iPhone 4S Siri Review

We’ve been busy testing Siri for the iPhone 4S today to see if it works as advertised and also look at how it can be improved. What we wont touch on in this review is iOS 5 or the hardware in general. We’ll get on to those in the next few days after having more time testing the device and OS. On to the review…

Siri is a personal assistant for the iPhone 4S that goes beyond responding to simple commands. Siri understands context and allows you to speak in natural language to ask your phone to do things such as read my text message, remind me to do this, email this person, check the weather amongst several other things. When first getting the iPhone 4S you need to enable Siri and preferably allow it to use your current location as this comes in handy with some of the options you can set. On the settings screen there are just a handful of options which allow you to select who you are, which country you are from (currently 5 options available) and if you want Siri to activate when holding the phone to your ear. When these are set, you’re ready to go.

There are a few different ways that Siri can be activated. If holding the handset you can just hold down the home button for 2 seconds and the microphone slides up and beeps to let you know it’s awaiting your command. Alternatively you can just switch the phone on and then hold it to your ear and listen for the same beep. If you have a Bluetooth headset then you can activate it by holding down the button on your headset and for those with the earphones, you just hold the main button for 2 seconds. After the beep, you ask or tell Siri what you want. In the case of the picture above you’ll see the left screenshot is a help page and the right page I asked for an update on Apple stocks. Seconds later (if that long) an update was put on the screen with the details read out by a male voice. In the UK Siri is a male and the US Siri is a woman.

Most of you probably wont be using Siri to check stocks, so lets move on to some commands that you will use on a regular basis. The first one is “read my message” which reads out your last unread text message. The good thing about Siri is that you can ask it different ways such as read me my last message. Just use the words that are more natural for you and the chances are that Siri will figure out what you mean. When asking the command it reads out the text of your message and then asks if you want to reply. Tell it to prepare a reply and then dictate your message. You can then confirm if this will be sent or not. Some limitations of this are that it can only read new text messages. We couldn’t find a way to search for old message. What you can do is ask it to create a text message to Fred Smith or Your Wife for example and if you have your wife listed in your contact it will send a message to her. See the screenshots below if the workings of a reply and then a cancelled message if you change your mind:

iOS 5 brings a new app called Reminders which also allows the use of a geo-fence to activate reminders. Siri takes full advantage of this app and lets you ask Siri to remind you on a day, time or when arriving or leaving a specific location. To active it you say something along the lines of… when I arrive at work remind me to call Bill about the broken PC. Siri then creates a reminder based on the address of your office. When you next arrive at the office you’ll get a reminder to call Bill. Siri relies on you feeding it the correct information through your contacts. If you are set up as the owner of the device and have your work address in your contact details then it can use that address as the geo-fence. We found a few issues with this that for some reason the settings seem to revert so that Siri didn’t know where home was. This is likely to do with Gmail and the Exchange connector messing up the address formatting though. See what reminders look like below (left image).

Moving on to the weather report (below right image). This is another app that is best knowing your current location as when you ask if it will rain tomorrow it needs to know where you are unless you specify where you are asking if it will rain. You can get a forecast for the next few hours or get a report for the next few days. If you ask the temperature it tells you. If you ask the temperature in Paris it will let you know. Although a simple app that can be used by sliding the notification bar down, it’s also handy to be activated by voice in some situations.

The voice activated alarm settings are extremely handy too. If you want to be woken up at 7am tomorrow you just tell it. Alarms are restricted to being set just one day ahead although if you ask to be woken up next Wednesday for 7am it says it cannot do that but then asks you if you want a reminder setting instead at which point you just confirm it. Siri also lets you delete alarms by simply asking it.

The calendar integration is excellent with Siri as it lets you check appointments, move appointements, delete appointments as well as invite to appointments. All you do is ask Siri to set up an appointment and then it asks the where, when and other details it needs to schedule your appointment. If you have another appointment at the same time you can reschedule or confirm the clash. Although an excellent integration it also has a couple of limitations. As far as I can tell it wont let you specify which calendar you want to put the appointment in and it also is sometimes difficult to make changes to more complex entries as you need to say the appointment name almost word for word. As Apple updates Siri, we can only hope that this gets better. For adding basic appointments though, it works flawlessly.

Siri Limitations

Although Siri does very well at a lot of things it also lacks in other areas. For those in the UK the biggest kick in the teeth is that Maps, Traffic and business lookup is not yet active. Should you ask for directions or ask for the nearest Pizza shop you’ll just get a polite message telling you it can’t provide that information. We’re sure Apple will fix this one in the coming weeks or months depending on when they sign up a partner to work with for business locations. As for maps, perhaps they want to balance the load first and open it up to the US only, or maybe there’s some legal problems with them using voice maps in the UK.

Other limitations are that Siri is restricted to just a small few apps that are built in to iOS 5. What we want to see is a lot more flexibility and integration with third party apps. We’re not sure if this will be made possible but I’d much rather specify OmniFocus as my default reminder app or perhaps say “Add a reminder to OmniFocus” and have it added in to that reminder system that I use. Hopefully this will come over time and remember that Siri is currently in Beta at the moment which means it has a long way to go.

Other limitations include the ability to create a reminder but not the ability to delete a reminder. Also, you cannot manage contacts, move emails or make changes to most data on your device. We had hoped that we could organise email while on the move such as “move message to reply folder”.

Email is extremely limited and kind of a pointless inclusion. This part is VERY much beta as you can simply say “read my email” at which point it tells you that you have X emails but sorry I can’t read them to you. It would be great to have Siri read out your emails to you while you’re driving. On the plus side, you can reply to a message or compose a new email with Siri.

Siri Review Conclusion

I had high hopes for Siri but at first I was kind of disappointed that it could barely understand a word I spoke. Perhaps it’s my Yorkshire accent. However, this suddenly changed and now just a few hours later it rarely misses a word. I have read that Siri learns your voice as you use it more but I am not sure if 1.)that’s true and 2.)how quick that happens. But, from going from thinking it’s cool but doesn’t work to getting it right 95% of the time I have to say I’m quite impressed. Siri seems to be learning quick and as Apple continue to update its brain from Beta and progress to a full release, I can’t wait to see what Siri will function like in 6 to 12 months time.

One feature I do like is that Siri is set by default to activate when you hold the phone to your ear. Tap the power button and hold it to your ear and you suddenly feel less of a dork walking around town as it just looks like you are making a phone call.

Part of me think that the novelty will wear off soon and perhaps it will. For me, it’s the best voice implementation I have seen on a mobile device though. Android users will argue that they have had it for a while now, but I didn’t have much success with voice on Android. Siri though is beginning to work for me.

We’ll update the review in time to give an update on how Apple has progressed Siri and if we are still using it.


  1. cellphoneinn says

    However, to be fair, beyond the identical exterior lies the hard work
    that Apple put forth on the inside. An upgraded processor, an improved
    antenna, and an all-new camera into the iPhone 4S. The other big story,
    or should we say, the bigger story with the iPhone 4S is the iOS 5
    software upgrade and the voice-controlled personal assistant called
    Siri. iOS 5 offers over 200 new features to Apple’s smartphone platform,
    most of which are also available to current owners of previous-gen

  2. Edward Bernardin says

    It would be very handy if you could ask Siri to switch to silent running and have her turn off the ringer when entering a restaurant, library, etc., then, when leaving the venue, ask her to turn the ringer back on.

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