The iPhone 4S: The Hardware

Unplggd Test Lab

Product: Apple iPhone 4S
Price: $199.99 - $399.99 (provider subsidized)
Rating: Highly Recommended*

After months of speculation, wondering, educated guesses and rising expectations, we finally have a new iPhone, and it's the iPhone 4S. At first, many saw the new iPhone and felt that it wasn't enough of a change from the iPhone 4 because there was no new case style, as per the rumor mill. But now that we've tested and used one over the weekend, we can say with confidence that this is the best iPhone out to date...we break down all the improvements noted below.

At first glance, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 look identical; same stainless steel banding, same glass front and back. If you were to hold the two items in your hands, you'd probably never notice the few subtle differences between the iPhone 4S and iPhone 4, and really, no one could blame you for that. The only external change is quite subtle, and it has to do with the stainless steel antenna.

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What's Inside: The stainless steel band around the perimeter of the iPhone is one of its two antennas, an upgrade made to the iPhone 4S that allows the phone to dynamically switch antennas to get a better signal, but also gives it the ability to run on both GSM and CDMA networks (that, and a fancy new Qualcomm chip).

In the AT&T model of iPhone 4, the stainless steel band has a few different breaks in that antenna, and that also causes the volume and vibration on/off slider to be higher on the phone itself when compared to the 4S. This is very similar to the Verizon/GSM model of iPhone 4, so if you own an AT&T iPhone 4 and want to use the same case on your iPhone 4S, be warned that it might not fit.

Internally, the big news is the A5 processor with 512 MB of RAM that powers the phone. This is the same processor found in the iPad 2, and it flies on the iPhone 4S, running multiple times faster than its predecessor. It's also a dual-core processor, allowing it to run intensive tasks such as graphics rendering and more, making games really shine on the device. We noticed that it also makes the phone much snappier in everyday use; apps open quicker, load faster and generally perform better. It's like the difference between the iPhone 3G and 3GS: Once you use the two of them side by side, you really get it.

Camera Upgraded: One big reason for people to upgrade is the new 8-megapixel camera housed in the iPhone 4S, which has seen quite a few improvements itself. This new sensor allows the iPhone 4S to take higher quality images in lower light situations, and the resulting images can be as large as 8"X10" prints.

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Video: As an added benefit, the iPhone 4S now has a 1080P video resolution, which in practice, means that you have to frame your shots a bit differently than a static image. You have to step further back to shoot video to get the same sized image in the viewfinder, which can be a bit awkward in use. There's also an image stabilization feature built-in to the video portion, which is nice since most of the time you'll be shooting video using two hands, instead of with an aftermarket accessory that incorporates a tripod.

Although it's a bit of a software and hardware feature, the new camera also is triggered by the "+" volume button, making it easier to stabilize your phone while taking pictures. The A5 processor and the tweaking in iOS 5 also makes opening the camera substantially faster, so now you won't miss that special moment waiting for your camera to load.

So is it worth the purchase? If you're an iPhone 3GS owner, definitely. The upgraded speed, memory and physical configuration makes this a no-brainer for those who are just getting out of a two-year contract. For iPhone 4 owners, it's a bit trickier decision. But for us, the hardware improvements — particularly the upgraded 1080/8 megapixel camera — are very much worth the price. Of course, this is just the hardware. Check out our review of the software right here.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend*
Recommend
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This review unit was purchased and paid for by the reviewer.

(Image: Kevin Whipps)