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Apple iPhone 4 Review With Video
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Date: Jun 26, 2010
Section:Gadgets
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction & Specifications
It was this month last year that Apple launched the iPhone 3GS. Records were broken in terms of sales, and overall demand looked like it couldn't possibly be higher. It was Apple's third iPhone, and the 3GS was arguably the least impressive upgrade to date. The iPhone 3G was a drastic improvement over the original iPhone; it added 3G support, a better camera, a whole new design and support for multi-media messaging. The 3GS, however, was just a mild improvement. Support for video recording was added, and a new processor was included for improved speed and graphical performance. It was a solid upgrade, sure, but it was one that many iPhone 3G owners skipped over in order to prevent the extension of their contract to a full three years.

iPhone OS 3.x was launched after the 3Gs' arrival, but the additions were minor. More things were improved, but there we no revolutionary changes, and just about everyone was more focused on what was to come instead of what was currently available. Rumors have been flying ever since the iPhone 3GS launched that the next generation iPhone (what's now known as the iPhone 4) would be the first iPhone to launch on another network. But AT&T's exclusivity agreement runs to at least 2012, so unless something changes soon, we won't see a CDMA iPhone for at least another year or so.

Regardless, the iPhone 4 has been highly anticipated for the past 12 months. Everyone expected Apple to continue their trend of launching a new and improved iPhone each summer, and the company didn't disappoint. Apple has had a busy year in the consumer space. First came the iPad, shattering sales expectations by selling two million units in two months. Then came the introduction of iPhone OS 4, or what's now known as iOS 4. That brought multi-tasking, folders and a heap of new features that iPhone users have been clamoring for since iPhone OS 2. And what good is a new OS without a new device to showcase it on?

With that, came the iPhone 4. The phone was officially revealed at WWDC in early June, but the world knew about the device long before that. In an extremely unusual slip for Apple, the next generation iPhone was found in a California bar a few weeks before its official announcement, giving the tech world an up close look at the hardware well before Apple intended. But you couldn't tell much by looking at the hardware alone; it was a little thinner, a bit different in terms of construction and had a front-facing camera. But without a working operating system, not much else could be gleaned.


Be sure to check out our full, detailed review on the pages ahead!

Now, however, there are no more secrets. The iPhone 4 has become the first iPhone with a Apple's A4 CPU, FaceTime video chat, a new antenna setup (for better, or worse), and a new display that doubles the screen resolution compared to the iPhone 3GS. It's also going to be available in both black and white colors, and it will offer 720p movie recording as well. In fact, Apple is creating a $4.99 iMovie app specifically for the iPhone 4's video capture mode, enabling users to edit and upload videos right from their handset. Apple also improved the internal sensor array in order to give gamers more control over their titles, and considering that the iPhone and iPod touch have become serious contenders in the portable gaming space, this addition could help the platform even further.

Apple iPhone 4 Specifications
Specifications & Features
CPU Speed Apple A4 silicon (speed not specified by Apple)
Platform iOS 4
Memory Flash 16GB/32GB + 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM
Dimensions (LxWxT) 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.27 inches (115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm)
Weight 4.8 ounces (137 grams) with battery
Display 3.5" Retina Display with 960x640 resolution; 326pp; Multi-Touch; 800:1 Contrast Ratio; 500 cd/m2 max brightness (typical); Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating on front and back
Network Quad-band UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz) + GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
Onscreen Navigation All touchscreen
GPS Internal GPS antenna
Sensors Digital compass, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor, Three-axis gyro, Accelerometer
Connectivity Bluetooth 2.1 with FTP/OPP, A2DP, and PBAP
Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
3.5mm stereo audio jack
Apple Dock Connector
Camera 5-megapixel camera with auto focus and 720p video capture (up to 30 frames per second with audio); LED Flash
Audio
Formats
Audio formats supported: AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV
Video
Formats
Video formats supported: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format
Battery Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
Talk time: Up to 7 hours on 3G/14 hours on 2G
Standby time: Up to 300 hours
Internet Use: Up to 6 hours on 3G; 10 hours on Wi-Fi
Audio Playback: Up to 40 hours
Expansion Slot None
AC Adapter Voltage range/frequency: 100 ~ 240V AC, 50/60Hz
DC output: 5V and 1A
Email Gmail and Exchange
In-Box Content Main unit, Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic, Dock Connector to USB Cable, USB Power Adapter, Documentation

