Monday, February 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm.

3 Weeks With The iPhone 4S: The S Is For Slick

Bratwurst

Or maybe the S is for Sausage.

I’ve been an every-other-iPhone buyer, so after getting the iPhone 4 in 2010, I was planning to skip the iPhone 4S and wait for whatever’s next.

But with all the international travel I’m planning to do this year for my new gig at ReadWriteWeb, I decided to upgrade to the factory unlocked iPhone 4S, so I could try my hand at buying and using local SIM cards in foreign countries. (Much more on that another time.)

I bought the black 32GB model — same as my old iPhone 4 it was replacing. Before taxes, it cost $749, and arrived pretty quickly.

I’ve been using the iPhone 4S for about three weeks. In a word, it’s slick.

  • It feels way faster than the iPhone 4. I don’t know if it was me or my old phone, but I was starting to get really frustrated with how slow my iPhone 4 had gotten. The 4S is super fast.
  • The upgraded camera is pretty incredible. Does that 2 a.m.-Munich-train-station bratwurst look amazing, or what? That bokeh blur in the background isn’t an Instagram trick — it’s the lens. With image quality like this, it’s starting to feel like it’s not a phone taking pictures anymore, but that my camera can also do all these awesome web things. I’m about to buy one of these Olloclip kits to take wider-angle shots.
  • The battery life feels worse. Maybe it’s because I’m traveling more and using the phone more, but it definitely seems like it’s eating up battery at a faster pace. I just got a Mophie Juice Pack Plus for travel days. I turned off background-location “Radar” in Foursquare. And I’ve completely revoked location access from frequently used apps like Twitter and Facebook, because they don’t really need it. I think that’s helping.
  • The data connection seems to work better. I never had the antenna issue with the iPhone 4 that a lot of people whined about, but I’m starting to get service in places that didn’t get a reliable data connection before. AT&T is still pretty terrible in New York, though, especially near my home in Brooklyn. So I think I’ll switch to Verizon with the next iPhone, especially if it’s LTE. (One more reason I didn’t want to buy a subsidized iPhone 4S and extend my contract another two years.)
  • The home button is an improvement over my old iPhone 4. It feels a little bouncier, and is easier to double-tap, which was always unreliable on my iPhone 4. Let’s see how it holds up.
  • The ability to swap out prepaid SIM cards in other countries is awesome — if you travel enough to justify the cost of an unlocked iPhone, and if you’re up for the adventure/hassle of buying a SIM card in places you don’t know the language. Again, much more on this later.
  • I think I’ve used Siri twice, both times just to mess around with it. I just don’t think to use it. I’m also pretty good at typing on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard by now. Maybe I’ll try to use it more?
  • I tried using iTunes Match on this phone, but it was a disaster. First, it forced me to download all the music I wanted onto the phone, album by album, over wi-fi — I couldn’t drag music over from iTunes. This doesn’t make any sense. Then, the artist list was my entire artist list, full of stuff I’d never want on my phone. And after I undid iTunes Match, it took several reboots, syncs, and deletions to get my music files to show up properly. Apparently, there are settings to reduce the artist list to only music that’s on the phone, and workarounds for loading music. But it’s too late. I am not going back to iTunes Match on my phone unless given a really good reason. If I really need to listen to something right now, I’ll just boot up Spotify, or listen to the iTunes preview, or buy it. Everything else can wait until I get home.

So, should you buy an iPhone 4S? Yes, if you want to.

  • If you’re switching from an iPhone 3GS or earlier, any BlackBerry, or most Android phones, it’ll feel like a huge leap.
  • If you have an iPhone 4, it’ll still be a nice upgrade, but it’s less urgent. Figure out if it makes sense to burn your subsidized upgrade now — which extends your contract another two years — or later.

The next iPhone, which will almost certainly have a faster, 4G LTE data connection, probably won’t be out until fall, or perhaps summer at the earliest. But if you actually need that right away, then saving money isn’t your priority, anyway.

My gadget-buying philosophy is to buy the best one you can afford now. There will always be faster, better ones in the future. But the only thing in life you can’t get back is time. The time you spend waiting for the next new thing is time you’re spending with crappier tools. Make sure that goes into your equation.

This doesn’t mean you should buy every new iPhone or iPad, or spend money on gadgets that you should be saving for more important things. But anyway, if you need a new phone now, you’re not going to do better than the iPhone 4S.

Also: If You’re Disappointed By The iPhone 4S, You’re Nuts