Apple's new smartphone, the iPhone 4S, lands in stores around the country Friday. The company says that consumers pre-ordered more than 1 million of the phones within 24 hours last week, when it became available online.
One of the new iPhone's biggest rivals will be the Motorola Bionic, which runs on Google's Android operating system. Both phones are very capable, and very fast — here's a chart outlining their features:
Test-Driving The iPhone 4S
The 4S doesn't look very different from its predecessor, the iPhone 4. But as Bloomberg technology columnist Rich Jaroslovsky tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, you can't judge a phone by its cover.
"It's kind of like a car where the exterior styling hasn't been changed, but under the hood they've popped in a new engine," says Jaroslovsky, who received a review model of the phone.
"They've added a whole lot of new features and things and you can't really tell the difference until you take it out for a spin," he says.
Siri: A 'Personal Assistant'
One of the most-discussed features of the new iPhone is "Siri," a voice recognition and response system. It answers questions and takes voice commands — whether the user is requesting restaurant recommendations, adding reminders and appointments to a digital calendar, or even dictating text messages. All of it is done hands-free.
Jaroslovsky demonstrates the "personal assistant" by asking it, "What's the best smartphone?"
Siri's response: "I think you've already answered that question."
The voice recognition technology isn't perfect, though. The voice recognition software occasionally misunderstands what the user says. And if the answer to a question isn't readily available, Siri simply displays results from a web search on the phone's screen.
Better Photos, And Speed
The new iPhone also has an upgraded camera, moving from a 5-megapixel sensor to an 8-megapixel sensor — which lets it take more detailed photographs than the iPhone 4.
In terms of download speeds, the iPhone 4S beats many of its competitors on AT&T's network, according to Jaroslovsky. Although the phone isn't labeled as "4G," he reports being able to browse the Internet faster with the iPhone 4S than with the Samsung Galaxy S II — a phone that uses Google's Android operating system, and is advertised as being "4G."
The iPhone 4S is also available on Sprint, a first for that carrier, as well as Verizon, which has the 4G LTE, or "Long Term Evolution," network. Jaroslovsky calls the 4G LTE the fastest network available — but it comes at a cost: Phones that use it tend to suffer from a shorter battery life.
Motorola's Bionic is one of those phones — the Android handset is available only on Verizon, and it runs on the speedy LTE network.
"Essentially, devices running on Verizon's LTE network will be faster than the 4S running over the AT&T network," says Jaroslovsky, who earlier this year wrote an extensive article about mobile network speeds.
"But a 4S running over the AT&T network proves to be faster than the phones that AT&T is selling as 4G," he says, "and faster than a 4S running over either the Verizon or Sprint networks."
Jaroslovsky also points out that while iPhones are well-known, smartphones that run the Android software enjoy a slight majority in terms of sales.
"To a certain extent, what they used to call the 'reality distortion field' around Apple sometimes distracts people from that fact," he says.
Jaroslovsky explains that Google's strategy has been very different from Apple's. While Apple releases a new generation of iPhone only once a year, there are many Android phones available, as Google allows many manufacturers to use the software in their phones.
He adds that Apple's tactic of reducing the price of the iPhone 4 — and making the iPhone 3GS free for users who sign up for a two-year contract with their carrier — may be an attempt to counter Google on its own playing field.