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photo gallery

The iPhone 4 is the culmination of years of refining Apple’s iPhone line of products.One by one, Apple has improved features and the latest iteration enhances a number of important elements like display, camera (with Flash), dual-microphone, larger battery and multi-tasking – just to cite a few.The design itself has been updated to use steel and aluminosilicate glass, which is ultra-resistant to scratches (but not shocks). The new antenna design has been generating a ton of controversy recently because of interferences caused by the contact between the user’s hand and the phone itself. So, how bad is it? I will tell you what works and what doesn’t, without sugar-coating or politics. Let’s dive in.

Context: First of all, I have received a ton of emails asking when this review would come out. Sorry for the wait, but I wanted to use the phone for a while to let the hype/excitement/first impressions go. Thanks for your patience.

We all use our phones differently, so it’s important that I tell you where I come from: I have been using the iPhone 4 for weeks as my main phone. I typically check my email often with Exchange, and I reply moderately because the virtual keyboard is not as productive as a physical one. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all. This usage pattern will affect battery life and my perception of which features are useful (or not).

Technical Highlights

Droid IncredibleiPhone 4
Android 2.1 + HTC SenseiOS 4
3.7″ AMOLED 480×8003.5″ LCD IPS 640×960
Qualcomm 8650 SnapDragon, 1GhzApple A4, N/A
512MB RAM512MB RAM
8GB internal + microSD slot16GB of internal storage
8 Megapixel camera5 Megapixel camera
Wifi b/g, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPSWifi b/g/n, BT 2.1+EDR, aGPS
FM RadioNo Radio
TV Out (microUSB)via iPhone connector
Carrier: Verizon, 3G speedsAT&T
4.6 x 2.3 x 0.47″, 4.6oz4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37″, 4.5oz
1300mAh batteryN/A

Design (excellent)

iphone 4 review design
The iPhone 4 design takes the “pure” shape of the iPhone to the next level

You have all seen the new design for months now (sic), so I won’t be spending a whole of time to describe it, the photo gallery is there for that. Instead I would like to spend time talking about how it feels to use it.

iphone 4 review design thin
If you thought that the iPhone 3GS was thin, think again

Thin: If you have been using an iPhone 3GS before, the iPhone 4 is noticeably thinner. The management of the internal volume is pretty amazing, and I’m not using that word lightly. The industrial design is excellent, although the antenna issues tones it down a little. Among the things that I really like in this design are the buttons: on/off, volume +/- are very easy to “feel” with the fingers and to use. This is something that most competitors often screw up. I use the power button dozens of times a day, so it should be nice and easy to reach.

iphone 4 review design scratch
After weeks of use without a case, the glass is still pristine

Scratch-proof?: The glass in the back is ultra-resistant. It is comparable in hardness to Sapphire, which is so hard that it’s practically impossible to scratch it. After months of use, the back of the phone should look a whole lot better than the plastic body of the 3GS. This should help the device retain a high resale value. Now this (almost) scratch-proof surface comes with one weakness: it is brittle. Yes, if you drop it (a couple of times), it will probably crack… so don’t.

iphone 4 review 21 user interface
The iPhone feels really good in the hand, although I wouldn’t mind a 4.3″ model

Feels good: The body of the iPhone 4 is very thin, much thinner than the iPhone 3GS, which was already considered to be very slim. At first, it’s a little weird because despite the smaller volume, the weight stays the same. The iPhone 4 feels incredibly dense and solid. I got used to it after a few hours. The good news is that even with a case on, it should stay very compact.

New hardware platform: The iPhone 4 comes with Apple’s A4 processor, as found on the iPad and it also packs 512MB of memory, which is twice as much as the iPhone 3GS. The additional memory is probably most useful to accommodate the new multi-task capabilities of the iPhone 4, but it might also bring some added performance to the system. The A4 processor should also be faster than its predecessor (the phone does feel faster) but speed was usually not a real issue on the 3GS, so the difference is not eye-popping.

Bumper: To alleviate shocks when the phone gets dropped, Apple has invented the “bumper“, a plastic piece that goes all around the phone. It comes in different colors (orange, blue, pink, green, white, black). I have played with the black bumper, and I sure wish that I won’t have to use it. It is probably efficient at what its doing, but it hides the steel band, which is one of the best feature of the phone, I think. Also, the metals feels much better than the Bumper’s plastic.

