A new iPhone is here and it's called the iPhone 4S. It may not have been the iPhone 5 the tech world was expecting: the iPhone 4S has an almost identical physical design to the previous iPhone 4. However, it boasts a number of improvements that make it a worthy upgrade provided you're coming from an iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS. For iPhone 4 owners, however, the iPhone 4S is less appealing — even if it remains a fine smartphone in its own right.
• For full details on the Australian launch of the iPhone 4S, read our iPhone 4S Australian buying guide.
• See how the iPhone 4S stacks up against the competition in our iPhone 4S vs. Samsung Galaxy S II vs. HTC Sensation comparison.
Apple iPhone 4S: Design and display
There really isn't much to say about the iPhone 4S' physical appearance, as it looks almost identical to its predecessor. It features the same "retina" display (326ppi), the same glass back and the same square design with sharp edges. It also comes in black and white models, just like the iPhone 4.
Although the iPhone 4S' "retina" display remains impressive, a larger screen would have been a welcome addition. Popular alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Sensation have 4.3in displays that are significantly larger than the iPhone 4S 3.5in screen. The iPhone 4S' sharp edges do make the phone a little uncomfortable to hold without a case, but there is no doubting the excellent build quality: the iPhone 4S feels both industrial and robust.
The only change in the iPhone 4S' design is the antenna, as it now has both CDMA and GSM antennas. The iPhone 4 previously came in two different versions: a CDMA model for the US market and a GSM model for the rest of the world. The combination of CDMA and GSM antennas means the iPhone 4S is essentially a global phone that will work in any part of the world. The extra antenna (denoted by a thin black line towards the top of both sides) has resulted in a slight shift in position of the mute button on the left side. It's only been moved slightly, but it's enough to make certain cases designed for the iPhone 4 incompatible with the 4S.
The iPhone 4S' antenna doubles theoretical maximum data speeds: it can now download data at up to 14.4 megabits per second (Mbps) over a HSDPA network, twice as much as the iPhone 4 (7.2Mbps). In truth, we didn't notice too much of an improvement in data speeds when we tested the phone on Telstra's Next G network, but there were occasional spots where the 4S picked up a bar of extra reception compared to an iPhone 4 on the same network.
Apple iPhone 4S: New features
Almost all of the changes in the iPhone 4S have taken place under the hood. The iPhone 4S is powered by a dual-core A5 processor and also has a dual-core graphics processing unit (GPU). According to Apple, this makes graphics performance up to seven times faster than the iPhone 4.
Although the improvements in speed are definitely noticeable in day-to-day use, the jump is not huge. Apps do open slightly faster: the camera app in particular takes full advantage of the upgraded internals. It opens almost instantly, there is minimal shutter lag and time between photos is less than half a second. However, the iPhone 4 was no slouch to begin with, so the difference isn't always noticeable. There's definitely an improvement, just not a huge one.
It's much the same story with graphics. The iPhone 4S clearly has a better frame rate, but the difference in playing a game like Real Racing 2 on the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S is minimal. We did notice a bit more detail displayed in elements like grass on the side of the track and the track surface, but the improvements are modest at best. That being said, we expect future gaming titles like the upcoming Infinity Blade 2 to really push the limits of the iPhone 4S' processor.
Perhaps the best "new" feature of the iPhone 4S is its camera. It now has an 8-megapixel sensor (up from the iPhone 4's 5-megapixel sensor) combined with a backlight illuminated CMOS sensor that claims better performance in low light situations. The 4S camera can also record full HD 1080p video (up from 720p HD on the iPhone 4) and also has a new image signal processor for image stabilisation and face recognition.
Once you start using the iPhone 4S' camera, it's clear that it produces a substantial jump in quality over the iPhone 4. For starters low-light photos are much improved: they still possess quite a bit of image noise but detail is high. Macro performance is excellent, aside from the lens occasionally not wanting to focus when it was very close to a subject. The level of detail in images means the iPhone 4S is good enough to use as your primary point and shoot camera, provided you can live with the lack of optical zoom and a tiny LED flash that does little to aid night time photography. Video performance is impressive too: we were particularly impressed at the stability of video during movement and the quality is excellent considering this is a camera phone.
Next page: Siri, iOS 5, battery life, availability