iPhone 4s: Still Worth a Look

September 30, 2013 by

At a Glance

Look and Feel
All that glass is a bit fragile but with so many cases, who cares?

Defining Features
Siri - It's nice to have someone to talk to.

Core Functionality
With the upgrade to iOS 7, the iPhone 4s feels fresh and new again.

Recommended For

Those who want all the features of a "premium" phone, at a low price.

Editor's Rating
**** (out of 5 stars)

Where does the iPhone 4s stand?

When the iPhone 4s first hit store shelves in October 2011, the natural comparison was to the iPhone 4. Siri was a new and exciting feature that seemed to fulfill the promise of a better technological future: You could talk to your phone and it would talk back! The new A5 processor more than doubled the speed of the A4!

With the release of the 5s and 5c, the iPhone 4s becomes the cheapest iPhone on the market.

Some critics bemoaned the lack of real innovation and commented on a perceived Apple stagnation in relation to its competitors. However, the consumer market responded extremely favorably: iPhone sales and Apple stock went through the roof.

So now just two short years later, the iPhone 4s deserves a second look. With the launch of the new 5s and 5c, the iPhone 4s (8GB) becomes the cheapest iPhone on the market. The question for would-be iPhone buyers (who are unable to go all-in for the 5s) to ask is: "Is the iPhone 4s still worth my time?”

Using It

Look and Feel

If I were making a decision between buying the iPhone 4s and the iPhone 5c (Apple’s other "value” model), one of my prime considerations would be the looks. While the 5c is certainly more eye-catching with its bright color options (much like the iMac circa 1998), the 4s boasts a timeless look of professionalism, elegance, and technological futurism.

In my hands, the 4s feels just right. It’s got enough weight to feel solid and substantial but doesn’t cross over into feeling heavy. I should note that those accustomed to a curved back on their phone may not be fans of the flat glass panel.

The iPhone 4/4s spawned a veritable cottage industry of glass panel replacers.

The obvious downside to the large glass panels on both sides (though they’re very tough) is that they will smash on hard impact. The iPhone 4/4s spawned a veritable cottage industry of glass panel replacers.
This is a phone that begs for at least a light case. Luckily, there are thousands of cases, and some really cool ones, on the market for the iPhone 4/4s, so this might be a selling feature rather than a deterrent for some. In general though, the iPhone 4/4s design is iconic for a reason -– it’s the quintessential "smartphone.”

Defining Features

When the 4s first launched, I got a lot of enjoyment from watching people try Siri out in all sorts of situations, with mixed results. It often looked like more of a novelty than a newer, better way of interacting with a smartphone.

With the upgrade to iOS 7, several tweaks have been made to Siri. From the superficial (Siri can now have a male voice) to the more functional (searching Twitter, OpenTable, Wikipedia). I know some people that regularly use Siri to quickly set alarms but not much beyond that. The majority of my friends with 4s or iPhone 5 don’t even use Siri.

3.5-inch Retina Display
Though "Retina Display” sounds like it’s just marketing, it does have some functional meaning. Apple applies it to screens with high enough pixel density that the human eye can’t see individual pixels at typical viewing distances.

Because of the standard behind this concept, the iPhone 4s’ screen actually has the same pixel density as the 5c. Though the 4s has a smaller, 3.5-inch screen, it does make it a more pocket-friendly phone.

Also worth noting is an oft-overlooked feature of Apple’s displays from iPhone 4 on: The fingerprint/smudge-resistant coating on the screens does wonders for keeping the device looking like new.

Classic 30-pin connector port
Apple’s classic 30-pin connector port had one big advantage over the micro-USB ports on most phones: The ability to transmit music and video.
 Because of this, and the popularity of iPhones/iPods/iPads in general, there is a wealth of stereo docks, chargers and accessories for the iPhone 4s.

It’s tempting for me to call this its best feature. Of course, many accessories are being created for the iPhone 5 line and its Lightning connector, but for the value-minded, there are many more, often discounted/used 30-pin accessories to be had.

Core Functionality

There is a reason many hardcore camera review sites have reviews for the iPhone 4/4s: It’s always there and always easy to use. The flexibility and ease of use of the iPhone 4s made many a budding photographer and is practically responsible for the explosive growth of Instagram.

With iOS 7, iPhone 4s inherits the ability to take panoramic photos, which was previously reserved for the iPhone 5 line.

While the last two years have brought us some much more specialized and technically better cameras in our phones (e.g. Lumia 102, Samsung Galaxy Zoom), the iPhone 4s’ camera is perfect for everyday use.

An iPhone will only last you a 12-hour day of heavy, multi-app use – at most.

Performance and Battery Life
The 4s uses an A5 chip (vs. the 5c’s A6, and the 5s’ A7) and only accesses 4G network speeds (not LTE), so there is an obvious difference in performance between iPhone models.

It's important to note, however, the new 4s models available in-store are only 8GB models. (When the 4s first launched, they were 16/32/64GB models.) So if you want more capacity than 8GB, you need a used/refurbished 4s.
As for battery life, without having tested the 5c or 5s, it’s safe to assume there isn’t a big difference between models. Early reviews note that iOS 7 is a major drain on the battery, and especially on older iPhone models.

An iPhone will only last you a 12-hour day of heavy, multi-app use – at most.

Note: If you want more capacity than 8GB, you need a used/refurbished 4s.

OS and Available Apps
The iPhone 4s runs iOS 7 and, as mentioned above, can now take panoramic photos. Unfortunately, it does not get the in-camera filters reserved for the iPhone 5 line.

It also doesn’t get Touch ID (fingerprint login) or AirDrop (peer-to-peer file sharing). But none of those are really deal-breakers, especially for the budget-conscious or first-time iPhone buyer.

Of course, buying an iOS device gets you access to Apple’s robust app and media (iTunes) ecosystem. The company is doing some exciting things with Apple TV and iTunes Radio, so the iPhone 4s is worth considering for those options as well.

The 4s has been reliable with a nice design and is very intuitive to use. It's a good phone for people with other Apple products; it is very easy to switch between products.
- Jessica Watson, iQmetrix Integrations Developer

Recommended for

The iPhone 4s is now being offered by a number of carriers for free with a two-year contract.

For anyone looking for a (for all intents and purposes) "premium” phone, the iPhone 4s may just offer the best value out there.

The Bottom Line

The iPhone 4s is a phone that has aged extremely well. While it can no longer be considered cutting-edge in comparison to the newer iPhones, it is unquestionably a beautiful and dependable device. For anyone looking for a great budget phone or for a first-time smartphone user, the iPhone 4s is right up your alley.

Compare Cellular Editor's Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Posted in: Apple iPhone, Product Reviews