contributed to this section.
Though iOS 5 is not as drastic of an upgrade as we saw with iOS 4 in June 2010, it does offer some long-overdue and exciting enhancements. A few are quiet and just improve the user experience while others will seriously change how you use your Apple handset. For a full analysis on the update, check out our iOS 5 review and how-to guide.
Notifications: Instead of pop-up menus that interrupt your work, a new Notification Center will combine messages, missed calls, app updates, a stock ticker, and the current weather in a single place. You can access it by swiping your finger downward from the top of the screen, and notifications will appear on the lock screen as well. You then can jump directly to the related feature for each notification and delete items by tapping the small X next to each line. Though not exactly original--the pull-down menu has long been a hallmark feature of Android--the ability to see all notifications in one place in iOS 5 is certainly welcome.
Newsstand: This app will bring together magazine subscriptions in a central place. The concept is similar to iBooks, even down to an icon that looks like the periodicals shelf at your local library. As you subscribe to a publication through a new channel in the App Store, new issues are delivered in the background, eliminating the need to manually grab them when they publish.
Twitter: Thankfully, users now will be able to post photos to the social networking service without leaving the image gallery or camera application. It's a nice change, given that it will end the need to take a photo, switch to the iPhone Twitter app, and then post the photo. You'll be able to add a location, sync Twitter with your contacts list, and tweet directly from YouTube, Safari, and Maps.
Safari: The mobile version of Apple's Web browser now has the Reader option that was announced at the 2010 WWDC. Rather than having to deal with complicated layouts of various Web sites, the reader streamlines multipage articles in an RSS-like view while stripping out ads, but leaving photos. You can change the text size and you can e-mail the entire text of a Safari page to a contact (under iOS 4, you could send only a link).
The Reader is a great option for scanning strangely formatted Web pages and when there's no mobile site available. My only problem with the Reader is that it may strip out too much--I often want to see comments on an article, but the Reader deems them unnecessary. In other Safari news, you can add a Web page to a Reading List for future perusal on any iOS device.
Reminders: This handy addition lets you store multiple to-do lists with dates for each event; you can categorize reminders for when you leave or arrive at a GPS location. So, for example, if you have a reminder of "Call home when I leave work," the app will use GPS to note when you're on the move and send the reminder via push notification. Reminders can be shared between devices and sync with iCal on the Mac with CalDAV, and on Windows with MS Exchange. The app has its own sleek-looking scrollable calendar as well, so you can browse or add new tasks and reminders for future dates.
I tested the reminder by location by having it tell me "Don't forget your iPad" once I left the building here at CNET. Sure enough, the iPhone reminded me once I got about a half block away from the building. Browsing through your reminders is easy with a starting page where you can quickly track and search for reminders using a search field. You also have the option to create tasks for more-open-ended reminders that don't need to be done by a specific time.
Mail: The iOS Mail app now has rich text formatting, better indent control, flagging of messages, and the ability to drag addresses between To, CC, and BCC lines. Also, you now can search within the body of a message instead of just in the From, To, and subject lines.
PC Free and iCloud: Arguably the most notable iOS 5 change, PC Free will bring over-the-air software updates and device activations. So as on Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry OS 5 devices, you'll no longer have to plug your device into a computer or even own a computer at all. Activation for the iPhone takes quite a few steps, but it's easy and very quick. I was up and running in a just a few minutes, though it took a few tries for the phone to recognize my Apple ID. You don't have to use a Wi-Fi network to set up your 4S, but it helps.
The wireless updates to apps will serve only the changes, so they'll be shorter, and you'll be able to sync, back up, and restore your device using the new iCloud features. You'll also find new features within apps, like wirelessly editing photos, managing e-mail folders, and creating and deleting calendars. I'll add more details about iCloud as I explore it further.
To sync your iOS device to iTunes on your computer, you need only be on the same Wi-Fi network and your device needs to be charging (plugged into a charger). You can then go to Settings > General on your iPhone to select iTunes Wi-Fi Sync. From there you can select Sync Now on your iPhone and your photos, music, and calendars will be backed up in iTunes.
Game Center: Additions for gamers in iOS 5 include the addition of profile photos, the ability to compare achievement points, friends of friends lists, recommended friends and games (based on your current library), and support for turn-based games. The ability to buy games from within Game Center makes it a bit more of a destination, but it still seems like the service will still be a behind-the-scenes social connector as it was before.
iMessage: Apple takes a shot at BlackBerry with this instant messaging app that will work across all iOS 5 devices. As with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), you'll be able to exchange unlimited text messages, photos, and videos with your friends, family, and colleagues. Even better, your messages won't cost you anything and they won't count against the monthly allotment of messages from your wireless carrier.