Apple A4 processor: You will see a ton of articles saying that both the iPhone 4′s A4 processor and the iPhone 3GS Samsung processor are based on an ARM Cortex A8 design – this keep coming, and coming… Well, that’s true, but it means… *nothing*. As I have said before, smartphone chips are pretty much the equivalent of a PC motherboard, complete with CPU, GPU, RAM and other co-processors. The CPU, the Cortex A8 is one among many blocks within the chip. Telling you that a PC has a Core i5 processor doesn’t tell you much about it
s overall capabilities – it’s the same for the smartphone chip. Maybe it has a few dedicated co-processors that make video and 3D graphics zippy. Or maybe the bus linking all the parts is super fast and let data flow freely. Or maybe the individual blocks have been designed to be shut down at any moment to save more power. “Based on an ARM Cortex A8″ tells you none of that, so in the future, just discard that stuff when you see it. What you’re buying is the overall experience anyway.

Retina display (excellent)

iphone 4 review 07 display web
That was about time: the iPhone display had not changed since its launch

iphone 4 review 06 display keyb
The Retina display makes everything look much smoother

High-resolution: The Retina display is one of the major improvements of the iPhone 4 design. With 960×640 pixels, it has a higher resolution than competitors (800×480) which is great because higher resolution directly impacts the usability of every text-based application (web, email, eBooks…), and the quality of video playback (details…). In practical terms, the Retina Display brings a slightly better user experience than 800×480 displays, especially when there is small text involved. The jump forward from the iPhone 3GS is simply gigantic, also because the 3GS was a little bit short in pixels.

iphone 4 review 03 close up display
Left: Droid Incredible, Right: Retina Display as seen by my camera
Both are set to maximum brightness

Versus OLED: I often get the question about how the LCD-IPS Retina Display compares to OLED (orAMOLED, Super-AMOLED etc… I’ll just call them all “OLED” for simplicity’s sake even if there are differences). There a few things that I like considering: contrast, brightness and direct sunlight readability — with the latter being the most important.

In my opinion, the iPhone 4 does better with the direct sunlight test when compared to recent high-end phones like the Droid Incredible (OLED) or the EVO 4G (LCD). When reading emails, only the Blackberry Bold 9700 does better because the BB9700′s display is really good for black text on a white background – which is weird because it uses Transmissive LCD. Anyway, I would give the advantage to the iPhone Retina Display over its immediate competitors.

I hate writing about color “accuracy” with phones because I don’t have a good setup to test it, but I think that it is fair to talk about the image quality (according to my own preferences). The iPhone 4′s contrast (black look really black) and saturation are not as good as the Droid Incredible’s OLED display. On the Incredible blacks are more black and not dark grey. However, the Retina display doesn’t look “washed out” either. OLED also produces more saturated colors, sometime overly saturated to the point of looking “bizarre”. I’ve discussed this about the Samsung Wave‘s Super-AMOLED back in Feb 2010.

iphone 4 review 04 display direct sunlight
Left: Droid Incredible, right: iPhone 4 in direct sunlight at max. brightness
I’d say that iPhone 4 wins

Overall, the Retina display has a few drawbacks common to LCD technology, namely the contrast and saturation. However, the choice of going with LCD-IPS has a few advantages. For one, it provides a better readability in direct sunlight than competing phones. Secondly, there’s no 3.5″ OLED display with a 960×640 pixels. Finally, Samsung does not have the capacity to produce OLED displays for its own phones and Apple’s anyway.

Basics (very good)

Apple pretty much built its phone business around the fact that its user interface made people go from “hating their phones” to “loving them”, so let’s inspect the basic stuff:

iphone 4 review 08 dialer
All the basic stuff work very well. No sweat

Dialing: Upon launching the phone app, it’s very easy to dial a number, call a favorite, look at the recent calls, find a contact or check on voicemail. The phone stuff is well covered, and not much has changed since the previous iPhone. Usually, I dial from the favorites, but searching one in hundreds of contacts is fairly quick too (I use the Universal Search for that). Going to and from Speaker Mode is dead simple as well. I don’t expect anyone to have issued with the basic dialing and calling mechanism.

iphone 4 review 09 death grip
My Death Grip in action, certainly easier to do than the Death Touch

Wireless reception & “death grip”: Given the recent antenna problems that we’ve covered all too often, this is a sticky point. To make things clear: the iPhone 4 has *two issues* in regards to reception:

1/When the user grabs the phone, the human body effectively connects the two antennas (wifi & 3G), which impacts the reception quality (a.k.a “death grip”). For iPhone 4s already in the wild, this can by avoided only by using a case/bumper, applying a non-conductive material or by holding it differently… (scream now). How could Apple not realize what was going on? Maybe because the company tests its products with a case… Still, this seems silly that it wasn’t caught during the design process.

