Apple 2.0

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iPhone 4S: The reviews are in

October 12, 2011: 5:45 AM ET

A taste of what the early users had to say. Spoiler: They loved it. 

Photo: Apple Inc.

Apple must have handed out a lot of pre-release units at the "Let's Talk iPhone" press event last week. I counted at least a dozen hands-on reviews Wednesday morning. A sampling:

  • The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg: The iPhone Finds Its Voice. The iPhone 4S is one of Apple's less dramatic updates, but, when combined with the Siri, iOS 5 and iCloud features, it presents an attractive new offering to smartphone users. Some may be content to skip the new hardware and just enjoy the software and cloud features with older models. But those buying the phone will likely be happy with it.
  • The New York Times' David Pogue: New iPhone Conceals Sheer Magic. You can say, "Wake me up at 7:35," or "Change my 7:35 alarm to 8." You can say, "What's Gary's work number?" Or, "How do I get to the airport?" Or, "Any good Thai restaurants around here?" Or, "Make a note to rent 'Ishtar' this weekend." Or, "How many days until Valentine's Day?" Or, "Play some Beatles." Or, "When was Abraham Lincoln born?" In each case, Siri thinks for a few seconds, displays a beautifully formatted response and speaks in a calm female voice... (Full disclosure — I'm writing a book about the iPhone and iOS 5.)
  • This is my next's Joshua Topolsky. iPhone 4S Review. In reality, however, the hardware is only half the story. Maybe not even half. The introduction of the iPhone 4S marks the introduction of iOS 5 as well. The new operating system is loaded with big improvements, from notifications to how your device connects to your computer. Packed with major features like iCloud integration and an innovative, voice-activated "intelligent assistant" named Siri, it's not unfair to consider this one of the most meaningful updates to iOS we've ever seen.
  • Daring Fireball's John Gruber: iPhone 4S. Siri feels like old-school Apple. Newton-esque, at least in spirit... It's also sort of the antithesis of everything prior in iOS. iOS is explicit and visual. Everything you can do in iOS is something you can see and touch on screen. The limits are visible and obvious. Siri, on the other hand, feels limitless. It's fuzzy, and fuzzy on purpose. There's no way to tell what will work and what won't. You must explore.
  • TechCrunch's MG Siegler:  The iPhone 4S: Faster, More Capable, And You Can Talk To It. What does the "S" stand for? When I ask Apple this, they're vague in their response. They note that some people say it stands for "Special" or "Super". Others say it's for "Speed" — much like the iPhone 3GS, the successor to the iPhone 3G. Or maybe it's "Storage" (this is the first iPhone with 64 GB option — and with iCloud storage). Or "Sprint" (this is the first iPhone to run on that network in the U.S.) Or perhaps it's for "Speech" or "Siri". Either of these last two would get my vote. The point is, the "S" can stand for any number of things depending on who is using the device. Here's all I know for certain: this is the best iPhone yet.
  • Wired.com's Brian X Chen:  WIRED Siri is the best androgynous unpaid intern you'll ever meet. Dual-core guts make for faster apps and a smoother interface. Camera is much-improved. Call quality gets a boost. TIRED Siri is limited in what it can do and understand. Looks the same as the iPhone 4 — what's up with that? A 2-year contract means you may not be eligible for the best upgrade pricing.
  • Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky: iPhone 4S Yaks Back, Shoots Fast, Goes Global. There's no way to tell the difference between Apple's (AAPL) new iPhone 4S and the previous model. Until you turn it on. In a week of using the 4S, I found so many new things under the hood that, with a few cosmetic changes, the company could legitimately have called it "iPhone 5" and no one would have blinked.

Below: A video of Macworld's Jason Snell taking Siri through her paces.

The iPhone 4S goes on sale Friday in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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