Sun, 04 Jul 2010 Apple iPhone 4 review
New iPhone is much thinner than its predecessors
- Manufacturer: Apple
- Pros: Gorgeous high-resolution screen, fast A4 processor with lots of RAM, easy-to-use, FaceTime videoconferencing, 5-megapixel camera takes great stills and good HD video, longer battery life than previous iPhones , support for iOS 4 features, including multitasking.
- Cons: Hand placement can disrupt mobile signals, glass front and back could prove overly fragil, not able to play back HD video to external display.
- Min specs: Touchscreen smartphone; UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA, GSM, EDGE; quad-band 850/900/1800/1900MHz; 3.5in (960 x 640) 3:2 capacitive IPS touchscreen, aluminosilicate glass, with oleophobic coating; 326 dpi, 800:1 contrast ratio, 500cd/m2 brightness; 16GB and 32GB flash storage; Apple A4 (ARM Cortex A8 CPU/PowerVR SGX 535 GPU) processor; 512MB RAM; 802.11b/g/n; Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR; rear-facing 5Mp still/1280 x 720 video camera; front-facing 640 x 480 video camera; white LED flash; assisted GPS; three-axis gyroscope; proximity sensor; ambient light sensor; digital compass; dual mics; speaker; 3.5mm stereo headphone/mic jack; earphones with remote and mic; USB power adaptor; 5.25Wh lithium-ion battery; 115 x 59 x 9mm; 137g
- From free on contract
- Star rating:
I’m not a cell phone engineer. Nor have I had the time to compile a detailed, scientific study of iPhone 4 performance to nail down just what’s causing this signal loss issue. (One would hope some Apple employees who qualify as the former are busily doing the latter right now.) What I do know is that when I hold the iPhone 4 as I am accustomed to holding it, in many cases the phone completely fails to transfer mobile data. And that’s not good.
If you’re someone who doesn’t hold their iPhone that way, you won’t be affected by this. If you wrap the phone in one of Apple’s £25/$29 iPhone 4 bumpers, they’ll insulate the phone from your hands and prevent them from causing interference. (I was able to hold the phone in the style to which I am accustomed, and with a bumper affixed I saw no connection problems at all.)
I expect Apple will address this issue one way or another, either with a software fix or a hardware recall. For everyone’s sake, I hope it’s fixable in software; at the very least, I think Apple owes a free bumper to everyone who is affected by the problem while the company figures it out.
Ports and sorts
In terms of ports and the like, the iPhone 4 is similar to its predecessors. There’s a standard Apple dock connector on the bottom, right between the speaker and microphone. The device’s left side still has a hold switch and volume up/down controls, though they’ve been redesigned: the hold switch is broader and slightly harder to budge; the volume rocker has been replaced by two discrete volume buttons, etched with plus and minus symbols.
On the phone’s top is the Sleep/Wake button, a standard headphone jack, and a new addition: a second microphone. This new microphone can be used in a few different ways: when you’re shooting video or video chatting via the new FaceTime feature, it’s the primary microphone. When you’re holding the phone to your face and speaking via the microphone on the bottom of the phone, the top microphone is gathering in ambient sound to be used for noise-cancellation purposes. The trick seems to work, too: One of the first calls I made with the iPhone 4 was to a colleague, also with an iPhone 4, who apologized for the loud alarm going off in the background. “What alarm?” I asked him—because I couldn’t hear it at all, only the sound of his voice. The iPhone 4’s noise cancellation won’t make your voice sound like you’re whispering into the ear of your interlocutors—it’s still a cell phone call, after all—but it does seem to do a decent job of dropping out extra junk and leaving just the sound of your voice behind.
The iPhone 4’s right side is barren of landmarks, save a micro-SIM slot like the one found on the 3G iPad. By using a micro SIM, Apple freed up some space on the inside of the phone, while also ensuring that your old phones with full-sized SIM cards wouldn’t be compatible with your new devices without some SIM surgery.
If you’re a fan of the curvy style of previous iPhone models, you may be disappointed by the design direction Apple has taken with the iPhone 4. Personally, I’m liking the flat surfaces and sharper angles. But Apple’s iPhone 4 bumpers, while providing some degree of protection for the device itself, also return some of that classic curvy feel when you hold it in your hand. (They also conveniently insulate the phone so that your hand can’t cause interference on the cellular antenna.)
The only part of the iPhone 4 design that gives me pause is the all-glass back, which doubles the chance that if you drop the iPhone, you’ll end up hitting with the glass side down. I never really liked the polycarbonate back of the 3G and 3GS, but at least it was nearly bulletproof. As gorgeous as the iPhone 4 is to look at, I fear that most people will be cloaking them in protective cases in order to avoid shattering this shiny new toy.
If there’s a single feature that defines the iPhone 4, it’s the device’s new high-resolution screen. Dubbed the “Retina display” by Apple, it’s got four times the pixels of previous iPhone models, packed into the same space. This 960-by-640 pixel display has a screen resolution of 326 pixels per inch, up from 163 ppi on previous iPhone models.
When the first iPhone was released, its screen was amazing because 163 ppi was already a much higher resolution than the average computer screen. I shouldn’t even use the past tense there: the original iPhone screen is still quite good. Looking at it by itself, you can notice some jaggedness, but it’s nothing compared to what you’d get on a traditional computer.
But technology has moved along. When I spent a week with a Google Nexus One smartphone earlier this year, I was impressed by its higher screen resolution, which made text on the Nexus One noticeably smoother than on my iPhone 3GS.