Apple iPhone 4 review

stLight.options({publisher:’wp.d5f7640b-5efa-4423-bf88-11ac6d9c623c’});var st_type=’wordpress3.0.1′; Apple iPhone 4 review Good Insanely high-resolution screen Improved email handling Longer battery life Wonderfully easy to use Blazingly fast Simple multitasking functionality Much improved camera Bad Video calling that only works between iPhone 4 handsets over Wi-Fi Signal drops when you hold the phone in a certain way Doesn’t feel as thin [...]

Apple iPhone 4 review



  • Insanely high-resolution screen
  • Improved email handling
  • Longer battery life
  • Wonderfully easy to use
  • Blazingly fast
  • Simple multitasking functionality
  • Much improved camera


  • Video calling that only works between iPhone 4 handsets over Wi-Fi
  • Signal drops when you hold the phone in a certain way
  • Doesn’t feel as thin as it is
  • Expensive
  • Tied to iTunes software
At the start of summer, geeks stock up on sunscreen and mentally prepare for the annual reboot of a phone they either love, or love to hate — Apple’s iPhone. Wisely, Apple hasn’t sought to reinvent the wheel with the iPhone 4, but its sleek new look, handful of exciting new hardware features, and refreshed software has still managed to make us fall in love once more.
But the iPhone 4 will leave a substantial dent in your wallet. If you buy it directly from Apple, SIM-free and unlocked for use on any network, the iPhone 4 will cost £499 for the 16GB version and £599 for the 32GB version. It’s also available from free on a £45-a-month contract. You can find the best deal for you by checking our price-comparison article.
Glass and steel
The previous iPhone reboot, the iPhone 3GS, kept the same appearance as its predecessor, the iPhone 3G. This time, it’s a whole new ball game, with the curved back of previous iPhones replaced by a flat, glass rear.
Apple's case protects the phone and should help with reception problems caused by obscuring the antenna
Apple says that glass is more resistant to scratches than plastic, but we’ve smashed enough screens to think that this change could be a boon to case manufacturers. For the first time, Apple is even flogging a case when you buy the phone from the online Apple store — it’s a ‘bumper’ that surrounds the edges of the phones with rubber.
Despite its flat front and back, and a case that’s only 9mm thick, the iPhone 4 feels surprisingly solid and sturdy. But it doesn’t feel as thin as it really is — considering that it’s the thinnest smart phone out there, it feels much like the 3GS, which is about 3mm thicker at its widest point, but rounded so it’s thinner at the very edges. That’s not to say that the iPhone 4 feels chunky — it just doesn’t feel as wafer-thin as we expected.
Appearance is always a matter of taste. Some may adore the iPhone 4′s more industrial appearance, but others will prefer the rounded curves of the older models. We fall into the latter camp. Maybe that’s just because we miss spinning the 3GS on its back when we’re bored.
Call me quick
The glass back should also help the iPhone 4 to hold its network connection, since it should be transparent to radio signals. Although we adored almost everything about the previous iPhone, it was terrible for making boring old phone calls. The overloaded O2 network, which suffered from congestion when O2 was the only carrier to have the iPhone, was partly to blame for that.
The glass front and back are trimmed with a steel band around the edge, split into two pieces — hence the seams that Gizmodo revealed when it leaked an iPhone 4 prototype. The seams have a purpose: the two pieces of steel act as antennas — one for Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth, and the other for the mobile-phone network.
It sounds like a genius idea, but it didn’t take ZDNet UK editor Rupert Goodwins long to figure out a flaw — when you grab an antenna with your hands, it adversely affects reception. We tested the iPhone 4 with a Vodafone SIM card and, although we usually have five full bars of delicious Vodafone coverage in our elite testing tree house, the signal dropped to one lonely bar after a minute or so when we held the phone normally in our left hand. That means answering your phone in a one-bar environment could reduce the signal to zero bars, although we didn’t experience that problem, thanks to Vodafone’s solid coverage in our area.
The drop in signal strength only seemed to occur when we held the phone in our left hand, with the bottom of our palm slightly covering the bottom-left corner of the phone. Holding the phone in our right hand, or along the top, didn’t seem to affect reception. We lost one bar just by pressing a fingertip against the seam that’s on the bottom-left corner, so perhaps this is where the trouble lies. We’ll be getting our crack team of antenna engineers to investigate the issue more thoroughly soon.