You'll also get group messaging, an indicator to see if someone is typing to you, delivery and read receipts, secure encryption, and conversation syncing that is pushed to multiple devices. I'm a little disappointed that the location and contact sharing features don't come straight from iMessage (you need to initiate the process from the related app instead). For example, to send a contact, you'll need to go to your home screen, open your contacts, select a person, choose the Share Contact button, and choose iMessage. It's a bit tedious, but the ability to send that data to a friend is an improvement.
Find My Friends: Announced at the unveiling of the iPhone 4S, Find My Friends is an iOS 5-exclusive app that lets you view your friends' and family's locations in real time on a map when they agree to share location info with you. For added security, you can set a time limit for how long you share your location, a major concern of people who don't want to continually broadcast their location.
After signing in with your iTunes account ID, you can send an invite to friends using their iTunes account ID (they'll need to send you one as well). Once you're hooked up, you'll be able to get a pretty close approximation of where your friends are on a map. The app also has options to give you directions to your friends (via Maps) or speak to them on FaceTime (iPhone 4 or newer) if you can't get an exact location.
In my testing in San Francisco, performance was variable. My location would be very accurate on one street, but in another location it would be a block away from where I was standing. I have the same issue with the GPS fix in general, so it's not surprising. While these types of location features might be useful in specific situations, Android has similar services that have received mixed reviews--specifically by those who were worried about security concerns.
Cards: A new greeting card delivery app also became available in the iTunes App Store alongside the iOS 5 release. Cards lets you design a card on your iOS device and have Apple print it up on high-quality paper (yes, it will be real paper) and send it to your chosen recipient. The service comes with a price, though; you'll pay $2.99 to send a card within the U.S. and $4.99 to send a card anywhere in the world. It's an easy process and you get a lot of design options.
Personal dictionary: A new keyboard shortcut feature lets you create your own personal dictionary. While nothing new, you'll now be able to set up keyboard shortcuts for phrases. Head to Settings > General > Keyboard, then scroll down to Add New Shortcut. Here you can add a phrase like "Talk to you later" then make the shortcut "ttyl." Now, every time you type those letters in an e-mail or text, it will be spelled out automatically.
Alternate Routes: Another new feature that travelers will appreciate is Alternate Routes. When in the Map app, you can get directions as usual, but instead of giving you just one route to your destination, the Map app will now give you two alternate routes (in case of problems like traffic or if you know of nearby construction sites). Simply touch a route to find out how long it will take to get to your destination, then choose the best for your situation. In our tests here in San Francisco, the routes were solid options, and I think this will come in handy wherever you are. The noticeable downside here is that once you've picked your route, the other ones remain on screen, which can be distracting.
Yeah, I have to include this section. With each version of the iPhone, Apple knocks more things off of my wish list, but the list still has plenty on it. Primarily, I'd like to see more choices in autocomplete, shortcuts to individual contacts on the home screen, a way to color code e-mails in the unified inbox, and easier access to common features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Smaller needs include an HDMI-out port and support for NFC services. I'd also like for Mail to get Safari's Reader feature. With iOS 5, I still stumbled upon the occasional e-mail with its own special formatting that the app didn't adjust to make eyeball-friendly on the smaller screen. Considering how much e-mail reading people do on their iOS devices, this would be a welcome addition.
Call quality and reception
I tested the dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900) iPhone 4S in San Francisco using Sprint's network. Call quality was great in my initial tests. I had no trouble getting a signal and I didn't encounter any static or interference. According to FCC radiation tests, the iPhone 4S for Sprint has a digital SAR of 1.11 watts per kilogram.
Sprint iPhone 4S call quality sample Listen now:
The volume on my side was loud and voices sounded natural. I heard a very slight background hiss during calls, but it didn't distract from the conversation. Calls in noisy places weren't quite as satisfactory--at times I had to strain to hear--but that was my only real gripe. My friends said I sounded good, as well. They could tell that I was using a phone, and a few folks said my voice had a higher pitch than usual, but the complaints were few. On the whole, Sprint offered the most accurate voice quality of the three phones even if it was more muffled. See my separate call quality post to see how the voice samples from the three carriers compare with each other.
Speakerphone calls were agreeable. Like with many cell phones, there is distortion at the highest volume levels (the speaker gets pretty loud) and I had to sit close to the phone to be heard. My friends could understand me, though, and I had only occasional troubles with automated calling systems.
