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Apple iPhone 4S - Screen and Interface

By Edward Chester



Our Score:


More than the lack of change in its overall design, what has really caused some people to spit out their dummies about the iPhone 4S is its unchanged screen. Even if you sensibly aren't tempted by the goliath 4.7in screens of the HTC Titan or Samsung Galaxy Nexus, there are plenty of circa 4in screen devices that are starting to make the 3.5in iPhone look a bit weedy.

Apple iPhone 4S 5

Many people were expecting to see an iPhone of similar overall proportions but with a screen that filled more of the device, and we think there's some sense in that, particularly when it comes to watching videos or gaming where the aspect ratio of a taller screen would better fit the content. Also, if you're a power user, there is something to be said for having as big a screen as possible when you're browsing a document or text heavy webpage.

Apple iPhone 4S 6

Still, what the iPhone 4 lacks in size it makes up for in quality. Its 960x640 pixel 'Retina' display is still best in class for sharpness and very near the top for colour reproduction and viewing angles.

Apple iPhone 4S 6

With Apple having released its iOS 5 update to iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS owners already, the difference of upgrading to an iPhone 4S will be somewhat underwhelming – aside from Siri you get exactly the same features. However, there's plenty of new additions in iOS 5 and iOS in general still has many, many charms.

The overall interface is still dominated by pages of icons for apps arranged in neat grids, with no sign of the widgets (mini apps that sit on your homepage) available to Android phones or the larger Live Tiles used in the Windows Phone interface. This 'keep it simple, stupid' approach can be a little frustrating at times but for the most part you seldom feel restricted, particularly as it's so easy to rearrange the icons into organised folders.

Apple iPhone 4S 10

Probably the main annoyance is that you still have to go to the Settings 'app' to change everything, rather than having access to these from the app itself – even a link within the app that then opens the appropriate page in the Settings app would be preferable.

New to iOS 5 are notifications, and what a difference they make. Drag down from the top edge of the screen and a list of your messages, calendar appointments and such like are shown alongside the weather and the stock ticker. Sadly there aren't yet any options to add to these widgets yet but we do hope Apple adds this in the future – it's altogether a much more elegant way of implementing widgets than simply slapping them on homescreens. Tap a notification and it will open the appropriate app for you.

Apple iPhone 4S 8

Notifications also appear on the lock screen and you can jump straight to the message or update by swiping the notification off screen. Also, unlike the old interruptive notifications of old, if a new notification comes in it won't disturb what you're doing, and will instead appear in a thin strip at the top of the screen. None of this is revolutionary stuff but it does put the iPhone right back on par with the majority of handsets.

Apple iPhone 4S 7

Also accessible from the lock screen is the camera. Just double tap the home button and the camera icon will appear, ready for you to tap it and jump straight to the camera app.

Apple iPhone 4S 5

One thing that hasn't yet been improved is multitasking, with apps still only appearing in rows of four along the bottom of the screen when you double tap the home button. You can swipe them along to access the other apps you've been using, but it's a laborious task. Both a move to having a larger grid of apps to choose from, and perhaps having the apps show a thumbnail of what the app is doing, would be improvements.

Swipe left from the start screen and you get the universal search feature whereby you can start typing and straight away matching results will appear for contacts, calendar entries, music, messages, apps and such like, or you can perform a web or Wikipedia search.

Perhaps more important than all these interface features is interface performance, now that the 4S is bolstered with a dual-core chip. Sadly, the difference over the iPhone 4 is rather subtle. Yes, those moments where the phone will have a little think before opening an app are now gone, but they were only intermittent on the iPhone 4 anyway (if you kept if running in tiptop condition by restoring it from a backup every now and again). Otherwise, the clever little interface animations that look so snazzy haven't actually been sped up, so you still wait a couple of seconds for the camera app to load or a second to switch between apps. The result is a phone that's fast, but it doesn't quite feel as lightning quick as, in particular, some Android alternatives.

Nonetheless, the iPhone still has the easiest interface going at the moment. While we do like some of the extra abilities of other platforms, the simple charm of the iPhone 4S has much wider appeal. However, it's when you start to look at some of the iPhone's core features that it does wobble a little…

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October 5, 2011, 1:31 am

A massive, massive disappointment. Yes, we are spoiled by Apple, but it's a company that aspires to be the biggest in the world! New CEO, four more months of waiting and raging speculations, and we're presented with a minor upgrade. The specs are great - make no mistake - but it's on par with the competition, and they're available for months already.

If that is underwhelming, don't even bother looking at new Nano update. I'm sorry, but it's laughable. 16 new clocks, bigger icons, and that's it? At least they made a price drop. Oh my... only Apple can get away with it i guess.


