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October 12, 2011 at 11:47 AM

iPhone 4S review roundup: Pundits defensive

The first reviews of Apple’s iPhone 4S are being published today by the limited group of reviewers given early access to the device.

They largely defend the phone, countering the initial, cool reaction to a device that’s an upgrade rather than the entirely new iPhone 5 that many expected. Several noted that some of the new features are things that appeared earlier in other phones.

Most reviews focus on the biggest advance in the 4S, its voice-recognition capabilities based on technology that Apple acquired when it bought a company called Siri last year.

Several reviewers noted glitches and rough spots, but still gave it strong endorsements. They also suggested that iPhone 4 owners may want to hold off upgrading.

None took Apple to task for using a relatively slow radio that doesn’t take advantage of carriers’ new wireless networks and faster download speeds.

Here’s a sample:

David Pogue at the New York Times said people shouldn’t get hung up on it being the iPhone 4S, and not the iPhone 5:

The question isn’t what’s in a name — it’s what’s in a phone. And the answer is: “A lot of amazing technology. And some of it feels like magic.”

Pogue said some of its new features “play Android catch-up” and that the Siri voice input system is “amazing” and “mind-blowing.”

He mentioned a few shortcomings in the second-to-last paragraph:

There are some rough spots here and there; for example, every now and then the 4S’s camera app gets stuck on its startup screen. And while the battery still gets you through one full day, standby time is shorter than before (200 hours versus 300). But over all, Apple has done an excellent job.

Walt Mossberg at All Things D was reserved, saying the 4S “isn’t a dramatic game-changer” and some of its new features are “catch-ups to competitors.”

Mossberg said it’s “one of Apple’s less dramatic updates” but Siri, the new software and online features make it “an attractive new offering to smartphone users.”

Some may be content to skip the new hardware and just enjoy the software and cloud features with older models. But those buying the phone will likely be happy with it.

Mossberg said Siri “isn’t perfect, and is labeled a beta, but it has great potential and worked pretty well for me, despite some glitches.”

AP’s Rachel Metz slams people who were underwhelmed by the new phone.

To some people, Apple’s new iPhone 4S isn’t the overhaul they have been hoping for. Its model number, which doesn’t include a “5,” stinks of the status quo.

That’s ridiculous.

Sure, the 4S doesn’t render the iPhone 4 obsolete, and on the surface they’re nearly identical. But with a faster processor, new software, a voice-activated personal assistant and a souped-up camera, it’s a major improvement.

Siri didn’t accurately transcribe a paragraph that Metz read from a magazine to the phone “but she overwhelmingly beat the competition” — an Android device she didn’t identify.

Metz said iPhone 4 users may want to skip the upgrade, though.

Wired’s Brian Chen was gaga over Siri and said the “magnificent” iPhone “keeps soaring to incredible heights and taking us to places with limitless potential.”

Yet he also suggested that iPhone 4 owners wait another year for the next iPhone since many of the iPhone 4S additions aren’t huge:

Though these are all nice improvements, the antenna, camera and processor upgrades are minor compared to the addition of Siri. The previous iPhone 4 already took great pictures for a phone, the antenna was OK (despite the notorious grip-of-death design flaw), and it was already plenty fast. Siri is the fancy bow on the package that makes this a sharp upgrade overall.

Chen didn’t say much of anything about catch-up features, and also defended the lack of a new chassis:

“The iPhone 4S looks exactly the same as its predecessor — but who cares? If it was shaped even slightly differently or came in a new color, people would still go nuts over the stuff that’s more important anyway: the insides. And both inside and out, this is a magnificent smartphone.”



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