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Apple iPhone 4s Review (& a Few Apps)

Is the Apple iPhone 4s a Worthy Upgrade or Switch?

I am not even going to attempt to compare the Apple iPhone 4s to any other phone. This is because I know very little about the market and what else is available. All I know is that this phone from Apple finally caught my eye, heart, brain and wallet.

Apple iPhone 4s

What appealed to me:

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    8mp Camera with autofocus, tap to focus, face detection in still images, LED flash
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    1080p HD Video camera with stabilisation and 30fps
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    Built-in Picture and Video editors
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    No more "death grip" thanks to dual antenna design
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    Dual-core A5 processor and 7x more powerful GPU
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    iOS 5
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    3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
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    Pull down notification screen (something I loved on the HTC Wildfire)
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    AirPlay Mirroring to Apple TV support at 720p
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    Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter
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    Scratch-resistant glass front and rear, with fingerprint-resistant coating
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    Voice recognition, SIRI (my new BFF)
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    iCloud
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    Retina display

I have had a mobile phone since the mid 1990's. When all they did was receive and make phone calls (perish the thought) and they looked like this. Living in Spain from 1998 onwards, not many of us had landlines at home so mobile phones were all that we used. We mainly used them for texting.

So much so that when we visited England in around 1999-2000, my wife and I were surprised that not many people were texting each other in the UK at that time!

How things have changed

I've always used Nokia for my mobile phones, right up to about 14 months ago when I finally ditched my (broken) Nokia N80 for the (about to be broken) HTC Wildfire. I sat on it (excitedly jumped up and down on it) during the Roger Water's "The Wall" gig in early 2011.

The Wildfire was great as it was a huge step up for me from the standard, old fashioned mobile phone to the new style "Smart Phone". I loved it.

The HTC Wildfire and Android had all the things I wanted including a simple but feature rich interface and a great email system. Plus the internet was easily accessible and fast but there were a few things that bothered me. One being that my hands and fingers were too big for the phone.

I'd been watching the iPhone evolve from its first incarnation back in 2007. I've beaten off the burning desire to get one that so many people had succumbed to...until now.

I already use the iPod Touch 4G and love it. Rarely do I miss a letter or number when typing, it is super quick and the screen is incredible. I just love the whole feel of the iPod so when the iPhone 4 came out, I so nearly went for it.

But it still wasn't quite there for me

Then, in October 2011, I saw the iPhone 4s and that was it. The rich plethora of features and upgrades were easily enough for me to make the change and I haven't looked back since. So what makes this phone so good compared to what I have used before?

Note: Before I go on, I just want to pay homage to the sturdiest phone I ever owned. The Nokia 3330, one of the first I owned that could browse the web (WAP) back in 2001. Which also had a few games installed (including the addictive "snakes"). I used to walk into the office and bounce this thing across the desk every day and it survived every knock.

Back to the iPhone 4s Review...

This phone has just about everything I want from a mobile phone and then some. I am not a "measurebator" in that I scrutinise every last detail, compare it to every other phone out there and then bash it or praise it all over the web. It does what I want and that suits me fine.

Camera

First and foremost, the camera was a large part of why I bought this phone. The camera on board the iPod Touch 4g is pretty dire to say the least, I never use it. The camera on the iPhone 4s however, is way better.

It has a nice 8mp sensor that seems to do a pretty good job, even in low light, of taking useable images. When I say useable, I mean on a family-day-out basis and by no means in a professional capacity. A sensor this small will never produce DSLR or even bridge quality photos but they are good enough for everyday use.

There is noticeable grain or noise even when used during the day, outside at 64 ISO. Plus it has a tendency to overexpose highlights in many images but even so...this is a phone.

Be careful when using the flash as it is not too clever at exposing close objects and even with more distant objects. It tends to create a rather washed out look if not used correctly. You can see some high res images over at Apple.

Video Camera

High definition, 1080p video from a phone!?!? Who would have thought that a few years ago!

The quality is clearly not the same as the footage you would get from a dedicated video camera. But again, the footage is pretty impressive and highly useable for everyday, family use. Clips are stored in .MOV format with a monstrous 23Mbps bit rate...no stereo sound though.

Its on-board light is pretty handy (as a torch mostly) but to be honest, I would only use the video and stills cameras on the iPhone 4s if I didn't have my pro spec gear or Panny bridge camera with me. The only reason I take my pro cameras with me to most places is because I am always after good stock material. For most people, I think the imaging features of the iPhone 4s would easily suffice for most day to day situations.

Sample Video (and remember...this is a PHONE)!

