iPhone 4: Review

overview-features-homescreen-20100607.jpgI think everyone already knows that the iPhone 4 is a great device. I almost hate to call it a phone because I use it’s phone capabilities about 20% of the time. A more fitting description of the iPhone would be a “personal digital media and communications device” instead of merely a phone but somehow that really doesn’t roll of the tongue.

I’ve already spoken a bit about iOS 4 and the new capabilities it introduces and all are obviously relevant on the iPhone 4 since it ships with the new OS. What we’re more interested in here is the device itself. Let’s begin:

Form Factor

Unlike the subtle changes from the iPhone 1G through the 3Gs the 4 takes on a more radical departure from it’s predecessors. It’s more square design eliminates round edges in favor of clean lines and as a result a more cleaner look. As a result it will take prior owners of the device some getting used to but nothing too dramatic that it’s a nuisance. The new design is a welcome refresh and solidifies it as the serious digital companion it has become.

The front and now the back as well are a special chemically strengthened glass that Apple claims is “20 times more stiffer and 30 times more harder than plastic”. Based on the glass on the older 3Gs, I’d say that for the most part we won’t have much to worry about in the durability department.


By far the most dramatic enhancement to the device after the form factor is the display. Dubbed the “Retina Display” by Apple it is bar none the most clear, crisp and bright display you will see on a phone or for that matter any digital device of this size. Text renders so cleanly you’d swear you’re looking at a high resolution image as opposed to dynamically rendered text. As hard as you might try you can’t make out any pixel squares whatsoever, no matter how close you hold the unit to your naked eyes. As a result most existing application icons looks blurry and pixelated until they are updated with higher resolution images.

Personally even my iPad’s display now looks antiquated compared to the iPhone 4’s display as you can clearly see the pixel squares on it’s larger display. Viewing your photo album on this phone is quite pleasurable and easy on the eyes. Once developers really start to take advantage off all the extra pixels at their disposal I think we’ll see some really neat apps start to become available.


Now sporting a 5 Megapixel camera sensor and the addition of an LED flash the camera upgrade was a very necessary but albeit less dramatic addition. Obviously pictures are clearer and of higher resolution and videos can now be recorded in HD which actually come out very, very well. The addition of a flash was a long time coming and works fairly well. A nice feature is the ability for it to remain lit while recording video in a dark setting.

The more obvious and compelling feature is the addition of a second camera mounted on the front of the unit. Not only does this allow for the new video chat capabilities which we’ll come to shortly but also allows you to switch between both cameras whether you’re taking a picture or shooting video. One nice side affect is taking self portrait shots of yourself or you and another person or two is now quite easy as you can see exactly how the picture will be framed.


The only app that I’ve managed to find that takes advantage of the built in gyroscope sensor is Gyroblox which Steve Jobs used when announcing the iPhone 4 at the WWDC. The $1.99 app is a very simplified version of the game Jenga and allows you to view all sides of a stack of blocks by rotating your body. It’s only the first app to make use of it and I’d be very interested to see what other applications will come out that make use of it’s functionality.


Last but not least is the most revolutionary new enhancement to the iPhone. The ability to make video calls. Called FaceTime, you can now make video calls to other iPhone 4 users as long as both of you are on a WiFi network. If you are currently talking to someone and switch to video you no longer will be on the cellular network and will seamlessly transition to the WiFi connection. You can also start a FaceTime chat without ever making a call (an interesting side take on this here).

In my experience FaceTime works amazingly well. It’s very quick to connect and both the video and audio quality is superb. I carried on a video chat for about 30 minutes switching between the front and rear camera numerous times. There was never a time where it stuttered or dropped. It really is quite magical to see and use. One thing to note is that FaceTime needs to be enabled in Phone Settings on both ends prior to use. I definitely see myself using this a lot more for both personal as well as work related calls.

While it may be a bit limiting since both parties need to not only have new iPhones but also be on a WiFi network I think we’ll see this open up down the line. Since FaceTime is based on open standards I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing desktop applications being able to chat with iPhone’s and vice-versa. Who knows perhaps mobile applications can be made to work with other phone vendors as well. Whether restricting usage of the video calls to WiFi is a technical one or a strategic one has yet to be seen. Obviously calls over WiFi will be of higher quality since more bandwidth is available but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this opened up to work on the cellular network at some point in the future.

This is one of those features that will develop and change drastically over time but is a most welcome new feature that will I look forward to maturing.

Wireless Reception

The new form factor has also introduced a new antenna design. The stainless steel sides of the phone are now divided up to serve as antennas for the various wireless technologies the unit offers (Cellular, WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS). In theory this should result in better reception and perhaps even fewer dropped calls but only time will tell if it’s a noticeable improvement.

Final Thoughts

Coupled with the new software capabilities of iOS 4 and new hardware capabilities, the iPhone 4 has yet again proven it’s pushing the bar even higher and moving forward full steam ahead without looking back. Better battery life makes the phone even more useful for all day use and a higher quality screen make book and web reading more tolerable on a small screen. The iPhone 4 is an amazing upgrade to an already superb product line and I see it becoming perhaps the most popular iPhone yet.

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