New iPhone 4S is solid, not remarkable

Apple’s iPhone 4S is a high-performing, easy-to-use smartphone, but you can tell its much-hyped Siri voice-recognition feature isn’t from around here.

Siri had a hard time understanding my mix of Boston accent and mumbling, but my editor had better luck asking questions such as “Where’s Whitey Bulger,” and “Who is the mayor of Boston?” — though it turns out Siri may be alone in not knowing the whereabouts of Whitey these days.

Some of the information Siri offered up was useful, while some of it was just amusing.

I asked Siri when it would be sunny again in Boston, and it brought up an extended forecast graphic and said it wouldn’t be sunny until next week. When I asked it what the best cellphone was, it replied, “What, are you kidding?”

Still, I’m not sure I’d use it routinely — or in public — when a regular, finger-controlled Google search would do the trick.

Apple’s Retina display is bright and clear, but at 3.5 inches, the 4S’ screen feels tiny compared to some of the larger Android phones, such as the 4-inch-plus screens of the HTC Amaze 4G and the Samsung Galaxy S 2.

The 4S’ 8-megapixel camera, and the HD video camera were easy to use, with the volume-up button working as a shutter button. You can also edit photos — crop, red-eye correct, rotate and auto-correct — right after taking them.

Apple’s new iCloud service also can automatically back up your photos on 5GB of free storage.

The latest version of Apple’s operating system, iOS 5, integrates Twitter throughout, so it’s easy to share photos or news stories directly from apps, rather than firing up the Twitter app.

The phone multitasks extremely well, playing music and surfing the Web at the same time easily, and keeping several other apps open in the background. Like some Android devices, it’s getting tough to tell whether an app is “on” or not.

I used an iPhone 4S on AT&T’s HSPA+ network yesterday morning, and the phone’s browser loaded Web pages speedily. in the evening, I used another one on Verizon’s 3G network, and it was comparably fast, though it slowed a bit downloading content, which I didn’t try on the AT&T phone.

A few hours of steady use drained the battery by about half, so you’ll want to keep a charger handy, but the iPhone 4S is easy and fun to use, and at $200 for the lowest priced 16 GB model, its price is consistent with comparable smartphones.