The Apple iPhone 4S is among the recommended models in our newly updated Ratings of smart phones. Apple’s newest smart phone performed very well in our tests, and while it closely resembles the iPhone 4 in appearance, it doesn’t suffer the reception problem we found in its predecessor in special tests in our labs.
In special reception tests of the iPhone 4S that duplicated those we did on the iPhone 4, the newer phone did not display the same reception flaw, which involves a loss of signal strength when you touch a spot on the phone’s lower left side while you’re in an area with a weak signal. (The iPhone 4, which is still available, continues to exhibit that problem, we confirmed in tests of new samples of the phone. Because of the flaw, we continue to omit the iPhone 4 from our list of recommended models, despite its otherwise fine performance.)
The Apple iPhone 4S did very well in our standard tests of battery life; like the iPhone 4, it scores Very Good overall on that attribute. And the iPhone 4S and new samples of the iPhone 4 have displayed no notable battery problems in additional special tests we carried out, after some owners complained on user forums of short run times with some samples of both phones.
Apple has said the culprit is “a few bugs” in its latest mobile operating system, iOS 5, and promised a software update to address the problem later this month. We plan to retest both phones with the software update when it is available, just in case the fix itself affects battery performance in any way.
Overall, the new iPhone 4S scores higher in the Ratings than the iPhone 4, thanks to such enhancements as an upgraded camera, a faster "dual-core" processor, and the addition of the intriguing Siri voice-activated feature, which accepts and responds to verbal commands in a conversational manner, using a synthetic-sounding female voice.
These pluses were not enough, however, to allow the iPhone 4S to outscore the best new Android-based phones in our Ratings. Those top scorers included the Samsung Galaxy S II phones, the Motorola Droid Bionic, and several other phones that boast larger displays than the iPhone 4S and run on faster 4G networks. (Technically, only the AT&T version of the iPhone 4S supports 4G, running on the carrier's HSPA+ network at download speeds of about 14 megabits per second, the bottom rung of what is considered to be 4G network speed.)
Other phones that topped the iPhone 4S include the LG Thrill ($100 on AT&T), which has the ability to capture stills and videos in 3D, as well as display them on its 4.3-inch 3D display, and the Motorola Droid Bionic ($300 on Verizon), which also has a superb 4.3-inch, high-resolution (540 x 960) display, with excellent keypad readability under most lighting conditions, even in bright light.