iPhone 4S review

Same shape, different brain - is it enough of a change?

iPhone 4S review
The definitive iPhone 4S review

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You may have noticed that iPhones have always been pretty darn good when it comes to the media side of things thanks to the rich iPod heritage Apple had before the iPhone ever existed.

That's still present and correct now, with some slightly new additions - plus Siri is getting in on the act by helping control your music through your headset.


The iPod experience on the iPhone is no more - music is now rather boringly entitled 'Music'. We suppose it makes sense... but still sucks a bit. We liked the name.

iPhone 4s review

Anyway, there's not a lot different if you've used the player before on any iOS platform. You can simply look through your music in the boring old list format on a white background, or turn the phone on its side to see the now-famous Cover Flow style.

The iPhone 4 was already fast enough, but the dual core processor means there's not a hint of slow down when it comes to swiping through your music collection.

You can tap an album cover and see the list of songs on there to play - it's a pretty nifty system, and one that just makes the iOS system seem that much slicker.

And don't forget last year's big hitter: Genius. It's still a very clever system, and the ability to tap a button and simply get given a decent playlist based on the song you've chosen is brilliant.

iPhone 4s review

It's still not 100% perfect, but then again, we're not sure our music collection is among the coolest anyway, so perhaps we're just frying its little Genius brain.

Siri once again proves its worth when you're out and about listening to music. Although most headsets can skip tracks and pause music with the inbuilt button, using Siri you can shuffle tracks and open a given playlist. This was possible with the previous voice control on the iPhone, but now it's so much more accurate.

Sonically, the iPhone 4S is among the best again - we're talking rich sounding bass and some nice top end reproduction, especially when you upgrade your headphones to a decent set. (Oh, look. We've written a 'best headphones for phones' feature right here with all that info in. Aren't you lucky?)

Also you can control the music from the phone's lock screen – simply double tap the home screen when the screen is in sleep mode and you can interact with the songs.


The Retina display is perfectly designed for video playback, with the high res screen in the smaller form factor making it very easy to sit back and enjoy a movie.

However, you won't be able to enjoy the whole thing, as in our eyes the screen is just mite too small to be able to get a marathon movie session out of. It's got a decent enough contrast ratio at 800:1 (well, we assume it's that, as that's the spec of the iPhone 4 and placed side by side the movie experience is the same) although the dark scenes look a little too dark at times.

The video format support is mostly acceptable as well, with H.264, MP4, MOV, M4V all supported. Nothing for AVI or DivX in there... and the latter is certainly missed as re-encoding all our (home-taken, of course) ripped DVDs takes ages when they were already nicely packaged up with DivX.

Other nice touches include the iPhone 4 remembering which videos you're yet to watch, and how far you are through those you're watching - allowing you pick it back up again when you re-open the file. Nice.

And you can always get your content from the iTunes library that comes bundled with the phone instead; it's as simple as clicking the application open and browsing for music you'd like, or movies and TV shows you fancy watching.

iPhone 4s review

And the prices seem to have come down a tad since last year, with £10 seeming to be the average price for a title in the library. Plus you can now rent films too for a lot cheaper... although we're still sure BlockBuster is a better bet for these things. (Is it just us that doesn't want to see our childhood video rental chain go under?)

Apple has now also thrown in mirroring to a larger TV - at 720p resolution if you do it wirelessly over Airplay 1080p with a VGA adaptor. We've still yet to lay our hands on one of these so we can't test all the cool new features - but rest assured as soon as we get them in we'll give it a thorough going over.


The iPhone 4 came with something cool: the gyroscope, and while it was meant to herald a new way of playing games, it hasn't set the world on fire in the way we'd expected.

Things like Gun Range and NOVA are excellent examples of what you can do with the technology, but to our eyes, this needs a virtual reality helmet as an attachment to really work. That would be ace... Apple, please make it happen, then we could jump around our living room firing at things all day long.

iPhone 4s review

But the real advance when it comes to gaming on the iPhone 4S is the seven times performance leap the graphical processor offers up - and boy, are we excited to see the power this offers.

iPhone 4s review

We've yet to properly stress the graphical properties of the phone as yet - Infinity Blade is the best we can manage, but we really want something that we can hold next to the power of the Samsung Galaxy S2 to see which really is top dog when it comes to chucking out the polygons.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.