Unlike the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4 is only launching in five countries on June 24th: America, France, the UK, Germany and Japan. Everyone else will see it a few months down the road, and at least initially, only the black model will be available. It's being offered in just two sizes: a 16GB model for $199 on a new 2-year agreement with AT&T, and a 32GB model for $299 on the same contract. It's also the first phone ever to ship with a MicroSIM, which is a cut down SIM card presumably used to save space and prevent SIM swaps.


Before we even get into the crux of the review, it's safe to say that in terms of sales, the iPhone 4 is a raging success already. AT&T and Apple servers were slammed on day one of pre-sales, with over 600,000 units being reserved and many more unable to be reserved. In fact, Apple and AT&T suspended pre-sales 24 hours after they began, noting that there was no way they could satisfy additional demand by the June 24th ship date. In other words, finding an iPhone 4 if you didn't get lucky on the original pre-sale date may be quite difficult for awhile. But is it worth stressing over? Join us in the pages to come as we take a deep dive into the iPhone 4.
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Design and Hardware

Apple's design team has a knack for creating aesthetically appealing products. The iMac set the bar for all-in-one PCs, and the iPhone has transformed a smartphone market where huge touchscreens are now in demand and QWERTY keyboards are less and less common.



The iPhone 3GS is beautiful in its own right, but a good number of HTC handsets have come along to rival it. The EVO 4G and DROID Incredible are both gorgeous and sturdy, and some might say even more functional thanks to the user-changeable battery, microSD card slot, larger screens, open software model, and the list goes on. The iPhone 4 is the first completely redesigned Apple smartphone since the iPhone 3G, and while the overall size remains nearly the same thanks to the use of a 3.5" Multi-Touch display, it's far thinner than the 3GS and has a number of unique design aspects worth mentioning here.



We'll start with some obvious points: the front and back. The front is dominated by a 3.5" touchscreen. That's the same size display that is used on the iPhone 3G and 3GS, but the panel itself is very different. Apple calls this display the most revolutionary of its time. The new "Retina Display" has a very high pixel density (326ppi), with an equally high 960x640 screen resolution that provides much sharper images than prior iPhone models. It's coated in a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic material, and it's easily the most beautiful touchscreen we have seen on a smartphone to date. Apple claims that you cannot actually see the pixels on the display, and while that's not exactly true if you stare closely at point-blank range, it's definitely the case from a normal viewing distance. Everything just looks perfectly fluid. It's a real joy to look at, and even outdoors it manages to stay bright and crisp rather than washing out.



The touch panel might be the most impressive part of the new iPhone; the touch response is second to none, and the colors are excellent. It's a pleasure to watch multi-media on this screen, and the added pixels mean that web pages render more fully and more completely (except for Flash sites, of course, which Apple still refuses to support). We thought that the iPad had the most impressive mobile screen that we had ever seen, and while that's still true in the world of tablet PCs, we have to confess that the iPhone 4's display looks even better. It's impressive what Apple has done with this panel, and while it's not OLED, it's quite a bit better in most regards (including being visible outdoors).


Beneath the display is that single "Home" button that has resided on the face of every single iPhone in history. It works well, and it depresses a bit further than the prior iPhone models. We think the lower threshold is for the best, and we still prefer physical buttons to the "touchscreen buttons" found on so many Android phones these days. Though, we wish Apple would add one or two more buttons along the bottom so we could easily launch our e-mail client or Mobile Safari browser and free up some dock space. There's just blank space on both sides of the Home button, and that's just begging for another two buttons to be added.


