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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Retro review: I bought an iPhone 4s and spent a day with it

We recently put the Apple iPhone 4s to the test and fell in love with the retro smartphone. Here is our verdict.

Written by Anuj Bhatia | New Delhi | Updated: November 17, 2020 7:53:47 pm
Announced in 2011, Apple's flagship iPhone 4s was the smartphone to beat. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

I recently stumbled upon a sealed unit of the iPhone 4s on Olx and in no time I negotiated with the seller and bought the phone. I couldn’t stop myself from buying an iPhone 4s. After all, it was the last and final Apple product announced when Steve Jobs was alive. But the reason for buying an iPhone 4s in 2020 is entirely different. With the arrival of the iPhone 12 mini, compact smartphones are being discussed again. Most importantly, Apple has provided consumers with a choice of choosing a premium small phone that hasn’t been available to you for years. Now that everyone is discussing the comeback of a small-smartphone, I have decided to revisit the iconic iPhone 4s and use the phone for a day. Here are my thoughts below. 

A one-handed iPhone 

The moment I picked up the iPhone 4s, it reminded me of the era when phones were small in size. I had been missing the feeling of holding a compact iPhone until I held the iPhone 4s. So how small is this phone? This is a phone with a 3.5-inch screen, so it’s quite tiny compared to my iPhone 12’s 6.1-inch display. But holding a one-handed phone does give goosebumps, especially when I have been using big-screen phones for the past few years. This is a phone that fits in my back pocket and can be used one-handed and it also feels secure when you grip it. Though I have to admit I had to make adjustments while using the iPhone 4s as typing on a small phone isn’t as easy as it used to be when we had not gotten used to larger phones.

iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 The iPhone 4s has flat edges and a stainless-steel frame. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

The Iconic design 

The iPhone 4s was and is still, the best looking iPhone ever made. In fact, the design of the iPhone 4s is very much modern. And even Apple agrees to it, because the iPhone 12’s design is reminiscent of the iPhone 4/4s. The iPhone 4s has a classic iPhone vibe to it. The front has a home button and symmetrical black bezel, while the back is made of glass. But the iPhone 4s is more attractive also because of the squared-off edges and the steel frame. The reason I rate the iPhone 4s high on the ranks of best-designed iPhones is due to its solid build and the size.

iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 Jony Ive-designed iPhone 4s is still regarded as the best-looking iPhone. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Retina display 

You might be surprised to know that the iPhone 4s’s 3.5-inch Retina Display (960×640) still looks terrific. Look, I don’t want to get into the debate whether LCD screens are better than OLED displays. That’s not my point of revisiting a phone that was introduced in 2011. All I am interested in telling you is my experience with the iPhone 4s, which sports a screen that has a pixel density of 326 per inch. Maybe the display is not as bright as the iPhone 12, but the 3.5-inch Retina Display is fine for web browsing and checking your Facebook feed. Watching videos is possible, although don’t expect the same level of experience compared to present-day phones. The only issue with a 3.5-inch small screen, if you consider it a real drawback, is that you won’t get to see the same amount of content as the iPhone 12, in case of Facebook or even reading on a website. 

iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 The latest iPhone 12 is based on the design language of the iPhone 4s. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Decent performance, but its internals showing the age

When I thought of buying the iPhone 4s, in my head I knew its shortcomings. But I was surprised to find out how capable the iPhone 4s is even today. Browsing the web on the iPhone 4s is as good as on any other phone. Many news websites such as Indianexpress.com and nytimes.com load in less than 5 seconds. I was able to navigate and the phone’s small(ish) display isn’t bad for viewing news sites. 

But running modern apps on the iPhone 4s is entirely a different story altogether. A lot of Google apps, be it Gmail and YouTube, do not support the iPhone 4s anymore. I also couldn’t install a number of popular apps on the phone including Instagram. The list goes on but I did manage to download and run Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger,  Flipkart, Hotstar, OLX and Zoom on the phone. 

But running iOS 9.3.6, the iPhone 4s is still a fully functional smartphone. I was able to stream music via Apple Music but I couldn’t connect my Apple Watch and HomePod with the iPhone 4s. I won’t say the iPhone 4s feels slow and sluggish to use but given the phone made its debut in 2011, it can’t compete with the iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 in terms of performance. That’s obvious. But I must say the iPhone 4s still performs better than many Android smartphones that have been introduced much later. 

iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 Unlike the iPhone 12, the iPhone 4s has a 3.5mm headphone jack. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Camera 

The most exciting thing about this whole exercise was to test out the iPhone 4s’s camera. And I must say I can clearly see the progress Apple has made in improving the camera on its iPhones. The iPhone 4s featured an 8MP rear-facing camera, capable of recording 1920×1080 (1080p) video. At the front, the phone came with a 640×480 VGA camera. 

The difference in picture quality is noticeable when comparing the iPhone 4s’s camera to that of the iPhone 12. That said, if I want to rate the iPhone 4s’s camera on the scale of 1 to 10, I will give it 7 out of 10. The reason: the iPhone 4s’s camera captures realistic and natural shots, something only an iPhone can pull off. The captured shots aren’t terrible and I can clearly see the details, though photos have a high level of noise. But the phone suffers a lot in low-light and comparing the iPhone 4s and iPhone 12 is like comparing two different planets. 

Here are some pictures I have taken using the iPhone 4s:

iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express) iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express) iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express) iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express) iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Battery life 

There are some shortcomings of using a small-screen phone: the small form factor means the iPhone 4s has a smaller battery, which translates to not-so-great battery life. My phone lasted about four and a half hours before it died completely. So yes, your fear of using a compact phone is right. You are choosing a small form factor over long battery life. Maybe that is why most smartphone makers including Apple, stopped making compact phones. 

iPhone 4s, iphone 4s review, iphone 4s price in India, using iPhone 4s in 2020, iPhone 4s specs, iPhone 4s specs, small phones 2020 A lot of Google apps do not support the iPhone 4s. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Is it worth buying the iPhone 4s in 2020?

It depends. For me, who is a self-confessed retro-tech lover, I couldn’t stop myself from buying the iPhone 4S. I bought the iPhone 4s solely for nostalgia. But I don’t think I can use the iPhone 4s as my daily driver as it misses on several new features, something I can’t ignore being a tech reviewer. But I can always use the iPhone 4s as a secondary phone. It’s a compact phone with the classic look, and it’s pretty usable. 

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