Final Thoughts on the iPhone 4

I don’t like to review anything until I feel that I really know the device. The iPhone 4 has been with me for a quite a while now and I finally feel comfortable enough to share my thoughts / review with you all.

So Sharp It Can Cut You

On day one I described the new screen to a friend over text message as such:

…it is all about this screen. If you sent me a picture of a knife and I touch the picture it would probably cut me. The screen is that sharp.

Now we know this is not physically possible, but looking at the screen it sure seems that way. The screen is drastically improved and makes reading on the iPhone a no-brainer. With the iPhone 3G S I never felt comfortable reading on the screen for more than a few minutes – on the 4 I get lost in the screen.

Interestingly the 4’s screen allows you to easily tell which App developers are active and working hard, and which are sitting back and collecting checks. A quick check of the blurry icons on my iPhone results in 33 blurred out of 83 or 40% of the apps on my phone are from lazy asses who have yet to update their apps. (this does not include web-clips known as webpages stored on the home screen as developers cannot yet offer the high resolution imagery)

The screen on the 4 puts to shame every other screen I have seen to date – large or small. It is hands down the best display I have seen no matter what device we are talking about.

Sooo – What About the Reception Problems?

This is the big issue that everyone wants to talk about when they notice that I have the ‘new’ iPhone. The thing is – I have yet to experience anything out of the ordinary with regards to quality of the call, reception, or dropped calls. In certain instances I can make the bars go down, and that is odd. But it seems to be only in areas where the reception is crap.

So as many others have already stated: if you get crap AT&T reception this may be a real problem for you, pretty much all other people will be fine. I certainly have found that to be the case for me.

I have been to two places where the reception has been crap with AT&T: my office and the Oregon Coast. Now in my office at my desk (move 10 feet either way and the reception is good) I usually got about one bar with the 3G and 3G S – the 4 gives me 1-2 bars (with the updated software). Bridging the ‘weak spot’ causes me to lose the second bar – it has never caused me to drop a call or to lose reception.

The Oregon coast (Manzanita to be exact) is a different story. I was getting next to no reception and unless I held the phone with the bottom pointed upwards I would never get more than a bar or two. This was all before the update – but the phone was going from 5 bars to no bars off and on even when on the table. This is not unusaul for the area as my other 3G iPhones always have had trouble there.

Battery Powered

I think of the battery that was in the iPhone 3G S as a V6 motor – it got the job done and did it with relative ease. So if the 3G S had an V6 in it, then the 4 has a V8 for a battery – it gets the job done with power left over.

Since owning this phone there have been several instances where I have not charged it every night – I simply did not need to – which I can never remember willingly doing with older iPhones. There were only a couple of times when I ran out of juice before I went to bed and each of those times is because the iPhone was all I had for computing that day and I was sucking down data over the 3G network.

This battery could use another 30-40% more juice and it would be damn near perfect – what I have right now though makes me very happy.

Processor and RAM

Re-read paragraph 1 from battery powered section.

The speed of this device goes unnoticed – which is a good thing. You never notice that it is lacking in any areas, the 4 just does what you ask of it, when you ask it. Absolutely no complaints.

Design

When Apple released the iPhone 3G with the plastic back I was less than enthused – yes it felt good to hold, but not as good as the original iPhone felt. Nothing beat that cold aluminum feeling in your palm. The 3G S did nothing to the design and made the product feel a little stagnant. Now we have the 4 and what a design it is.

There is nothing that I hate about the design, but there are several things that I love. The volume switches are one of the best improvements on the phone. I hated the rocker style switch on the last two iterations of the iPhone – the new buttons are the perfect feel and make for a much better volume adjusting experience.

Coming in at a very close second is the silencing switch where you can flip the ringer on and off. With all previous models of the iPhone I was constantly turning that switch on and off without knowing it – it simply moved to easily. I have yet to have that same problem on the 4 – and it used to happen daily.

Then there is the home button, the original iPhone’s home button felt great, on the 3G and 3G S it felt a bit shallower – almost unnoticeably so. The 3G and 3G S also seemed to have quality control problems with the home button as a couple of friends returned their phones because of that button – which Apple replaced for free with a better feeling button (keep in mind the button still worked). On the 4 the button returns to feeling perfect as it was on the original iPhone – it took 3 years but at least now the button is good again.

