Music and Words

October 21, 2011

A Normal Person’s iPhone 4S Review

Filed under: Words — melomania @ 3:49 pm
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I bought an iPhone 4S when it came out. Actually, I’ve been so looking forward to getting a new iPhone that I pre-ordered it the night pre-orders began. I didn’t care that tech bloggers were disappointed that Apple didn’t annonce an iPhone 5, or that the outside of the phone looks no different than the iPhone 4.

I was excited about lots of the new features offered in iOS 5, which we’ve known about for months. Most of all, though, I was excited because my current phone at the time was a 3GS. I never upgraded to the 4. I had a variety of reasons for this, but the point here is that by the time Apple announced the iPhone 4S, my current phone was over 2 years old (which in the current tech world is absolutely ancient) and I was replacing it no matter what.

Also, I had recently dropped it for the 2,376th time and the screen had cracked.

My 3GS has been running slowly ever since iOS 4 came out. That phone was just not built to handle the software it was running, and it was clear in the loading time on different things. If I tried to do too many things in a row, I had to wait for the phone to finish thinking before it would go back to the home screen, for example. Sometimes, “too many things in a row” simply meant “typing too quickly”.

My point in giving this background is to be clear that I’m not the kind of person who goes out and upgrades her cell phone every year because there’s a new one. I’ve only waited in line for an Apple product once, and that was the original iPad. Which I still have. (Never got a 2.) I’m ok with that.

I am a normal user. Normal people don’t go out and buy the latest and greatest phone every year. Normal people wait until their contract is up and then see what’s available. I certainly don’t have more than one kind of phone on more than one network because I want to compare them. (Who wants that many ways to be bothered?) To be fair, I’m a little more tech-savvy than a normal user. I pay attention to Apple announcements, and I watched the live-blog of the iPhone 4S event. I got excited. Although, like I said, I really wanted to replace my current phone. If Apply had announced a banana with buttons I would have been excited. (As long as the banana’s software fixed those stupid notifications. I was starting to go a little crazy with the blue boxes. You see, I only like little blue boxes that are bigger on the inside.)

So I’m closer to being a normal person. I like technology and gadgets, but I’m not the type to make a big deal about upgrading every year.

Most of the changes to the iPhone 4S are software-related, obviously, but since I’ve upgraded from the 3GS, I do have some comments to make about hardware as well.

Hardware

Display

That Retina Display is incredible. I’ve never seen a screen so clear. I don’t even have to zoom in on webpages anymore to read them because the text is so clear. I can see incredible detail in pictures. As advertised, it doesn’t feel like I’m tapping glass with pixels under it anymore, it feels like I’m handling the pixels themselves. Very nice.

One of the biggest complaints that Android users have about iPhones is the screen size. They insist that bigger screens are better, and that clearly Apple is making a mistake in only selling a phone with a 3.5″ screen and no other alternatives. Recently I ran across this article that points out the 3.5 inches is the largest size that most people can hold in one hand and still be able to reach the other side of the screen with their thumb. After noticing this, it’s impossible to un-notice it. Personally, I couldn’t go any bigger than 3.5 inches. I’m already stretching to reach the other side of the screen, and I use my phone one-handed all the time. I hardly ever hold the thing with two hands.

Apple’s not real big on giving users tons of variety. Even in their computers, if you want a laptop, you have 4 choices in screen size, and that’s including both MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Desktops have 2 screen sizes. If you want  a netbook with a 9-inch screen, then you’ll have to go somewhere else. If you want a giant laptop with a 19-inch screen (if that’s even possible), then you’ll have to go somewhere else. Clearly, however, lots of people want a lightweight computer with an 11-inch or 13-inch screen, or a more powerful laptop with either a 13-inch, 15-inch, or 17-inch screen. This is working well for them. Since they sold over 4 million iPhone 4S’s in the first weekend, I’m going to have to say their iPhone strategy is working out well for them as well.

If you want a phone that has a bigger screen, you’ll have to go somewhere else. And Apple is ok with that.

Performance

I’m seriously impressed. This phone is fast. Everything I do happens instantly. The Retina Display allowing you to feel like you’re actually manipulating pixels? That’s partly because it moves fast enough to let you think that.