We did experience one call that failed to connect and went straight to voicemail, so it seems that the iPhone’s call issues haven’t been totally resolved. We’ll be keeping our eyes on this issue during our long-term test of the phone, during which we’ll use other networks, so stay tuned.
The iPhone 4 includes an extra microphone for noise-cancelling purposes. We compared the phone to a Google Nexus One, which also has noise-cancelling microphone, by making a call next to a TV playing vuvuzela-blaring World Cup coverage. We called the same landline phone from both mobiles, and both calls were clear and audible, although the Nexus One did a marginally better job of cutting out background noise. We also found that the output of the iPhone 4′s speaker was easier to hear than that of previous iPhones, and we didn’t have to place it as accurately against our lugholes.
Look into my retinas
Besides its glass makeover, the iPhone 4′s dolled itself up with a spectacular-looking new display. Apple’s calling it a ‘retina display’, and it has a 960×640-pixel resolution, which is quadruple the number of pixels sported by the iPhone 3GS in the same 89mm (3.5-inch) area.
The 3GS’ 480×320-pixel screen is lovely and very usable, but the iPhone 4′s display is noticeably better. Even compared to the stunningly clear, 480×854-pixel screen of the Motorola Milestone, the iPhone 4′s display has the advantage because of its bright whites and midnight-dark blacks.
The screen makes everything look crisper, and, since user-interface elements like buttons are vector graphics, many parts of apps will look better without developers having to rebuild them to take advantage of the increased resolution. But, ironically, the extra resolution reveals the fuzziness of icons and images that haven’t been scaled up to handle it.
It’s definitely a case of the more pixels the merrier as far as ebooks and Web pages are concerned. The text on Web pages looks as sharp as a razor — no matter how closely you zoom in — and ebooks also look wonderful.
That’s good news given the revelation that Apple’s ebook app, iBooks, is coming to the iPhone from the iPad. If you’re a proud iPad owner, the ebooks that you buy on there will be available to download again for free on the iPhone 4. But you may be annoyed by one quirk of iBooks on the iPhone 4 — the buttons to open the store and edit your library are reversed compared to the iPad’s, for no good reason we can see.
Fourth time’s the charm
The iPhone 4 runs the latest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 4. We’re fervent fans of the iPhone’s intuitive user interface, and iOS 4 adds some features we’ve been craving, including a light dusting of multitasking. That means you can theoretically listen to Spotify while you surf, or make a Skype call at any time – once the companies have updated their apps to take advantage of the feature –  because the app is always running in the background.
The multitasking feature already offers advantages, even without updated apps. For example, Web pages will load in the background while you go off and do something else, and you can stop writing an email to look something up in your notes, without losing what you’ve written.
It’s basic stuff compared to what’s offered by a desktop computer, since only a few, restricted program types can run in the background, such as VoIP and music apps. But this feature is easy to use and doesn’t drain the iPhone’s battery as much as true multitasking would.
The iPhone’s email app has also received some polish. You can now read new emails from all your accounts in one combined inbox, and group conversations as in Gmail. The Palm Pre Plus and BlackBerry range of phones also handle email very well, but these improvements put the iPhone 4 up there with the best touchscreen smart phones in this field.
Finally, Apple has given us some power over our home screens with iOS 4. Previously, the only thing you could do to make your phone your own was to slap an image on the lock screen and order your apps. Now you have the option to add wallpaper to the home screens and sort your icons into folders. It’s not much, but it’s a welcome change, especially since there are apps that you may not have any interest in, such as Stocks (especially once you’ve blown your nest egg on the latest iPhone), but are unable to delete.
You can also get iOS 4 on the 3GS, so it’s not unique to the iPhone 4. For more information on what’s new, check out our full iOS 4 story, and also see our detailed comparison of iOS 4 and the latest iteration of Google’s Android operating system, version 2.2.
LED light, camera, action
