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iPhone 4S, Day One: Set Up, Camera

My iPhone 4S arrived today, two days earlier than Apple promised, which I suspect was purposeful and a nice little introduction to the broader Apple user experience. So bravo for that.

I've set up dozens of Apple devices over the years, but I was curious whether this phone, which I'd ordered on as an upgrade on my existing wireless plan, would come with a SIM or whether I'd have to drive to the local AT&T or Apple Store to get my account upgraded. No worries there: The SIM was in the phone and I was able to easily upgrade and activate the during the Setup process. This is an area where Apple's four years of experience have really paid off. This used to be a fairly painful, in-store process. No more.

After snapping a few shots of the unboxing and bundled accessories (just the basics: A power plug, a USB charging cable, and some light documentation), and finishing up the on-device set up, which has gotten quite lengthy in iOS 5, I decided to sync the iPhone 4S as a new device with iTunes on my PC. I could have actually restored it from a previous (3GS) iPhone, which would have been quicker, but I wanted to really step through it. Then I synced the device with content, including about half of my music collection, some podcasts and iTunes U content, and my standard set of favorite photos that get copied to every device.


Once that was over, I laboriously stepped through the on-device Settings interfaces, which I recommend everyone do once, and immediately. From here, you can configure such things as notifications (stocks off), brightness (auto-brightness off), sounds (typing and lock screen sounds off), wallpaper, iCloud, personal and work email/contacts/calendar accounts, Twitter, music and videos (home sharing on), store account, and so on. I also make sure the device is locked with a passcode and configured to erase the data after 10 failed passcode attempts.

I quickly played with the Siri voice command system but will write about that later. What I am really most concerned with is the device's camera. I've long wanted to only need to carry my phone with me on trips, and a high quality phone-based camera is a key aspect to making that happen. (Battery life issues remain, however, and I wish the iPhone's battery was removable.) So I took a few sample shots in my home, and one outside, to quickly gauge how well it works.

As a background, I spent about four days in Washington D.C. recently with my wife and elected to only use my Samsung Focus, and not a digital camera, for photos. And that camera is lackluster, quick to blur an image, especially if the lighting isn't perfect. The iPhone 4S camera, however, is very good for a phone. It focuses quickly, took a surprising number of shots indoors without the flash (while on auto-flash), and while a few blurred--such as when a cat moved--most were surprisingly clear.

Stunning shot (ahem) of my living room. Actually, it's pretty crisp.

Cat, blurred.

The iPhone 4S lacks optical zoom, however, so you need to be more careful when zooming in on objects; some of these shots were a bit blurry and pixelated.  The 4S also lacks a widescreen photo option, which I'd prefer.

Digital zoom can lead to blur as well.

I like that it has an optional grid for lining up shots, and the tap to zoom functionality. I need to get used to flipping the device around the opposite way I'd like so that I can use the Volume Up button as a shutter button, but at least they let you use a hardware button for that.

The 4S photos look especially good on the device too, thanks to the high resolution (and high density) Retina display, on which a number of the shots looks almost surreally sharp and clear. When you sync the photos to the PC and zoom in, you can see the blotchiness and pixilation that mars almost any cellphone photo (and many, many digital photos, regardless of the camera), but I'm still really impressed with the quality. When you consider that it's coming from a tiny, tiny camera in a very thin phone, it's all the more impressive.

The original (top), zoomed to 100 percent in Windows (middle), and area detail (bottom)

I'll be testing the camera in a Nokia Lumia 800 as soon as possible. But the iPhone 4S camera is the best phone-based camera I've used so far, and that was obvious after just a few snapshots. This is a great reason to consider upgrading.

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