iPhone 4S vs iPhone 4

The iPhone 4S has arrived, and with it the panic from well over a million iPhone 4 users who suddenly feel the sweat on their brow and sinking ache in the pits of their stomachs because they no longer own the number one Apple handset in town. There are, of course, only three ways of dealing with this and, since Pocket-lint isn’t, officially speaking, inclined to advise drinking lighter fluid until you forget, then your choices are either to get pre-ordering on 7 October or to discover that the iPhone 4S isn’t actually that much better the iPhone 4. So, which is it to be?

As ever, we’re happy to help out with your decision making by laying both handsets side by side in virtual comparison and picking through their respective details. Naturally, the results are best viewed next to the iPhone 4S review itself but, for the time being, here is the iPhone 4S vs iPhone 4.

 

Form Factor

Tie: iPhone 4S
115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm, 140g
Tie: iPhone 4
115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm, 137g


Well, waddya know? After all those imaginative mock-ups, the iPhone 4S has the very same case as the iPhone that’s been known and largely loved for the last 12 months plus. So, well, it’s a tie then. The form factor has been good up until now and it remains good, if a little unexciting, still. It’s still pretty thin at 9.3mm and certainly light enough at 137g or even when 3g heavier. We might have all rather got used to the way it appears, but the iPhone 4S will still be a good looking handset.

Display

Tie: iPhone 4S
3.5-inch, 960x640px, LCD with IPS
Tie: iPhone 4
3.5-inch, 960x640px, LCD with IPS


The one area where most iPhone users were probably crying out for an improvement was in screen size but the bad/good news, depending upon your point of view, is that that the iPhone 4S screen is identical to that of the last incarnation. It’s still got that outstanding pixel density but sadly not the real estate to back it up. So, for the time being, it’s a case of holding it closer to your retinas if you want to get a better look at whatever film it is you’re trying to watch. Better luck next year.

Engine Room

1st: iPhone 4S
Apple A5
2nd: iPhone 4
Apple A4


As with the iPhone 3GS, that “S” stands for speed and so the iPhone 4S processor set up is the big selling point over the older model, and this is one category where you want to be paying close attention. As predicted, Captain Cook and his crew have taken the Apple A5 chip from the iPad 2 and stuffed it into the guts of the iPhone 4S.

The Apple A4 consists of a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU with a single Hummingbird core and PowerVR SGX 535 graphics processor GPU. There’s also 512MB of RAM to back it up. The Apple A5 chip has a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor clocked at 1GHz. On the graphics front, it’s an upgrade to a dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU and there’s, again, 512MB of RAM in support. According to Apple, what this means in real terms is a chip that has a CPU twice as powerful as its predecessor and a GPU that can work seven times harder.

Imaging

1st: iPhone 4S
8MP rear, VGA front, 1080p video
2nd: iPhone 4
5MP rear, VGA front, 720p video


There weren’t going to be many places that Apple could make a realistic improvement on the iPhone 4 without making things very costly and more difficult to manufacture, but replacing the camera was one of them. The slightly dated 5-megapixel unit has been replaced by a far healthier sounding 8-megapixel sensor and the ability to shoot a more headline and impressive 1080p is a big bonus too.

Naturally, megapixels aren’t everything, so Apple has improved the optics on the iPhone 4S by opening up the maximum aperture from f/2.8 to f/2.4. That, plus a change in image sensor technology, is quoted as allowing 73 per cent more light gathered than on the iPhone 4 camera. There’s also the bonus of face detection, stabilisation and noise reduction to a degree. In short, we're talking sharper shots and at lower light levels too.

Connectivity

1st: iPhone 4S
HSPA+, GPS, BT 4.0, Wi-Fi, ant. switching, AirPlay Mirroring
2nd: iPhone 4
3G, GPS, BT 2.1, Wi-Fi


There’s not a lot missing from the iPhone 4 connectivity arsenal but there are two noticeable gaps, one of which has been filled by the addition of a 4G radio inside the iPhone 4S. HSPA+ support isn’t much good if you live outside the US, and a handful of other countries, but it will offer up to 14.4Mbps download speeds in Utopian conditions.