Above the display is the proximity sensor (which turns the LCD off when your face is against it during a conversation) as well as a speaker grille. But there's a new addition to the top of this iPhone: a front-facing VGA camera. This new piece of hardware is for video chatting with others through Apple's own FaceTime software; it's a pretty slick application, but unfortunately it only works with Wi-Fi right now. In turn, it's almost useless. What are the chances that someone you want to video call is both using an iPhone 4 and within range of an open Wi-Fi hotspot when you call? Slim. But the approach is OK, and being that it's open source, you could imagine Skype or Fring integrating this into an app to bring video calling to the iPhone in more ways than one. This is more of a wait-and-see thing than anything else; during our testing, video quality was acceptable (not great), and lag was reasonable. We would still prefer webcam chats on a real computer, and you really need 3G support here to make it worthwhile. Video chatting on phones still has a ways to go, and FaceTime is no different. It's a nice first step, but a few other things need to fall into place before consumers can really begin to care about it.



While we're on the topic of cameras, there's a 5MP one on the rear with an LED Flash and the ability to record 720p movies. It's strange that Apple didn't step up to an 8MP sensor as is found on so many Android phones these days, but the ability to shoot 30fps videos in HD is a real plus. We found the camera to be responsive enough (certainly more so than the laggy iPhone 3G camera), but we still wish there were a dedicated camera shutter button along the edge somewhere. Having to press the screen to fire a shot isn't ideal, as your phone moves every single time and introduces a level of blur that you can't avoid. Image quality from the 5MP sensor was great for a phone, but low-light photography is not its strong suit. Images were grainy and of poor quality in dimly lit rooms, but that's to be expected from a camera within a phone. The video capture is the real spotlight grabber, and the 720p quality is very good. We were impressed with the results we saw, though again, you'll want to film in daylight if at all possible. We could imagine a great many tourists ditching their 720p-capable point-and-shoot camera in favor of just toting this. The quality isn't quite up to par with dedicated cameras and camcorders, but it's stellar for a phone and is definitely good enough for capturing a cute moment on vacation.


Apple has kept the button layout around the edges very minimal, as they always do. There's a Dock Connector port and a speaker and microphone along the bottom, a separate volume Up/Down button on the side, a Ringer Off/On toggle above that, an On/Off + Sleep/Wake button on the top right, and nothing more. We would've loved to have seen an Orientation Lock button as is on the iPad, but there's a software version of that key in iOS 4. Not nearly as handy, but at least having the option somewhere is a big step up from iPhone OS 3.x. Also, there's a 3.5mm standard headphone jack along the top, which supports microphone inputs as well.

A very unique design aspect with the iPhone 4 is that the metallic ring around the edge is actually an extension of the antenna system. Apple claims that this will improve reception, and in our testing, we found that to be true. We were seeing 4 and 5 bars where we saw 3 bars on the iPhone 3GS, and we saw 2 to 3 bars in low service areas where we previously saw 0 or 1 bar. This ring won't do anything to improve AT&T's service nor how many calls you drop, but it should allow you to make clearer calls and hang on to reception longer when straying from a tower, theory.

We should note, however, that it seems at least many early iPhone 4 users are experiencing the opposite. The problem is that if the iPhone is held a certain way, reception drops significantly and leads to dropped calls and poor data connections. We have personally held our own test unit in these described ways, and while we have seen the bars fluctuate somewhat, we have yet to experience a tangible decrease in call quality or reception. There are widespread reports that Apple is suggesting that users simply hold the phone in a different way or use a case to break the contact. The problem is no doubt being magnified due to the hype surrounding this particular phone and the increased scrutiny that it is receiving. Still, this is a potentially large issue, and unless you know from the start that you'll be protecting your investment with a case, you may want to think twice about jumping in before Apple has a chance to officially address it.


Sandwiching the metal ring are two glass panels; yes, that's right, two glass panels. Both the front and back use aluminosilicate glass plates, which is supposed to make the phone more rigid, and the oleophobic coating is also on the front and back to minimize fingerprints. In our testing, the coating did seem to work somewhat, but fingerprints are still easy to apply. We think that even more prints would stick without the coating in place, so it's more of a deterrent than an outright weapon of rejection. The two glass plates did indeed feel extremely sturdy during our testing, and while we didn't try to crush it or anything, we suspect that it could take a bigger beating than the curved rear of the iPhone 3GS.



