Apple iPhone 4 Review

This review is a follow up to our iPhone 4 preview. If you've arrived here expecting another 'fanboy' review, then you are going to be disappointed. We don't fall into that category but, we do admire much of what Apple has done and some of the products they have produced. The iPhone is one we like.

If you arrived here and you have no interest in the iPhone then perhaps this video will have some appeal :-)

The Purchase

The iPhone 4 was released in the UK on 24th June 2010. Actually getting hold of one involved getting up at 4:30am in my case to head into Ipswich town centre. I actually arrived at the Ipswich O2 store shortly after 5:30am, to find a queue of 10 or 11 people already waiting. The earliest arrival had finished a night shift and arrived straight from work, at 3:45am! The store opened on launch day at 8:02am.

One thing I love about the iPhone is that it appeals to such a diverse set of people. It is definately not a geeks phone, as my wife will confirm. Given that we had two hours to while away in the queue waiting for the store to open, a lot of chat took place. Most of the people in front of me worked in the construction industry and some had just come off a night shift. The great thing about the iPhone is that it crosses so many boundaries. The wide appeal is one of the many reasons behind its success. I find that most of those people that don't get it, generally haven't tried one.

It turns out that this store had been allocated about 70 devices. I had 12 months left on my 3GS contract and it cost me £220 to buy this out and walk away with nothing to owe on my existing iPhone 3GS. This is now my wife's phone. The 32Gb iPhone 4 cost me £323 on O2's cheapest monthly tariff. Although a massively heavy user of the iPhone, I have access to high speed Wi-Fi network connections at home and at work. In the previous 3 months, my mobile data usage was less than 160Gb.

The Micro-SIM

When I bought my iPhone 4, I was also given a new micro-SIM. A few hours after purchase, my old SIM (in my iPhone 3GS) stopped working and my number was transferred to this new SIM card.

It comes in a form that can also be inserted into an iPhone 3GS.

Issues

We can't start opening the box, without saying a few things about the issues which surfaced on the launch day. I've got to be honest, I hate being an earlier adopter. When I started to read about these things on Twitter, I nearly went back to bed and thought about sticking with my iPhone 3GS for a little longer. In practice though, these are not a problem for me. The iPhone 4 is still by far, the best phone I've ever used.

Screen Scratches

What can you say to this? The screen on all iPhones has a coating and you need to protect it as best you can. Be careful!

I have a bigger issue with the use of glass on the back of the phone. The iPhone 4 back is just too damn slippery! If you put it down on any surface that is not totally flat, it will slide off. Yet another reason why a case or skin is a must have. To keep my phone intact whilst a new iPhone 4 skin/case arrives, I'm using the old skin fom my iPhone 3GS. It fits well enough to be useful, the only real problem being that it blocks the camera flash.

Antenna Reception

This was a huge worry to me initially. It appears to be a fundamental design flaw in the iPhone 4 antenna design. You have to wonder just how much field testing was done with naked iPhones and not devices disguised in cases, to look like 3G versions. The only reason I decided to ignore this issue is because I keep my iPhones in a silicon skin and I would advise everyone to do this. My iPhone 3GS has travelled over four miles on the bonnet of my car in a silicon skin and it prevented it from sliding off the bonnet, despite several roundabouts enroute. A silicon skin also prevents scratches to the case and my 3GS looks like new after 12 months of continual use.

In the real world, this has not been an issue for me as I'm using a case. I haven't had calls drop or data fail to be sent/received but, I know data rates over 3G are lower. Tests so far show that I could not guarantee this to be true without a case on my iPhone 4. Because it is a real issue, I've covered it in more detail.

Screen Blotches

There are about 20 documented cases to date of yellow patches and bands on some iPhone 4 screens. Given the number released on launch day, this is a tiny percentage and I'm confident that these issues will result in a new phone under warranty.

Update: Apparently the issues with the screen a production process issue and the screens have simply been shipped too soon. (the solution is to leave it for a few days).

Fragility

Very interesting video on YouTube showing how easily the iPhone 4 is to break. I wasn't put off by this as I'm very careful to not drop my phones. Have managed to avoid doing so, for as long as I can recall. There are already some tales of woe on the Internet though like this one.

Overheating

This Slashgear article appeared about 4 days after launch. As far as I can tell it's an isolated incident. I certainly haven't seen any evidence that my iPhone 4 runs warmer than my old 3GS.

The Unboxing

The iPhone 4 box feels smaller than the 3GS one. It is slightly smaller than the iPhone 3GS box (middle), which is slightly smaller than the iPhone 2G box (left).

Inside the box is found the phone, a USB cable and a mains plug power adaptor, which is identical to the one supplied with the 3GS.

