Why doesn't Sprint wear iPhones

Stephan Ehrmann 351

Even before the detailed test reports in c't 23/11 and Mac & i Issue 4, we had the opportunity to gather initial measurement results and experience.

Externally, the iPhone 4S (German prices and tariffs of the mobile phone providers) does not differ from its predecessor at first glance. Only when you take a closer look you can see that buttons on the left edge of the case (mute, louder, quieter) have been moved down one to two millimeters. Therefore, one or the other cover may no longer fit.

The two black lines on the outer edge on the left and right at the top indicate the new diversity antennas, which are intended to improve the transmission and reception performance and reduce the problems of sharply deteriorating signal quality at certain stopping positions. Apparently we succeeded, in any case we could not provoke a situation in which the field strength shown in the display in the form of bars would have decreased rapidly by the laying on of hands, as with the predecessor. As a "world phone", the 4S works in both GSM and CDMA networks - the latter, however, can currently only be used by customers who have purchased their iPhone from the US CDMA carriers Verizon or Sprint. For the first time, it also masters download rates of up to 14.4 Mbit / s in the UMTS standard HSPA. However, it depends on the mobile phone contract whether you can already use it. The 4G standard LTE is not yet supported, but due to the lack of a suitable power supply, that is not a big deal.

The device that we got our hands on at short notice ran the same build of iOS 5 that Apple had recently released to the developers as the Golden Master. The final version has been available for download since October 12th.

Hardware and performance

According to initial findings, the built-in A5 processor is clocked at 800 MHz. The system bus runs at 200 MHz. This means that the iPhone is not only theoretically but also, according to the first benchmarks, slower than the iPad 2, in which the A5 is clocked at 1 GHz and the system bus is clocked at 250 MHz. The A4 in the iPhone 4 is also clocked at 1 GHz, but as a single-core processor and due to the slower connection of the system bus with 100 MHz, it is significantly slower than the A5 in the iPhone 4S. We couldn't understand the speed difference mentioned by Apple (factor 2), but in benchmarks that measure the CPU performance and memory throughput, the 4S is significantly faster than the iPhone 4.

When dealing with apps, the picture is confirmed: Navigon Europe started about 7 seconds faster on the new iPhone than on the old iPhone. A route within Germany was calculated just under half a second faster on the 4S, while a route from Hanover to downtown London appeared on the display a good 10 seconds faster than on the iPhone 4. Many apps started faster, but when surfing the WLAN under Safari there was not much difference between the two devices. Mind you: All tests were done on the fly and are repeated again in peace with an official test device. But that much is already certain: The iPad 2 will remain the fastest iOS device on the market for the time being.

Graphics, games, camera

In terms of graphics performance, the iPhone 4S is three to eight times faster than its predecessor, depending on the benchmark. Here, too, it is overtaken by the iPad 2, which has the same graphics chip, a PowerVR SGX 543MP2 from Imagination Technologies - also with a higher clock frequency. Even with activated anti-aliasing, the iPhone 4s manages almost 60 frames per second in the benchmark sequences, while the iPhone 4 only shows jerky images: mobile gamers will be happy. The high graphics performance will lead to much nicer games in the handheld market - but it should be a few months before they appear in the App Store.

The higher performance means that the battery life of the iPhone 4S does not improve compared to the previous model. If you run a video continuously, the juice runs out after eleven hours. The iPhone 4 lasted for twelve hours. Unfortunately, Apple no longer allows you to switch off the UMTS mode if, for example, you want to be ready to receive on a long train journey and still want to save electricity.

The camera in the iPhone 4S is significantly better than the one in the predecessor. It now has a fifth lens and a more light-sensitive 1/3-inch sensor. The first test images are much sharper, colors come out clearer and more natural. The camera function can be called up directly on the lock screen in order to be ready for a snapshot more quickly. Videos are now recorded in full HD (1080p). The strong computing power of the iPhone 4S makes it possible to noticeably reduce the shaking of the video with an image stabilizer.

Siri

The Siri (video) speech recognition system, which we consider the most exciting new feature in the iPhone 4S, is quite convincing in the first tests. Training of the speaker, as is known from PC speech systems, is not necessary. Instead, Siri learns automatically during use.