Since the entire phone (well the front and back at least) are glass finger prints will always be an issue. Though on the 4 it appears that Apple has upped their oleophobic skills and really gotten that coating to work over time. I have noticed that I never need to wipe the phone clean as I was doing every few days with the 3G S (and still do with the iPad). The 4 seems to handle the smudges in stride and though there are always some on it, they seem to clean of by being in my pocket every so often.

I talked about the antenna above and how I have yet to have problems with it. Now though we need to talk about how much better it really is than the previous models. Even with the corrected iOS 4.0.1 installed this antenna is much more sensitive and a lot better than phones before it. I get a lot better reception universally than I did with older versions – it is a noticeable improvement.

The Camera

The one thing that annoys me more than anything else is when people assume that good pictures can only be taken with expensive, high-resolution cameras. The camera can only do so much and the rest of it is the photographer. Loving photography as I do I was very excited to see the improved camera – even though it is ‘only’ 5 megapixels. This video should prove my above point about the camera having very little to do with how good of pictures you can take.

Now that I have that out of the way I could not be more happy about the quality of this camera sensor. Apple has done a fantastic job at packing a high quality and average resolution camera into a cellphone. Add to the a nice little macro mode and you really can do a lot.

The flash however is useless – except for in the most dire of situations. It is OK at adding a little light to your macro shots of paper – but in my opinion the color looks terrible and the light is really harsh. Best just to keep it off and see what you get with the noise of the high ISOs this camera can crank out.

The really killer feature though is the HD video that the 4 can record. I have been impressed by its quality and though it is no substitute for a more expensive camera it does an admirable job at keeping up. See this video from a comparison with the massively more expensive Canon 7D.

Overall this camera is perhaps the best camera to ever be put into any smartphone. I have yet to see another smart phones camera do as good of a job in as wide of a range of situations as the iPhone 4’s camera does. Kudos to Apple on that.

Durability

The other day I was messing around on my desk cleaning things up (as you can see I had yet to clean the desk) and I snapped this shot of all four generations of iPhones from the back side.

4 Generations

You can see a bigger shot here. Do you see that line on the iPhone 3G S (the one next to the 4), that line is a crack int he case and is just one of many on that phone. The screen also has lint under it and a couple of scratches.

Now I have not had the 4 nearly as long but thus far it has proven to be far more durable that one would think a glass sided phone could be. Clunking around in my pocket and car has only resulted in a very light scratch on the back and another slightly longer light scratch on the front. It is however important to note that when the screen is on you cannot see the front scratch – which makes it a non-issue. (even with the screen off you have to clean it and then look for the scratch)

The real test for this phone will hopefully never come: a drop only concrete or a smack in the leg by an object (while the phone is in my pocket of course).

FaceTime

This is THE feature that Apple has been advertising about the 4 – they have yet to advertise anything else about the phone in their commercials. I know two people with iPhone 4’s (Wife and Sister) so FaceTime conversations have yet to become a staple of my day. That said it is really cool to FaceTime with my Sister since I don’t get to see her very often (she lives in Phoenix). There is something about video calling on a phone that is infinitely more convenient to use than it is on a computer or dedicated device.

Even still the FaceTime calling is extremely limiting given that you must be on Wi-Fi in order to make the call. I am hoping that we can get 3G capable FaceTime before next year as that would be the catalyst to make the service take off. Until the it is a great feature to have – but a rarely used one.

Random Thoughts

  • It bugs me that there is no light telling you when the front facing camera is active. I am just waiting for some sneaky app developer to sell and app that takes secret pictures using that camera. This bugs me for some reason – I usually am not the paranoid type.
  • The ringer could stand to be a little louder.
  • The phone never seems to get hot – though it does get very warm at times. Which is annoying when it is in your pocket on a hot day.

The Sum of the Parts

All this is to say that the iPhone 4 raises the bar again. It is not about having the latest and greatest features – it is about being able to reliable and easily use all the features that your device has and the iPhone 4 does that. After all what good is a feature if you can’t use it? Just ask all the people you know with an iPhone 4 and nobody to FaceTime with.

Originally posted for members on: July 26, 2010
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