As I mentioned, the iPhone 4S has two antennas wrapping around the phone. Though Apple never said so directly, we can't help but think that the fix was in response to the attenuation problems on the AT&T iPhone 4. As such, the phone is designed to scan for the best signal and switch to that antenna. I haven't gauged exactly how the two antennas have improved call clarity, but I'm happy to report that the iPhone 4S doesn't suffer from the dreaded death grip.
Like I said, the iPhone 4S runs on Sprint's 3G EV-DO Rev. A network. What that means to you will vary by location, your connection to a tower, and the capacity of the network at a given time. In early testing, Sprint delivered speeds that were comparable with its other 3G devices. It took about 30 seconds to open graphics-heavy sites like the New York Times, Airliners.net, and Giantbomb.com. Mobile sites took a bit less time; CNET's site opened in 20 seconds.
In initial testing, Verizon's 3G was faster than Sprint's network, particularly for download speeds. After running four tests in CNET's neighborhood, Verizon's network delivered an average download speed of 0.88Mbps and an average upload speed of 0.76Mbps. Compare that with Sprint's 3G network, which had an average download speed of 0.45 Mbps and an average upload speed of 0.47 Mbps. I know that San Francisco is not representative of the entire country. As such, your experience may be completely different. But either way, Sprint's speeds are pretty respectable and the network delivered the experience I needed for a 3G device. Absolutely, 4G users won't be happy, but true Apple fans shouldn't be shocked. In any case, you could cheat and connect to a Sprint 4G-capable hot spot using Wi-Fi. Dong Ngo from CNET Labs also conducted data tests but found different results.
Processor, graphics, and internal performance
The new chipset is the iPhone 4S' biggest star (like on the iPhone 3GS, the "S" in iPhone 4S stands for "speed"). The handset features Apple's A5 dual-core 1GHz processor along with a dual-core GPU. Apple says the new chipset will make the iPhone 4S twice as fast and will offer graphics performance that is seven times faster than the iPhone 4's.
Indeed, there is a noticeable change for the better. Applications across the phone opened quicker--sometimes by up to 3 seconds--and switching between apps using the multitasking feature was smoother. In additional testing, Senior Editor Eric Franklin found just how much faster the iPhone 4S is over its predecessor. On a similar note, Senior Associate Editor Jason Parker found that for some games the iPhone 4S' graphics are far richer. For more on the iPhone 4S gaming experience, check out this post from Senior Editor Scott Stein.
The performance upgrades are indeed welcome, though it's almost a feature that I didn't know we wanted. Previous iPhones never struck me as particularly slow, but if Apple wants to make the experience faster, I'm not going to refuse. And if it can do it without hampering battery life, then even better.
Despite the more powerful processor, the company claims that the smartphone will be able to provide 8 hours of talk time over 3G, 14 hours over 2G, 6 hours of browsing over 3G, 9 hours via Wi-Fi, 10 hours of video playback, and 40 hours of music playback.
The promised battery times are impressive, but manufacturer promises can be just that: promises. Though the Samsung Epic Touch 4G and Motorola Droid Bionic had rated talk times of 8.7 hours and 10.8 hours, respectively, the Samsung lasted a less stellar 7 hours in CNET Labs tests and the Droid Bionic went for just 7.55 hours. In talk time battery life tests, the Sprint iPhone lasted a very respectable 9 hours and 13 minutes. The other carriers' phones may fare differently, so we'll be testing them separately. For media features, the 4S delivered 8.2 hours of video playback and 64 hours of audio playback.
Since our review posted, some iPhone 4s owners have come forward to complain of poor battery life. According to those owners, their phones will last just a few hours, even when the phone is in standby mode. I tried leaving the 4S unattended for 24 hours with GPS, Wi-Fi, notifications, and Bluetooth on. As I long as the display was off, it didn't drain faster (83 percent full to 71 percent) than an iPhone 4 with similar settings. On the other hand, the battery would deplete quickly over the course of half a day with the display on. I also found that during "real-world" testing, where I was multitasking with several features running in the background and the display on, the battery didn't drain abnormally fast. On November 2, 2011, Apple admitted that "a small number of customers have reported lower-than-expected battery life on iOS 5 devices." The company also said that it was issuing a fix in the form of a software update.
Android fans are right: the iPhone 4S adds features that competing smartphones introduced months ago. But that misses the point. It doesn't have everything, but Apple's attention to the user experience remains unmatched. Some consider that focus a worthy trade-off for a regulated and locked-down device, while others prefer more control. Apple's philosophy isn't necessarily right, but it may be right for you. And if so, the iPhone 4S won't disappoint.
The iPhone 4S goes on sale October 14 from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in the United States. It will come in black and white, and pricing starts at $199 for the 16GB version, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB.