Monday, 24 October 2011

Apple iPhone 4S (Sprint)

The Apple iPhone 4S for Sprint makes it easy to call, take photos, surf the Web and play games - the tasks that most people want to accomplish with their smartphones.

  • Excellent Web speeds
  • Terrific camera
  • Solid call quality
  • Siri is intriguing
  • Lots of apps
  • No 4G
  • Poor social-networking integration
  • On-screen keyboard is quite small. 
What do you do with your phone? If you're like most Americans, you make some calls, take some photos, and send some texts. Maybe you kill time with some games, check Facebook or Twitter, and look things up on the Web. If that's you, then the iPhone 4S ($199-$399 with contract on Sprint) is your phone: it's the best cameraphone in the U.S., the fastest Web-browsing phone and one that has finally licked the iPhone's calling problems. That makes it our current Editors' Choice on Sprint.

Physical Features and Call Quality
The phone comes in six models: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, in black or white. The 16GB model starts at $199 with contract ($649 without), and each additional storage option bumps the price up by $100.

The iPhone 4S looks almost exactly like an iPhone 4 ($99, 4.5 stars). The only way to tell them apart is in the fine print on the back. Sprint's new phone is model A1349. It's still a work of art, an improbable black (or white) glass slab with a metal band around it, cool and hard in the hand. Other phone-makers imitate, but none of them have pared their phones down to this pure industrial solidity. 

Of course, with the 4's body come some of its flaws. The glass front and back are prone to cracking if dropped frequently; I've seen more cracked iPhones than any other variety of device. And while Apple considers the 3.5-inch Retina Display perfect (and it's gorgeous), I personally find the virtual keyboard too small to easily type on when it's in portrait layout.

Apple has killed the "death grip," at least on the Sprint model. The phone switches between its top and bottom antennas depending on which one is receiving better signal, which means it'll ignore whichever one you're covering with your hands. I was able to get data speeds to drop by gripping the phone from both ends in a bizarre two-handed clench, but really, nobody uses a phone that way. 

Call quality on Sprint's network through the phone's earpiece was excellent in my tests. The earpiece goes loud, there's a touch of side tone, and I didn't hear any distortion at high volumes. Transmissions through the mic were sadly rather tinny, but they were perfectly loud and the mic blocked background noise very well. The speakerphone is fine for indoor use, but not loud enough to use outdoors; transmissions through the speakerphone were very clear. RF reception was on par with the Motorola Photon ($199, 4.5 stars) and other top Sprint phones. 

The iPhone 4S paired easily with an Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4.5 stars), and I found that by pressing the button on the headset, I could issue an unusually wide range of voice commands (See "Siri" on the next page.) The Bluetooth headset also worked for music.

Sprint's iPhone is a world phone which roams internationally for insanely high rates you can find at There's a SIM card in it which "existing customers in good standing" can request to be unlocked, so they can replace it with a less-expensive alternative overseas. Sprint's phone will not work on Verizon's or AT&T's networks here, though. 

I haven't been able to test the battery yet, but battery life has never been the iPhone's problem, at least in relation to other top-of-the-line smartphones.

 Internet and Web Browsing
The iPhone 4S is strictly a 3G phone. No 4G here. And I'm worried about the Sprint network's ability to handle the strain. On launch day, all of my Sprint phones were crawling along at a pathetic 300-500kbps, with some data sessions taking several seconds to connect. Once I was connected, I was connected—I didn't drop calls or data sessions—but it was like I was waiting in line to get on the Internet. Sprint, for its part, says it didn't see any problems in New York City that day. And we've seen slow speeds on Sprint before. Our annual Fastest Mobile Networks tests rated Sprint's 3G network as reliable, but slower than AT&T's or Verizon's.
But pour some data into this baby, and wow, it'll go. As long as Adobe Flash isn't a key part of your life, the iPhone 4S is the fastest Web phone ever. It benchmarks faster than any Android Gingerbread phone and faster than any Windows Phone. Side by side against the Motorola Photon on the same Wi-Fi network, the iPhone 4S consistently loaded pages a few seconds faster. The new version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, may even the score, but we haven't seen or tested any ICS phones yet.

The great browsing speed comes in part from the new iOS 5, which we found made browsing much faster on all iPhones. It also comes in part from the new dual-core A5 processor, the same one used in the iPad 2. There aren't a lot of third-party apps that take advantage of the dual-core processor and new GPU yet, but it's key to some of the phone's best experiences, such as the 1080p camera, AirPlay video streaming to Apple TV devices, and the browser.

And remember that on Sprint, unlike every other iPhone carrier, you get truly unlimited cellular data right now. That's a good deal for heavy users, even if the data connection is slower than on other carriers.
There's one exception to the unlimited data policy: tethering. While the phone supports tethering and hotspot mode, you need to pay $30 extra a month for them, and you only get 5GB of data to use on your laptop or other device.

Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.


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