Apple IPhone 4 Review: The Best Gets Better... Kind of
For all the buzz that surrounded the iPhone 4, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs offered few surprises when he unveiled the device after details had leaked out last March.
On the plus side, it boasts a thinner design, a "retina display" that's so sharp that the human eye can't distinguish its individual pixels, and two cameras -- a VGA one on the front for video chatting, called "FaceTime," and a 5-megapixel one on the back for photos. Apple also updated iOS4 with hundreds of minor upgrades, but most notably the ability to now multitask. Something Google phones have been able to do for quite some time.
But there are minuses. First, FaceTime, unfortunately, is limited to only Wi-Fi connections and to other iPhone 4s. It also falls behind the Evo, which has better 8-megapixel camera and fourth-generation, or 4G, connectivity. Also, the exclusive U.S. carrier for the iPhone, AT&T, decided to discontinue its unlimited data plan, so new customers will have to pay by the gigabyte.
But when Jobs wrapped up his presentation, the biggest disappointment to customers was that the event had come and gone with no mention of Verizon. Analysts has speculated that Apple may lose its grip on the iPhone by the end of the year, with new products slated for rivals such as T-Mobile and Verizon coming as early as the beginning of 2011.
When the original iPhone was unveiled in 2007, Apple reinvented the smartphone, combining three products -- a phone, a widescreen iPod with touch controls and the Internet communication of a desktop device -- making competitors scramble to recover. But as many rivals catch up, the iPhone's dominance has begun to wane.
Still, the iPhone 4 is impressive. It's worth a look if you need a fast smartphone with robust features and cutting-edge design. The HTC's Evo 4G and Droid Incredible may offer more in terms of hardware and power but they still pale in comparison to Apple's distinctive styling and robust software.
The iPhone 4 is sandwiched between two glass panels -- the same material the company says is used in the windshields of helicopters and high-speed trains. Chemically strengthened to be 20 times stronger and 30 times harder than plastic, the composite is scratch-resistant, durable and a fingerprint-magnet. When it's kept clean, though, the glossy and sleek exterior gives a refined feel that Apple has come to be known for.
I dropped the iPhone 4 several times from a few feet onto a hard surface. There were no problems. And it survived without a single scratch.
Jobs likes thin. And taking a page from the MacBook Air, the new iPhone 4 is the world's thinnest smartphone, measuring a remarkable 9.3 millimeters thin -- that's over 25 percent thinner than its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS, and HTC's Droid Incredible and Evo 4G devices. Although they all weigh about the same, except the brick-like Evo, which is nearly 30 percent heavier, the iPhone 4 feels denser and sturdier -- more like a quality product than a disposable device.
At first glance, the stainless steel band around the rim seems uncharacteristically Apple, but it's actually there for a reason. It not only offers a ridged structure to withstand the everyday bumps and drops, but also functions as a "multi-band" antenna for stronger Wi-Fi connections and improved cellular reception. The dramatic change represents a radical shift from its predecessors, which hid the antenna under the shell, but also puts out nearly 50 percent more radio-frequency radiation than the 3GS.
The iPhone 4, like the 3GS, has a large 3.5-inch touch screen display, much smaller than the Evo's 4.3-inch behemoth. But the iPhone 4 blows everyone away with outstanding picture quality. Its 640-by-960 pixel resolution "retina display" is over four times sharper than the 3GS.
It has dual cameras -- a high-resolution 5-megapixel one with LED flash on the back for photos, and a second 0.3-megapixel front-facing one for "FaceTime" video-chatting. A backside illumination sensor helps capture beautiful photos in low-light environments.
Around the rim, dual speaker microphones -- one on the top and another on the bottom -- suppress unwanted background noise for improved phone calling. There's also a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. The side buttons are nice and tactile. And the center button feels snappier. Everything, on the whole, seems better put together.
The original iPhone had an aluminum back plate and felt like a quality product. The 3G and 3GS used plastic, which gave them a cheaper feel. Now the iPhone 4's shiny and beautiful materials brings back a standard that matches its hefty price.
It's shockingly thin and feels great in the hand. You really don't quite notice it until you hold it. It's another sexy design you've come to expect from Apple and, hands down, the best looking phone of the bunch. But just be aware that you'll be constantly wiping it.
Out of the box, the Apple iPhone 4 comes with a standard battery, a USB power adapter, a dock connector to USB cable, earphones with remote and microphone, and customary documentation.
The iPhone has two cameras. The one on the back, which takes photos and high-definition videos, has a 5-megapixel resolution and a LED flash. Another on the front, which is used for video chatting, is 0.3-megapixels.
