I’ll be honest: Happy as I am with my iPhone 4, I want the iPhone 4S. Because, you know, it’s better. But I can’t justify the expense, especially when the new model brings relatively few big features to the table.
If you feel the same way, here’s good news: you can trick out your iPhone 4 (and even your 3GS) so that it’s more 4S-like. And you’ll spend considerably less money in the process. Take better pictures
Arguably the biggest hardware change to the iPhone 4S is its souped-up 8-megapixel camera. While there’s no way to raise the resolution of your iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel camera, there are things you can do to improve picture quality and convenience.
For starters, dump the stock Camera app in favor of one that gives you more control over shot settings and image editing. One popular choice is Camera+, which is currently on sale for 99 cents (down from $3.99). Among other things, it lets you set exposure separately from focus (Apple’s Camera app ties them together), stabilize shaky shots, and choose from 16 preset scene modes. From there you can apply effects, add borders, and so on.
Meanwhile, one area users often overlook is the iPhone camera lens, which can easily get obscured by smudges and fingerprints. Using a soft, clean cloth, wipe the lens clean every few days. (Well, the glass covering the lens, anyway.) You’ll be surprised how much this can improve your pictures.
By now you’ve no doubt heard about Siri, the super-cool voice-powered personal assistant that’s coming to the iPhone 4S. Alas, iPhone 4 and 3GS users are out of luck, as the software requires more processing power than those models can muster.
Thankfully, there’s Vlingo, a free app powered by voice commands–just like Siri. With Vlingo you can send e-mail and text messages, run a Web search, get driving directions, find nearby coffee shops, update Facebook and Twitter, and more. It works amazingly well, and you no longer have to pay extra for the e-mail and texting capabilities; every feature is now free. Plus unlike Siri, Vlingo is available right now–for all iPhone models.
The 4S is Apple’s first iPhone to incorporate a dual-core processor, meaning it should be faster at just about everything. If your single-core iPhone is feeling sluggish, there are ways to give it a little speed boost.
For starters, reboot, especially if you routinely install a lot of new apps. I’d recommend doing this at least once a week. Also, if you keep a lot of Web pages open in your Safari browser, close them. More pages use more memory.
Finally, there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that you can improve 3G performance by turning off as many Spotlight Search elements as possible. (You can find these in the Settings app in the General section.) Not sure why, but it seems to help.
Install iOS 5
The iPhone 4S will ship with iOS 5 already preloaded, but iPhone 4 and 3GS users can get the exact same operating system starting Oct. 12. The update includes over 200 new features, so it’s kind of like getting a brand-new phone.
Among the highlights: Notification Center, which makes all notifications available with a swipe of your finger and adds them to the iPhone’s Lock Screen; iMessage, a free text-messaging app for communicating with other iDevice owners; and Reminders, a long-overdue task list. Even your iPhone’s camera gets an overhaul of sorts as iOS 5 turns the volume-up button into a shutter release.
Improve battery life
One of the best things about a new iPhone is its new battery. If your handset is a year old, chances are good its battery is starting to lose some capacity (which happens to all rechargeable batteries over time). Alas, iPhones have no battery doors, so you can’t just swap in a fresh one.
Actually, you can–it just takes a little doing. Check the Installing iPhone Battery guide over at iFixit, for example, and you’ll see that a battery swap is little more than a six-step process.
Then head to eBay, where a search for “iPhone 4 battery” reveals options priced as low as $5.99. Yep, you read right, a mere six bucks buys you a brand new battery for your phone. That said, I recommend spending a few dollars extra to get a kit that includes the few tools you’ll need to perform this minor surgery.
Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, “How to Do Everything: Palm Pre.” Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.