Apple iPhone 4
Issue: 8.5 (July/August 2010)
Author: Dave Mancuso
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RBD Number: 8502
iphone4.jpg Updated: Monday, July 5, 2010 at 4:43 PM
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Product Apple iPhone 4 Manufacturer Apple, Inc. Price 16GB $199, 32GB $299 Contact Info http://www.apple.com/iphone Pros Build quality excellent; new camera still and video features; great screen Cons No 64 GB version; still AT&T-only (in the U.S.) Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.5
The iPhone 4 rollout was oddly affected by several issues and incidents. The prototype was lost and then leaked weeks before the model's unveiling. iPhone preorders were opened, overwhelmed, and then shut down a week before the phone shipped. Stock was spotty and inconsistent. And the iPhone itself struggled to be both a sister product to the new iPad, yet differentiated as a new generation phone product in its own right. I had reservations at both my local Apple Store and my AT&T store, and AT&T came through first. I snagged a 32GB iPhone 4 from the first shipment and immediately put it through its paces.
The iPhone itself is physically hard to describe to someone who hasn't held one in his or her hands. It's supposedly the same weight as its predecessor, but it felt heavier to everyone who hefted it. It looks the same size as the 3G unless you place them side by side. The 4's rectangular shape takes some getting used to after the curves of the 3G.
Once you've used it for a while, however, you can appreciate the subtle differences of the new design. The new lesser width is subtle, but it definitely feels better in my hand, even after just one day. The 4's squared edges made me aware of how the 3G's curves made its wider body more comfortable, something the skinnier iPhone 4 doesn't need.
Apple has separated the control buttons on the phone and separated the volume buttons. This is a critical difference for someone like me who was constantly hitting the wrong part of the volume rocker switch. Now it's easy to lower or raise the volume during a phone call or a workout music mix. Very nice. The metal edges themselves form three antennas for the phone, and some problems have been reported with lowered signals from touching these edges. I haven't been able to duplicate the issues, but they may only be present in certain manufacturing runs. Apple makes "bumpers," rubber strips that wrap around the edges of the iPhone 4 to protect it, that coincidentally negate the potential signal issue. I'd buy them for the protection, but $29.00 for rubber strips around the edge of my phone? Seriously, Apple? I'll keep my eyes open for another option.
Apple has opted for glass on the back of the phone as well as the front. This seemed like an odd choice, until I looked at the scratched plastic back of my 3GS. And then I saw Apple's iPhone 4 video showing the tensile strength and toughness of the glass case. It's clear that Apple chose glass on the back for its incredible scratch resistance.
Apple's sound with phone calls on the iPhone 4 seems to be very clear. They've included a second microphone on the top of the unit (a pinhole next to the earphone jack) for noise cancellation. It seems to work very well, although I notice a slight echo of my voice in my ear when calling before anyone answers the phone. That's reminiscent of land line phones, which have always sent your voice back to your ear for feedback during calls. For some reason hearing your own voice during a call, no matter how subconsciously or faintly, gives you a better sense that you're connected to the person at the other end of your call.
The iPhone 4's screen is now more than 300 dpi, better than laser printers from the '90s (for those of us who remember those ages so long ago). This is most striking in book reader applications. Reading text on the iPhone is now as good as the printed page, and it shows. I tried a free Asimov book in Apple's new iBooks application, and even with magnified reading glasses I couldn't see pixels. The text was razor sharp. My old standby Stanza looked equally sharp, especially with serif text. Instapaper was just as good. I've changed all of my reading apps to serif text as a result, and it's made reading on the iPhone much more enjoyable.
The screen itself is nicer, but graphics were good on the 3GS, so the difference isn't as striking. The new screen seems a bit darker, but I'm reluctant to brighten it and waste battery life. It may simply be something to get used to. I've noticed that the screen is more readable in daylight, a welcome improvement.
The camera made a big jump with the iPhone 4. Pictures are stunning. Apple made a big jump with the 5 megapixel camera, and the lens seems to be very sharp. The LED flash next to the lens is surprisingly bright, and works very well. It'd be nice to have some rudimentary touchup options in the Camera or Photos application, even an exposure, contrast, and brightness correction feature. Videos are now HD. I filmed a 6 minute video in low, dusk light conditions. Both the sound and video were very clear, and the graininess of the video in the 3GS wasn't apparent here. Apple has really upped the ante in the still picture and video department. I haven't yet tried the iMovie application for the phone. The reviews were mixed, but $4.99 for an application like iMovie is a steal. It's worth throwing away five bucks just to see what it can do.
The sizzle feature in the iPhone 4's camera is the new front-facing camera. It's a very welcome addition. The second camera isn't as high quality as the first. I can see graininess that isn't evident in the first camera lens on the device. The front-facing camera is definitely serviceable, however. Apple's FaceTime feature is the big hook with this camera. It only works with other iPhone 4 users, and using it is interesting. You make a phone call to another iPhone 4 user, but you must also be connected to a WiFi network. when you and your remote caller use the FaceTime option, your phone video feeds connect over the Internet via WiFi. It works, but it'll be more interesting in the future when (and if) cellular data speeds support FaceTime over the air. OF course, this presupposes that cellular carriers allow video calls without hefty surplus charges. I'm not at all certain what the future of this technology is, but at least the door is open for the possibility.
The phone itself seems faster than my iPhone 3GS. Things are snappier and more responsive. Part of this is likely the new iOS4 operating system for the phone. However, I upgraded the 3GS to iOS 4, and the iPhone 4 still outpaces it. Regardless, we've come a long way from the original iPhone and iPhone OS. Combined with the sharper graphics, the entire phone seems very fluid and responsive, and mature for lack of a better word. It's much like the feeling I had when Mac OS 10.3 and 10.4 came out, or Windows 7. The iPhone 4 with iOS 4 is a product that's very much come of age.
Data speeds are hard to pin down on this phone. I've tested it with AT&T 3G networks, Edge networks, and even the "O" network that's sadly still in parts of my area. The phone seems speedy at times, but at other times will hang seemingly forever when loading a web page. I'm pretty sure that this is an issue with my new phone being recognized on the AT&T network, since it's become better over the first day I've tested the phone. Also, AT&T networks have had some spotty issues lately in my area (no criticism--AT&T networks have been generally good around here, but storms and power outages have been prevalent lately). WiFi performance with the iPhone 4 has been excellent, as fast or faster than my desktop computers.
Finally, it could be my imagination but sound out over the earphone port seems even better on the iPhone 4 than its predecessor. I know of people who buy the iPhone over other phones because of its music and sound capabilities, so this isn't an insignificant feature. I wish that the phone came in a 64 GB version so that I could retire my iPod Classic, but 32 GB is the maximum for now.
Apple claims that the iPhone 4 "changes everything, again." It seems clear that the iPhone is more than an evolutionary product. It's a product that's reached new maturity with some revolutionary (and potentially revolutionary) new features. It definitely sets a new bar for the rest of the industry to aim for, and it's certainly worth buying when your funds or timeline can afford the upgrade.
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