Hands-on Review: the Apple iPhone 4S

It’s almost a given that when Apple releases a new iPhone, it will sell out and be a big holiday hit. This year is no different: New iPhone 4S. Sold-out shelves. Great reviews.

So is this smartphone all it's cracked up to be, or is it just a hit because iPhones always are? Hang on, let me ask Siri.

Siri, is the iPhone 4S the best phone on the market?

She tells me to go to Apple.com for more information. She’s very modest.

15 months ago, I said the iPhone 4 was the best smartphone I’d ever used. Apple’s iPhone 4 went on to become the highest selling phone in the world. The newly released iPhone 4S improves upon that standard in a number of key ways.

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First there's the camera, one of the most significant upgrades to the iPhone 4. Now that I have an 8-megapixel camera in my pocket at all times, I can’t imagine carrying a point-and-shoot ever again.

Not only is the camera great but the software that operates it is also stellar. It's ready for action in mere milliseconds, and it's capable of things we expect only from high-end cameras such as stop-action and depth of field. I can take a photo of my 1-year-old son close up, for example, and have the trees behind him blur in the distance for effect.

Photos also look brighter because the new optics allow more light in. During a candle-lit dinner with friends I snapped a series of photos side by side with the older iPhone 4. The difference was night and day.

The video camera was also upgraded to shoot higher quality 1080p high-definition video, as opposed to the 720p HD video the iPhone 4 could capture.

A big reason to consider upgrading to the iPhone 4S is Siri, the iPhone’s new "voice assistant." And it’s not a gimmick, despite what some might say. It’s actually very useful.

Sure, the first day you use it, Siri can be a little gimmicky -- you'll find yourself asking questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” and “Should I have pizza or hamburger for lunch?” I even tried cursing at Siri. She politely replied, “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

But once you stop being a goofball, it becomes really easy to find helpful tasks for your new personal assistant. And if you are searching for information that Siri doesn’t have, she'll search Google or Bing for the answer.

This weekend, my parents were visiting and I wanted to make them my spaghetti bolognese. My recipe calls for a few minutes to saute this and to boil that. I asked Siri to keep time for me and she did so without fail.

“Remind me to drain the pasta in 10 minutes,” I said. Siri set the reminder. A few minutes later, I asked her, “How much time is left on my timer?” Siri gave me a precise answer.

“7 minutes and 1 second, Clayton.”

Siri can't run apps or run inside apps -- not yet, anyway, though Apple is working to allow third party apps to sink their teeth into voice control. Keep in mind that Siri is still in beta.

If you have a need for speed, the iPhone 4S does not disappoint. It now has the same A5 processor that the iPad 2 uses. Some benchmark tests have reported 68 percent speed increase from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S. When running speed tests comparing my 4 to my 4S, I did find the 4S significantly faster when launching apps, surfing Safari, checking email, and more.

Of course you have to account for the speed of your network. The iPhone is now on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, all three of which boast superhighway speeds. You probably know the reputation of each carrier in your area -- all networks are not created equal in every metropolitan area. When yours is running optimally, your iPhone 4S will too.

The new phone is powered by iOS 5 software. It has a whopping 250 new features, which Rene Ritchie has covered in exhausting detail.

So should you upgrade? If you’re using an iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS, yes, without a doubt. If you’ve just bought an iPhone 4, you’ll be fine upgrading your software to iOS 5 and hanging tight until next year’s iPhone 5. If you can’t decide, you could always send me a Tweet and I’ll ask Siri for you. She seems to have a lot of the right answers.

Clayton Morris is a Fox and Friends host. Follow Clayton's adventures online on Twitter @ClaytonMorris and by reading his daily updates at his blog.

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