Apple unveils iPhone 4S with A5 chip, Siri, fast network speeds

Apple (s aapl) pulled back the curtain on the next iPhone on Tuesday, and it both was and wasn’t what people were expecting. The iPhone 4S is Apple’s newest smartphone, and while it bears a striking similarity to its predecessor, that humble exterior hides a beast.

The new iPhone 4s has the same physical dimensions as the iPhone 4, and the same glass-and-steel construction. That’s not really a huge issue; Apple’s industrial design chops still make this the best looking, best feeling phone on the market. And now the good looks are matched by industry-leading internal specs, in the form of a dual-core A5 processor that provides up to two times the performance of the iPhone 4. There’s also a dual-core graphics processor under the hood, providing up to 7x the performance for gaming.

The iPhone 4S also has up to 8 hours of talk time, as well as a new antenna system that can switch between available antennas to come up with a maximum performance of 14.4 Mbps down. That’s on par with real-world 4G, claims Apple. It’s also a world phone, so it works with both CDMA and GSM standards.

A new camera boosts the iPhone 4S’s photog appeal, with a larger 8-megapixel sensor and a maximum photo output resolution of 3264 x 2448 resolution and better night picture-taking. It achieves this with a CMOS backside illuminated sensor, and 1/3 faster shutter speed. Compared to most point and shoots, it should be able to stand up well, with a f/2.4 aperture and high-end IR filter for better accuracy. Full face-detection and auto-white balance are also now possible.

Video recording with the iPhone 4S is now capable of 1080p HD quality capture, with real-time video image stabilization and noise reduction. The iPhone 4S can also do AirPlay Mirroring over Wi-Fi if you have an Apple TV, or via an HDMI adapter if you don’t over a wired connection.

Finally, Siri tech (which Apple acquired last year) really did make it into the new iPhone, as rumored. But it isn’t called Assistant; it’s called Siri. The idea is that you can just speak instructions to your phone, or ask it to do things and it will be able to understand you. For example, on stage, Apple demoed asking it what the weather is like, and the phone displayed a weather forecast. Siri can also do things like set your alarm, tell you the time in another city, and provide restaurant recommendations complete with ordered ratings, all in response to commands or questions stated in natural language. Siri can even identify people based on their relationship to you. For example, Siri knew who Scott Forstall’s wife was on stage during the demo.

The Siri tech has hooks in Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and many other apps, too. Looks like it really could potentially make for some awesome lazy-web Q&A. Apple replaced learning today!

Another new feature for the iPhone 4S is speech-to-text, which also works through Siri. It’s available anywhere there’s an on-screen keyboard in iOS on the iPhone 4S, and lets you dictate text for entry. It launches with support for English, French and German, and starts as a beta. More languages will be added later on.

The iPhone 4S will be available in black and white, in 16 GB for $199, 32 GB for $299 and 64 GB for $399. The iPhone 4 will continue to be available in black and white for just $99 in an 8 GB capacity, and the iPhone 3GS will now be free on contract. The iPhone 4S pre-orders begin on Oct. 7 for an Oct. 14 launch in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., France, Germany and Japan and it’s coming to AT&T(s t), Verizon(s vz) and Sprint(s s) in the U.S.