The former smartphone king, the iPhone 4S, is ready to pass its crown over to the young upstart, the iPhone 5. Offering improvements over last year’s model, Apple have again done enough to work the iFanboy brigade into a frenzy with their latest smartphone. But with the iPhone 4S now certain to drop in price significantly, and remaining a truly excellent smartphone in its own right, is it really worth upgrading to an iPhone 5?
We compare the key features and specs of both to help you decide which you should be splashing the cash on.
Design and Build Quality
Though it’s a rehashed version of the iPhone 4 (with the dreadful antenna issues all ironed out) it’s hard to fault the iPhone 4S design. Whether you grab it in black or white, the angular unibody design with chrome trim oozes style. It’s arguably hit the sweetspot for mobile-phone size at 115.2 mm x 58.66 mm x 9.3 mm too. It does however lack a HDMI-out port, pretty much a standard with high-end Android handsets these days, and it’s a little delicate, with its glass prone to shattering if dropped from even a modest height.
The iPhone 5 brings with it a considerable re-design for the iPhone line. Measuring 7.6mm thick and weighing 112 grams, it’s 20% lighter than the iPhone 4S. Available in two colours, either black or white, the rear panels are different on each. The white version has a raw aluminium back plate, while the black version has an anodised black finish on its rear. The biggest change comes with screen size. 4-inches diagonally, it now sits in a taller, widescreen ratio. It’ll still fit comfortable in one hand, but will also be better for viewing films on than previous models. Made entirely from aluminium and glass, it has a real premium feel to it, though we’re not personally sold on the whole two-tone look. 4G download speeds also hit the iPhone for the first time.
Winner – iPhone 5, but only just
The iPhone 4S Retina Display is pretty much as good as it gets for mobile display technology right now. Measuring 3.5 inches diagonally, it uses LED backlit IPS TFT LCD technology to deliver images at a staggering 326ppi. What the screen lacks in size it more than makes up for in detail, with vibrant colours, lush brightness and deep blacks.
A Retina display with 326ppi again features with the iPhone 5, in a 4-inch screen of the usual width, but taller than previous iPhones. The resolution of the display sits at 1136 x 640. Closer to a 16:9 ratio than before, the iPhone 5 is now better for viewing films on, with 44% better colour saturation, and with touch integrated into the display to reduce glare in sunlight. It may be the biggest iPhone screen to date, but it now means that black bars will be added to third party apps to fill out the extra screen size until developers get a chance to update them.
Winner – iPhone 5 for improved video viewing
Apple’s 800Mhz dual-core A5 chip may sound a little dated in this age of quad-core mobile CPUs, but thanks to Apple’s careful marriage of software and hardware, you’ll never find the iPhone 4S being overly taxed. You’ll fly through menu screens, tap away at breathtaking polygonal-3D gaming apps and playback detailed HD video without a stutter.
A new iPhone, a new processor. The iPhone 5 comes equipped with an A6 processor, which is said to be 2x as fast with both CPU and GPU processing as the already-speedy dual-core A5 chip found in the iPhone 4S. Shrinking down the transistor size, it’s smaller and more energy efficient too. Apps will load as much as 2x faster using the new chipset. It’s not yet clear how many cores the A6 chip uses, nor who makes it. There’s a strong chance it’s Samsung built, despite the ongoing legal battles.
Winner – iPhone 5
Though Apple’s iPhone 4S doesn’t offer expandable storage, they at least offer three different configurations when it comes to size. 16GB, 32GB and 64GB iPhone 4S models are all available, with pricing rising appropriately. It’s a crafty tactic though, as those opting for more storage space have to pop money directly into Apple’s coffers, rather than picking up cheaper expandable storage elsewhere. With the iCloud back-up feature too you’ve got a little leeway with which to store files remotely too, though extensive cloud storage through Apple doesn’t come cheaply.
Storage options are identical to the iPhone 4S
Winner – Tie
The iPhone 4S is said to have 200 hours worth of battery standby time, 8 hours talk time on 3G, 14 hours talk time on 2G, 6 hours 3G browsing, 9 hours Wi-Fi browsing, 10 hours of video playback or 40 hours of audio playback. In reality however, you’re going to be juggling through all these tasks (at times simultaneously) throughout a day, meaning that you’re going to need to recharge that battery long before the day is done.
