Pros: Great apps selection
Cons: Sloppy build quality; Siri and maps app stink; slight improvement over iPhone 4.
I've got a pretty sweet job and it's one of the reasons I traded my Apple iPhone 4 for a 4S. Had it not been for an arrangement with my office, there's no way I would have given up my 4 for this decidedly minor upgrade.
Let me explain and please bear with me as this will all turn very relevant in just a bit. Back when I got a call asking if I was interested in taking my current job, the position sounded perfect. I could work in my home town of Benton and avoid the 30-minute commute I hated so much. I'd run an office with little to no interference and would spend most of the time completely alone in that office.
The only hangup involved was the money offered. So, we started negotiating. I was told I could pretty well set my own hours and that was ideal as we've got school aged children and my wife has a very set work schedule -- I could be free to deal with whatever the kids were up to when the need arose. I was also told I could take on all the freelance writing and graphics design gigs I wanted and that's turned out to be pretty lucrative. Finally, the company offered to buy a smartphone, pay for a plan and allow me new upgrades when they were due under my contract with AT&T. Bingo. That was the final incentive that convinced me to accept the job.
Under that set of circumstances, upgrading from a 4 to a 4S makes a lot of sense. Under normal circumstances, such an upgrade would not make much sense. The fact of the matter is the 4S is so ridiculously similar to the iPhone 4 that it's really not worth upgrading. If you've got an iPhone 4 and you hate it, you are advised to either wait until the iPhone 5 comes out (whenever that might be) or see what's available in the Android camp. If you're toting an iPhone 3G or 3GS and like Apple products, then a 4S might make sense. It might also make sense to get a 4S if you have an Android and just don't like that platform.
The only other scenario under which it makes sense to upgrade to a 4S from a 4 has to do the great resale value of iPhones. I paid $200 for my 4 under contract and paid the same amount for my 4S when I renewed with AT&T (sorry, Verizon -- I've got enough rollover minutes to choke a horse and intend to keep them). I can easily sell my iPhone 4 on eBay for around $200 and dump that back in my company's bank account. In other words, I got a new phone and my company isn't really out anything on it. On the other hand, it also makes sense to hold onto to that 4 when it's out of contract, pay substantially less per month for service than you when you were essentially paying off the 4 over the life of the contract, then re-up when the iPhone 5 is unveiled.
Historically, you won't make out so well selling an Android device on eBay. Frankly, the only reason I've stuck with Apple is that the resale value on them is great and I have a vested interest in minimizing losses to my company.
Having said all of that, why am I lukewarm when it comes to the 4S? Simply put, it's not much improved from the iPhone 4 and technology has advanced quite a bit since the 4 was released. The 4S, in that regard, just feels a bit behind the times. While large screens have become common in the Android camp, the 4S still has that dinky, 3.5" screen. That means the keyboard is still as tiny as it has been on past iPhones -- a real drag unless you have the fingers of a nine-year-old girl. A larger screen would eliminate a lot of typing errors. Android fans can choose larger screens and take advantage of the additional real estate, whereas Apple fans are stuck with the same old thing.
Also, the 4S is still 3G rather than 4G and that will be an issue for some people. Frankly, it makes sense to stick with 3G here in Benton, Ark., as the 4G rollout has been slow in these parts. A friend of mine with an HTC Thunderbolt said a major problem he has with that Android device is that it's constantly scanning for 4G signals and that is a drain on his battery. I don't have that problem with my 4S and figure my next phone will have 4G or whatever "G" is in store in the future. By the time I get another phone, 4G (or something faster) will likely become standard in my area and I'll take advantage of it then. There's no point in worrying about 4G right now in this area.
Another trend that Apple has refused to follow is that smartphones are no longer so reliant on being plugged into a computer. Yes, Apple's got the iCloud with 5 gigs of free storage for backing up things, but that seems pitiful when you've got a 16 gig phone. Local backups through iTunes are still the way to go and syncing music stored locally through that bloated, Microsoft-like piece of trash is still necessary.
In short, the form factor on the 4S is the same as on the 4 and the whole package feels like a half-hearted update.
