iPhone 4S First Impressions

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Carly got her iPhone 4S first thing in the morning. If my recollection is correct, by 8:30am she was on her way to work with a newly activated handset. Her first “Siri-enabled” email came just moments later. I was less fortunate. UPS didn’t arrive until much later in the day and, once the phone arrived, it still didn’t work for hours thanks to AT&T forgetting that there would be a number of phones needing to be activated.Their system choked and my iPhone was, at least for the first few hours, a brick. It was a beautiful brick but it was a brick nonetheless. By 7:30pm the phone was finally activated. Here are a few initial thoughts on the iPhone 4S.

Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?

As you know the iPhone 4S looks the same as its predecessor. It looks EXACTLY the same as the Verizon iPhone 4 and looks almost the same as the GSM version. That means Verizon cases will fit the new phone while some AT&T cases may not work.

I mention the familiar appearance because, if you have been using the iPhone 4, it actually throws you off a bit. It LOOKS the same but when you start using it the phone doesn’t FEEL the same. It is primarily a speed thing.


The iPhone 4 was no slouch. The iPhone 4S makes it seem like one. I’m serious, the iPhone 4S is super fast. Everything just seems to happen. Tap an icon and the app is open. Bring up a webpage and… there it is. Go back to the iPhone 4 and a device that seemed fast just a day ago now feels a tiny bit pokey. And lest you think, “So what’s the big deal?” let me be clear- the speed bump transforms the experience of using the device in a way that really can’t be put into words. And the speed apparently comes with little to no battery hit during actual use. (Standby time is, however, reduced.)


The 8MP camera is killer. I mean, who would have imagined having an 8MP camera on your phone just a few years ago let alone an 8MP camera that actually works beautifully? Other phones have the same MP as the iPhone 4S but don’t produce the quality of image that this phone offers. The onboard editing functions in the Photos app are convenience as well and Photo Stream finally makes getting your pictures from your phone to you computer or iPad a seamless process. All of that adds up to the iPhone 4S having a great camera.

The real story, however, is the speed. The camera can be accessed from the home screen in iOS 5.0 and the volume buttons can be used to take the photo. Combine those two tweaks with a camera that is ready to shoot almost instantaneously and is ready for the next picture even more quickly and you have a camera that you are going to use constantly.

At this point is has become trite to say that “the best camera is the one you have with you” but, fact is, it is true. The iPhone 4S requires a slight tweak in the expression. Thanks to it, “the best camera is the one you have with you that is ready to go almost before you are”. The camera is awesome. Period.



The features I was most excited by was Siri. I do a ton of voice recognition and the idea of intelligent voice recognition baked into the OS was exciting. I had used the now defunct stand along Siri app, as well as Dragon Go so I was already familiar with the potential of this technology. It was THE reason for me to upgrade. Unfortunately I’m finding Siri to be a mixed bag. When it works it works beautifully. The operative phrase here is, of course, “When it works…”. To get Siri to be helpful you need to be in a quiet location or using a super high quality microphone. And while Siri doesn’t need specific formulae for what you say you still need to phrase things in certain ways to get the most accurate response. Go off that path and getting the information you want will be hit or miss. That noted, when I asked Siri to set a wake up alarm it did so without issue. The same held true for setting a few geo-triggered reminders. I set one that was linked to my home address and, when I drive up my driveway it popped up the reminder.

Siri also has an attitude. “I love you.” yielded “You are the wind beneath my wings.”. “You aren’t very helpful” yielded “I’m doing my best.” And an insult resulted in “Now, now Dan.” I like that!

A quick tip for those who have a lot of contacts. Siri does a lot using contact names. If there are people or places you expect to use a lot it is worth taking times to adjust the name in the contacts to something unique that Siri can grab on to. For example, the system didn’t like “Editors, Gear Diary”, the contact name for the editorial staff’s email group. I changed it to simple GearEdit and it works fine. Those small tweaks, along with you getting to know Siri and Siri getting to know you should result in better and better interactions with the system.

Siri is the future but, as Apple noted, it is still in Beta.

Voice Transcription: For me this is, in fact, the game changer. My entire reason for going back to Android a few times was because I wanted to be able to reply to email, create a note, or write a post by voice. On Android I could do this anywhere there was a keyboard. On the iPhone I needed to go into Dragon Dictation. It worked but it added a few steps. No longer. No, now I can use voice anywhere there is a keyboard and the transcription quality is fantastic. The microphone button is a bit small and the system is a bit erratic, it fails to transcribe sometimes, but, overall, it works and it works beautifully. If this were the only update from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S I would still be a happy camper. Yes, it is that important to me. (You mileage may vary.)

So those are a few initial thoughts with more to come. Once again Apple had me spend significant money without a bit of buyers remorse. That says it all.

First Impressions from CarlyZ

Carly here, jumping in with a few quick first impressions of my own. Dan covered the high points, but here’s my experience. I’m coming from a Droid, and this is a world of difference. Partly it’s that I’m going from a 2-year old phone to a brand new, speedy phone, and partly because iOS is not Android, and there are some adjustments I need to make. More on that in another post, though. 

Back to focusing on the iPhone. Within the first 5 minutes I was hooked. The killer feature for me is that the voice transcription and Siri work over my car’s bluetooth. So if I suddenly remember I need to set a reminder, add something to my calendar, etc., I can use Siri without holding the phone up to my ear. Huge! 

But the real proof is when I came home last night and showed off my new phone to Sarah. At first she was happy that I had a nicer phone and would finally stop complaining about my Droid, but otherwise she didn’t show much interest. We hopped in the car for an hour-long drive to a concert, and she was fiddling with my iPhone as I drove. Sarah has an HTC Incredible, and her comments went something like this: “This looks like my phone. Wow, this looks a lot like my phone. This is more fun than my phone.” She then played with my iPhone for the remainder of the drive, and this morning told me she might want an iPhone to replace her Incredible someday.

Another Android household bites the dust!

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

2 Comments on "iPhone 4S First Impressions"

  1. Jamie Poster | October 15, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    Dan that is not fair! I told Siri that I love her and she said “I’m only here to serve you.” She’s fickle! -Jamie P

  2. @CarlyZ:disqus 

    I like Android, I really do.  I try out nearly every new flagship Android device that Verizon offers.  But I totally agree that as far as making the User Experience nearly painless, iOS takes the cake.  No, it’s not the most powerful or full-featured, and there are aspects of it that can be infuriating.  However, for most people it just WORKS.

    I have had my 4S since Friday and only recently have I even played around with Siri.  I upgraded mostly for the improved processor speed, the improved camera and double the storage capacity.  I’m totally satisfied with it so far.

    I’ll be eagerly awaiting the Droid RAZR/Spyder when it gets released, though!

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