Network: Antenna problems? What antenna problems?

iPhone 4SApple saw fit to fix the iPhone 4’s antenna issues, avoiding a repeat of last year’s “Antennagate” fiasco. The iPhone 4’s antenna was housed at the bottom portion of its metal band, which made it very easy to block the cellular signal by holding the phone incorrectly. The iPhone 4S, on the other hand, features antennas at both the top and bottom of the metal band, and it’s also smart enough to intelligently switch between them in case one gets blocked. Other phone manufacturers have phones with dual antennas, but the iPhone 4S’s ability to hop between the two is uniquely Apple.

The new antenna design and network chipset incorporates support for both CDMA and GSM networks, which allows Apple to support AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint’s networks all with a single phone model. And thanks to the new antenna, the iPhone 4S can also take advantage of AT&T’s faster HSPA+ network, letting it achieve theoretical download speeds of 14.4 megabits per second (the iPhone 4 can only manage 7.2 Mbps).

So even though Sprint and Verizon subscribers have finally gotten access to a new iPhone at launch, AT&T still has a distinct speed advantage.

In my testing around Manhattan and Brooklyn, the iPhone 4S usually managed download speeds of around 2 megabits per second, and upload speeds of around 1.5Mbps. That’s slightly faster than what I was seeing with the iPhone 4, though much of that improvement could be due to network upgrades.

I didn’t see a noticeable difference in reception quality with the iPhone 4S, but I’ve been hearing reports from others that they’re seeing better reception than usual. Call quality sounded about the same as the iPhone 4, though some recipients say my voice quality using the iPhone 4S was better than usual.

Should I Buy It?

If you already own an iPhone 3GS, or earlier model, the iPhone 4S is a no-brainer purchase. And if you’re coming from another platform, this is the perfect time to jump ship. If you’re an iPhone 4 owner, it’s a bit more complicated, especially if you’re not yet eligible for subsidized pricing.

The new processor, camera, and Siri all make the iPhone 4S feel like a worthy upgrade to the iPhone 4. But if you’re low on cash it may be a tough purchase to justify, especially since it means you’ll be upgrading to a phone that looks exactly the same as your old one. The iOS 5 operating system already makes the iPhone 4 feel completely new, and you’ll have access to most of the upgrades in the new OS, save for Siri.

For iPhone 4 owners, it may make more sense to wait until next year’s rumored iPhone 5, which we suspect sparked all the talk this year of a completely redesigned and thinner iPhone. As we reported over the weekend, the iPhone 5 is said to be Steve Jobs’ last big project for Apple, which means it could be a doozy.

Holding true to Apple’s pricing for the past few years, the 16 gigabyte iPhone 4S is available for $199 with a two-year contract. 32GB and (for the first time ever) 64GB models are available for $299 and $399 respectively with contract. Apple will also offer contract-free iPhone 4S models in November starting at $649.

Personally, I chose to resell my 16GB iPhone 4 to Totem, which ultimately landed me almost enough to cover the cost of a new 32GB iPhone 4S. If your contract allows you to upgrade early, this is one possible way to get your mits on the 4S.

Wrapping Up

I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed when we didn’t see an iPhone 5 this year. But having lived with the 4S for a few days now, and after making Siri an integral part of my workflow, I’m content with the additions it brings. Consumers didn’t seem to mind either — Apple announced this morning that it sold over 4 million iPhone 4S units over the weekend.

While I’ll continue to look at larger-screened phones with pangs of envy (I’m already dreading the buyers remorse Samsung’s upcoming Nexus Prime will give me), the combination of Siri and the iPhone 4S’s improved camera will tide me over for now.

The iPhone 4S may not look much different than what came before, but it offers us a glimpse into the future. That’s something to appreciate.

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