Internally, Apple has really beefed things up. There's an A4 CPU (which is underclocked compared to the 1GHz version in the iPad, but Apple isn't confirming the actual clock speed), along with a presumed 512MB of RAM (Apple hasn't clarified this either). That's double what shipped in the iPhone 3GS. There's the standard Bluetooth 2.1 module, but 802.11n Wi-Fi support has been added. You're also getting an A-GPS chip, Digital Compass, quad-band GSM / HSPA radio for worldwide cellular connectivity, and a battery of unspecified size that is not user-serviceable. Apple claims that you can get up to 7 hours of 3G talk time, between 6 and 10 hours of Web surfing and 40 hours of audio playback; all of these figures are larger than those on the iPhone 3GS.

For the gamers, there's an accelerometer as well as a new three-axis gyro. The gyro is critical to how accurate the response of tilts and turns are, and hardcore portable gamers should notice the difference. This new gyro is basically the equivalent of the Wii MotionPlus add-on; the Wii remote itself does fine, but it's even more accurate with the MotionPlus. The same is true on the iPhone; the iPhone 4 will be the most accurate game controller of all of the iPhone models thanks to the embedded three-axis gyro. Of note, devs will have to enable support for the gyro, so existing titles may not fully take advantage right away.


So, that's an in-depth look at the hardware that makes up the new iPhone 4, but what good is hardware without software? Let's dive into iOS 4, shall we?

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User Interface
The user interface found on the iPhone 4 is largely unchanged, but there are some new additions and improvements to point out. There's a new name--iPhone OS4 is now called iOS 4--and a new level of customization to the system. The name change foreshadows that the OS won't always be used on smartphones alone, with the iPod touch, iPad and possibly even more devices to support the software in the future. It's a stup up from iPhone OS 3, and Apple has chosen a powerful device to showcase it.


The new A4 chip is powerful enough to handle the new changes, with the primary addition being the innate ability to multi-task. But multi-task is a word that is broadly defined; we would say that the truth is that iOS 4 now supports "background tasks." There's no true multi-tasking when you can only view one application on the screen at one time, and processing isn't always going on in the background, but you can run apps in the background while another runs in the foreground. For example, Pandora can stream music in the background while your surf in Mobile Safari in the foreground. But to change playlists or genres in Pandora (unless they're next in your lineup), you have to actually get out of Mobile Safari and back into Pandora, which explains our defining of the situation as less multi-tasking and more "background tasking."


Either way, it's a big change for Apple, and it's something that was badly needed. Android has supported background tasks for well over a year now, and Palm's WebOS and Windows Mobile have as well. Apple was falling way behind in this department, and they had little choice but to finally play catch up. As they did with copy-and-paste, though, Apple has done a good job with the implementation. A simple double-tap of the Home button brings up a row of four icons along the bottom, allowing users to hop out of one app and into another without having to fully exit to the desktop. If you have ever Jailbroken your iPhone or iPad and used "Backgrounder," this new official Apple multi-tasking solution works almost exactly like that. But of course, you don't need to Jailbreak your phone now to do it.


Apple claims that 1500 new features are being added to iOS 4, but only 100 of those are designated as "user features," while the others are developer features. That's probably a gross exaggeration; "hundreds" of new features were supposedly baked into Snow Leopard, but many average users won't find but a handful that they notice and make use of. The rest of the changes are so subtle that they aren't worth mentioning. A few of the changes worth mentioning are this: a unified inbox (which groups your e-mail accounts together in a logical way so that you only ever have to view one e-mail box), app folders (which allows you to group all of your social networking apps, for example, into a single folder rather than taking up an entire home screen page), Bing search integration, in-app SMS, spell check, Bluetooth keyboard support, user-defined wallpapers (finally!), iBook support, enhanced Enterprise integration, and a Game Center that is basically an Xbox LIVE clone with achievements and the like.


