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:
The interesting choice Apple has made with FaceTime is implementing it as a part of the Phone app, rather than creating a unique FaceTime app devoted to videoconferencing. There are a few ways to start a FaceTime session with someone; you can dial their iPhone 4 and, once you’ve connected, tap the FaceTime button on the screen. You can also just tap on a person in the Contacts list, scroll down, and tap the FaceTime button, bypassing the traditional cell phone network altogether. All FaceTime calls appear in your recent call list, just as if they were traditional phone calls.
It’s a simple approach that makes a whole lot of sense in a system that’s designed to connect iPhone 4 phones to each other. But in announcing the iPhone 4, Apple said it would encourage the adoption of FaceTime by other devices as well. As a result, it’s a little perplexing that FaceTime appears to key off of something as mundane as a telephone number. (For now, FaceTime also requires a Wi-Fi connection, and uses the Internet for all its communication—adding a little cognitive dissonance to the choice of the Phone app as the place where all FaceTime communications happen. If the person you’re trying to call is using a Wi-Fi network that’s behind a strict firewall, you may also have trouble connecting to them—just as it’s sometimes impossible to do a iChat video conference with some people on tightly controlled office networks.)
It’s also unfortunate that, at least for now, iPhone 4 owners can only use FaceTime with other iPhone 4 users, and not interoperate with other video-chat clients such as Apple’s own iChat. (Given that FaceTime uses all the same sound effects as iChat, it seems inevitable that the two products will one day interoperate. Then again, the Messages app looks and sounds like iChat, and Apple has steadfastly resisted creating an iOS version of iChat.) It’s likely that Apple has tried to keep FaceTime as simple as possible for its initial roll-out on the iPhone 4, and then will modify it as needed as it adds other devices (such as Macs, iPads, and iPod touches) to the FaceTime party.
Details of the implementation aside, FaceTime worked flawlessly for me. I connected with several fellow iPhone 4 early adopters and could see and hear them without any trouble at all. I even made an international FaceTime call, to Scotland, with ease. The iPhone 4’s speakerphone is loud enough to hold a FaceTime conversation. FaceTime’s smart enough to rotate the video window properly depending on how you’re holding your iPhone—and how the person you’re talking to is holding theirs. When someone rotates their phone, their window rotates as well. It’s very well thought out and couldn’t be easier to use.
My only question is, will people use it? Despite the hype when iChat AV was released, I don’t find myself video chatting routinely with anyone except my family on business trips. (And even if I take my iPhone 4 with me on those trips, I won’t be able to chat with my family on our iMac until iChat is updated to talk to FaceTime.) Video phone calls are very much something we all expected to happen in the future, and the future is clearly here—but were those visions of the future right? A video call requires your full attention; I can wash dishes while I talk on my iPhone, but not if I’m using FaceTime. Holding that phone so that the camera is pointing at your face can also tire out your arm.
My guess would be that user adoption of FaceTime will grow over time, as more devices support its protocols and especially once you can make those calls via the cellular network. And, of course, other apps should be able to access the iPhone 4’s front camera for their own purposes. (Skype, for example, should be able to build a version of its app for iPhone 4 that’s compatible with other Skype video chat services.) I’m not sure video calling will ever be as common as it is in science fiction, but if anything’s going to popularize it, FaceTime will.
Bigger, Faster, Longer
Although Apple doesn’t like to talk about specs, we know that the iPhone 4 is, like the iPad, powered by a custom-built A4 processor. It’s also got 512MB of onboard RAM, twice the amount found in the iPad, iPhone 3GS, and third-generation iPod touch (and four times the amount found in the first two iPhone and iPod touch models). As a result, it’s the fastest iPhone ever made, and even faster than the iPad in some tests. Its larger amount of RAM means it will be able to take advantage of iOS 4’s multitasking features to keep more apps open simultaneously, as well.
You can feel the iPhone 4’s speed everywhere you turn. Apps launch in an instant. Switching between apps happens in the blink of an eye. Actions that cause even the speedy iPhone 3GS to bog down, such as bringing up playback controls on streaming video such as in the MLB At Bat app, are instantaneous on the iPhone 4. Even high-resolution game graphics move fluidly.
According to Apple, the A4 processor has the advantage of bringing more power to the equation while consuming less energy. That, combined, with the iPhone 4’s larger battery, gives Apple the confidence to claim that this model has 40 percent more talk time per charge than the iPhone 3GS. Testing a battery this large takes time; we’re in the process of running some tests and will report on them in the near future. From my first few days with the iPhone, my impression is that battery life is improved, making it a bit easier to get through a day without needing a charging session.
Media master, with caveats
Since the iPhone was introduced, there’s one app that I’ve used more than any other, by far: iPod. I use my iPhone to listen to music and podcasts during my public-transit commute, when I’m mowing the lawn, and when I’m washing the dishes. Media playback is where the iPhone shines, both in the hands-down excellent iPod app and (especially thanks to the multitasking features of iOS 4) third-party apps such as Pandora and MLB At Bat 2010.
If I’ve got the choice between an iPad and an iPhone, I’ll choose the former to watch video, owing entirely to its larger screen. But the iPhone 4’s high-resolution display is spectacular for video playback, and finally there’s an iPhone that’s capable of playing back HD-quality video files. (Previous models couldn’t handle resolutions higher than standard-def.)
Unfortunately, those 720p video files that play back with aplomb on the iPhone 4 can’t be played back on an HDTV via the iPhone. The iPhone 4 has the same external playback limitations as its predecessors: it can use an RGB, composite, or component adapter to display standard-def video, but that’s pretty much it. I’m not sure whether it’s a limitation of the iPod dock connector or just the onboard video circuitry, but it’s a shame: A device with the muscle to handle HD video should be able to display it on an HDTV.