History loves to repeat itself, and even Apple isn’t immune to the yearly cycle of rumor and release. Leading to each year’s iPhone refresh, excitement, rumors, and hype build to a fever pitch, features and designs are added into an increasingly unrealistic combination, and finally everyone is silenced at the device’s eventual unveiling.

Today we’re looking at Apple’s latest iPhone refresh, the iPhone 4S (henceforth just 4S).

The review has to start somewhere, and the path of least resistance is usually just exterior appearances - in this case the 4S is easy to go over. The 4S keeps the overall form factor and design of its predecessor, but to call it identical to the iPhone 4 isn’t entirely correct. Instead, the 4S borrows its stainless steel band break locations from the CDMA iPhone 4, which we talked about extensively when it finally released. The GSM/UMTS iPhone 4 previously had three notches, where the CDMA iPhone 4 and 4S have a total of four.


Top: iPhone 4S, Bottom: iPhone 4

The long and short of this change is that the notches have been moved around to accommodate a design with two cellular antennas. One is up at the very top, the other is at the very bottom - the two are the small U shaped portions. The result of this change is that the 4S has a very symmetrical design, as opposed to the GSM/UMTS 4’s asymmetric layout.

Top: iPhone 4S, Bottom: iPhone 4

Just like the CDMA iPhone 4, the 4S also moves the vibrate/lock switch down the device just slightly to accommodate the new break for the top antenna band. This is the physical change that breaks compatibility with cases designed for the older GSM/UMTS iPhone 4. If you recall previously, however, Apple refreshed its bumpers with a new “Universal” line around the time of the CDMA iPhone 4 launch. At that time, case makers also followed suit with a larger vibrate/lock switch port. The result is that if you have a “universal” case created after the launch of the CDMA iPhone 4, you likely won’t need a new one for the 4S.

I say likely because some cases that cover the front of the 4S and are universal might not work as well owing to a small change in the placement of the 4S’ ambient light sensor. It’s going to be a case by case basis to determine which 4 cases that cover the front of the display work with the 4S.

The rest of the 4S exterior is superficially identical to its predecessor, which has become something of a point of contention for shoppers who like being able to identify themselves as owning a 4S, as opposed to a 4. There are, however, subtle differences you can leverage to tell the 4S from its two 4 brethren. The 4S includes the regulatory (FCC, recycling, European Conformity, e.t.c.) logos below its model numbers and FCC ID. The CDMA 4 doesn’t include those logos. Again, the GSM/UMTS 4 is alone with its three-notch stainless steel bands. It is admittedly curious that Apple hasn’t decided to make some other larger change to distinguish the 4S from the other two - there’s no mention of 4S anywhere on the phone. The iPhone 3G and 3GS were famously distinguished from each other by the inclusion of chrome iconography on the back. I fully expect Apple to update their identifying iPhone page with basically the above information at some point in time, but to say that the 4S is identical to the previous device is disingenuous.

The 4S design is without a doubt, however, an evolution of the CDMA iPhone 4’s design. Like the latter, the 4S includes the same improved vibration unit instead of the counterweight vibrator that most smartphones include. The result is a virtually silent, completely smooth vibrate, instead of the louder rattle and sharp acceleration that accompanies the counterweight vibration. The result is much less conversation-interrupting noise when the 4S vibrates during a call, and less intrusive notification.


Battery capacity up to 1430 mAh

The other subtle change is an extremely small jump in battery capacity, from 1420 mAh in the 4 to 1430 mAh in the 4S. This is a very small change that boosts the capacity in watt-hours from 5.25 to 5.3. In addition the 4S puts on a little bit of weight, from 137 to 140 grams, but again nothing major.

Even the 4S packaging is basically the same as prior versions, including the same design and contents. Inside you get the phone, dock cable, headset mic, and the same smaller 5V, 1A charger that came with the 4.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Apple iPhone 4S HTC Sensation Samsung Galaxy Nexus Samsung Galaxy S 2
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 115.2 mm (4.5") 126.3 mm (4.97") 135.5 mm 125.3 mm (4.93")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 58.6 mm (2.31") 65.5 mm (2.58") 67.9 mm 66.1 mm (2.60")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 11.6 mm (0.46") 8.94 mm 8.49 mm (0.33")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 140 g (4.9 oz) 148 g (5.22 oz) 135 g 115 g (4.06 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz Cortex A8 Apple A5 @ ~800MHz Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Dual Core Snapdragon MSM8260 1.2 GHz TI OMAP 4460 Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Exynos 4210 Dual Core Cortex A9
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 543MP2 Adreno 220 PowerVR SGX 540 ARM Mali-400
RAM 512MB LPDDR1-400 512MB LPDDR2-800 768 MB LPDDR2 1GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 16GB, 32GB or 64GB integrated 4 GB NAND with 8 GB microSD Class 4 preinstalled 16GB or 32GB NAND integrated 16 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8 MP AF/Dual LED flash, VGA front facing 5 MP AF with LED flash, 1.3MP front facing 8 MP AF/LED flash, 2 MP front facing
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.3" 960 x 540 S-LCD 4.65" 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED 4.27" 800 x 480 SAMOLED+
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Integrated 5.291Whr Removable 5.62 Whr Removable 6.475 Whr Removable 6.11 Whr

 

Improved Baseband - No Deathgrip
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  • crankerchick - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    Nice in depth review. AnandTech is the best place to get quality reviews. Thanks! Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    I don't really see how a doubling of bandwidth (3GS->4->4s) is "more dramatic" than a tripling (3G->3GS). I am also not really impressed that smartphones now have the bandwidth of PCs from 7 years ago. After all, they have a great copy sheet. Reply
  • Soldier1969 - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    If you already have a I4 this is NOT worth the upgrade! Waste of money. Much better options out there for a upgrade path the 4S isnt it...and Ive had the Iphone since release. This was a huge disappontment and failure for Apple. The only reason it sold as much as it did was all those people that still had the 3GS from 2 or 3 years ago or new customers. If you had a 4 already your just a "moop" if you upgraded to one of these! Reply
  • PeteH - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    Depends what you are looking for in an upgrade. That graphics performance is pretty incredible. If you want to develop games pushing the boundaries of what is possible graphically on a mobile device the 4S makes a lot of sense. Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    The graphics performance "in a benchmark". As you could see in the review, it only gets about double the FPS in real games, because it's bound by memory bandwidth.

    I doubt the games can run any faster or look any better than other current GPU's in mobiles.
    Reply
  • thunng8 - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    wow, what an absurd statement. Several games that were optimised for the new graphics increased their details level greatly and also added FSAA. You should have a look before passing judgement. Reply
  • *kjm - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    Unless your like me and on Sprint comming from a Samsung M800 that is going on 4yrs old. I would think "most" people that can upgrade don't to stay off contract as long as the phone is working for them. Reply
  • doobydoo - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    What would be a 'better option' right now, to upgrade an iPhone 4 to? Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    The differences are not that big hardware wise at this point, so it will be more of a decision based on software. If you like iOS 5 you get an iPhone 4S, if you like Android 4.0, you get a Galaxy Nexus. If you like a different phone design, you get a Droid RAZR.

    I don't think the upgrade from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S would be worth it anyway. Maybe from iPhone 3GS, for those who want to stay in the Apple ecosystem.
    Reply
  • weiran - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    > If you like a different phone design, you get a Droid RAZR.

    Which is ugly as sin, and isn't really an "upgrade" from an iPhone 4.

    IMO from a design POV the most interesting iPhone competitor right now is the unreleased Nokia Lumia 800, for hardware and software.
    Reply

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