As well as dictating messages, Siri can be used for many more functions, including setting appointments in your calendar, instructing the phone to start a text message, checking a contact’s details, asking general knowledge or scientific questions, playing a song or setting an alarm. Many of these aren’t all that useful, unless you have particular trouble manhandling a phone, as you’re fairly unlikely to say out loud in public what you need from the shops, what music you want to play or what appointment you’re setting up. Nonetheless, it works brilliantly. Although dictating large blocks of text can cause issues, a short well-spoken question has excellent results.
However, some of arguably the most interesting features aren’t enabled for the UK version yet. Anything based upon location and business information isn’t yet available. So whereas in the USA you can ask Siri where the nearest pizza place is, you’re met with a blanket “Siri can’t look up businesses at the moment” message. As it’s technically only in beta, though, we fully expect these services to arrive shortly.
When browsing the web manually, the iPhone remains one of the nicest devices to use, and some new features have made it even nicer.
The core experience is fast and slick with pages rendering correctly and being easy to zoom into and scroll around. Extra speed is a key new feature for the iPhone 4S, and indeed it’s when browsing the web that the faster processor is most noticeable. For instance, it takes a couple of seconds longer for our webpage to load on the iPhone 4.
One thing we would’ve liked to see from the iOS 5 update is the tabbed browsing that the iPad has, but instead the iPhone still uses a carousel-style menu for managing multiple pages – as used on most phones in fairness.
What you do get, though, are Reader mode and Reading List. The former formats pages to make them easier to read, dropping adverts and other extraneous formatting, leaving you with just text and pictures. Meanwhile, Reading List is a temporary bookmark list used for quickly marking webpages to read later. Sadly it doesn’t cache the webpage so you can’t add half a dozen articles to the list for reading while on the London Underground.
There are a couple of key features still missing from the iPhone web experience though. One is the perennial favourite, Flash support. While it’s true that apps can take care of much of the content that you’d want to get using Flash, the standard is still widely used and its lack of support is a pain. It may only be once every hundred times you use the web that you find you need Flash, but when other devices offer it with no discernible penalty (you can turn it off except for when you specifically want to load a certain element), it remains an annoyance.
The other limitation is the lack of choice when zooming into webpages. You can pinch to zoom but this is hard to perform one handed, and a double tap will only zoom in on a certain element. What we really want to see is the option of an ‘easy read’ zoom that, like Android, zooms in to a point where the text is a readable size then reformats it to fit the width of the screen, saving you having to scroll left and right.