With the iPhone 4 and its straight 3G, the best downlink you’ll be looking at is more like 7.2Mbps. As we say though, just because the iPhone 4S works with HSPA+, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be experiencing it where you are. What might be the real advantage is the improvements to the antenna such so it can switch between the radios more smoothly and, fingers crossed, not drop so many calls.

Finally, there's also the added bonus of AirPlay Mirroring with the iPhone 4S. While the iPhone 4 and AirPlay app will still allow you to stream videos and music from your phone to your HDTV and speakers via Apple TV, it doesn't allow you to show everything that's on your handset such as web pages, games, messages and all the rest. That's all possible with the iPhone 4S.

Battery Life

1st: iPhone 4S
up to 8 hours 3G talk time
2nd: iPhone 4
up to 7 hours 3G talk time


Running the same screen and a more efficient chip at very similar output means that all it takes is a bigger power pack to get more life between charges on the iPhone 4S battery than on the iPhone 4, and that’s exactly what Apple has gone and done. While the older model can bring you up to 7 hours 3G talk time, 14 hours 2G talk time, 6 hours internet use over 3G, 10 hours of video playback or 40 hours audio; anyone purchasing the latest edition can look forward to 8 hours talk 3G talk time time, 14 hours 2G talk time, 6 hours internet use over 3G, 10 hours of video playback or 40 hours music.

So, when Apple says that it’s improved the battery, as far as the quoted specs go, what you appear to gain is a single hour of 3G talk time. And that’s it. Not a massive boost here.

Software

1st: iPhone 4S
iOS 5 + Siri
2nd: iPhone 4
iOS 5


The launch of the iPhone 5 has also seen the arrival of iOS 5 which we all knew was coming since Jobs dropped the details at WWDC 2011. Both phones will be able to run this latest version of the mobile OS with the difference that one will have it installed out of the box, whilst the other you may or may not have to update yourself, depending on whether you already own your iPhone 4.

The major difference is the addition of Siri - a voice-controlled personal organiser of a sort which will translate your more human, sentence-based commands into actions. So, for example, it can set alarms, read and reply to your messages, find restaurants and the like. You can read more about Siri here for the finer details. The point is that it only comes with the iPhone 4S and not the iPhone 4 or below.

Storage

1st: iPhone 4S
16/32GB/64GB
2nd: iPhone 4
8GB


Is it for the video, is it because there’s no removable storage or is it because storage is just cheap these days? We’ll never know, but the fact remains that the 64GB iPhone 4S offers double the space of the previous model and that’s a lot to play with. The nasty part is that the 16GB and 32GB version of the iPhone 4 line have been axed from this moment on, meaning that anyone who opts for the older model from new is limited to a rather small 8GB storage space only. Just count your luckies that there’s iCloud to give you a hand.

Price

1st: iPhone 4
$99
2nd: iPhone 4S
$199/299/399


The bonus of going for the more budget option is that you get the more budget price to go with it, although that’s of little comfort to anyone who already owns the iPhone 4. Annoyingly for those in search of a bargain, the price differential reflects the halving of the storage space each time; the difference between the iPhone 4 and 16GB iPhone 4S is actually much greater than that. Worth bearing in mind.

Conclusion

1st: iPhone 4S
2nd: iPhone 4


There’d be something seriously wrong if the iPhone 4S didn’t come out on top here, but is it so much better that you need to upgrade? Well, if games aren’t your thing and if the idea of Siri doesn’t drive you wild with excitement, then the answer is probably no. Sure, it’s got a better camera and takes video at a higher resolution and it even has a marginally longer battery life too, but none of this is any reason to try to buy your way out of a contract. It's also arguable as to whether 4G connectivity or AirPlay Mirroring - which only works with Apple TV anyway - is really going to add enough value for many people as well.

Much as with the iPhone 3GS, you can bet that it’s the 2012 iPhone launch that will see a bigger update to the hardware and the kind of thing that you will be wanting to sell your grandmother in order to get hold of.

If, however, you’re looking to buy for the first time, then don’t bother with the straight iPhone 4. Sure, you’ll find it a little cheaper, but the difference in cash isn’t really worth it and any saving you make will be outbalanced by that sense that you’ve got an inferior phone with an inferior camera too.

Tempted by the iPhone 4S? Let us know in the comments.

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