2/The method used to display the reception “bars” has been “completely wrong” according to Apple itself. Problem #2 compounds with problem #1 because it makes the signal reduction even more dramatic, but at least, there’s a software fix coming for #2.Update 7/16/2010:This has been fixed by iOS 4.0.1


This video shows the effect of the “Death Grip”. Although it does not
suppress voice calls (for me), it did suppress data
First-hand report: I have witnessed the “death grip” myself, and while I have yet to drop a phone call because of it, I have seen my phone data download speed going from 1.3Mbps download down to zero. The death grip will happen in areas where coverage is already weak so it’s hard to to reproduce it in a consistent way but it does exist and it needs a hardware fix.

Immediate fix: Apple has notoriously told users to “hold their phones differently” or to use a case that will prevent the human body from causing electrica
l interferences. Many people will use a case anyway, so that’s not a big deal for them, but for those of us who don’t want to use a case (like me!), a thin protective layer should do the trick, although I have not tested that myself, others that I trust have done it. In any case, this is something that Apple will have to improve/fix in an upcoming design refresh – “don’t hold it that way” is just not good enough.

Reality: Drama aside, the issue is not as bad as it sounds: at the moment, I have not been in a situation where I missed calls, but if data starts to get slow, this is the first thing that comes to mind: “try holding it differently”. I got that once in downtown SF, and it turned out that the network sucked (data and voice), regardless of how I hold it. Still, the Death Grip does come to mind each time… Overall, I would say that things have been working quite decently.

Action item: Consumer Reports have said that they “cannot recommend the iPhone 4” while the death grip issue stands. Instead, they tell people to go for the iPhone 3GS. In my opinion, this is bad advice. I recommend you to either wait for the problem to be 100% fixed, or just to go for it, because from all the field reports, the phone is actually very much usable. In any case, you should *not* lock yourself up with a previous-gen phone for 2-years because of the death grip. If you’re unsure, stay out of the game until the dust settles.

Update 7/16/2010: Apple has said that it will give free cases to every iPhone 4 customers until Sept 30. The company will re-evaluate the situation then. Customers whoe arent happy with the phone can return it free of charge, within 30 days. More details in ourantennagate coverage.

iphone 4 review 10 bandwidth test
Each and every time, the iPhone 4 wins against the 3GS

Data speed: Despite the Death Grip issue, the data speed is much better when compared to the iPhone 3GS. When using the Cisco broadband speed test, the iPhone 4 is always noticeably faster (about 30%) than the 3GS. In any case, the progress is significant and I have been impressed by the numbers reported by the Cisco benchmark. I would have loved to see the same app on Android, but I dont, so I’ll stop the comparison here as comparing bandwidth numbers across different tests is certainly not reliable.

Audio quality: The call audio quality is very decent, although I find it to be on the soft side. The same is true for the speaker phone function. I wish that it was louder.

iphone 4 review 12 virtual keyboard
The iPhone 4 virtual keyboard has not changed from previous models

Virtual keyboard: The iPhone virtual keyboard is very good for two reasons: 1/ it is very responsive (especially when compared to the HTC Sense one), 2/It is not visually noisy. Obviously, both are a matter of personal perception and preferences, but I’ve seen my share of phones and recently, the Motorola Droid X virtual keyboard is the one that I would like the most for the above reasons. From a pure productivity standpoint, larger phones like the Droid X have an edge, simply because they are bigger so my rate of error goes down.

iphone 4 review 05 virtual keyboard
Notice how visually busier the Incredible keyboard is. It’s also slower to react

Blackberry keyboard users: you will simply have to realize that you won’t type as fast. At times, it is frustrating, but in the end, you will have to decide if you want the extra typing speed, or if you would rather have a phone that is much better at *everything* except text communications. In my case, I have realized that I was using my phone more and more for things other than email and SMS.

Virtual keyboard advice: don’t be afraid to press with the whole tip of your finger. The software does a good job of guessing where you were trying to tap.

iphone 4 review 13 copy paste
On touchphones, the iPhone has the most consistent implementation of Copy/Paste

Copy/paste: At this point, I think that the iPhone has the best and most consistent copy/paste interface. The second in line is HTC Sense, which replicates the functionality *almost* identically.

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The web browsing experience is great – except that Flash won’t work (ever)

Web browsing: It’s not news that the iPhone does provide an excellent web browsing experience, but the high-resolution display does make it that much better. There is less zooming involved (if you have a good sight). And when you zoom, I like the fact that things don’t jump around like they do on Android: Android browsers tend to wrap the text around by default, which is not fundamentally bad, but it does make the page content move around, so it’s hard to choose a point to zoom towards. Other than that, the browsing experience on Android 2.x and on the iPhone 4 are both very good.

iphone 4 review 15 no flash
This is a Flash games site… as you can see, this is not happening

Flash: Apple has said that its products won’t be supporting Flash inside the browser (or apps…). As Flash starts to creep into other mobile devices, is this a big deal? Not for now, but it might be in the future. As far as I have seen on other devices, when Flash sites do work, the performance is currently too low to make them desirable to me. Also, sites like YouTube have rolled out HTML 5 versions that can run on the iPhone. So, in practical terms, Flash on mobile doesn’t make my life a whole lot better – yet, and that’s mainly because it is still too slow.

