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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  • medi01 - Thursday, November 03, 2011 - link

    Find contrast of BEAUTIFUL Galaxy phones on the charts pretty please... Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    Yeah the 'beautiful' screens...

    The Galaxy screen is what, 480 x 800? on a 4.27 inch screen?

    The iPhone 4s is 640 x 960 - on a 3.5 inch screen.

    A much higher resolution.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Sunday, November 06, 2011 - link

    "1) Ridiculous BS sentences about "improved vibration" that obviously come straight out of Apple's marketing mouth"

    I'm sorry you feel that way, but the vibration unit is indeed different, and lends a completely different feel from every other device out there which just uses a spinning counterweight.

    I'd encourage you to try it on your own.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Great review, thanks Anand! If I weren't so stubborn I'd get an iPhone (because they really are great phones) but I just can't do the Apple thing. I like the openness, tweakability and choices provided by Android phones, but for the general population, the iPhone is pretty much the best option for the high-end market. Reply
  • zanon - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Hoorah, the definitive review is here at last! Thanks as always for your hard work on this.

    And yeah, the 543MP2 is a sick monster of a chip. Imagination Technologies really hit a home run with this one, simply amazing performance. Not just Apple either, I believe the Vita is using the MP4 version of this chip. With the show they've put on this time, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what they do for the Series 6 Rogue ones that I think are still due next year. Or for that matter even if they do an update/shrink of these ones.

    Great to see so much competition between graphics in the mobile world, practically every major player has a foot in the water at least. I think this stuff will start to matter more and more too for items beyond games. Applications like further advances in augmented reality seem like they could use plenty of power, and are uniquely suited to mobile platforms. Things will get really nuts when retinal projection displays or some equivalent finally start filtering down into the main market.
    Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    It's not really about the architecture, though, but about the size of the GPU = more performance. It's 2x the size and has 1.5-2x the performance of Exynos' GPU. Not that surprising.

    I'm not entirely sure why they had to use such a powerful GPU, though. Is it to make it easier to support higher resolutions? Because it can't be about the games. Why would it get 7x the performance of the previous iPhone 4 GPU, when it can only use 2x of that anyway?
    Reply
  • loganin - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    That's a pretty weak and factually wrong claim to discredit Apple's product, not that it's surprising coming from you.

    "Exynos SoC Same Size As Apple A5 In iPad 2"

    http://www.itproportal.com/2011/06/07/exynos-soc-s...
    Reply
  • zanon - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    loganin already addressed your claptrap regarding size, so we'll just ignore that. A few other bits stand out, however. The first is that, fundamentally, even if you were right so what? You don't win any points for improving in one way vs another, what matters is the result at the end. Regardless of the method PowerVR used the fact that the 543MP2 utterly demolishes the competition, and that it's a beast, would not change.

    Second, you failed to mention in your "1.5x-2x" the performance bit the fact that it's also clocked *50% slower* then the Exynos. Again, even pretending you were correct, your size difference *still* wouldn't explain the kind of gap we're seeing. Unlike size, which is not perfectly correlated with performance, clock rate pretty directly is. If the 4S's A5 was running at 1.2 GHz, it would be more like 2.8x the performance of the Exynos at the high end.

    >>Because it can't be about the games. Why would it get 7x the performance of the previous iPhone 4 GPU, when it can only use 2x of that anyway?
    Also, this bit is just WTF. You might have noticed that PC GPUs continue to increase in power? Despite resolutions not continuing to increase? WTF do you mean "you can only use 2x of that"?? At least until the level of complete photorealism with full real time physics modeling of everything is achieved there's always room to spend more power just making the scene look better. Duh.
    Reply
  • metafor - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Erm, GPU clocks are independent of what the CPU is clocked at. I.e. just because the A5's CPU is clocked at 800MHz doesn't mean the GPU is.

    Apple never really releases what the internal clocks of their various components are running at.
    Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    Do you even know what 50% slower means? It means half the clock speed. It's not 50% slower. It's 30% slower than Exynos CPU.. It's the Exynos CPU that is "50% faster" than the A5 one.

    But that's not even what we were talking about. I was talking about the GPU, not the CPU. The GPU has a difference frequency.
    Reply

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