Camera

The camera is great. I’m not much of a photographer, but I can see the difference between these pictures and the ones my 3GS used to take. (It doesn’t take a whole lot of pictures anymore now that it spends all its time sitting on my desk powered down, waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.)

Software

Notifications

I could break into a full-on Hallelujah Chorus right here. No more stupid blue boxes (that are not bigger on the inside)! The Notification Center was the one feature that I was most excited about with the release of iOS 5. I spent some time setting up my notifications to alert me the way I wanted, depending on which app they were from, but since then, I absolutely love them. I can see everything that popped up overnight while I was asleep, or while I was in a meeting, all in one place. And the notifications don’t go away, never to be seen again, once you’ve glanced at them! No more forgetting that I never did respond to my brother’s fiancee’s text message, or what it was that I intended to do when I got home from work. I can glance through my notifications and then come back to them later when I’m ready to deal with them.

The banner that drops down to alert me about new notifications is a significant improvement as well. I love being able to tell if it’s something I want to interrupt my Plants vs. Zombies for (like a text message about dinner plans) or not (like an email to my work account on my day off), without the phone forcing me to interrupt my game. The new notifications are, by far, my favorite thing about iOS 5.

Reminders

I’ve been using reminders like crazy, because I forget things easily. I have actually been known to think of something I should remember to do, grab a pen and paper (or open an app on my iPhone) to write it down, and forget it by the time I’m ready to write it down. Actually, I don’t care to admit how often that happens to me. Reminders in conjunction with Siri, the voice-recognition personal assistant, have been a dream come true for me. Grabbing my phone and holding down the home button isn’t long enough for me to forget what I was doing, because I don’t see anything else before Siri activates. I don’t have a chance to get distracted.

Ok, if I’m being honest, I may have done it once. But I remembered again a minute later, so it doesn’t count.

Siri

Speaking of Siri (haha, get it?)… This was another area that most people were pretty excited about. I don’t talk to my phone all that much, generally, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I use Siri all the time.

Minor rabbit trail: The day after I got my new phone, I went to the Walgreens clinic because I thought I had strep throat. I was right. During the appointment, I wanted to set a reminder on my phone to take ibuprofen when I got home. I thought it would look weird to tell my phone that in front of the clinic worker there, so I typed it in myself. It was a less satisfying experience.

It only took me about 18 hours to get used to Siri, and I was sleeping for 6 of them.

Since then, I’ve asked her all the ridiculous questions other people have. She’s getting a little sick of me asking her about HAL 9000 for the benefit of people around me. She told me she hopes I don’t tell other mobile phones that I love them too. She got mad at me the other night when I wasn’t speaking clearly and she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. Also, I’ve started referring to a piece of software as “she”. I’m living in the future – all I need is a flying car.

Sure, there are things Siri can’t do for me. And yes, I had network connection issues during the first few days. And sometimes I talk too fast and she doesn’t get what I was trying to say. But overall, I’m impressed. This is cool software.

A few other little things

I don’t actually use iMessage that much. A few of the friends that I text have iPhones, but lots of other people don’t, including my parents and my brother. It’s nice, but I’m not at a point where I can get rid of my messaging plan. And since AT&T offers either unlimited texting or no texting plan (pay for each) then I’ll keep the unlimited and not worry about it. That being said, iMessage is faster than texting.

I did use the new Cards app already, though. Family birthdays are coming up. I was impressed by the quality of the cards offered and ease-of-use of the app (although I do think it would make a lot more sense if it was an iPad app as well). And getting a custom-printed letterpress card sent for $2.99? That’s cheaper than going to the grocery store for a card. Not bad.

I have been enjoying OS-wide Twitter integration. I’ve been using Twitter considerably more than Facebook because of this. I take a picture and send it to Twitter, instead of opening up a separate app, finding the picture myself, and then waiting for it to upload. I’m liking this.

Finally,

I’ve said for a long time now that switching to an iPhone two years ago was the best cell phone purchase I’ve ever made. This upgrade may now take that place. I’m very happy with it.

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