Eventually, phones will get faster, have multiple cores, more memory and so on… and Flash will start to show its full potential on mobiles. There is no question that I would like to watch occasional videos from Tech Ticker or CNBC on my phone, but at this point, the lack of Flash is not something that will threaten Apple. Also, many services might have an App equivalent, so don’t sweat it just yet, but keep an eye on the situation.

Google docs: As usual, Google docs web documents are read-only (except for spreadsheets), but the extra-resolution makes the reading more comfortable. I would love to get editing capabilities from the browser. In the meantime, there are paid apps like Document To Go that can help. All in all, I think that editing from within an application provides a much better experience. Web apps are still slow and their user interfaces are often ill-suited for anything else than reading text.

Proximity sensor issues: There have been reports of issues with the proximity sensor not working properly during calls. That results in having
your face/ears press random buttons, leading to undesired behaviors (like hanging up on someone). Fortunately, it has not happened to me, although this does not mean that it doesn’t exist or doesn’t happen at all. I just have not experienced it first hand. If you do, the suggested fix is to power down and reboot your iPhone 4. At the moment, I don’t think that Apple has an official answer to this.Google search about this topic

Battery Life (awesome)

iphone 4 review 16 battery
During my test, I got two solid days of normal use, and I got by one very busy day
wihtout a problem. So much better than the 3GS, it’s not funny.

The battery life is one of the most important feature of any phone, because we rely so much on our phones being always-on. In this 4th iteration of the iPhone, Apple has managed to include a larger battery, which is simply the best way to tackle the energy issue at this point (you can even double it with something like the Mophie Juice Pack). Also, the company has now switched to using its own A4 processor that I suspect has been very optimized for ultra-low power consumption during “standby mode”.

Average (48 hrs): The net result is an awesome battery life of about 2 days (48 hours) of normal use for me (including sleep time) – read the “context” paragrah to know what “normal use” means to me.

Standby mode (250+ hrs): battery went from 100% down to 94% after 15hrs. That would imply a standby time of 250hours (10.4 days). Note that the battery rate of decay is usually linear for electronic devices (in a given mode), but because I have measured on only the first 6%, drop, there is some margin for error. You get the picture, though.

Music (36.6 hrs): During music playback (screen OFF), the iPhone’s battery depletes at a rate of 1% every 22mn. If you extrapolate this, you get something like 36.6hours of music playback. Which is close enough of the 40 hours advertised by Apple.

Video (to be updated): I don’t want to hold the publication of this review any longer, but I will update this section within 48 hrs. Right now, I expect to see 8-10 hrs video playback.

Bottom-line: The iPhone 4 will easily hold during an very busy day, and if I use it only casually, it can last a couple of days before finally shutting down. Some sites have reported getting 4 days out of it, but in my case, I get about 48 hours at most. Obviously, you can tell that things can vary wildly as the phone can stay alive for 10 days in standby mode.

Although recent Android phones have come long way with the “standby mode”, I don’t think that any will last for as long as the iPhone 4 with the same usage pattern. If you want to save power, you can also turn WiFi off. Most of the time, I don’t even use it these days.

I wish that the iPhone had a power widget that lets me easily manage power features (GPS, WIFI, BT, 3G, Brightness) like Android has. This would make things even better, but at this point, it is fair to say that the iPhone is the king of the hill in terms of battery life.

USB Charging: unlike the iPad, the iPhone 4 can be charged via any standard USB port (PC, USB HUB…). Now, we would sure love it if the iPhone was using a standard micro-USB for that purpose, but this will certainly not happen. Fortunately, you can get iPhone USB cables for cheap ($2) on Amazon – that’s what I did.

Email (very good)

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This is a promotional email from iTunes. Overall, email is really good.

Ever since iOS has supported Microsoft Exchange, I found the iPhone to be a very capable email system that is largely good enough for my personal and professional needs (I get a ton of emails and use the calendar quite intensely). The iPhone is making inroads in corporate accounts because 1/users want the phone 2/it lets you connect to multiple accounts, including multiple Exchange accounts. RIM (the company behind Blackberry) should take notice of this…

Overall, the email experience is very good (except for the lower-speed typing), and the ability to arrange emails per thread can be useful if a conversation is spread out overtime. The email search is also integrated in the Mail app (unlike Android’s equivalent) and the search is very fast. Finally, common attachments like photos show up in cleanly. I would rank the iPhone second, after Blackberry in terms of email efficiency.