The lens is noticeably faster. Photos get captured in an instant and, as expected, come out colorful, vibrant and detailed. There's an LED flash next to the lens, to brighten the dimmest of rooms. And for extra enhancement, the iPhone 4 has a backside illumination sensor, which adds a kick of brightness to low light photos. Additional settings include zoom, tap-to-focus and geo-tagging.
One of the biggest highlights of the iPhone is its ability to record 720p video at 30 frames per second. What does that mean? Videos come out very well in most conditions. While the quality is far from that from a high-definition 1080p camcorder, it does exceptionally well for a phone.
For an additional $5, you can buy iMovie, an Apple app that lets you edit videos, add transitions and music and, basically, throw together video postcards on the handset -- then upload it to YouTube.
The lesser front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera, meanwhile, is used for self-portraits or for two-way video-chatting through Apple's "FaceTime" app. Just press a button, and if the other person accepts the invitation, their image appears in the screen, with your own image showing in the corner. During a video call, you can tap the screen and switch to the rear lens, to show the caller around the room. You can even start a video call as an audio call, push the button, and swap to a Wi-Fi FaceTime call.
It's simple. There is no setup and there's nothing to learn. But, unfortunately, the service is limited to Wi-Fi, not over AT&T's network, and only to another iPhone 4. The HTC Evo version for Verizon, called Qik, works over the carrier's 4G network.
Many smartphones, like the Evo, offer higher-resolution lenses up to 8-megapixels. While the iPhone 4 has one of the better cameras on the market, it's definitely not top-of-the-line. Don't expect it to replace a digital camera or camcorder, because it doesn't.
Video calling is one of this handset's best features, but Wi-Fi- and iPhone 4-only limitations really cripple its usefulness. Apple says it will make the technology free to others and aims to have millions of devices using it in the future.
The iPhone 4 runs on Apple's latest iOS4 mobile operating system, updating the software with hundreds of improvements, but none more significant than multitasking.
In previous iPhones, Apple had allowed some apps to run in the background, but they were largely limited to the company's own programs. But now all apps can be quickly moved to the background, the way Android phones have already done.
The iPhone 4 is incredibly responsive thanks to a blazing-fast 1-gigahertz A4 processor, the same chip on the iPad. Since Apple designed both the hardware and software, the handset doesn't suffer from fragmentation problems that have plagued Windows Mobile and Android devices. That means a more stable device.
After years of complaints, Apple finally added multitasking to the iPhone. It smoothly, with no hiccups or stalls, even with several programs. But that doesn't mean every app can run in the background. To prevent a disastrous power drain on the battery, Apple has allowed only certain apps to multitask, such as streaming music services like Pandora, navigation apps, Internet calling programs.
Sadly, social networking streams from Twitter and Facebook don't update in the background. Apple said constantly grabbing hundreds of updates would drain the battery too quickly. For many users, the company's limited version of multitasking is disappointing.
Apple also claims longer battery life, which Jobs attributed to the improve A4 chip. He said the iPhone 4 has up to seven hours of talk time -- compared to five hours on the previous model -- six hours of browsing, 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music and 300 hours of standby. In our tests, the iPhone never reached the warning level in a single day.
Microsoft and Google's devices, which are built by a myriad of handset makers, often suffer from poor integration of hardware and software. But this isn't the case with iPhones. Everything seems to be well designed and tightly fit from both sides. While not much is added with iOS4 -- aside from multitasking which one could argue should have been included earlier -- gives the iPhone 4 a responsive, familiar feel.
The iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen, was once considered huge, is now smaller than other smartphones like the Evo's 4.3-inch behemoth. It has the same-sized display as the 3GS. But unlike its predecessor, the iPhone 4 has four times the pixels, 640-by-960 pixels, and a contrast ratio that's four times more vivid, making text appear almost like ink on fine paper.
Apple calls it a "retina display" because the touch screen is so densely packed that Jobs claims human eye can't distinguish the individual dots. That's nothing more than a marketing term. But it isn't an exaggeration. At a whopping 326-pixels per inch, the display is so incredibly sharp that no other phones out there compare, including smartphones from HTC. For comparison, original iPhone had just 163-pixels per inch.
The screen can register multiple touches at once and supports advanced gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger tap, and more. Familiar features include an accelerometer to change from portrait and landscape views, proximity sensor that turns off the screen when on a call and an ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness level to prolong battery life.