A few of the more subtle changes that will still definitely improve the user experience are: background audio (for streaming Pandora in the background), background VoIP (for using Skype while browsing the web or checking your e-mail or playing Plants vs. Zombies), map overlays, and background location data for keeping tabs on your location in Maps while you do other things in the foreground. Apple has also enabled Tap To Focus on the camera and HD video editing on the phone itself. There's also a little thing called "task completion," which is very much needed. This enables lengthy tasks to continue to run and process in the background while you take on new tasks in the foreground; for example, if you have a lot of images uploading to Flickr, you can now leave that running in the background and move on to playing a game or composing a note. The images will continue to upload in the background, exactly like they should.


We mentioned it earlier, but the ability to Tether is also now included on iOS 4. AT&T has finally added support for this in the U.S., but a new data plan in required in order to take advantage. As with most everything else that Apple has implemented within iOS 4, Internet Tethering is seamless and easy here. Once you've activated it within Settings, a Blue bar remains at the top of your screen in order to let you know that it's active. Phone calls and phone data are both still available even with Tethering active.



Those are the changes, and we have to say that Apple has done a good job of integrating these new features into a familiar user interface. Users of existing iPhone models won't notice much of a new learning curve. In fact, you can use iOS 4 just like you have used iPhone OS 3, and you'll get along just fine. But the new features are super easy to discover and get used to; the only thing you need to do in order to start enjoying multi-tasking is double tap the Home button. Pretty simple. Most everything just happens in the background and works for you, rather than forcing you to work for it. That's the biggest change in our opinion; iOS 4 is better designed to fit into your workflow, instead of you having to force yourself to change your workflow in order to work with just a single app at a time.
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Multi-Tasking, FaceTime and Overall Performance
We've covered the hardware and software sides, and now it's time to talk about performance. For anyone still using an iPhone 3G with hardly any free storage left, you'll probably wonder how you ever considered that the iPhone 3G was "fast." Opening the camera alone can take 5 to 10 seconds, and switching out of one app and into another can take an equally long time. As smartphones have progressed, Apple's hardware and software has grown to feel more and more sluggish. The iPhone 3GS helped out somewhat with a faster set of internals, but we have all been spoiled by just how fast the iPad whizzes through iPhone OS 3.x and the speed of many competing smartphones.


A4 Inside: Does It Pack A Punch?
The 1GHz A4 processor in the iPad purrs along nicely within iPhone OS 3.x, and anyone that has used it probably now feels as if the existing iPhone hardware just doesn't cut it any longer. But with the A4 chip in the iPhone 4 (Apple has yet to clarify the actual clock speed), performance has certainly increased. Put simply, the A4 CPU in the iPhone 4 is fast. Even if it's a downclocked version, it managed to really outpace the older iPhone models. The performance increases offered by the iPhone 4 are a combination of the A4 chip, increased memory, and software tweaks to enhance speed. We wish we had a MHz rating to specify, but Apple's being extremely selfish with the details here. We aren't told the frequency, and we aren't told the amount of RAM. In fact, the only core specification we are told is the amount of storage, which is either 16GB or 32GB depending on model. Due to that, a lot of the improvement has to be judged on feel, but in every test we have tried, it far outpaced the iPhone 3G and even felt noticeably faster than the 3GS.


Digging Deep Within iOS 4
With smartphones, it's hard to accurately benchmark the operating system and phone hardware. There's tons of variables, and no OS is the same; therefore, there aren't any uniform benchmarking tools that work across WebOS, Windows Mobile, iOS and Android. What we're left with is having to "eye" the speed increases, and we can say with absolute certainty that the iPhone 4 is leaps and bounds faster than the iPhone 3G (and even the 3GS). Opening apps happens in the blink of an eye; loading the camera application takes a fraction of a second, rendering Maps takes just a moment compared to what it used to. We felt as if the iPhone 3G didn't have the hardware muscle to handle the complex iPhone OS 3.x, but now we feel as if Apple has delivered a phone with hardware capable of managing the operating system well.