Synchronization (mixed)

Content/Apps Synchronization: iTunes is the real power behind the success of the iPod as it did let users go trough the full “content cycle”: Find, Download, Sync, Consume. Despite all the criticism that it is taking for being big and slow, iTunes is a good companion to the iPhone. It lets you copy compatible content like select music and video files, but also perform admin tasks like backups and icon management. As long as you stay within iTunes, life is good and easy.

USB sync / general data synchronization: Because the iPhone relies greatly on iTunes to move files in and out, don’t expect it to behave like a USB drive in which you can drag and drop whichever files you want. You can add predefined types of files to your iPhone into the iTunes library, but iTunes will do a sanity check before adding them. If iTunes determines that the file won’t be recognized by the device or by one of the apps, it won’t copy it.

The only thing that you can access is the photo directory, in read-only mode, to export photos like you would from a USB key or a memory card. You cannot copy photos to the iPhone with a Drag & Drop outside of iTunes — why would you ask? Probably because if you start copying files without iTunes knowing about them, it makes iTune’s sync much harder.

I would really love to be able to use a partition as a generic USB storage. It seems like it should be possible to do so, without creating any security issues. There are workarounds and apps to do that, but it should really be in iOS.

Tethering (3G modem)

iphone 4 review 18 tethering
Using the iPhone 4 as a modem is extremely easy. Bye bye USB modem!

It is possible for users to tether the iPhone to a computer to use it as a 3G modem either via Bluetooth, or over USB.

If you tether using the USB cable, it can’t get much easier: Just make sure that you have iTunes 9.2 because the iPhone 4 modem drivers come with it. On the iPhone, go to Settings>Network>Internet Tethering>ON. Connect the iPhone, and a new network connection will be created instantly. It’s a breeze when compared to most USB modems. I tried it on both Windows 7 and Mac OS, and in both case, things worked out very easily.

If you use a Bluetooth connection, there is an extra step of pairing the devices. If you attend conferences, I would strongly recommend pairing the laptop to the iPhone 4 *before* being in a room full of Bluetooth devices: Bluetooth devices tend to enumerate all the devices around, and if the place is crowded, chances are that it will take much more time.

Tethering works great, but now that the unlimited data plan from AT&T is gone (for new subscribers), it looks like you should only use it casually. That’s OK with me, and now I can get rid of my USB modem and save an extra $60/mo as long as I stay within my 2GB per month.

Imaging
(excellent)

iphone 4 review 19 camera
I am impressed by the iPhone camera low-light capabilities

Photo capture: The new camera and the LED flash are both a very good upgrade. I found the photos taken with the iPhone 4 to be very high-quality (for a mobile), especially those in low-light. Now, snapping a photo in a party or at a dimly lit table is no longer a problem, and that’s great. The photos can get somewhat noisy, but it’s normal and on a small screen they will usually look great. Once resized for Facebook, most of the noise will go away too. The single LED is good enough for me, especially for shots at less than 1 yard. The LED flash can also be used as a Flashlight, which is really cool (there’s an app for that). I have uploaded a photo gallery, so take a look. Best of all, the camera app reacts very quickly and does not spend a few seconds to adjust after you have tapped to initiate the capture.

iphone 4 photo sample
A photo shot without Flash, at night in downtown San Diego
Check thisphoto gallery, or look at thenative pcitures in Flickr

Video capture: There was a time when I had a small digital camera to snap 720p videos, but this time is clearly over. The iPhone 4 is the first phone (that I have reviewed) that actually records good 720p videos. Other phones usually trade framerate (fps) for higher resolution, and that’s not acceptable. When I say “good 720p videos”, I mean that if I showed you the footage in Quicktime or Windows Media Player, you would think that it was shot by a decent MP4 camcorder. Anyway, I am very impressed with the video recording quality of the iPhone 4 – including in dim lighting. Wow. I have uploadedsamples for you to look at on Flickr. Let me know what you think.

iphone 4 review 20 youtube share
If you share a video directly from the iPhone, it will appear in
low-resolution in YouTube. FAIL

YouTube upload limitation (Nooooooo): It’s great to capture 720p videos, but the iPhone 4 doesn’t let you upload 720p videos directly to YouTube. Instead, you have to retrieve the video on a computer and upload it from there. That kills the fun.

Was this done to protect AT&T’s wireless network from a surge of data usage (even though it’s capped!)? Probably. In that case, why not authorize 720p upload over WIFI? With the capping in place, I don’t get the logic of this move. Are we going to get MB/hr allotments next?

