How does the iPhone 4S stack up to Android’s best? Pretty evenly

by Phil Hornshaw

After months of speculation, the iPhone 4S has finally been officially, truly, actually revealed. It’s not a groundbreaking redesign packed with new features, it’s a more powerful but same-looking iPhone 4. And in many ways, it’s a case of Apple catching up to Android, not the other way around.

Of the new features that the iPhone 4S sports, most of them are already available on comparable Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II. Apple has made a big deal out of some of these improvements, and among iPhone owners, many of them are pretty cool. The A5 dual-core processor chip, for example, speeds up the iPhone’s capabilities for video and gaming, bringing them more in line with the iPad 2.

Except there have been dual-core Android devices on the market for months now. In fact, rumor has it that companies such as Motorola are already prepping quad-core smartphones. That’s two more cores than Apple’s slickest device, and double the power. And they’ll likely be out long before the iPhone 5. In the meantime, like most of Apple’s improvements to the iPhone 4 with its new device, the A5 chip brings the 4S into step with comparable Android phones on the market; but it’s not better, just equal.

Smile, you're on camera

Equal, too, is the 8-megapixel camera added to the 4S. That’s definitely an upgrade to the existing iPhone 4 and it should take clear, pretty photos. At least, an 8-megapixel camera takes clear, pretty photos on the Galaxy S II and Droid Bionic, also from Samsung. Both those Android devices are also capable of shooting 1080p HD video with their rear-facing cameras, just like the 4S can.

The iPhone 4S boasts faster wireless data speeds over 3G, too, which Apple claimed during its keynote were equal to what some carriers and device makers “claim” as 4G LTE speeds. Speedier 3G data connections and better antennas are great for iPhone owners who have had notoriously bad network problems from AT&T. As it stacks against Android, however, the increase in the 4S’ data speeds are, again, comparable to what’s already available. Even if what Apple says is true – that what’s touted as 4G isn’t really 4G, something we’ve actually heard from other sources – there are still Android phones that run at speeds comparable to the iPhone 4S. Meanwhile, phones such as the HTC Thunderbolt and the Samsung Droid Charge run on Verizon’s true 4G LTE network; the only limitation is the network coverage, which is mostly only available in urban areas.

New iOS features already common on Android

Even many of the improvements Apple is rolling out in its new mobile operating system update, iOS 5, are cribbed from Android or apps that were already available. Apple is rolling out a new notification system that drops push notifications in favor of updates appearing in the status bar on the home page – which Android already does. Apple is introducing location-fenced notifications and reminders, so entering or leaving a particular area can trigger a reminder to, say, pick up milk after work. And Android does that, too. Wireless syncing, a shutter button for the camera on the exterior of the device, photo editing – many “new” features are part of the Android ecosystem and have been for a while.

While Apple does have a few cool things up its sleeve in iOS 5 and with the iPhone 4S, including the Siri Assistant voice-activated software (Google's in-built voice search not withstanding), one thing’s pretty clear: it’s not blowing anybody out of the water this time around. Apple might have a slight edge overall with iOS 5, but when it comes to the iPhone 4S, this is a device that’s not technologically ahead of what’s available to Android users. The bigger implication is that the iPhone 5 will probably be a very big step forward. Luckily, Google and its partners will probably have lots of time to roll out improvements of their own.