Having installed the SIM, the phone needs to be connected to iTunes V9.2 to activate it. I then restored it from the previous phone backup. It's fair to say this takes a long time, maybe in part due to the large amount of content I have on my iPhone and the age of our family PC.

First Impressions

I've said this many times before but, the iPhone 4 is no where near as sexy as the 3GS. It's become a lot more functional and boring, for being flat faced and square edged. That said, it also feels a lot more solid and the quality of the construction and the feel of the controls are beyond any phone I've ever used before. It makes my HTC Hero feel like a freebie from a packet of Corn Flakes.

The first thing that hits you when you turn the iPhone 4 on is the screen. The display is so sharp it's almost painful! My eyesight isn't bad but, I can't see the individual pixels. The contrast is also much better than the 3GS screen. My lock screen photo was softened on the 3GS. On the iPhone 4, I can clearer see the original photo was slightly out of focus.

The second thing that hits you is the speed and smoothness of the on screen transitions. I thought the 3GS had speeded up significantly with iOS4 but, the iPhone 4 is that much faster again. The extra processing power shows!

The sound quality from the in-built speakers is much better than those on the 3GS. Voice call quality is also hugely improved as confirmed by Gizmodo.

Not sure how to test this but subjectively, my view is that the quality of the audio coming out of the iPhone 4 when playing MP3 tracks via the iPod app is better.

Camera, Video & iMovie

The new camera and video shooting is now good enough to take footage I will actually keep, something I didn't do with the 3GS. The LED flash and video light is really bright and makes a difference. I'm glad Apple didn't get too hung up on the pixel count issue, because it's the lens that is a big factor on mobile phone cameras. This Gizmodo article is worth a read. I've been really impressed with the performance of the camera.

The video footage is so go good in fact, I'm considering using this device as my main in-car video recorder. Here is an example of what I mean (my son is holding the phone so it is shaking around a bit):

In fast moving action, the iPhone 4 is subject to rolling shutter effects. You can see an example of this below, where I have fixed the iPhone 4 to my Fisher Fury R1 dash and shot a short video.

Facetime

Facetime is not new, despite what Steve Jobs would have you believe. Video calling has been around for a long time and still nobody really uses it. The first dilema I face is finding another person with an iPhone 4 that I want to have a video call with! It really needs to be opened up to more users very quickly. The iPhone 4 users base is not a critical mass. An Android app would be a good start. Will report back on quality and user experience soon ...

Multi-tasking

When you open up the task bar by double clicking the home button, you can scroll through a long list of apps that have been used in the past. Many assume that all these apps are running in the background but this is not the case. This is primarily a list of apps that have been used to enable a 'quick launch' feature. For an app to run in the background, it needs to be written to use the 7 API calls exposed by iOS 4. You can remove an app from this task bar by pressing and holding it and then touching the cross to delete it.

Battery Life

It's definately better than my iPhone 3GS. By another 30% as a rough guess. It is something that is very difficult to measure side by side with my old 3GS but I seem to be charging less often.

Calendar

Worthy of a mention because Apple have changed the way it works slightly. You now have multiple calendar support and it includes a 'birthday' calendar which is generated from birthdays in your contacts. In reality this isn't as useful as having proper, repeating calendar events in you main calendar. Firstly, it only works for birthdays and not other events like anniversaries. Secondly, I also put a year in main calendar events so I know how many years. My main calendar is mastered on Microsoft Exchange and it synchronises well through iTunes. I also like the fact that picture are synchronised, so you get a pop up picture of the person calling you on the iPhone.

Work & Exchange

My iPhone 4 is a personal device so I have no desire to synchronise work email and other stuff on to it but, I do master my one calendar and one set of contacts on my work laptop under Microsoft Exchange and synchronisation of these two data sources is easily achieved using iTunes. One of the great things about the iPhone and iTunes is that you can synchronise different data sets from various different machines (but not the same data on more than one). All the other content is synchronised with my personal laptop.

Skins & Cases

Apple sell 'bumpers' but, they are a silly price and don't really protect the front and back of your phone. For me, the key things to look for in a skin or case are:

  • Colour / style.
  • Rubber or silicon is better than soft or hard plastic and tesnds to have more grip.
  • Not bulky or chunky but >1mm thick (>2mm on the corners), i.e. thick enough to absorb odd knocks and drops.
  • Exposes all the buttons and other features.
  • Covers the back of the phone but not the camera lens and flash. This is so you can put the phone down without chance of the camera lens resting on anything. The camera lens is not recessed in any way, making it quite susceptible to damage.
  • Covers none of the front of the phone. I don't like cases and skins that cover around the home button as they trap dirt and dust on the front of the phone.

This is the skin I'm currently using. I meets all of my requirements above. It cost me £2.49 on eBay.

Interesting Links

  • iFixIt tear down - basically take the phone apart to investigate the internals.

iPhone 4 Apps

These have moved here.

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