Performance (Very good)

Apple does little to enlighten us on what’s inside its A4 processor, but the fact is that starting with the iPhone 3GS, iPhones have been the most responsive devices when it comes to user interface, which is I think a key element to making things intuitive.

iphone 4 review 21 user interface
The user interface is crisp and reacts at 60 frames per second (or so)

User Interface responsiveness: Some dismiss the importance of having a very responsive phone, but I simply disagree: any form of interaction should yield an immediate result. To a degree, people can demonstrate some patience after clicking something because we got so used to waiting after computers in the past decades. However, when you are using a touchscreen, the expectation is that the device will do exactly as your finder “does”. In the past many phones have failed that test. In recent months, Android phones have largely closed in, but the responsiveness of Android has not yet caught up with the iPhone 4, and only the Zune HD can claim to be as fast when it comes to the user interface.

Raw processing performance: There are no cross-platform benchmarks that allow us to compare the iPhone 4 with Android competitors, but we can compare it with the iPhone 3GS using Geekbench 2 (Geekbench 2 app), and we can try looking at things like games to get an idea of what it can do. Geekbench 2 for iPhone simply tries to measure how fast the main processor is, and ignores other hardware features (3D, video encode/decode…). From that perspective, the iPhone 4 is about 30% faster than the iPhone 3GS. That is largely due to Apple’s A4 processor and a 2X memory boost on the iPhone 4.

Gaming: To check on the 3D graphics, I tried playing Real Racing, a 3D racing game. I came away pretty impressed. It is much more fluid than Raging Thunder under the Droid Incredible, although I will stop the comparison there as this is not the same game. What I do know is that it provides a comparable experience, with a seemingly superior framerate, so the conclusion is that the iPhone 4 ranks among the top hardware platform when it comes to 3D.


This video shows how fast 3D games can be. Not bad at all, right?Boot time: The iPhone 4 boots in boots in 27 seconds. It’s 10 seconds faster than the Motorola Droid. On the extreme opposite, the Blackberry Bold 9700 boots in about 5 minutes… ouch.

Multitasking

iphone 4 review 22 multitasking
Multi-tasking is finally here! Purists will criticize the trade offs,
but if works for most users

Before iOS 4, iPhone users could only run one app at a time. For example, if you are on IM, and someone asks you for an information that is in an email, you had to shut down the IM app, then open the Mail app, copy/paste the info, then close Mail, Re-launch IM, re-Login etc… This could be quite painful. Also, if you were listening to music in an Internet Radio app, going to your email would stop the music and shut down the music app. Argh.

With multi-tasking finally available, developers can build apps that will run in the background with functionalities staying alive if the user switches to something else. Typical examples include music services apps, or GPS-tracking programs. It will take some time before most apps (that need it) use multi-tasking. Also, the multi-tasking functionality itself is limited to the most common use cases: audio, gps, voice over IP (VOIP) and a few more. When put to use, this should be enough to satisfy the large majority of users, but I’m still waiting for apps like Skype to fully use multi-tasking. To switch from one app to another, you can double-tap the Home button.

Out of the box, multi-tasking bring you a much faster task-switching mechanism. There’s less time spent closing and opening the apps as their “current state” will simply be saved, to be quickly re-activated later – this is much better than a complete shut down and relaunch. A few audio
/radio apps have already surfaces and GPS apps already exist to take advantage of the new functionality.

This is not “true” multi-tasking, so you will be hearing people argue against its limitations, but on the other hand, those trade offs allow the iPhone 4 to have a better battery life and I’m sure that this is something that’s more important to most users than “true” multi-tasking, for the sake of it.

A corner case for example, is that video playback will stop as soon as you switch to another task, so if you’re using a music video clip to actually “listen” to music, the audio will stop too.

Entertainment

iphone 4 review 23 photo gallery
The iPhone photo gallery remains one of the most responsive out there

Photo Gallery: the iPhone photo gallery remains of of the best photo gallery, along with the Zune HD photo gallery. It is smooth and fluid, even if you have a lot of photos in the device. Sharing photos via email/MMS is easy, but there is no Facebook sharing directly from the photo app. That’s kind of annoying to me, because FB is the place where I share my mobile photos. It would be best if developers could plug themselves in the photo app.

iphone 4 review 25 music
Music has not changed much, but did it need to?

Music: the iPod function is a classic, and it works very well. You can arrange your media by Playlist and search by Artist, Song, Audiobook, Genre or simply do a search. Given the market penetration of iPods, I doubt that anyone would have a problem using this. Music is pretty much a solved problem. Note that there’s a “Genius” function with which Apple can recommend songs based on what you’re listening. Other platform usually don’t have something like that built-in.

iphone 4 review 24 video playback
Downloaded videos look beautiful on the Retina Display

Video playback (from local storage): The iPhone 4 is an excellent video player, and so far, it has been able to play all the MP4 files that I had on hand. The playback quality is perfectly smooth, with high framerates (30fps). I don’t have an exhaustive list of formats that iTunes will accept, but here’s what I have used for this test:

740×800 MP4, 2513kbps, 30fps, 48Khz stereo audio
368×208 MP4, 855kbps, 29fps, 48Khz stereo audio – PSP video

The high-resolution display works wonderfully and the end-result is sharper than the Droid Incredible for example, but when I showed the side by side view to “non-techies”, most don’t spot the difference in sharpness, but they see that the colors look different (it always does).