A huge issue that older iPhones had was keyboard lag; you would pull up a new text message, and while the keyboard would pop up, it would take a few seconds for your key presses to start registering. It was frankly annoying, and the new hardware here has eliminated that issue. Keyboard presses are recognized immediately, and new e-mails also open up in a snap.


Multi-Tasking...Or Is It "Backgrounding?"
We should touch on multi-tasking as well. Having the ability to double tap the Home key in order to pull up all running apps from within the app you're currently in is a real plus, and it works seamlessly. The only issue we have here is that just four of your running apps can be seen below, whereas the stock Android 2.1 build shows the last six apps that you accessed in a similar manner. This problem is somewhat alleviated by scrolling left or right to access more previously used apps, though.

One of our gripes with this system, however, is that the task bar can very quickly grow unwieldy. Apple automatically puts the icon of whatever application you open down in that lower bar, so after a couple of days of use you could easily have 30, 40, or more icons down in that drawer. Closing app icons out of the drawer requires more effort than we would like (you have to press and hold each app, then click the X on each one individually), and there are no options in Settings to permanently place or ban a given app from falling into the multi-tasking drawer. We didn't notice any significant performance hit with even 20 apps down below, but it hurts productivity when you have to scroll through pages and pages of apps to find what you're looking for.


Another issue revolves around what exactly happens in the background while you're "multi-tasking." Pandora, for example plays perfectly in the background, and there's even a handy drawer widget that pops up upon command in order to let you pause, play or skip a track without actually having to go back to the Pandora app (but you'll need to re-visit for more complex things, like finding a new station). This is iPhone 4 multi-tasking at its finest. It's a good implementation, but the catch here is that this implementation isn't everywhere. Not every app has a multi-tasking drawer widget to control it from another app, and worse still, you can't always leave one thing processing in the background while you're within a different app. Here's an example: let's say you load a YouTube video, then want to view your e-mail while the video buffers and downloads fully, so you can return in a couple of minutes to watch the whole thing without any pauses. Not going to happen, at least not without some funny business like Jailbreaking. If you load a YouTube video and then hop to another app, the YouTube pane just freezes in place until you return. This defeats the purpose of having multi-tasking, and in fact, is the opposite of multi-tasking.


Now, Apple does allow background processing in some apps, but not in all. Also, this (along with Fast App Switching, which allows an app to remain "on" while not being the app in use) has to be enabled by developers. It's not native. So unless your favorite apps get updated with support for these protocols, you won't be able to take advantage. At this point, some of the larger apps support backgrounding (like TomTom's GPS app, Pandora, Plants Vs. Zombies, etc.), and we suspect that many will add it in the future. But we have no hope that YouTube will gain this support, and this is one app where background processing would seriously come in handy. We suspect that Apple feared that processing that much information in the background would result in poor performance, but we don't know for sure. So in the end, we're happy with multi-tasking performance, but we aren't completely satisfied with the extent at which we're allowed to multi-task.

We never ran into any issues popping out of one app and into another, and we were able to have six apps running in the background at once without any notable hit in performance or battery life. That's impressive. Apple's multi-tasking may be the most elegant we've seen to date, though the ability to add widgets is still sorely missing. This means that there's still no effective way of getting "glanceable" information out of the iPhone, and without Jailbreaking, the lock screen is still useless outside of telling you the current time. We wish Apple would allow widgets to stick on the lock screen so that a simple click would allow you to glance at your current inbox status, waiting text messages, weather, etc. Performance with the new Folders system was also good; loading a folder chock full of apps took no time at all, and it's a great new way to categorize your app collection. Though, we do wish we could load more than 12 apps in a Folder. This exemplifies one of our frustrations with Apple; there's no limit to how many icons can reside in the multi-tasking drawer, yet that same scrolling-through-apps feature is not given to folders. Why? Instead, if you have more than 12 games you'd like in a folder, you'll need to create a Games I, Games II, Games III, etc. folder. 
 
