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Does the iPhone 4S Measure Up?

By  Oct 20, 2011

Topics: Gadgets & Computer Hardware

Whether you pre-ordered your iPhone 4S in order to receive it on the 14th or stood in line like me, now that you you have it in hand, what do you think of this cutting edge piece of technology? Did it meet your expectations?

Not sure how you got the 4S into your hot little hands, but for me, it was a struggle. Due to some order processing issues, I couldn't do the pre-order route. I agonized over how to make sure I had that phone in my hands on Friday. Do I go to the Apple store and risk a very long line? Do I get up in the wee hours and wait in line in the cold for the store to open? I finally settled on taking my chances and showed up at my local AT&T store at about 7:50 am. There were only about 20 people in line (some who had arrived as early as 12:30 am!). As the store employee checked me in on her iPad (in order to avoid any line jumping?) I told her my dilemma and she assured me that they had plenty of phones. I found that interesting for a small community in Indiana, but was definitely relieved to find out - and very happy that I had taken the risk and wasn't one of the handful of people who had sat outside the store for 7 hours. 

Okay, so why am I mentioning all this? Because one of the people who had arrived in the early hours to wait was a gentleman with a visual disability. Why would he be so interested in getting a 4S? I can only assume it has something to do with Siri. If you are like my husband, your next question may be, "What is Siri?"? Siri is the virtual assistant now built into the iPhone 4S. The next generation of the Voice Control app that has been available on iPhones for the last couple of models, Siri is integrated into almost every default app on the iPhone. Want to set an alarm? Just ask Siri, she'll set it up for you. Want to remind yourself to pick up your son from soccer practice? Siri can set that up for you too, along with reading and writing your texts, searching the web for just about anything, writing your emails, texts, notes, searching and playing your music, finding businesses or giving you the weather in your vicinity, and the list goes on. Is it foolproof? No, just try dictating the phrase "iPhone 4S" into a text or email and you'll get some interesting results. (If you want to have a little fun, ask Siri to marry you or ask her to beam you up. You don't always get the same answer to the same question, so try asking more than once.) I didn't really think Siri would be something I'd grow very attached to, although I have to say, after spending the weekend testing it out, I'm finding that I'm missing it when I'm out and about with just my "old" iPhone 4 and I want to look up a location on in the Maps app or send a text while driving.

Does Siri have limitations? Certainly! She doesn't always interpret what you say correctly (although, in my testing it has been accurate the vast majority of the time, even with background noise like dogs barking and kids hollering). This morning I seem to have run into one of Siri's potentially serious issues. No matter what I've asked Siri, I've gotten the response that the network is unavailable. Really? It can't even tell me the time without access to the network? The author of the book My iPhone, Brad Miser, and I have been discussing this limitation this morning. He's discovered another area where the limitation exists: "It appears not to work at all in Airplane mode so I guess it has to be connected to the Internet to work. When the phone is in Airplane mode and I try to open Siri, it makes a different tone and doesn't do anything but say it's having trouble. That is quite a limitation..." After some additional testing, Brad received a message that Siri was not available and it instructed him to connect to the internet (this was in Airplane mode). I guess it still remains to be seen whether Siri is really as useful as Apple has been marketing it to be.

So what else is new? The camera. And is it ever sweet! The results I've gotten so far are much better than with the iPhone 4. The "crispness" of the photos is obvious right away. The response time from the shutter is much better and having access to the Camera app from the lock screen means fewer missed photo ops!
The new notifications feature is nice too. No more interruptions during a call. You access the Notifications Center by swiping down from the top of your screen (something I had to look up because it's not obvious). The resulting screen shows me my local weather, my current reminders and a stock ticker. You can customize what is shown on the page in the Settings app. To go back to wherever you were before you opened Notification Center, just swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
The last new feature that I'm really finding useful is Reminders. This app, especially in conjunction with Siri, is the one I've used the most by far. No more creating a calendar event for every little thing I need to remember to do or places to be - and with four kids, I've got a lot to remember!

I'm sure as I continue to use it, I'll find more little hidden nuggets that make the iPhone 4S a worthwhile improvement over the 4. I'd appreciate it if you'd comment on things that you've found to be useful (or not so useful, as the case may be).