The bottom-line is that the iPhone 4 and iTunes do recognize for MP4 formats than the HTC Incredible for example. This is a software issue that I hope HTC will address in the future.

iphone 4 review 11 ext speakers
The speaker sound is very decent, but I wish that it was louder

Speaker: The speaker audio quality is good, even if it’s not loud enough (it never is, really). In relatively quiet environment, you can definitely enjoy a good

iphone 4 review 26 youtube
YouTube: great with WIFI, too blurry over 3G

YouTube: With WiFi, Youtube HD movies are smooth, fluid and beautiful, there’s no question about that. However, over 3G, the streaming will happen in low-resolution mode even if the phone’s raw bandwitdh would be capable of streaming a higher-resolution video. This probably comes down to the fact that the unlimited data plans are gone. It’s too bad because if I have a WIFI connection, I probably have access to a laptop as well – or maybe that’s just me. Outside of a hotspot youtube looks actually pretty bad. I made a video so that you can see what I’m seeing.


This video shows that over 3G, the iPhone 4 was streaming a low-resolution version
while the Droid Incredible could stream HD. Over WiFi, the Retina Display makes
the video look better on the iPhone 4. I have never seen YouTube HD over 3G on the i4

Misc

iphone 4 review 27 folders
With Folders, you can download a ton of apps, without the mess

Folders: For those who have been downloading a ton of apps, it might be annoying to scroll across many screens to find an app. To fix that, Apple has introduced Folders in iOS 4. You can now short apps by types in a way that you are most familiar with on your computer. To create a folder, you can simply drag one app icon onto another. iOS will name the folder based on the application type from the App Store. You can change the name if you want.

Folders extend how many apps you can have in the system: 180 folders, 12apps/folder = 2160 apps.

Things that could be better

Antenna: The “death grip” issue is having a real effect on data download speeds. I think that this might (I emphasize on might) be fixed by applying a coating to the steel antenna to prevent electrical interferences from the user’s body.

Network: AT&T’s network could also be better. Granted, they do take more hits than other networks, but come on, aren’t they actually making money from their customers? The bottom-line is that we all expect the network to function, especially now that AT&T has some fairly drastic bandwidth caps.

YouTube 720p upload: obviously, we would love to be able to share those 720p movies in their full glory without having to copy the files to a computer first.

YouTube 720p viewing (over 3G): Again, now that we have the bandwidth cap, can’t I manage my consumption myself? Why am I forced to look at a blurry video over 3G?

Call volume: the ear-speaker could be louder. It’s not a huge problem, but that would be very nice in a noisy place.

App-Killer: I would like to be able to kill all the apps in one click in the multitask menu.

Wish list

Unlimited data plan: I hope that an unlimited option will return for power users. If it does, things like YouTube videos uploads could be used at their full potential.

iphone 4 review 28 design droid x
You know what? I’m really starting to like these bigger smartphones

Bigger screen: After using large display touch phones like the HTC EVO 4G or the Motorola Droid X, I’m thinking that a larger 4.3″ iPhone would be *fantastic* to use. Don’t you?

Slider keyboard: This is probably blasphemy in Cuppertino,
but believe me there’s a big crowd out there that would love to have an iPhone with a physical keyboard. Given how thin the iPhone 4 is, it is hard to imagine that it’s not possible to create an iPhone with a physical keyboard. that’s more of a wish than an improvement, but I’ll throw it out there.

Plans (cheaper, limited)

With its latest pricing, AT&T has chosen to let customers opt for cheaper data plans, but the carrier has also removed the unlimited data plan. Now, you can choose between 200MB and 2GB for prices ranging from $15 to $25 per month. Tethering on the 2GB data plan will cost $20 more. If you go beyond your allotment, you will be charged for another chunk, at the same price. Obviously, we would all like to get unlimited data, but that’s now off the table. If that’s really what you need, Sprint might be your best option.

Personally, I don’t use that much data: probably less than 1GB per month, so I’m OK with the 2GB plan. If all you do is email, and a little web browsing, the 200MB plan could even be good enough. You still have the option to switch from one plan to the other at any time, and I think that AT&T would pro-rate it, but don’t take my word for it and always check with AT&T.