Apple has bumped up the resolution of the iPhone’s camera to 5 megapixels, and added an LED photo light to help out in dark situations. With a steady hand, it’s easy to get decent shots with the iPhone 4 and, thanks to the LED light, shots in dim conditions are surprisingly good. The on-screen controls for the LED light are easy to use. We also love the touch-to-focus feature, which does just what it says on the tin, providing a quick, intuitive way to let the phone’s automatic focus and brightness controls know what you really want to capture.
Naturally, the phone’s snapper can’t compete with a compact camera in terms of photo quality or exposure controls, but we’d be happy to have the iPhone 4 in our pocket for those Facebook photo emergencies.
The biggest bonus of the iPhone 4′s camera is its super-fast shutter speed. It takes only a split second to capture a shot after you’ve pressed the on-screen shutter button. That’s a big bonus in those situations when you really need to take a photo.
The iPhone 4 also records 720p, high-definition video at 30 frames per second, and video has the same tap-to-focus feature that previous iPhones only offered when taking still photos. In our tests, the video quality was fine, but film suffered from extreme shutter roll, with the world seeming to wobble like jelly because the camera’s processor can’t handle motion well enough. Don’t expect the quality of a dedicated camcorder, and you won’t be disappointed by mobile-phone video that’s good enough for capturing occasional shenanigans.
iTunes makes it easy to sync your photos, along with music and apps, as long as you don’t mind being locked to one computer and one program. Other phones offer much more flexibility. For example, you can’t store just any file on your iPhone, as you can with many other phones that work as external flash drives. But, if you just want to keep it simple, iTunes will do the job, and it also gives you desktop access to Apple’s huge music, video and app emporium.
Face up to your calls
The iPhone 4 also treats us to a camera on the front. This camera does take stills but it’s mostly meant for video calling — a feature that Apple has dubbed FaceTime. FaceTime seems to have impressed the Americans more than the concept of bacon weave, but we’re not so easily wowed, since we’ve been basking in video calls in the UK for years.
Once more, Apple offers an easy-to-use interface that makes video calls easy to make and control. FaceTime has plenty of pleasing features, including the fact that the image of your friend’s mug rotates automatically when your chum rotates their handset. But FaceTime only works between iPhone 4 handsets and only over Wi-Fi. We don’t expect that FaceTime will usher in a new dawn for a feature that’s failed to take off in the past.
Chat marathon
The major drawback of the iPhone has always been its paltry battery life, but, despite its thin case, the iPhone 4 promises to make improvements. Apple says we’ll get 7 hours of talk time over 3G, and 300 hours of standby time from the new, bigger battery. We’ll soon be putting these claims to the test, with a full battery showdown, so stay tuned for our results.
The iPhone 4 also ramps up the Wi-Fi speed, with support for the latest 802.11n standard. HSPA connectivity enables fast downloads and uploads over 3G.
The prize for the most unpredictable new feature goes to the iPhone 4′s gyroscope, which helps out the phone’s accelerometer when it comes to games and apps that need to know the exact orientation of the phone. We’re looking forward to seeing what developers of augmented-reality apps come up with to exploit this quirky new toy, but, for now, it doesn’t add much to the experience of using the phone.
Happily, Apple hasn’t skimped on speed to support all of these new tricks, and the iPhone 4 is as nippy as a trip down a water slide covered in K-Y Jelly. Everything from apps to text messages pops up quickly, and the on-screen keyboard is thrillingly responsive. It also adds a spell-checking feature to make one of the best virtual keyboards in the business even better.
Apple had plenty to live up to after making three of the highest-rated phones on CNET UK, and, with fantastic Android-powered handsets such as the HTC Desire on the market, the competition is stiffer than ever. But we think Apple has done enough to stay ahead of its rivals, thanks to the iPhone 4′s improved camera, the useful software tweaks in iOS 4, and a simply stunning screen. With a price that’s often double that of competing handsets, the iPhone 4 is very expensive, but no other phone can offer quite the same sheer, silky pleasure. The iPhone 3GS is dead — long live the iPhone 4.


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