iPhone 4 Review
The true value and impressive strength of the iPhone 4 is in three powerful upgrades: a better screen, a better camera, and improved battery life. Actually, the screen is more than an improvement. It’s the best I’ve ever seen.
A body made of glass. It doesn’t quite sink in until you hold the device and see that both the back and the front are transparent. Gone is the now familiar plastic shell. A little slimmer, a bit lighter, certainly more angular, and with more edge. Smooth and always cool to the touch, the glass is chemically treated to be hardened like gemstone, to endure and keep its beauty long after the plastic of other phones have faded.
Apple has always been a company driven by design and this time, I think Jonathan Ives has worked some engineering artistry that deserves a little admiration; a little envy even if it might only find use in a gallery or museum one day.
The other bold design choice is a metal band that wraps around the edge of the phone and doubles as the housing for the antennas. The idea was to increase the exposure and improve reception. Instead, it’s ignited a heated debate as to whether the design has made the phone more receptive to interference from the electromagnetic fields produced by our own bodies.
I’ve tried to find a real world issue here and cannot. No matter where I’ve traveled within Toronto, using an iPhone 4 running on the Bell network, I can’t find a location or situation where the iPhone 4 suffers a noticeable or sudden loss of signal. I’ve also explored the issue using both the previous iPhones, several BlackBerry devices, and a number of Android-powered handsets and have found nothing of consequence.
Radio signals involve both a transmitter and a receiver, and the system is designed to work even when there is interference. A weak transmitting signal can still be picked up by a strong receiver, and a strong transmitting signal can still reach a weak receiver. Even if the iPhone 4 does drop a few bars, the network’s signal strength will compensate.
To suffer an issue, both sides would have to be very weak, something that is possible in the U.S. where networks are stretched across large areas, allowing some spots to fall through the cracks. But it’s unlikely here in Canada where networks are concentrated, just like our population. It would still be the exception, not the rule, and a circumstance that could impact other smartphones just as easily as the iPhone 4.
No matter what the case, I can’t warn against an issue I’m not experiencing or witnessing.
With the iPhone 4, Apple introduced a new display technology the company has dubbed “retina.” Its resolution can display text and crisp lines unlike any other digital display I’ve seen; a subtlety of detail the reminds me of the crispness of parchment, the refinement of clean linen. Reading pages from books, and blocks of text from Websites is pleasurable and, in my opinion, provides a better visual experience than the E-ink screens of today’s e-book readers or the Super AMOLED display in Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S smartphone.
In the previous iPhones, the camera has always been one of the weaker features. Now with a 5 MP camera with 5x zoom, the iPhone 4 can finally take better pictures. Apple says a number of improvements to the camera sensor, along with the built-in flash, mean that it performs better at low-light photography. It may not be Xenon as some phones offer, but it’s blindingly bright and if needed, and can be easily turn off.
There’s actually two cameras in this phone. A second, front-facing VGA-quality camera performs quite well for self-portraits, but the true intent is to introduce video calling.
Video calling has been available in other handsets for years now, but has never really taken off. Apple hopes to succeed where others have failed through its own app called FaceTime. Slick and intuitive, the app allows you to make the most casual of switches, from holding the phone in portrait mode to landscape, to switching from the front camera viewing yourself to the rear camera taking in the world. It’s effortless.
The problem is that it’s limited in use only between iPhone 4 cameras and only through a WiFi connection. By the time this feature becomes popular, I might be writing about the iPhone 5 or 6.
Apple has made it no secret that the company sees the iPhone as a direct competitor to the Flip and other similar pocket camcorders. That might explain the video editing application for the iPhone before one to edit photos.
The iPhone 4 can now record 720p High Definition video and does so quite well. But to really make the leap to mobile filmmaker, you can download a mobile version of iMovie from iTunes for $4.99. Not available in the iTunes Store at the time that I’m writing this, I can only draw upon some limited demos to tell you that the app delivers powerful features such as the ability to combine clips, zoom into timelines, add music, photos, themes, and adjustable transitions. The touch controls are impressive, as is the way it tries to capture the look and feel of the desktop version. But working such a complicated task on a screen only 3.5″ in size requires a great deal of patience.
With all the new hardware, Apple has managed to offer a couple more hours of talk, surf, and play. In my case, that means going from having to charge an iPhone 3GS at the end of each work day to reaching for the iPhone 4’s charge cable just after dinner.
Built-in sensors have allowed the iPhone 4 to detect when its screen is turned on its side, to find its location on a map, and which way it’s facing on a compass. A new sensor added to the iPhone 4, the gyroscope, allows it to know when it’s facing in any direction. Currently there are just a few apps making weak use of this feature, but the potential is there, and we might see it lead to something revolutionary. But not now.
Better Screen, Better Camera, Better Battery
It’s easy to recommend the iPhone 4 when it carries over all of the successful features of the first three models, and all the added software of the iOS 4 updates. If you’re looking to buy your first smartphone, you’ll be hard pressed to do better. The interesting question comes for those considering an upgrade, from a 3G or 3G S. There’s significant value in the three main upgrades: better screen, better camera, and better battery. But it will be awhile before new features like Apple’s FaceTime app, the gyroscope, and wrap-around antenna design prove their worth. Consider that in just six months, we’ll be discussing the iPhone 5.