Of course, there are some differences between the 4S and the 4 worth mentioning. For one thing, there's a dual-core CPU in the iPhone 4S that makes heavily-animated games such as My Town2 zip along nicely. You'll rarely notice the benefits of the improved CPU, however, as there are few apps out there that are tailored for it and most things run about as well as they did on the 4. There may be some apps that will need the additional power, but they are few and far between right now.
Also, the camera is improved in the 4S. Rather than five megapixels, you get eight in the 4S. Video resolution has been bumped from 720p to 1080p and stability control has been added. Those are good things, although consumers should be aware that the photos don't look that much better and you'll notice almost no difference in the quality of videos if you're playing them back on your phone.
And then, of course, there's Siri to consider. Siri, the highly touted voice assistant, is fun to mess with but it's in danger of being a ho-hum gimmick along the lines of FaceTime unless Apple seriously improves it.
Now, don't get me wrong. Siri has potential. Voice dialing is an improvement over the 4 with Siri and the ability to easily send texts by dictating to Siri is simply outstanding. Also, a few voice commands to Siri will allow you to do everything from setting an alarm clock to taking a note to making an appointment. Launching Web searches through Siri is a breeze, too. Essentially, Siri can eliminate a lot of the frustration and cussing that comes with tapping away on the awful Apple virtual keyboard and that is a very good thing.
However, Siri needs some work. A lot of work, in fact. For example, I can ask Siri to find some movies for me to watch, but the blasted thing keeps referencing theaters that are up the road in Little Rock rather than the 14-screen cinema that's two miles from my house. The same goes for finding information about local restaurants and, well, other businesses. If I lived in a city rather than a town with a population of about 30,000 people, that might not be an issue. However, Siri doesn't draw from a database geared toward people living in smaller areas like mine. That makes Siri considerably less valuable to me.
And, it's good not to rely too much on Siri as a message indicating the app can't do anything (due to heavy network chatter, I'd imagine) pops up far to often. If you lean heavily on that application to find driving directions, send text messages, etc., it will let you down at some point.
Siri, see, just seems out of place on the iPhone. Apple loves to brag about how it's products "just work" and end users are delivered apps that are fully developed, refined and blow competing products out of the water. That's not the case with Siri -- it feels a heck of a lot like a prototype, and that's a very bad thing when you're talking about one of the main selling points of the 4S.
Still, one can hope Apple will spend the time and money necessary to make Siri the extremely useful feature it has the potential to become. Still, I do worry about whether Apple will make that investment. Why? The iPhone 4S is selling like crazy and shortages are everywhere. If the product is good enough as it is in the shape it is in now, what motivation does Apple really have to change? The company is rolling in cash and there's no indication that people will quit buying the 4S just because Siri is a fun gimmick rather than the truly useful feature Apple makes it out to be. Where, then, is Apple's motivation to repair it? Apple hasn't been overly motivated to cure the heavy battery drain problem that has plagued iPhones ranging from the 3GS to the 4S under iOS 5.0, after all, so there's a precedent to consider. Apple claims the battery life on the 4S is substantially improved over the 4, but that's not exactly true -- my 4 held a charge all day long prior to the 5.0 update but that changed as soon as I updated to the new iOS.
All in all, this isn't a bad phone at all. People coming from the iPhone 3 and are near the end of their contracts may want to consider picking up a 4S. People just don't like Android might want to look at it, too. Then again, one could save a few bucks and pick up a new iPhone 4 instead -- there's not that much difference between the 4 and 4S, after all, and the temptation to save about $100 by going for the 4 makes sense.
If you have an iPhone 4 and like it, then why not keep it? The 4S isn't all that different, but the 5 might be.
Update: 10/30/2012 -- at this point, it's hard to reccomend the 4S for anything. My battery life is absolutely dreadful and the phone must be reset at least once a day to work well. The 4S has become he "second tier" option now that the iPhone 5 has been released. Avoid it. Grab an iPhone 4 or an Android or Windows phone instead. The 4S is simply unreliable over time and one must wonder whether that is an intentional ploy on Apple's part to drive people to the 5. Apple did replace my malfuntioning 4S with another malfunctioning 4S, leading one to question whether Apple is using cheaper slave labor these days without concern for build quality.