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iPhone: The 4S is with us


Siri is the standout new feature of the 4S, but it's not being promoted by Apple in New Zealand as the language module does not exist for our vowel-free (virtually) accent; as the two Apple representatives stressed, "It's still in Beta." Partly that's because, as a cloud service, every use of Siri, here and elsewhere, adds to Apple's knowledge on how to make it work better.

With that in mind, some location services may not work correctly. For example, you should be able to say "What's the weather like today?" Since it should know where you are, with Location Services turned on. Siri should tell you, but it doesn't work here, yet. But if you put in the place, it works fine: "What is the weather in Tauranga, New Zealand on Thursday?"

British, US and Australian English is supported, and if you ask in French or German, it will load up those languages and answer in kind, also.

But you can train Siri on your 'Newzullen uxunt' anyway - you can correct words it doesn't understand, and it will learn the way you say things. This way, even John Key might be able to use one.

If Siri makes a mistake, look at the screen. At the top is your query transcribed. Anything Siri doesn't understand is underlined in blue. Tap on that to edit, and that's how Siri learns.

Siri goes way beyond just voice activation and speech to text, as it polls the cloud for information, which is processed impressively fast to give answer, either by voice or graphically - for example, to a question like "what's 12.5 per cent tip for three people on a 26 dollar taxi fare?"

I was quite surprised when I asked the 4S when my birthday was - I've never put this into my phone as such, but it must be listed somewhere. Siri knew who I was and presented the correct answer. But 'How old am I' led to a suggestion I ask at the Genius Bar!

There's a long list of queries Siri understands at TUAW.

All in all, and despite the Beta status and NZ English not exactly being supported, I found it surprisingly usable. There are some handy tips about increasing your Siri success atEverything iCafe.

I imagine other languages will soon be offered. If not, the Dutch, Danes, Italians, Spanish and all the others will shortly be speaking even more English.

Better local speeds of internet and telephonic delivery was something Apple's representatives put down to improved 'backhaul' in both main cell phone providers here. Whatever that means.

I didn't exhaustively test this. Phone-centric sites will have. But I got the 4S with a Telecom sim so I could see if there was much difference, and I ran Speedtest over it, which tests online speeds. With WiFi on, it tests the wireless connection. With it off, it tests the 3G connection - I tested them at the same time at exactly the same spot, so there was no physical variation in the wireless reception, while cell provider reception is basically down to overlapping coverage at my desk in Grey Lynn.

Telecom's iPhone 4S came out at 1495Kbits/second download (max 1495), 195Kbits/sec upload (max 210), and my year-old iPhone 4 on Vodafone did 5117Kbits/s download (max 5145) and 150Kbits/sec upload (max 153).

But the iPhone 4S was also slower on wireless: 4170Kbits/sec download (max 4173), and 109Kbits/sec upload (max 125). Latency was 195 milliseconds.

The iPhone 4 managed 5292Kbits/sec download (max 5297), and 120Kbits/sec upload (max 153). Latency was 77ms.

In real life terms, one didn't feel slower than the other, but tele-aficionados might be more impressed (or not) by this. I gather, for 3G, I just get better Vodafone coverage where I live. Wireless seems a little more inexplicable. I was sitting right by a powerful Time Capsule.

So I restarted the WiFi on each and reran the tests. The second time, the 4's figures were similar: 5300/5300Kbits/sec download and 106/130Kbits/sec upload, and latency of 69 milliseconds.

On the 4S, restarting improved things: the download speed was now 5166/5166Kbits/sec download, and 124/134Kbits/sec upload, with latency of 202ms.

So yeah, go figure. None of this would put me off buying a 4S, but I do know people who would be perturbed. In my experience, WiFi is always a bit flakey, anyway. I always seem to be fighting with it.

But on-device measurements tell a different story. The older 4 has an overall Geekbench score of 384 with its Apple A4 800MHz processor (single-core). If you want a more comprehensive breakdown of these (GeekBench is pretty thorough), these results are online here.

The dual-core A5 (also clocking 800MHz) got an overall score almost twice as fast: 616. Details here.

What I noticed is that the 4S screen, with the same 'retina display', is noticeably sharper due to the new graphics chip. If you look at the GeekBench results I posted (above), even the single-threaded scalar is faster on the 4S, with graphical performance all around well up on the 4, with extra measurements for the additional core.

But the 4S screen also looks slightly warmer - it looks more balanced, like a factory calibrated Mac monitor. The 4 looks distinctly blueish by comparison. This was with the brightness turned up to full on both devices.

Images should look more realistic on the 4S as a result. The official tech specs are online at Apple, for both devices -iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.

There are other advances in the 4S, like a microprocessor that changes the band constantly to improve calls if your between warring cell towers.

But perhaps the most obvious advance of all is the camera. It has the first five-element lens in any phone camera (or so Apple told me) and it even has an infrared filter that helps balance bright skies.

More than that, it's 8 megapixels, whereas the 4 has a 5mp sensor. Physically, this results in larger files (about 1.8MB for the 4, and around 3.3MB for the 4S). These decompress to a 14.4MB, 91.44cm wide, 72dpi image with the 4 and a 22.9MB 115.15cm wide 72dpi image on the4S. A lot more information.

The 4S holds more detail, resolves images better (ie, thin silhouettes against the sky), and definitely renders the clouds with a lot more detail than the 4, thanks to that IR filter.

The 4S is also a lot faster at snapping repeated photos.

I decided not to upgrade to the 4S, as it not being a compelling enough case to break the contract I have with my 4. After playing with one, I have to admit I definitely wish I had one ... but still not enough to break that contract.

If my contract was over, or closer, I'd cave. If I needed a new phone, I wouldn't hesitate.

- Mark Webster

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