I Used the iPhone 4S for Several Days and Didn't Die

By Chelsey B. Coombs on at

On Monday night, someone stole my iPhone 6. I had it in my pocket as I ran up the stairs to catch the soon-to-depart train, but when I sat down, it was gone.

After the requisite frantic bag search, I resigned myself to the phone being gone.

I thought a kind citizen would surely return it after seeing the lost phone message that was displayed on the lockscreen (I even offered a cash reward!). But nope.

The Find My iPhone app let me see the strange triangular patterns made by the person who had my phone as they walked around. Then the person turned my phone off at an IHOP, the signal was lost, and all hope of recovering my phone with it.

A New Hope

I ordered a new iPhone 6 from my insurance company at 1 AM that night. It was set to be delivered in two business days, which meant there was only one option. I would have to reactivate the cracked iPhone 4S running iOS 7.1.2 that was buried deep in my closet.

It was literally encrusted with dust, so I cleaned it up before turning it on. I had my reservations — this phone was three generations removed from my current phone, when Ed Miliband was still a genuine contender for the keys to Number 10. iOS 7.1.2 was notable as the OS that finally allowed former iPhone owners who went to Android to receive messages from their contacts who still used iPhones.

Since the 4S, I’ve upgraded iPhones twice (5S then 6) dropping hundreds of pounds in additional upgrade fees, cases, etc. I gave into the ‘must have the newest gadget’ cultural temptation, and Apple’s planned obsolescence business model made it hard not to. You’d think for all that hype and money the 4S would be miserably outdated. But to my surprise, it worked pretty well.

Some things were even better. It was much easier for me to hold in my small-ish hands — I could even use one hand to hold and use it at the same time. That’s because the 4S comes in at a 4.5 inch length, 2.31 inch width and .37 inch thickness, and weighs 139g ounces. By comparison, the 6 is 5.44 inches long, 2.64 inches wide and .27 inches thick — though it weighs only 127g.

I Used the iPhone 4s for Several Days and Didn't Die

I Used the iPhone 4s for Several Days and Didn't Die

The 4S felt much heavier, despite weighing only being a fraction heavier in the grand scheme of the world. It made the phone feel more substantial and easier to grasp. Plus, the 4S can slip all the way into my pocket. Sure, the 6 can fit, but only with a big part sticking out. Perhaps this even tempts potential thieves.

While the 6’s 4.7 inch diagonal Retina HD display allows me to read text more easily with my substandard eyes, the 4s’s 3.5 inch diagonal Retina display still looked crisp and sharp. If I didn’t know the 6 had added features to enhance the brightness and colours, I wouldn’t have guessed that there’s a difference between the two. And that’s even with my 4s’ cracked display.

I Used the iPhone 4s for Several Days and Didn't Die

Though the 800 MHz dual-core A5 chip and 512 MB RAM in the iPhone 4s sometimes caused some of my most-used apps like Twitter, Snapchat and Seamless to lag a few seconds before opening compared to the 6 (which has a 1.4 GHz dual-core A8 chip and 1 GB RAM), the extra time didn’t affect my day or life in general significantly. While I probably wouldn’t play graphics intensive games on the 4s, everyday app usage wasn’t too much for the phone to handle.

Selfies Not Recommended

Now for the big differences. The internet was so slow. The 4S only supports a 3G network, meaning your max download speed is 14.4Mbit/s. The 6, on the other hand, supports LTE 4G and has a 150Mbit/s max download speed. When I’m using my 6 without Wi-Fi, I can download a lot of apps in a fairly short amount of time. But don’t even think about doing that with the 4S. I was halfway through my commute before downloading even a quarter of one app. So the 4S is limited in terms of its non-Wi-Fi capabilities.

The iPhone 4S’s battery also lasted a fraction of the amount of time as the 6’s. I couldn’t get through a day without charging it multiple times. According to Apple, the 4S at the beginning of its life could last 8 hours on 3G talking, 6 hours on 3G internet and 9 hours on Wi-Fi. My iPhone is almost four years old and I’ve never replaced the battery, so my poor battery life could be attributed to its extensive use. The 6’s talk time is 14 hours on 3G, 10 hours on 3G Internet, 10 hours on LTE Internet and 11 hours on Wi-Fi, thanks to its larger battery and more efficient processing. Battery life was what won me over with the 6 in the first place. But to counteract this shortcoming, an external battery pack might be best for 4S users.