Instant Messaging

I love the new free iMessaging interface (works between all supported IOS devices) as it works like Live Messenger from Microsoft. You can also use the amazing speech facility to enter texts which is great for when I am working or driving etc and as long as you speak fairly clearly, it tends to get 90%+ of words correct. Uploading photos and videos taken on the iPhone 4s and sending them via messages is a breeze and lightning fast too.

The great thing is that the iPhone 4s will automatically detect if the person you are sending a message to has the iMessage service enabled. If they do, the send button is blue and your message is free, if they don't have it, the send button is green and you will send a standard text message instead.

With iMessage, you can also see when the other person is typing so you know to wait a while before sending another and so on​. Clever stuff for a phone!

Email

I won't go into detail here but like the iPod Touch 4G, the email service works flawlessly and I love it. You can have multiple email accounts on one phone which is very handy indeed.

SIRI

When you first use SIRI, it is nothing short of mind blowing and impressive technology as it (he or she depending on your settings) will answer most questions or commands that you throw at it including:

  • Will I need an umbrella today? Requires location services to be switched on and gives you an accurate weather report for your current location.
  • How many miles to the moon? Will give a whole host of accurate data on distance and even the circumference of our moon.
  • Remind me to call my wife when I leave work! A three pronged response here as SIRI adds a memo to your calendar and sets an alarm as well as "knowing" who your wife is (once you set this up) and will also know when you leave work so long as location settings is activated.
  • Email my brother! SIRI will bring up the email interface with your brother's email address already set (if you have more than one brother, it will ask you which one) and will then ask you for the subject of the email followed by what you want the email to say. You can then "send" or "cancel". Clever stuff and great for when you are driving.
  • Set Alarm for 7am Tomorrow. Alarm will be set or 7am tomorrow morning!

Once you have tried all manner of requests and chores for SIRI to be getting on with, you will inevitably turn to the funnier side of SIRI. He/She doesn't like profanities and will tell you so but will always appreciate a "thank you" or "I love you".

Ask SIRI the meaning of life for a varied selection of answers.

Music

Of course, the iPhone is modelled on the iPod Touch 4G (or the other way around). It has all the same wonderful functions including iTunes and its storage capacities range from 16gb up to 64gb.

The speaker on the base of the iPhone 4s is actually quite impressive considering its size and of course, with decent, noise cancelling headphones on, the sound quality is something else!

Hotspot

Like my HTC phone, I can use the iPhone 4s as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Considering the 3G signal is 2-3 times better than our very poor BT Broadband at home, I love this feature. In fact it bodes well for watching TV anywhere in the UK on my iPod which normally needs a Wi-Fi connection (see TV app later).

Social Media

They are all there...Twitter, Facebook, YouTube...say no more.

iCloud - Cloud Based Content Management

Automatically back up and store all your music, videos, emails, contacts and so on to the iCloud. This will enable you to access this information from any iCloud device anywhere in the world. Not something I have used extensively as I am still unsure about security in the new Cloud backup systems but at a glance, this looks very useful and handy to have.

It also reduces the need for a MAC/PC running iTunes. This is because everything can be done from the Cloud including "pushing" new purchases to your other iDevices automatically.

Ok, to be honest, there is simply too much on this phone to put on this page. So, I am going to skip right ahead to the final part of this somewhat short review and talk about the APPS and some of my favourite and most recommended apps.

iPhone 4s Review - APPS

As you probably already know, there are thousands and thousands of apps for the iPhone and Android systems. Having used both, I must say I prefer the iPhone apps store for choice and ease of use etc. I may have felt differently had I used a HD phone from HTC or similar Android phone but maybe not, oh well.

TV Catchup - 52 Channels in the UK

Ok, let's start with the free TV Catchup app.

This works brilliantly on the iPhone 4s and I have used it quite a bit. It is not as power hungry as I thought it would be. The downside is that you need a Wi-Fi connection to use it which means you cannot use mobile data to watch TV.

However, a cunning workaround (if you have the iPod/iPad too) is to use the iPhone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Install the TV app on both units and watch TV on the iPod (or iPad). The app sees the hotspot as a Wi-Fi connection and again, it works very well indeed.

If you don't have an iPod/iPad, another workaround is to simply watch TV on the TV Catchup website for which you can use your mobile data.

Channels in the UK include all the usual terrestrial channels such as BBC1/2/3, ITV, Channel 4/5, ITV2/3, E4, More4, ITV4, BBC News, CBBC, Film4, all the +1's, Sky News and so on.