The iPhone 4's screen isn't the biggest one on the block, but it definitely is the sharpest one. Apple has once again pushed touch screen technology by offering an exceptional display that's about as good as it gets.
The iPhone 4 comes with Apple's latest iTunes music player. Aside from features you may have come to know and love, iOS4 can now create and edit custom playlists on the phone and sync nested folders. Not a whole lot is new since the 3GS, but then again, the iPhone 3GS's music features were significantly more advanced than the next best alternative. Apple just does portable music better than anyone else.
Voice quality is excellent, even on speakerphone calls. That's because it has two microphones, one on the top and another on the bottom, for noise-cancellation and improved call clarity in noisy environments.
The iOS4 comes with a new unified inbox that works with popular email providers, including AOL, Gmail and Yahoo, and industry-standard POP3 and IMAP4 systems. You can access each inbox separately or quickly view all incoming messages together. Palm's WebOS had this feature last year, but nonetheless, it's nice to have.
In addition, emails can be "threaded" together in a chain of replies for an easier view of an entire conversation. It supports rich HTML email and attachments such as Microsoft Office documents or PDFs.
The iPhone 4 has a "more intelligent" on-screen keyboard. An improved dictionary makes better predictions, suggestions and corrections of words and punctuation errors. Handy shortcuts include tapping the space bar twice for a period at the end of sentences, double-tapping the screen to cut, copy, or paste, and better overall usability.
The iPhone 4 also adapts its keys and layout for different apps, such as a ".com" key in the browser and a date and time wheel in the calendar. And you can even connect an external Bluetooth wireless keyboard. Overall, small refinements make typing and emailing more convenient.
Apple's iPhones have always been at the forefront of multimedia and entertainment, and the iPhone 4 is no different. You can connect to iTunes to buy songs, TV shows, movies, games and apps from Apple's vast library. If there ever was a strength, this would be it. Others devices just haven't been able to match the range or depth of third-party software for the iPhone.
The new iPhone has a gyroscope for three-dimensional, six-axis, controls. It can now measure pitch, roll, yaw and even rotation, useful in motion gaming.
Apple will be launching a new social-gaming network, called "Game Center," where you'll be able to invite friends to play games, track achievements and compare high scores on a leader board. Game Center will be available on iPhones and iPods running iOS4 later this year.
As an extension to the iPad, the iPhone 4 also includes "iBooks," an app that lets readers download books from its iTunes store. The iPhone 4 syncs with other Apple products, like the iPad, so you can read the same book across all of its devices. But despite the higher-resolution screen, reading an e-book on the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen is not very comfortable.
It's quite hard to beat the entertainment features on the iPhone 4. Apple has built a commanding lead by being the leader for third-party apps. Mobile versions of popular games and apps are available from iTunes, as well as favorite TV shows, movies and now books. While Amazon's Kindle has a larger selection of novels, Apple is quickly catching up. Hands down, Apple beats everyone else in fun.
Apple pioneered pinch-to-zoom technology. And the iPhone 4 has always been in the lead when it comes mobile browsing. Safari is the browser in the mobile market, but the iPhone 4 falls behind in Internet speeds.
One thing to note is that the iPhone 4 does not run on fourth-generation, or 4G, networks. It's just the fourth-generation iPhone. It runs on AT&T's high-speed 3.5G network, using HSDPA technology, and clocks in at around 1 to 1.5 megabit per second, the same as the 3GS. The Evo, a true 4G phone, is more than twice as fast.
Past iPhone owners were plagued by slow network speeds, but AT&T promises that to be a thing of the past. After extensive infrastructure upgrades, and even free Wi-Fi to ease the load in Times Square, AT&T now even allows "tethering," or using the iPhone as a laptop modem -- for an additional $20 a month.
The iPhone 4 has comes in 16-gigabyte or 32-gigabyte versions, the same as the 3GS. By comparison the Evo has 360-megabytes of internal memory with an 8-gigabyte microSD card. The Incredible has 8-gigabytes of storage with an expansion slot. Unfortunately, you won't be able to add extra memory to the iPhone 4.
If you're a casual user, 16-gigabytes should be enough. That stores around 2,000 songs or hundreds of videos. But if you plan on loading up on apps and movies, 32-gigabytes should probably be a better choice. Something to keep in mind.
Aside from headsets, car-kits and PCs, the iPhone 4 can also connect to a wireless Bluetooth keyboard to type even faster. For a monthly fee, AT&T also lets you use it as a modem for a laptop. But tried-and-true Wi-Fi b, g -- and new "n" band -- is also included.
