Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dump that iPhone 4 for a 4S? Save your money.


One of the great things about my job is that I can get a new smartphone whenever I’m due one under my contract with AT&T.

I was due a new phone last week, so I headed to my favorite AT&T retailer and swapped my iPhone 4 for the shiny, new 4S. Was it worth it? Well, that depends. If you’re still toting an iPhone 3G and are due an upgrade, the 4S is well worth investigating. If you have an iPhone 4, however, save your money. If you’re sick of the iPhone 4 and you’re desperate for something new, it might be worth your while to see what’s available in the Android camp.

Is the iPhone 4S a bad phone? Not at all. However, it’s so similar to my iPhone 4 that I’m reminded of a story in The Onion (the best parody site running, of course) about Arby’s apologizing for releasing the a sandwich that was merely the same old roast beef thing with a few strips of bacon slapped on it. It was technically a new sandwich, see, but it was more than a bit uninspired.

Apple is guilty of something marvelously similar with the iPhone 4S. Unlike the Beef ‘N’ Bacon sandwich, however, the 4S is a real, live product that has Apple and its devoted followers absolutely fawning over how great it is. In reality, the 4S is little more than a 4 with a gimmick thrown in and some slightly better specs. The case is the same. The pitifully small 3.5” screen is the same. Typing on the tiny keys on that dinky screen is still miserable.The 4S, in short, looks and acts a lot like a 4 with a few notable exceptions.

You can compare the 4, 4S and 3GS here. A couple of things that stand out about the 4S are a dual-core CPU rather than a single-core one, an 8 megapixel camera as opposed to the 5 megapixel one on the 4 and the ability to record 1080p HD video rather than 720p. The assumed performance boost of the dual core CPU is barely noticeable unless you happen to be playing games with a lot of animation (My Town2, for example, is a lot more comfortable on the 4S than the 4). It may well be that more apps will come out that will take full advantage of the dual core CPU in the near future, but most apps on the market perform about the same on either the 4 or 4S.

The camera resolution is a bit better (as mentioned), but it’s not that much better. The image stabilization on the video camera is a nice improvement but, again, nothing extraordinary.

Apple has also made a point out of the improved battery life on the 4S, but I’ve not noticed any improvement over my 4 with both phones running iOS 5.01. In fact, both the 4 and 4S under iOS 5.01 suck that battery down much quicker than a 4 running iOS 4. Strange.

Ah, and then there’s Siri – the highly-touted voice assistant. It’s a neat gimmick, but it feels out of place on a device made by a company that brags about how its stuff “just works” and claims nothing is released to the public until its refined and better than competing products. Siri has great potential and that may one day be realized, but for now it’s just a gimmick that is in danger of being as useless as FaceTime unless a lot of work is done on it.

Yes, one can voice dial with Siri, but that can be done reliably with an iPhone 4. What is promising is that voice texting works rather well, as does doing tasks such as setting alarms and reminders. One can also ask Siri for bits and pieces of information and launch Web searches just by talking to the voice assistant.

Ah, but Siri isn’t yet complete. For one thing, there are times when the service simply doesn’t work, leaving the user with an obnoxious message from Siri stating that she can’t take requests just now, but can do so later. Also, the database from which Siri draws it’s answers is far from complete.

For examples, let’s say I want to know what movies are playing in my town. Siri can find plenty of theaters 20 miles away in Little Rock, but isn’t aware of the 14-screen theater that’s a couple of miles from my house. The same is true when it comes to restaurants, stores and, well, just about anything else that one might want to find some information on in this little town of 30,000 people. Obviously, some of the functionality of Siri is useless to those of us who don’t live in a city.

Still, Apple may well put in the time and effort to make Siri a truly fantastic feature of the 4S, but I can’t imagine the company is motivated to do so. After all, the iPhone 4S has been out for four months now and there are still shortages in many areas. The 4S is selling like crazy and you just know someone at Apple has to look at profits, consider research and development costs and wonder if it would be wise to invest a lot of cash improving a product that people are lining up in droves to purchase.

So, again, the question remains – is it worth burning an upgrade on an iPhone 4S? If you’ve got an iPhone 4, then probably not. If you want a larger screen and some of the cooler bells and whistles that have been made available over the past year or so, you might do well to look at an Android. If you like your iPhone 4 just fine, it might be a great idea to simply wait until the iPhone 5 is released. There are no solid timetables on when the next iPhone will come out, of course, as Apple tends to float major upgrades on the market when the company damned well feels like it.

On the other hand, bear in mind that iPhones hold their value incredibly well. In fact, I fully expect to get at least $200 – the price my office ponied up for my 4S – when I dump my very good condition iPhone 4 on eBay. So, I’ve got a new phone and the chances are good my office will break even on the deal. Do some research and you’ll discover that Android phones haven’t historically held their value nearly as well.

Of course, if you’re type who has an iPhone 4 and hates change, the 4S is a safe bet. It’s nice and new, but so much like the 4 that you’ll barely notice a difference.


Dick Stone said...

a friend of mine finally broke down and got a smart phone and got the 4S. He was trying out Suri and asked it "when was Betty White born?" Suri replied "did you want me to search for Betty White porn?" Not exactly what he was looking for.

I currently have an android phone that I love, with the exception of a couple glitches. Have you ever used an android and how do you think it compares with the iPhone

The Natural State Hawg said...

Frankly, I love the Android OS. It's based on Linux, of course, and as such is incredibly flexible and very open compared to Apple's "walled garden" approach. Android has gained in popularity and there's a reason for that -- it's a solid OS. A good Android phone will whip the socks off of any iPhone on the planet.

The thing about Android, however, is that you've got to research the heck out of it if you decide to buy a phone, tablet or anything else using it. Why? The OS is great, but it's not always running on good hardware. Back when I went to buy an iPhone 4, the AT&T store I visited didn't have any in stock. They said I could try out a Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 for a month and bring it back if I didn't like it.

I hate the Xperia. In addition to the speed-sucking and always running apps that were built into the thing, the call quality was awful. No complaints about the OS, but plenty about the junk Sony-Ericsson added into it and the awful call quality.

Here's another problem with Android. I have a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and it's a great device, but I'm limited to the dreadful B&N apps store unless I want to hack the device. Again, the OS is great but there are limitations to what I can do with it that were slapped on the thing by Barnes & Noble.

Finally, Android phones -- at this time -- simply do not hold their value like iPhones do. If I were playing with my own money, I'd probably have a Droid Razr or something else with a big screen and horsepower to spare. However, my phone is paid for by my office and I do need to consider how much I can get for it when I sell it after an upgrade. At this point, Apple wins the "resale value" battle.

It's worth mentioning that I regard the iPhone 4S as a very bad sign from Apple. When Siri is turned off, the thing looks and acts like an iPhone 4. That dinky screen, dull OS and the entire package was old news over a year ago and has been surpassed by more than a few Android phones. Apple is essentially in a holding pattern and is letting competitors worry about innovation. That's bad news for Apple and a darn effective way to lose customers.