HANDS ON: Apple iPhone 4S

After more than 15 months, Apple has announced the successor to the iPhone 4.

It looks nearly identical (fans will spot that the black lines on the edge of the stainless steel band are in different places, but that is literally the only difference).

Mobile Choice was among a few dozen press invited to the London event - a simultaneous broadcast of the event which took place in Apple's California HQ - and afterwards we had the UK's first hands-on time with the phone.


Apple iPhone 4S white and black versions

Get past the disappointment that it doesn't look different, that the screen isn't bigger, that it's just not new, and you find a gentle but spectacular upgrade is hiding underneath.



First, the iPhone 4S should have a hugely improved antenna, so call-dropping and that sinking feeling when you glance at the phone's signal strength and it says "Searching" should be a thing of the past. About time, too.


Apple iPhone 4S Siri

The stand-out new feature is Siri, a delicate and effective voice control program, used for dictation, for instance. But it goes way beyond the capabilities of apps like the (already excellent) Dragon Dictation. It answers your questions. So if you want a good restaurant nearby you can ask it to find some. Or you can check on stock prices - even asking Siri to compare two stocks simultaneously. It's very advanced, to the point that it almost takes your breath away.


Apple iPhone 4S Siri comparing stocks

The launch event, the first since Steve Jobs resigned for health reasons, may have lacked his showman's pizzaz, but successor Tim Cook (who grew up in Alabama, near the city of Mobile, which seems appropriate) was quietly effective, his southern drawl charming and soothing to the ear.

But it's the hardware that matters, right? Well, Apple wants you to think the software is as important, so there was much talk of the 200 improvements coming in the new software version, iOS 5. This does look good, and includes treats like Cards which lets you send photos to friends as greeting cards to their door. But this software will be available on the iPhones 4 and 3GS - it's available on 12 October, two days before the new hardware.

New eight-megapixel camera

The 4S has an upgraded camera, though. It's an 8-megapixel sensor, it has five lenses to offer great images and you can even take photos direct from the lock screen - a feature pioneered by HTC and Windows Phone 7 handsets. But those aren't the important specs. The new sensor lets in 73 per cent more light than last year's iPhone can, thanks to backside illumination, which moves wiring out of sight of the sensor. Sony has used this for a couple of years in its cameras - it's believed Sony built this sensor for Apple.

It also has a wider aperture, which improves quality, too. Plus, you can set the focus point with one touch and the phone will sort the exposure, too. Or you can superimpose gridlines to get your horizon straight, say. The iPhone 4 is the most-used camera on Flickr and this upgrade should increase Apple's Flickr presence.


But in everyday use, it's the speed bump that will be most noticeable, ensuring that you're never kept waiting. In our tests last night, the speed was amazing, with fast app launches, instant webpage loads and a touch-screen that seemed more responsive than ever.

Will it be enough to keep Apple out in front? Let's remember that Apple makes a huge proportion of its profits from the iPhone, and the current model was launched in June 2010. In the fast-moving world of technology, to release one product in 15 months seems crazy. Just imagine the outcry if Nokia only made one phone a year. Okay, not a good example.

Anyway, it's here, released on 14 October and in capacities of 16GB, 32GB and a new 64GB version. If the price worries you, you could always settle for a current version, the iPhone 4 in a new lower-storage version - 8GB - which could sell for less than £100.

Whatever the response to the iPhone 4S, one thing seems likely: the rumour mill will start grinding again immediately to come up with hype for next year's model, with hopes pinned on a striking new design.

David Phelan

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