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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  • doobydoo - Friday, December 2, 2011 - link

    Hardware wise, the difference between the iPhone 4S CPU/GPU combination and Android competitors, is huge.

    If you want the best performance, I don't see any other way to turn.

    As for the software, I like most users would happily use Android or iOS - they've largely converged anyway.
    Reply
  • name99 - Friday, November 4, 2011 - link

    "If you had a 4 already your just a "moop" if you upgraded to one of these!"

    OK, so most US customers on on a 2yr plan. Upgrading for them is impractical, if for no other reason then for carrier reasons. And then you are COMPLAINING that Apple produced an upgrade that (in your eyes) gives them no reason to upgrade???

    What exactly is your problem? You're like someone who goes to a restaurant and complains "the food sucks --- and the portions are too small".
    Reply
  • dennykins - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    Hey! I have that "Introduction to Modern Optics" book too! Pretty old, but still relevant Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    "It is admittedly curious that Apple hasn’t decided to make some other larger change to distinguish the 4S from the other two"

    There was, of course, also precious little visual change between iPhone, iPhone3G and iPhone 3GS. Likewise for plenty of other upgrades across the Apple line in the last ten years. I don't know why Anand thinks it's strange. For YEARS Apple has made the point that you buy an iMac --- and you get the what Apple thinks an iMac should be today. You don't buy an iMac XV371. You don't buy an iMac 7. You don't buy an iMac 20011. You buy an iMac --- which may or may not look like its predecessor, which may or may not have last been updated three, six or
    nine months ago.

    It's obvious that Apple wants to bring that same mindset to phones (and iPads). Screwing with people's expectations of an update in July was simply the first step in breaking the mindset of a particular schedule for upgrades. Of course there are issues that make it more difficult to do this cleanly, for example carrier involvement and the ridiculous subsidized pricing model --- which means that Apple has reason, at least for now, to keep older models around. But there are obvious advantages to Apple in switching to this model, including
    - not being forced to release SW too soon. I think we'd all agree iOS5 was released under pressure, and that iOS 5.1 will be the release 5.0 should have been.
    - Apple's been able to ignore pressure from a stream of constant Android updates for the past two years, but at some point annual upgrades may just be too slow. At that point it would be nice to have the option of minor upgrades (cf the recent PowerBook Pro upgrades), say boosting the CPU from 800 MHz to 1GHz, without it being a big deal --- something to shut up the crowd that looks at specs, while being ignored by the mass audience that does not care about specs and doesn't want Apple talking about them.

    Not that this will stop haters from claiming that "people buy iPhones for fashion"....
    Reply
  • KPOM - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    Good observation about the upgrades. Yes, it's entirely possible we'll see minor spec bumps as the iPhone has become a staple of Apple's product line. We don't notice all the the upgrades in the Android world (how many people know or even care about the differences between the Galaxy S, Galaxy S II, and Galaxy S II Skyrocket ?), partly because they happen all the time.

    Also, Apple has never been a company to change the design simply for the sake of change. They tweak a design until they "get it right," but then stick with it a while. This year's MacBook Air, for instance, is a big update from last year's (Core i5/i7, backlit keyboard, 4GB RAM standard on most models), but they didn't change the external design. It's still selling extremely well and received good reviews. I think it's the same with the iPhone. The 4S has some significant improvements, from the faster processor, better camera, and better antenna.
    Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    I'm glad you guys adopted my suggestion to report how snappy a phone feels, based not only on CPU benchmarks but also on the speed of flash, and things like the launch time of apps.

    In the spirit of constant complaint that is the web, can I now ask that you continue to do this for all future phones, not just iOS devices.
    Yes, you have fanboi readers who care only about how wonderful their platform is; but you do also have a number of honest readers who are genuinely interested in things like how the speed of flash (including the speed of SD flash) varies across devices, and how launch times (for comparable apps) vary --- which, of course, depends on both HW and also SW/OS decisions.
    Reply
  • Drasca - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    There's a small typo that I'm surprised no one else has caught. Perhaps I am the only one that cares enough about this particular subject enough to. On the last page, 4th to last paragraph, we see:

    "we’ll hopefully see the technology mature into something more like what years of science fiction moves have promised us."

    I believe you mean movies here.

    I caught it in particular because I've been discussing amongst my friends how modern technology is the future promise of older science fiction. Oh gosh gee wiz, we have instant mobile communication across the globe, including video! We talk into our portable devices and they think for us. These devices are an extension of ourselves. In a way, we've become like the borg in that we're connected to community at large. Facebook is a form of hive mind group consciousness. Heck, we can track each other near-instantaneously and some folk are vividly aware of each other's locations.

    These are interesting times, and what has only previously been explored as supposition has become reality.

    I still want my flying cars and teleporters. Also, Holodecks and the AI behind it. Plus, the bridge of the starship enterprise D with its big comfy captain's chair and massive screen.
    Reply
  • anishannayya - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    If you want an iPhone, you really don't have a choice. Either you get the 4S or go find an Android phone. Reply
  • shashank7040 - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    Asus Eee Pad being the first tablet With Slide out QWERTY........http://goo.gl/B4rJU Reply
  • thevibenow - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - link

    Check out our review of the Iphone 4s

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35v1kkaPM9s
    Reply

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