October 5, 2011, 1:53 am

In some ways Apple has to be applauded for retaining the design of the original iPhone 4 despite it's flaws mentioned above considering the many companies who've based their various cases and accessories on it.
The new voice recognition service while impressive still seem little more than a gimmick, especially when features such as social network integration would have been more welcomed and as shown on WP7 with it's 'People Hub'.
All in all the stage seems more set than it has ever been for Nokia to make their entrance with their upcoming WP7 devices.

Ala Miah

October 5, 2011, 2:18 am

If this was released in June then I think they would of gotten away with a 4S device but almost 4 months later, competition and expectations have increased. Samsung and Sony are making huge strides in terms of specs alone. 4S is not a big enough upgrade imo compared to 3GS was to 3G, 3GS was miles faster then 3G so justified the extra cost, 4S at the moment doesnt warrant another 24 month contract IMO.

So close Apple, yet so far!


October 5, 2011, 9:07 am

4S...it IS pretty disappointing. But i think whats more disappointing is the price: $400 for the 64gig WITH a contract! Apple could've at least give us more memory for the usual prices.

And the saddest thing of all... i still want one.


October 5, 2011, 1:01 pm

I think Engadget shows this off best; They have a comparison table between the iPhone 4.1 and the Galaxy S II, the Droid Bionic and HTC Titan.

The Galaxy S II wipes the floor with all the others in all but a couple of points. Maybe that's why Apple is going on the offensive so much against Samsung, they knew that even their newest and latest device is STILL behind the competition and the S II was released "ages ago" by technology standards!


October 5, 2011, 1:57 pm

I think this is what happens when you sue your major supplier. It will take them a while to get ahead of the curve again.


October 5, 2011, 2:06 pm

The announcement is definitely a disappointment for all those wanting to see a new hardware design, but in some ways doing an 'S' version like they did with the 3G makes a certain amount of business sense. The iPhone is still very popular and there's no compelling reason to use up that R&D expense prematurely: they can launch the iPhone 5 next July.

With regards to criticism of disappointing CPU, I'm not sure how relevant it is. Surely it's the software that matters and how it actually performs? Let's not forget that a possibly significant proportion of Android apps are not natively coded but actually run within a virtual machine, likewise Windows Phone 7. Without a genuinely useful benchmark to compare across platforms, these CPU comparisons are somewhat meaningless. You might just as well compare a 3.6 litre 473bhp Porsche 911 Turbo to an 8.4 litre 600bhp Dodge Viper SRT-10.


October 5, 2011, 2:51 pm

I must admit with it been such a long time, I was expecting more. Will I upgrade?, I think it depends on what reviewers say about the the Camera.

It pains me to say @frank makes a good point about keeping the design the same, especially since this is just an S version.


October 5, 2011, 3:55 pm

Was there not some EU law coming in that all new smart phones had to use the same charger connector.....hmmm

Just off the top of my head mind you I could be completely in a parallel universe where common sens ideas happen


October 5, 2011, 4:20 pm

I think people have been spoilt by Apple and need to get a grip. I don't need a super computer in my pocket or a 32inch monitor for that matter. I just need a phone that works. I'm an Android (HTC) user, I made that decision over 12 months ago, and when my contract is over I'm hoping on over to Apple. Why? Usability. Simple as that. I like the styling of the phone always have, always will. I don't care about the technology in the screen or CPU Speed or the number of pixels in the Camera (as it takes more than that to produce a good picture). I want a phone that's enjoyable to use, not frustrating, and apple offer that experience. The hardware isn't key, it's the software and Apple have that down to the T, Android are way behind with a poor user experience. The only thing I can see as a features I'd like to see are NFC and conductive charging. Increased screen real-estate would be welcomed too, but not at the expense of overall phone size. Maybe these will be apart of the iPhone 5. Who knows. What I do know is that sometimes too much choice in the combination of hardware and software can be a bad thing. Keeping it simple like Apple do with limited products can be reassuring to the consumer and a good thing.


October 5, 2011, 4:22 pm

"Galaxy S II wipes the floor with all the others" haha, not really.

Plus there's a few missing points in that table, namely 3D performance (a clear win for the 4S) and number/quality of apps that actually use all that power.


October 5, 2011, 7:38 pm

I'm disappointed not to see an iPhone 5. I had hoped that, given how many of Apple's competitors now feature large screens in increasingly svelte bodies, Apple would have bitten the fragmentation bullet and increased the screen size a little.

Apple may have shot themselves in the foot with the Retina display in this regard, as finding a supplier for a large, super hi-res screen might be challenging. Samsung, perhaps? :)


October 5, 2011, 7:58 pm

Are still people spending hundreds of money to buy "smartphones"?
Yes? Really?
It's 2011 and i thought people should know by now how dumb these phonies are.


October 5, 2011, 8:32 pm

What's happened to the 50+ comments flame threads of old? :'(

P.S. It's a worthwhile upgrade on the inside. Some people need to stop whining about the name and design (not necessarily refering to here - check Twitter). It's also more aimed at those with a 3G/3GS who never upgraded to the 4.
P.P.S. Not that I care, I'm still drowning in Nokias :P.


