iPhone 4: a Welcome and a Warning


On the front of the phone can be discerned the lineaments of a forward-facing camera and inset in the glorious glass obverse (which leads one to speculate that future models might allow solar charging) an extra eye reveals that LED flash has finally arrived. All kinds of BlackBerry, HTC, Nokia and Sony will be snorting contempt as they recall that their own phones have had Xenon flashes for years, but this kind of flash at least is welcome to iPhone and works with typical intuitive simplicity with a simple Off/On/Auto setting available top left. The right hand icon swaps between front and back facing cameras.

Showing flash and camera-swap icons

The flash and camera-swap icons

That front facing phone suggests video calling of course. Apple have integrated a range of open standards for this, including H.264, AAC, SIP, STUN, TURN and ICE (don’t ask) into a package they call FaceTime (actually they bought a company of that name). It is not true video phoning as at the moment, 3G doesn’t support these data standards so you will only be using FaceTime where a WiFi connection is possible. Under those circumstances it is very impressive, offering excellent resolution, with both cameras on the iPhone being easily swappable so you can either show the party at the other end of the phone your face or others in the room: with a reasonable stand or easel for the phone Polycom style video conferencing at a fraction of the cost becomes a distinct possibility. The main back camera has been upgraded to 5 Megapixels, but Apple (and here they are quite right) have always claimed that their 3 MP original took better pictures than many 5 MP cameras on other phones, for the issue is not the sheer numbers of pixels, but more crucially pixel size (and lens quality of course). This new camera produces simply stunning images and might, for many, be reason enough to upgrade, especially when you factor in the iPhone 4’s remarkable new “Retina” display. Retina delivers the crispest images I have ever seen on a smartphone. The difference is most instantly detected with text – in emails, chats, texts and tweets for example. I still, after a week’s use, find myself staring at onscreen text with disbelief.

A bigger battery promises longer talk time, an inbuilt 3-axis gyroscope promises amazing new gaming features (check out Steve Jobs playing Jenga to get an idea), as well as fabulous refinements in the burgeoning field of augmented reality. The iPhone 4’s new 720p HD video footage can now be edited on the phone using the new mobile version of iMovie, which comes with transitions, themes and all the extras and refinements you would expect from Apple.

With the pep of the A4 chip, the Retina display, two cameras, a flash, HD video, a larger battery and that drool-worthy form factor, Apple has come up with its best ever handset. HTC Android handsets still impress and offer a viable alternative for many, but iPhone 4’s star quality is irresistible.

Those who can’t yet upgrade without financial penalty can still enjoy the advantages of iOS 4.0 – not all the features are available for iPhone 3G, but just about everything works perfectly on the 3GS. Multitasking is smooth and efficient (double press the home button for a line of open apps that can be accessed or closed). App Folders now allow you to bundle apps together according to whatever categorisation appeals to you. The Mail app gets an overhaul with better IMAP and Google Mail functionality. An element of spell checking is now available, though I still get “me” turning to “mr” all the damned time. Dozens of other little extras lurk in this major software overhaul and I can think of no reason why iPod Touch and iPhone 3G and 3GS users wouldn’t want to upgrade immediately.

App Folders

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This blog was posted in General, Guardian column and Techblog

4 comments on “iPhone 4: a Welcome and a Warning”

  1. Boog says:

    I was thinking about an iPhone, but heard a report yesterday on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) that the 4 has an antenna problem, which at the moment can only be “solved” with a small piece of duct(gaffer) tape. Hopefully it’s a software and not a hardware problem.

    Duct tape … never leave home without it :)

  2. AxmxZ says:

    (Not meant as an insult – just a funny video about iPhone4.)

  3. AshleyLHarnett says:

    The antenna problem only occurs if your finger is over the small dark line at the bottom left side of the phone’s casing and is resolved by using a bumper.

    Great review, Stephen! If only they weren’t so bally expensive I’d have one of every model (just for good measure).

  4. Karski says:

    Thank you Stephen for a most enjoyable review.

    iPhone 4 launched in Australia on 30th July and my daughter and I were 9th and 10th in the Optus queue of several hundred. By the next day there was a four week wait for the iPhone 4.

    The Retina display is incredible. The presentation on the Keynote address and the website doesn’t do justice to the clarity of the screens, images and text; you Want to use this phone.

    All of the added features are amazing.

    While I loved the curved back of the iPhone 3G/3GS, there is a beautiful feel to the sleek lines and gloss of the iPhone 4 .

    With regard to the Antenna, I am using the iPhone 4 without a bumper and have NOT experienced any antenna issues or increased call drop-outs.

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