Smile! It's FaceTime!
Another of iOS 4's unique features is FaceTime. Apple is pushing this feature as ground-breaking, but in reality, video calling has been around for years. Even on mobile phones, video calling has been a reality for awhile, but it's rarely used or even supported in the U.S. But what Apple has really done is exploit an opportunity to market video calling in a way that has never been done before. Apple's bringing video calling to the mainstream in America, and in typical Apple fashion, they've made the act of video calling super simple. We tested out a FaceTime call with a fellow iPhone 4 owner using our home Wi-Fi connection (basic DSL), and the entire process was seamless. You simply turn FaceTime "On" in settings (the default is "Off"), then call a contact. If that contact has FaceTime switched "On" on their own iPhone 4, and they have a Wi-Fi connection, a box will appear allowing you to initiate a FaceTime conversation.


Merely seconds later, our call was diverted from AT&T's towers to a Wi-Fi signal, and the video call was underway. It was quick to connect, and there was no lag at all during the 15 minute conversation. Lips were in sync, audio wasn't garbled, and the image never flashed in and out. It was as nice of an experience as they come, and we get the feeling that Apple's engineers put a lot of work into getting the audio and video streaming quality so high. We wish badly that this feature was enabled over 3G, but it works surprisingly well when you (and the person you're calling) are connected to Wi-Fi. Thumbs up on the implementation, thumbs down on the avenues to use it. Once this becomes available over 3G, it'll be more interesting.


5MP Camera Put To The Test
As for the camera? Well, it's a typical phone camera. It won't soon replace your DSLR, but it may suffice in a pinch when you forget to bring your point and shoot along. Apple has included a 5MP camera with LED Flash here, which is lower than some 8MP cameras in the same price range. The difference is that they also throw in a 720p (30fps) movie mode, which is a big step up from before on the 3GS. There's Tap To Focus, a 5x digital zoom and little else; no in-camera editing tools are really available, so you'll have to do your post-processing in Photoshop afterwards if you aren't happy with the stock image results. In general, there's no big difference between the images here and from the iPhone 3GS; the resolution is higher so you have more crop area to work with, but the colors are still somewhat washed out compared to a real camera, and it obviously isn't much good in low-light situations. Below are a couple of shots taken outdoors about an hour before sundown just to give you an idea.

         
Click Any To Enlarge 

Summing Up Performance
Performance wise, we found ourselves happy all the way around. There were no major instances where we found ourselves longing for things to run a bit smoother or faster, but if we were pressed on the issue, we wish that the accelerometer reacted a bit more quickly when flipping from vertical to horizontal. We should also note that Apple's battery life claims were met here; even with extensive testing, we were able to get well over a full day of life with a couple hours of talking and a couple hours of Web surfing. We're confident in saying that the average user should be able to make it a full day (24+ hours) on a full charge; just make it a habit to charge your phone overnight, if you haven't already.
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Conclusion
The iPhone 4 is an impressive device, there's just no two ways about it. The hardware design isn't drastically different, but Apple's subtle changes are significant in terms of impact. The antenna system has been overhauled, though you may need a case if your particular phone experiences reception issues when held in the reported certain way. Frankly, this isn't something you want to hear when considering a new phone, and we wouldn't be surprised if Apple doesn't subtly tweak the design in future builds and just sneaks those Revision B units onto the market shortly. There is a rumor that perhaps even an OS update could resolve the issue, though this is pure speculation. We appreciate most everything else about the phone, so we may suggest waiting for Apple's official statement on the reception issues before picking one up. Regardless, a front-facing camera has been added for video calling, 720p movie recording is now a reality, and Apple's own A4 chip is powering the phone. Also, the phone is still exclusively on AT&T and capped at 3G (while the EVO 4G has moved on to faster highways), but other than that, a lot has changed and major enhancements have been made.