October 5, 2011, 10:40 pm

I am actually quite glad that Apple haven't been goaded into rushing out massive leaps in design etc. To me they appear to be responding to the constructive criticism of previous devices without getting dragged into the wish list oneupmanship specs of many other manufacturers which I think demonstrates a more mature company. Clearly it won't attract diehard Android fans or the budget conscious but it consolidates on what they must clearly believe is a stable and solid device (iPhone 4). Taking a bit more time over these things can make the difference between novelty and useful real world tool. As another poster has said I think this is aimed more at iPhone 3/3GS folk who felt the 4 was too soon to upgrade and as long as they keep developing iOS it will encourage a more natural progression rather than abandoning customers through a sprint like lifecycle. You only have to look at how fast Android and Android devices are superseded to see how risky a strategy it can be for the consumer who can be left holding a semi defunct unit within a matter of months.


October 6, 2011, 12:36 am

As an iPhone 4 owner with 6 months left on his contract - I'm quite pleased about this in my own selfish way. It's not enough of an upgrade to make me think my phone is out of date (not that I'd rush out and get out of my contract just to have a new one if it did.) So it's got more graphics power that won't be realised properly by apps for months, a slightly better camera and a clever voice control system that you wouldn't dare use in public anyway. Glad they've kept the glass & steel materials because this is still the most premium feeling phone out there as I've stated before - compared to the creaky plastic Android masses. It might not be the most comfortable- but then that's what the bumpers are for - you can still take it off and marvel at it if you want to ;-)


October 6, 2011, 3:26 pm

@drdark, lol! I think you can blame the "improved" TR site for the volume of comments in threads like this. Though one upside, it does seem to have filtered out a lot of the extreme "Appley fanboy/ Apple hater" comments!


October 6, 2011, 3:30 pm

To me it feels like a similar step up that the Ipad 1 to Ipad 2 was. I don't see it as a massive disappointment or a major step forwards either. Middle of the road evolution.


October 7, 2011, 1:06 pm

This phone was very predictable. Which is a shame but I guess it is impossible these days for Apple to produce products on this scale with out the details sneaking out. I had a stab at guessing what we might get back in April and was about spot on.


David Gilbert

October 7, 2011, 1:12 pm

Take a bow sir, you did indeed get it pretty much spot on!


October 7, 2011, 1:48 pm

The Phone will now doubt sell well.

However the IPhone no longer leads the smartphone market, the Samsung Galaxy S line does (no wonder Apple is fighting it in the courts).

Not increasing the screen size is a mistake, however if they did that they could no longer call it a retina display with out dramaticaly increasing the pixels count, which would mean Apps would need to be changed again.

Putting in a dual Core chip was a good move should increase battery life as well as giving App developers more computing power for the next generation of Games/Apps.

The IPhone 4S looks like a catch up to Android's Highend devices while being much more expensive.

I can understand why some people are dissapointed.

Kashif Bhatti

October 8, 2011, 1:32 am

As an upgrade, I'll be happy trading up from a iPhone 3gs.

Apple have never done the monumental leaps... it has not happened for any of their others lines, so why should that change for the iPhone? Android phones have large screens.. larger screens.. big screens.. and what else? There is only so much that can happen with a device to fit in the pocket on an annual basis. After all, I change macs maybe every three years - and only out of greed, really - as my old MacBooks work (albeit slower yet) fine.

When an android phone is built with the build quality of an iPhone, I may be interested.


October 8, 2011, 5:40 pm

Apple never said they were going to release an iPhone 5.

Everyone assumed they would.

Everyone was wrong.

Your disappointment is your fault.

They made another iPhone, NOT a new iPhone - judge it on that, not your assumptions.


October 9, 2011, 3:05 pm

Not having Flash should be under pros. Not having some crappy banner hogging my phone's resources is something I am really happy with. The fact that it urges site-builders to stop using flash on websites is a second positive thing. ( no more crappy banners on my laptop too.. :-))


October 9, 2011, 4:29 pm

All products have a life cycle - take the ipod for example where it is clear that it is on the downward curve where its best and most profitable days are behind it. The mighty iphone itself that was once at the top of the curve for so long, is fighting for customers amongst a mass of smart phones that have caught up (from a hardware perspective).

Even the richest of companies have a finite amount of resources for R&D and perhaps they are focusing their priority on the new tablet market that they are currently dominating. Focusing on iPad3 would make much more business sense as currently their competitiors are still way behind the curve. Apple have a great opportunity to push on from the great lead they have created. Even if they had brought out an iphone 5, Apple would be launching it up against a much more competitive android market than in the past. They probably realise that the golden age when they used to dominate the smart phone market has come to an end.

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