KELLNER: An iPhone 4S for all seasons

This is the kind of news that could give a GPS maker or a seller of small digital cameras “agita,” an Italian word for heartburn.

How about a pocket-sized device that can really and effectively take the place of a GPS or a small digital camera, and also works great as a phone, email device, text-message sender, music and video player, and Web surfer? Oh, and how about pricing it at $399 with a contract from one of three wireless carriers?

I speak of Apple’s iPhone 4S, released in October and received here recently for review. my test unit came with a stunning 64 gigabytes of storage, double the 32 GB of my “regular” iPhone 4, itself released about 16 months ago. you can buy an “unlocked” 64 GB iPhone 4S for $849, which is steep, but which frees you to use AT&T or any other GSM-based wireless carrier here and overseas, with or without a contract.

If Apple had done nothing else beyond doubling the storage on the device for the same cost, it would be a singular achievement well worth celebrating. but the firm added quite a bit more, including a dual-core processor for the phone, so let the cork-popping begin.

First, a word about Siri, the voice-activated software included with the 4S. Press a button and you can ask Siri a question: “What’s the weather going to be tomorrow?” Answers are generally fast and accurate, though there are some questions Siri can’t handle. Apple is calling this “beta” software, which means the program isn’t fully finished, that it will likely be tweaked and revised before a final version is released. but it is a tremendous addition to the phone, and one of the top reasons to get one.

About all that extra storage with the 64 GB model: as more and more applications are made available, we’re going to need more storage. I fully expect to see a one-terabyte smartphone at some point within my lifetime, probably within the next 10 years. For now, the 64 GB storage here is superb, expansive and wonderful. We’ll all find ways of filling it up, I’m sure.

One of those ways will likely be with the incredible high-res photos produced by the iPhone 4S’s eight-megapixel camera. I remember when, about 13 years ago, tech pioneer Philippe Kahn demonstrated a one-megapixel camera-in-a-phone; now we’re at a level that’s just stunning. The difference in photo quality between the iPhone 4 and the 4S is an order of magnitude. The new iOS 5 operating system for the iPhone – running on several generations of the device – allows “swipe” zooming when taking pictures; just pinch or expand two fingers on the screen to zoom out or in.

The camera – excuse me, the iPhone 4S – also shoots 1080p video, known to most of us as “high-def” video. That’s another plus, and perhaps another extra device no longer needed. Farewell, then, to the now-discontinued Flip video camera.

Now, there have been media reports about allegations of poor battery performance. I haven’t seen it yet, and, believe me, I’ve tried. The battery life on this review unit has been on a par with, if not a bit better than, the iPhone 4. in other words, I can go for a day or three without charging under “light” usage conditions. otherwise, as with my iPhone 4, I would charge the 4S at night and have it ready in the morning.

Even a nightly charge situation is better than any Android-based phone I’ve seen, where “battery drain” is a phrase one quickly learns.

This brings up another point: The iPhone 4S has the same form factor as the iPhone 4. if you’re stifling a yawn at that news, consider: There are tons of accessories for the iPhone 4 that’ll work with the 4S, including my PowerSkin battery pack/iPhone case ($69.99 at the company site), which doubles my phone’s power and which saved me on several overseas stops this year. in short, I can be productive and useful with the iPhone 4S and a bunch of extra items right now, instead of having to wait weeks or months for new gear to arrive.

Another very useful item: the iPhone case/flip stand called the Teatro-S ($39.99). Set this up on an airplane tray table, plug in headphones, and you’re good to go with truly personalized in-flight entertainment.

Bottom line: The iPhone 4S is a great smartphone, a worthwhile upgrade, and is likely to be a coveted holiday item. Apple’s website says there’s a one- to two-week wait for shipment of phones ordered today, so a word to the shopping wise should be sufficient here.

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