Apple's design and hardware changes are all rather impressive, and despite adding more CPU horsepower, Apple has managed to improve battery life over the prior iPhone models. We wish that they would've taken the opportunity to add physical Orientation Lock and Camera Shutter buttons to the edges (the button layout around the edges is effectively the same as on the iPhone 3GS and 3G), but those are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. The phone's new display is simply awe-inspiring and gorgeous. Apple has once again set the bar for mobile displays, even besting their own iPad display perhaps in some ways. With a 960x640 resolution, the Retina Display is as sharp as a tack and as smooth as any screen we've ever seen. It's also exceptionally responsive, with any and all multi-touch gestures being recognized immediately. We can't say enough about how spectacular the display is; oftentimes, Apple's claims can be overblown somewhat, but the display really is every bit as good as Apple says it is.

We noticed a subtle increase in radio reception thanks to the new antenna system (though, as stated, some have found the opposite to be true), and Internet Tethering is a fantastic new addition. We aren't particularly happy that AT&T users will have to abandon their existing $30/month data plan in order to sign up for a lesser plan (see details here) with tethering in order to use the new feature, but at least it's an option now. We were also thrilled with the performance; the new A4 chip powers through iOS 4, and both multi-tasking and the new Folders layout performed admirably. We do wish that Apple would allow us to add widgets, run background processes on more apps like YouTube, add more than 12 icons to Folders and customize the lock screen, but other than that it's hard to gripe with the software tweaks that Apple has included here.


There's really not a lot to complain about if you're already an existing user of the iPhone. There are only improvements to focus on, and while there are still areas where iOS doesn't quite live up to Android (the ability to customize the lock screen, view the past six opened apps, enable tethering / mobile hotspot without carrier interference, etc.), iOS has closed the gap in a big way. We still think that Android 2.2 is a worthy opponent, and in some ways, superior. But the iPhone 4 will no doubt be a huge success for Apple. It simply "works," and it's extremely easy to get into and understand, despite that typical Apple limits are still in place in some areas.  This may or may not be the case for some less sophisticated users, with respect to the Android OS.  Regardless, somehow, Apple has made the act of multi-tasking easy, and the ability to categorize apps into folders adds a level of utility that isn't available on any other mobile OS.


To say that the iPhone 4 is one of the best smartphones on the market would be understating things. It has the nicest smartphone hardware we've seen to date (largely thanks to the Retina Display, which is unrivaled at this point), and the new operating system is extremely robust. We doubt any potential iPhone 4 buyer will walk away disappointed, and if you're an existing iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS owner, you'll likely be thrilled with the upgrade. It's faster, sexier, more robust and more functional. It's an upgrade in every sense of the word.

The main thing that you should consider before buying into the iPhone 4 isn't whether you'll be pleased with the phone. Its speed and incredible ease of use leads us to believe that most everyone will find something to like about the new device. But being stuck on AT&T for two years is something to ponder. There are so many excellent Android phones available on Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint right now, and AT&T's dropped calls and overloaded network issues are not just myths. AT&T also has a smaller 3G footprint compared to Verizon. Worse still, AT&T is no longer offering an unlimited monthly data plan for $30/month; instead, new customers will only be given the option of cheaper, albeit more limited, data plans. And if you want to add Internet tethering, you'll have to switch to one of the new plans. Existing smartphone users on AT&T can opt to keep their existing plan, but only if they don't want tethering.


If you live in a major city with solid AT&T 3G support (and you don't travel to rural areas often), there's still probably nothing keeping you from selecting the iPhone 4. But if your area is known for spotty service, or if you travel frequently to areas with coverag issues, you may not be able to fully enjoy the features of Apple's latest smartphone. To us, the carrier is the biggest decision in whether or not the iPhone is for you; if you get great AT&T service and are okay with the available service plans, the iPhone 4 is a real winner. Otherwise, you'll probably want to look at HTC's DROID Incredible, EVO 4G or one of the other fantastic Android options on one the other major carriers.

 

     
  • Speedy A4 CPU
  • 3.5" Retina Display
  • Native Multi-Tasking
  • Great Battery Life
  • Internet Tethering Support
  • No Orientation Lock Or Camera Physical Button
  • AT&T Is The Only U.S. Carrier
  • Tethering Requires Lousy Data Plan
  • Cannot Customize Lock Screen
  • Reception Issues

 



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