FaceTime (good stuff comes free)

iphone review facetime
I’m taking a shot of an intercontinental FaceTime call with Franck/Giiks.com

FaceTime is an internet video-call feature of the iPhone 4: it lets two iPhone 4 users place a video call, but only over WIFI. The advantage of FaceTime is that there is no setup whatsoever and it work across carriers too. Facetime is very fun to use. During the iPhone launch, Steve Jobs said that he expected the feature to eventually work over 3G. In fact, it could today, but AT&T would go beserk if Apple would do this today. Note that FaceTime does not use wireless minutes, so we’re talking about free calls here, including international (FaceTime) calls: I tried placing a FaceTime call to Europe.

Open standard: the good news is that Apple will let other services connect to FaceTime, so it’s not impossible that Fring, Skyp, Yahoo IM or MSN would one day work with FaceTime. That would encompass not only computers, but also other video-call capable mobile phones.

Obviously, video calls are not a new concept. Carriers and handset makers have tried for years to sell it to the public, in vain. Why? Because it wasn’t good enough, and because people were not willing to pay an extra for it. FaceTime brings quality and simplicity, and video-calls actually look very good – at no extra cost. You see the added-value, right?

Battery warning: free calls are an excellent thing, but before you go nuts with FaceTime, I’ll point out that it consumes a lot more power than a regular voice call. It has to compress audio and video in realtime, so I would eyeball the battery cost at 1% per minute, or something like that.

Is it very cool? Yes. Is it a game-changer? Not yet, but it’s a great “nice to have” (and it’s free). Now, it would be even better if we were allowed to video-chat over 3G, but don’t count on that anytime soon… AT&T can’t handle it anyway.

Apps

Look at it any way you want, today, on average, apps on iPhone are better. A lot of popular apps that I use (Facebook, Yelp…) are better on the iPhone. Google Maps and GMail are better on Android (what a surprise…), but it is really up to you to take a good look at what you need and find out what the best platform is for you.

iphone 4 review 30 ibooks pdf
iBooks look good and has a shelf for PDF files. wOOt!

iBooks has recently been made available to the iPhone, so I had to take a look. It looks just like the iPad version and can handle both pure text and text+image documents. With the Retina Display, iBooks is actually usable on the iPhone. I don’t think that the experience on the 3GS would be nearly as compelling. Alternatives include the Kindle and the B&N reader.

MS Office files (read-only): Natively, you don’t have a good option to edit Office documents. However, there are many apps out there that claim to give you that functionality. I have not tried it for myself, so I won’t recommend any apps. The good news is that iOS supports Office documents in read mode. If you send a Word, Excel or PowerPoint file, it should open.


This video shows a PDF in iBooks. It also demonstrates how Kindle looksPDF (great!): iOS also supports PDF files natively, so PDF attachement in emails will open nicely. Also, you can now choose to save the attached PDFs in iBooks, so that’s pretty much great. This is coming to the iPad soon.

Conclusion

iphone 4 review 31 hero conclusion
If you’re getting a new iPhone, there’s no reason to get a 3GS, go iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 is an excellent smartphone, the best one in fact. This is quite a step up from the iPhone 3GS, thanks to the display and the many improvements in the OS. If you don’t have an iPhone but want to get one, I would recommend the iPhone 4 over older models, despite the antenna issue. If you are thinking of saving $100 by going with the 3GS, take a good look at the total cost of ownership over 2-years. You might realize that $100 is not that much of a stretch if you consider that you will be using the device *everyday*. Instead, cut down on yourStarbucks consumption to make up for it. The pricing of the iPhone 4 is very comparable to other smartphones, so I don’t think that pricing should be a decisive factor. Instead, the design, user interface, app library and responsiveness will determine if it works for you or not. If you are afraid of the “death grip” issue (read above), wait until a permanent solution is found, but going straight to a 3GS would be a mistake.

Some of you might not like the fact that Flash is unsupported, or that the App Store is too restrictive, but the good news is that you have plenty of choices out there, especially with Android and outside of AT&T’s network. The EVO 4G, the Droid Incredible or the Droid X are all very capable alternatives.

I hope that my experience with the iPhone 4 will help you figure out what yours would be. If there’s an aspect of the phone that I have not covered or if you want to express an opinion or share your experience with others, please leave a comment below. If you like this review, share it with others, and thanks for tuning in!

Links

iPhone homepagesupport pagecomplete specifications

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What’s in the box?

If you’re really that curious, here’s a photo shoot that shows what’s in the box. Enjoy!

iphone 4 unboxing
photo gallery

Filed in Apple >Cellphones >Featured >Reviews >Top Stories. Read more about Apple Inc, Apple Review, iPhone 4, review and smartphones.

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