The last noticeable difference was in the iSight and FaceTime cameras. My cat picture and selfie game was ruined during the days I used the 4S. While both iSight cameras take 8 megapixel photos and record 1080p videos at 30 fps, the 6 adds on 60 fps video recording, as well as a new sensor that records more information about the picture, making it less grainy. Think about the digital cameras from 2011. The technology really has just gotten better.

I Used the iPhone 4s for Several Days and Didn't Die

iPhone 4S iSight camera photo of my cat (left) versus iPhone 6 iSight camera photo (right). Not too bad, and still absolutely adorable.

I Used the iPhone 4s for Several Days and Didn't Die

iPhone 4S FaceTime camera photo of me (left) versus iPhone 6 FaceTime camera photo (right). Selfies with the 4S are not recommended.

The thing is, when I first had the iPhone 4S, I loved it. It was my first time using Apple’s OS, and it was much simpler than the other smartphone I used before it. At that time, I thought the battery life, internet speed and pictures were great. Despite having used the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6 since, the 4S is still an amazing phone.

All the People Who Still Use the 4S

Older generation phones are still perfectly fine for everyday use. Indeed, they are still used by millions of people, especially in developing nations.

According to a Pew Research study released in March, only 24 per cent of adults in 32 developing nations use smartphones that can access the internet. And in nations where wireless networks haven’t grown into the behemoths with LTE we have here, the iPhone 4S and earlier models are perfectly reasonable devices.

Apple quit manufacturing the 4S last September when the 6 came out, but according to Fiksu, a mobile marketing firm, some 8 per cent of people in the world who use iPhones still use the 4S, as of this week. More than 10 per cent still use iOS 7.

In China, the iPhone resale business has been booming for years. According to Michael Kan, writing in PC World, it’s easy to find many shops in Shenzen that fix and resell old iPhones. One woman told Kan that she sells the iPhone 4S in bulk for about £105 each. An Apple press release from that month stated that the iPhone 6 with 16GB of storage space had a suggested retail price of 5288 rmb, or roughly £540.

Apple itself got into the reselling business in China this year, partnering with Foxconn. The deal is similar to its US buyback program: customers go into an Apple retail store, an employee marks any damage or defects, then the customer signs over their device to Foxconn. They then receive an Apple gift card for the amount of their old phone’s value. Foxconn repairs the devices and sells them on its retail websites.

But for those people using older phones and OSes, there is not much support from the company over time. Apple qualifies a product as vintage five years after manufacturing stops, meaning the company still makes parts for the devices, but will not fix them. After seven years, the device is obsolete, and Apple doesn’t even manufacture the parts for it anymore. So if your phone breaks, you might have few options. The 3GS was the last phone to become vintage — the time is coming for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

For years, people have complained that it’s impossible to install new operating systems on old devices without turning them into well-designed, dust-gathering machines. But if you stick with the old operating systems, software bug fixes and security updates will never make it to your device.

Fortunately, iOS 9 is supposedly going to include support for devices as old as the 4S. Unfortunately, with the rollout of iOS 9, app developers will be given the option to make their apps available only to those devices that have 64-bit CPUs and beyond. This makes developers’ lives easier, but people with phones older than the iPhone 5s won’t even be able to see those apps in the App Store. Have a 4s? Sorry, you’re screwed if you want Super Fast Racer Pocket Cats 8.

Tech-heads might scoff at people using these phones because we buy into Apple’s planned obsolescence scheme. I know when I upgraded to the 5S and 6, I was at the point where I found myself incredibly frustrated with the phones I had and jealous of people who had the newest model. I’m not proud to say it, but Apple’s ubiquitous marketing of new features worked on me.

Most of us are excited about this week's debut of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. In a month’s time, some of us will trade in our decreased-value iPhones - even if they’re only a year old - for one of Apple’s shiny, new devices.

But most of the world will continue to rely upon those older models that work just fine. After all, today’s 6S Plus is tomorrow’s 4S.

Photos by Chelsey B. Coombs