TV Catchup

iPhone 4s Review - Photography Apps

LightTrac

This is one of the most useful apps I have found for photography. It'll give you the sunrise and sunset times at any time of year, anywhere in the world. It will also show you exactly where the sun will be at any time of year, anywhere in the world. It even uses Google maps to overlay places so you can plan your shoot accordingly. Great for wedding photography reccie visits.

Lighttrac

Instagram

A fun app that applies some very retro and cool effects to your photos. Upload your artwork free to the Instagram website and share with friends.

Instagram

Red Giant - Plastic Bullet 2

Get funky with some cool toy camera looks and share instantly with a direct upload to Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter with high output resolutions of up to 3000×3000 pixels.

Plastic Bullet

Simple DOF

For a couple of Pounds (GB), this is a fantastic app and a great way to teach yourself the fundamentals of depth of field.

Simply enter the focal length of your lens, the aperture you are using and the distance to subject. The app will determine the depth of field (how much is in focus), the near and far distance, the hyperfocal distance and the circle of confusion.

Simple DOF

ND Calc

Like using ND (neutral density) filters?

This app is a great help to determine exposure times depending on how strong a filter you use. Simply input the shutter speed given by the cameras' meter, the strength of filter you are using and the app will give you the new exposure time...simples!

ND Calc (German)

VM Release

If you shoot stock photography or videography and forget to take any model releases out with you, this app could save the day. A great way of creating and storing model releases on the go complete with photo of the model attached which then gets emailed to your PC or MAC. Included signatures for photographer, talent (model) and witness and even included releases for minors (under 18 year olds).

For just $9.99, you get unlimited model releases, all future upgrades with nothing more to pay. Furthermore, the model releases from this app are industry standard and accepted by the likes of Getty Images and Alamy and will stand up in a court of law.

Highly Recommended.

VM Release

There are plenty more but these are some I would recommend.

iPhone 4s Review - Utilities Apps

NavFree (UK & ROI)

Also available for USA, Germany, France, South Africa...

Do not buy a Satnav or satnav app, this free app is amazing and works perfectly complete with voice navigation, safety camera alerts, route planning, route demos and a ton of features including the ability to leave user feedback on:

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    Missing streets
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    Wrong street names
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    Address missing
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    Blocked Street
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    Incorrect route
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    Roundabout issues…

...and so on.

Why would anyone pay £50 for a TomTom or other satnav app or even a £100 satnav device when this is so good and so free? It needs no internet connection as the 500mb program file includes all maps and routes and the iPhone 4s is tracked via GPS.

NavFree

Google Translate

I love this app. If nothing else it is a great way to learn and enunciate another language because you can use the voice input on the iPhone 4s with speech feedback. Genius.

It may work out quite expensive if you are traveling and using roaming data as the app needs an internet connection. Use Wi-Fi where available.

Google Translate

Firefox Home

A useful app that simply replicates your Firefox browser data and installs it onto your iPhone 4s. This includes all your open tabs and bookmarks.

Firefox Home

Camcard (Free Lite Version Available)

Great for business users. This app will photograph your business cards, read the data and add it to your contacts complete with a photo of the business card and person who gave it to you.

Camcard

iPhone 4s Review - Entertainment Apps

Jango Radio

Superb free app if you like music!

Jango is a free app that streams your favourite music to your iPhone, iPod or iPad. Type in an artist or band that you like and Jango will create a playlist based on that alongside similar artists that you can then fine tune to create your perfect radio station.

I love this app! I think you will too…

Jango Radio

Shazam

Do you ever hear a song playing on the radio or in a pub/bar/club and wish you knew what it was?

Fire up Shazam, hit the big button and let it listen. Shazam will recognise the song, give you all the details (including tour details), a link to YouTube videos and even give you various sharing options with a link to buy it on iTunes.

The recording must be the original as Shazam will not recognise cover versions, humming or whistling etc.

You can upgrade to ditch the ads, sing along to lyrics that scroll along with the song and be told of similar artists to the ones you are listening to.

Shazam

I have a lot more apps installed including a bunch of music apps (piano, guitar, drums) and games but they are a personal choice so head over to the apps store and fill your boots. If you really want to see how good the new A5 processor is, buy Infinity Blade and check out the graphics…wow!

Conclusion

There is so much more to the iPhone 4s that is too much to add here. At the moment I am loving this phone. I have had no call dropping, the internet is faster than our home broadband, it is reassuringly heavy and robust and there are more apps available than I would know what to do with.

It is like taking my office in my pocket so a big thumbs up from me!

Buy from Amazon: Apple iPhone 4s

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