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:
There’s no doubt that the iPhone 4’s camera is good. HD videos are clear and crisp and stills show remarkable detail. The redesigned Camera app in iOS 4 keeps things simple—rather than fiddling with settings, you just touch to set the point you want to use for focus and spot metering, and the camera adjusts immediately. There are simple controls to turn the iPhone 4’s new LED flash on and off and flip between the iPhone’s two onboard cameras (more on that second camera in a bit), as well as a digital zoom slider.
I’m not a fan of the concept of digital zooming, which is more like an in-camera cropping effect than an actual zoom. It would be nice if the iPhone 4’s camera had an optical zoom, but given the space considerations it seems impossible. If you’re taking pictures of a kids’ soccer match, you might want to bring a camera with a real zoom. But if you can fill the iPhone 4’s frame with whatever you want to shoot, you’ll get good results.
The iPhone 4’s included LED flash addresses one of the big complaints about previous iPhone cameras: They just didn’t work very well in the dark. Well, now there’s a flash, so you can check that box. But quite frankly, I was disappointed by the flash. If you’re in a pitch-black room and there’s simply no other way to get a shot, you should use it. But in dim light, I found myself more satisfied with images I took without the flash. Using the flash generally left me with strangely colored shots full of red eye and (more often than not) an ugly mix of overilluminated and underilluminated sections, as if I had been shining a flashlight on a small portion of the frame.
I appreciated the quality of the iPhone 4’s HD video, which approaches that of the Flip video series of cameras. I bought a dedicated HD camcorder last year, but it’s too big to carry everywhere. Having an HD video camera in your pocket all the time has got to be a good thing. I’m not saying the Flip products are doomed, exactly, but devices like the iPhone 4 are narrowing their potential market pretty severely. If you’ve got an iPhone 4, you don’t really need a Flip.
Another reason an iPhone 4 beats a Flip: the introduction of iMovie for iPhone, an app that lets you quickly edit the videos you shot and then post them online. You can read our full review of iMovie for details. iMovie is by no means a perfect app: I find that I tend to shoot a bunch of stuff in one go with the intent of splitting it into different clips later on, a style that is completely useless with iMovie since it can’t split clips. But the fact remains, it lets you edit HD video on a phone, quickly and with a minimum of hassle. I can’t tell you how many times I wished I could stitch two or three clips together and mail them to a family member while on a trip; with iMovie, I can.
Still, I’m not dumping my HD camcorder. The fact is, video shot with a dedicated camcorder will be of vastly better quality than video shot with any cell phone, including the iPhone 4. Like nearly all pocket camcorders, there’s no image stabilization, and bright colors against a dark background are badly blown out. The lack of a physical zoom limits your shooting options. And the audio recorded by the iPhone 4 when shooting video is of poor quality.
On the other hand, the quality of still photos from the iPhone 4 is much more impressive. The iPhone 4 can’t compete with the still image quality of a current point-and-shoot camera, but the images are still quite good—on par with a dedicated camera from a few years ago.
Of course, there’s a second camera on the iPhone 4, just to the left of the speaker on the phone’s front. In terms of tech specs, it’s nothing to write home about: its resolution is a meager 640-by-480. But of course, this is Apple we’re talking about. That camera exists for a reason, and the reason is a software feature of iOS 4 that’s only available on the iPhone 4.
Get some FaceTime
People have been placing video calls on their computers for years, and in some parts of the world phones have been capable of video chat for a while now. Recent smartphone releases in the U.S, such as the HTC EVO 4G, have integrated forward-facing cameras in order to enable face-to-face videoconferences.
And yet, for all of that, Apple has managed to get people to talk about iPhone 4’s FaceTime feature with a degree of buzz that it doesn’t seem to deserve. Although some of that has to do with Apple’s marketing genius, I suspect a lot of it has to do with the fact that no video call implementations on cell phones have really gained momentum. People have come to expect that when Apple implements something, that technology has finally arrived.