Without a network connection, Siri refuses to work. Called up in airplane mode, it warns: "Siri is not available. Connect to the Internet." The recorded text is transferred to the cloud and identified there; this usually takes one to two, sometimes four or five seconds, depending on the network connection and the complexity of the spoken text. The voice commands sent back are evaluated on the device. Some of what was demonstrated at Apple's press conference does not yet work because the associated service is not yet available in German, such as the map connection or the search via Wolfram Alpha, which answers all possible knowledge questions in the English version, not just about numbers, like "How many euros is 10 dollars?" or "How many days are there until Christmas?". We couldn't create new contacts by voice either; E-mails could not be read aloud. Apple still calls Siri a demo version. When a final version can be expected and whether this will then support all skills in German cannot be found out at the moment.

Interestingly, Siri also starts after a long press on the home button if a code lock is set. [Update: This can be changed in the system settings.] On the one hand, this makes handling easier, for example in the car, but on the other hand, it also makes it easier to spy on data. "Show appointment calendar", for example, lists all the appointments that have been entered. If you say "show my address", you at least know who owns the iPhone 4S found in the beer garden.

At first you catch yourself several times dictating rather choppy synthetic voice commands to the system like "SMS!" or "Mail!", which also means "Write an SMS to Volker". If several telephone numbers are stored, it asks: "Business or private?", But sometimes entire telephone numbers are read out digit by digit, which takes a long time and is annoying with five entries in a row.

Charming conversation partner

Siri develops its charm by understanding almost natural language, including German. "Make an appointment with my brother", for example, works: the system does not yet know who that is, it learns that too. You can say "How busy am I for the rest of the day" to see the schedule, or "Do I need an umbrella?" (Siri: "Oh yes, it's raining."). Sometimes the answers are funny. If you ask: "Who are you?", It says: "My name is Siri. But you already knew that". To "I'm tired" the answer is: "That's okay, I just hope you're not doing anything dangerous" and to "You're stupid" almost philosophical: "Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion".

You don't need to pay attention to special commands, special pronunciation or pauses between words, of course you have to speak reasonably clearly. Siri sometimes struggles with grammatically perfect German. "Remind me to call my mom" doesn't understand. It answers: "I can remind you at a certain time or when you arrive or leave a place. When should I remind you?". If you say "Remind me to call mom", Siri understands and asks obediently: "When should I remind you?". If you say "Tomorrow 12 o'clock", the prepared appointment appears on the display and Siri asks: "Here is your reminder for tomorrow 12 o'clock. Should I create it?" If you now say "Yes", it replies: "Okay, I remember you." The whole thing works faster than it reads here and usually without major complications.

Voice control works with the headset as well as with the microphone and loudspeaker. If you hold the iPhone to your ear, Siri starts automatically, provided the screen is unlocked. Background noises are filtered out if they differ significantly from voice commands. This works well with engine noises in the car, for example. But as soon as several people stand around the iPhone 4S and chatter loudly together, as happened not only once in the short test, the speech recognition becomes tangled. This sometimes leads to involuntarily comical results similar to those of the handwriting recognition of the Apple Newton.

Subjectively, the word recognition quality corresponds at least to that of the Dragon apps and the Google solutions for iOS or Android. When it comes to voice control, it offers far more than any other mobile solution we know.

There is currently no API for integrating Siris into other apps. It is currently not possible to find out whether Apple will submit this later. After all, every app on the iPhone 4S automatically accepts voice commands as soon as it requests text input via the keyboard: A new microphone button on the on-screen keyboard also accepts dictations with every standard text input. This is also useful as a makeshift in the system apps that Siri does not yet support, such as Images or Safari.

First conclusion

With the exception of the name and a different housing, the iPhone 4S has everything you would expect from the iPhone 5: more performance, more storage capacity, a significantly better camera. Other smartphones can also offer a dual-core processor and an 8-megapixel camera, but an assistance function that is so deeply interwoven in the system is currently exclusive to Apple. It again gives the manufacturer a small lead in the market and could even usher in the next paradigm shift, like the multi-touch operation before. But Apple has to stay on the ball, Google is also diligently developing its speech recognition and supposedly even wants to implement a simultaneous translator.

Siri is still more sophisticated and reacts faster than speech recognition in Android. Since some functions are not yet available in German and there is still no way for developers to use Siri in their apps, its potential is far from exhausted.

For now, Siri will remain an exclusive feature of the iPhone 4S, presumably to promote its sales. This also seems to be successful, as the first sales figures show. If you still have the old Siri app on your iPhone 4, you can no longer use it.

The bottom line is that Siri is also the most impressive thing about the iPhone 4S. iOS 5 and iCloud should also contribute to the iPhone 4S once again setting new sales records.

C't brings detailed test results in issue 23/11, from October 24th at the kiosk.

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