I was wrong about the iPhone 4s. I said it would be great. I predicted it would be the best phone ever built. The truth, it turns out, is that the iPhone 4s kind of sucks.
There. I said it.
And I might be wrong again with the headline for this column. I don't have much faith in Apple to get it right for the upcoming iPhone 5, either. The iPhone 4s has shaken my confidence in Apple's legendary ability to bang out hit after hit.
My confident, bullish prediction about the iPhone 4s was based on Apple consistently improving on each new iPhone upgrade, and on the company's stellar achievement in getting the iPad so right the first time, and so super-right the second time.
The iPhone 4s is the first stumble by Apple since the company launched the original iPhone in 2007. To me, there's only one reason to buy and own an iPhone 4s: Siri.
Apple's Siri voice-based virtual assistant technology is flawed, but well worth it. More on that below. First, let me tell you why the iPhone 4s isn't the phone Apple said it would be at their October 4 launch.
What's wrong with the iPhone 4s?
The iPhone 4s should be a better phone than the iPhone 4. Looking at the specs, and the list of new features and capabilities, it should be everything the iPhone is, plus better, faster and easier to use.
Some aspects of the iPhone are better. Siri is very useful. Some of the accessibility features are fantastic, even for people without disabilities.
Beyond that, the phone is harder and more annoying to use than the iPhone 4 was. Here's why.
1. Battery life is horrible.
I haven't run objective tests, but I do have some "anecdata" for you: It feels like it has half the battery life of the previous phone. Personally, I can't get through an entire day without charging it.
Again, this is unscientific, but the battery problems appear to be caused primarily by iOS 5. The reason I say this is that my wife installed the upgrade on her iPhone 4, and that phone also took a huge hit in battery life.
Other reasons are likely to be that Siri is always loaded and ready and battery consuming when you use it. Find My Friends, which is Apple's Latitude-like family-and-friend stalker application, is constantly hitting the network.
The Messages feature almost certainly checks for incoming messages constantly, and locks and loads them in preparation for a user swipe-down to show the messages. It doesn't go get them when you request them. They're already on the phone and loaded.
These are all nice features. But being able to turn the phone on is also a feature, one that becomes unavailable when the battery dies. The battery life creates problems for iPhone 4s users.
2. Lousy camera.
The camera was supposed to be great, the best camera in any cell phone. Sometimes it is. But usually, it's not.
The specs are impressive, to be sure. 8-megapixels, larger f/2.4 aperture, auto white balance, "advanced color accuracy," and reduced motion blur.
That last bit, the "reduced motion blur" is flat-out wrong. Apple claims that because they say the camera has image stabilization. But this feature is undetectable in real life.
If you're outside on a sunny day, or are taking pictures of subjects that aren't moving, the iPhone 4s takes really great pictures. But reduce the light even slightly, and with your subject in any kind of motion, and your pictures will be so blurry you'll simply delete them.
Most of the pictures I take with this phone are unusable because of motion blur. I can't detect any image stabilization in videos, either.
I took better pictures, on average, with the camera in the iPhone 4.
3. The iPhone 4s's screen is broken.
The yellow is turned way up. As a result, the screen is unappealing to look at. Blues look greenish. The overall appearance of the screen is somewhat nauseating to look at.
Some say the problem affects mostly black phones, and not white ones.
When I put my old iPhone 4 next to a new black 4s as well as a white one, it was clear that the white 4s was a little too yellow, and the black 4s was way too yellow. It was also clear that the iPhone 4 screen has much better color than the new phones.
You expect improvements with new phones, not regression. But that's what you get with the iPhone 4s -- especially the black one -- a reduction in screen quality.
Personally, I intend to exchange my black iPhone 4s for a white one.