225 hours of battery life on standby are quoted for the iPhone 5, with 8 hours 3G or LTE talk time, and 10 hours Wi-Fi usage. Though standby times have somehow been improved, it seems you’re still going to need to charge the iPhone 5 at least once a day. No real changes here.
Winner – Tie
Software and Apps
Apple say there’s an app for everything, and with the iOS App Store, that’s pretty much true. With over 700,000 different apps available in Apple’s store, there’s pretty much an app to cater for every potential need. From fitness to finance, arts to archaeology, you name it, there’s a shed load of apps for every possible niche. Gaming in particular is well served on the iPhone, with it more than a match for handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita these days. Just check out Infinity Blade 2 if you need convincing.
The iPhone 4S also features the much-publicised Siri voice control app. With it, you can search the web, set calendar reminder, dictate emails and much more with just your voice alone. In the US it’s a fully-featured service that has a giant database of details on local businesses and events. In the UK, it’s far less comprehensive in terms of what it can do, making it a bit of a novelty for the time being.
As for the iOS operating system itself, it’s incredibly easy to use and looks beautiful. It pretty much invented the grid-based app layout that everything from the Xbox 360 to Roku entertainment players have ripped off since. It is also however incredibly limited in terms of customisation, and if you’re a tinkerer who likes to get under the hood of his device and tweak every property and potential UI layout, it’s not a patch on Android.
The iPhone 5 ships with iOS 6, but with the iPhone 4S expected to get the OS update soon too, this one’s a tie. For the record, iOS 6 includes improvements such as a revamped Siri, Apple’s own mapping app, deep Facebook integration, cellular FaceTime calls, offline reading and iCloud synced tabs for Safari, and the new Passbook feature for holding card details and ticketing information, including select airline tickets.
Winner – Tie, as iPhone 4S will soon get iOS 6
Camera and Video Recording
Though its megapixel count of 8 isn’t any higher than the majority of top-tier smartphones the iPhone 4S’s imaging systems consistently deliver stunning results. Using a lens with an aperture of f/2.4, and combining that with clever HDR and Macro software, you get excellent still image results almost every time. A super-fast shutter speed that lets you snap multiple images directly after each other sweetens the deal, as do the many superb photography apps on the App Store. However, you can’t tweak sensitivity settings like white balance and exposure, which may irk pro photographers.
1080p video recording with anti-shake functionality likewise returns brilliant results on the iPhone 4S, with the iMovie app letting you make a few simple edits on the go.
The iPhone 5 sees Apple’s imaging systems again improve, but not by a gigantic step. A dynamic low-light mode for better night time shooting is added to the above, with 5-element lens and f/2.4 aperture. There’s also a panorama shooting mode natively built into the camera app for the first time, with a 360-degree shot resulting in a giant 28 megapixel image. The A6 chip allows for faster photo capture too, as well as a smart filter for better colour matching and reduced noise. Share Photo Streams allow you to share photos with pals, and receive messages on your snaps too.
Winner – iPhone 5
Here’s the big point now working in the iPhone 4S’s favour. It gets a price drop in the wake of the iPhone 5 launch, with the 16GB model now selling directly from Apple at £449, unlocked . Add to this inevitable eBay sales and heavy network subsidies and you could pick yourself up a real bargain.
So far, only the entry level 16GB iPhone 5 price has been revealed. Unlocked, it’ll cost £529. That’s expensive, but network contract subsidies will see that initial outlay drop significantly.
Winner – iPhone 4S
There’s no denying that the iPhone 5 is a marked improvement over the iPhone 4S. As shown above, it improves upon its predecessor in almost every conceivable department. However, the iPhone 4S remains a remarkably good phone, and aside from 4G speeds and a slightly different form factor (one, we might add, that may not necessarily be to all tastes), the iPhone 5 launch hasn’t proved as significant an upgrade as we perhaps hoped. If you haven’t got an iPhone, the iPhone 5 is the obvious choice to buy here, but if you’re already rocking an iPhone 4S, there’s no obvious standout reason to upgrade. Those shopping on a budget also need not fret about opting for the iPhone 4S if money is tight; it doesn’t appear that you’ll be missing out on all that much by going for the older model