The iPhone 4 is a combination of style and function. Sleek glass panels give it an elegant look, while the multi-band antenna improves call clarity and rigidity. But the new handset doesn't add as the revolutionary upgrades you've come to expect from Apple.
Aside from design, iOS4, while adding hundreds of minor upgrades, doesn't add many mind-blowing features. Yes, it does now let you multitask, but Google's Android phones have been doing that for some time now.
It also features a brilliant touch screen display -- one that's four times as clear as its predecessor. But again, nothing revolutionary. In fact, many features are rather pedestrian. Its Internet is not all that speedy -- though mostly due to AT&T's network rather than Apple's design -- and its new "FaceTime" chat is severely limiting. The 5-megapixel camera is mediocre, as well. And most disappointing, AT&T discontinued its unlimited data plan, so you'll have to subscribe to plans by the gigabyte.
Apple's new iBooks store lets you buy e-books, but I see this more as a compliment to the iPad, letting you read books on either device, rather than a useful tool to read on the 3.5-inch screen. But all things considered, Apple pushes way ahead of other devices in what it does well. It has tons of apps from third-party developers. The new gyroscope and Game Center platform will surely spawn new and interactive games. And you're just a few swipes away from buying the largest library of content -- music, TV shows, movies and more.
I can't say I'm all that blown-away with the hardware features on the iPhone 4. And perhaps Steve Jobs had spoiled us by introducing revolutionary products in the past. The iPhone 4 is at best, evolutionary. But Apple's strategy from the beginning has been to build a lead in software, which it has done with outside developers and partnerships with music labels, Hollywood studios and now book publishers.
The bottom line is iPhone 4 is a beautiful phone. It has mediocre hardware, decent software and exceptional online services. But then again, it is an iPhone. ♦
TFT (Retina Display / Gyroscope / Accelerometer / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
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July 10, 2010
Best Smartphone Ever Made
The iPhone 4. The very words inspire controversy, excitement and anticipation, but after a quick stop at bar in California and few thousand Internet rumors later the device is finally here and it's features the biggest changes to Apple's smartphone yet.
In the first major design shift since the iPhone 3G in 2008, Apple decided to reinvent the wheel with the iPhone 4, as the front and back of the device are made up entirely of gorilla glass while a redesigned stainless steel antenna wraps around the outside of the device to bind it all together. However, even though we may have been tipped off to much of this thank to Internet leaks, Apple had an ace in the hole, a Retina display.
Get used to the term, because the Retina display is the single greatest screen to ever grace a mobile device. Apple coined the term because the pixel density is so high on the iPhone that it's impossible to decipher a single one with the human eye. Looking at the iPhone lock screen is like looking at an illuminate piece of 3.5-inch paper, and it's so cool you may never get used to it.
The whole package makes for a stunning device to look at and hold in your hand, far outclassing other top-of-the-line smartphones on the market like the HTC Droid Incredible and LG Ally, which are made almost entirely of plastic.
After getting a sense of the look and feel of the device it's almost easy to forget that its hardware and software take it places smartphones have never been before. An updated A4 processor takes performance to a new level and opens the door for developers to raise the bar in mobile apps, and a gyroscope offers three-dimensional movements with six-axis controls for games to take advantage of with new gameplay mechanics.
Apple has also upgraded the camera to an impressive 5-megapixels with a lens that is capable of capturing beautiful 720p video.
But wait, there's one more thing. The iPhone 4 also sports a front-facing camera that allows users of the device to video chat, Facetime, with each other over a Wi-Fi connection. It's kind of a bummer that it can't be done over your carriers' 3G network, but Apple has not ruled out that possibility in the future.
At a time where the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy and Motorola Droid have all emerged to become worthy threats to the iPhone, Apple has truly thrown down the gauntlet with the iPhone 4. Is it perfect? No. But it's damn close. It's the best smartphone ever made.Was this review helpful to you?
155 out of 160 people found this review helpful.
July 25, 2010
Not bad. But not perfect
- Design. It has highly polished software and refined look.
- Chip is super-fast
- Tons of apps that work really well
- Retina screen is absolutely amazing
- It's easy to use with an awesome browser to boot
- Built-in iPod with iTunes to bring your whole music library
- Camera quality is good and shutter speed is fast
- Signal strength -- the antenna issue is there
- Lack of a dedicated camera key
- Glass seems fragile
- There's no speech-to-text
- That's about it. In addition to the fact that I don't like Apple, but overall great phone
49 out of 57 people found this review helpful.
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