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Home / Reviews / Cell Phones

iPhone 4 Review

By Mike Perlman, Sunday 18 July 2010
Has Apple come up with the next "Jesus Phone"? Read our full Apple iPhone 4 review here to find out.

iPhone 4 Overview

It's good to be the king. Or at least it was. Until the rest of the land began forming their own castles and employing their own hierarchical structures and empowering their own citizens. Yes, the iPhone 4 is a dazzling new device that sits in a faded throne. Rather than feel an ever-present sense of complacence, the iPhone 4 has to stand guard day and night. Samsung's Galaxy S phones, HTC's Droid Incredible and EVO, Motorola's Droid X and Droid 2 and Blackberry's Bold 9800 are encroaching and threatening to usurp the smartphone crown.

Have no fear, for the iPhone 4 offers some essential and shiny upgrades like its Retina display, 5-megapixel camera with 720p, FaceTime Web chat, and bolstered processing guts. But with so many other advanced smartphone kingdoms forming over the neighboring hills, the iPhone 4's upgrades can only solidify its place as one of the premiere entertainment smartphones rather than a business powerhouse as well. Let's let down the drawbridge and head inside the castle.

iPhone 4 Design and Retina Display

Apple is touting the iPhone 4 as the world's thinnest smartphone, measuring in at 9.3mm thick, but it's also heavier than we expected. The Samsung Captivate felt like a feather next to the iPhone 4, but Apple makes up for its weight in the quality department. Remember that cheap plastic back on the iPhone 3G that was prone to scratching? How about the plastic Silent Mode tab that suddenly snapped off a few months down the road? Well, the iPhone 4's body construction is fused together by a solid stainless steel band that also integrates antennas. For the record, we never experienced any antenna issues!

Along this band resides a structurally sound metal Silent Mode tab with two round volume control buttons, independent of one another for better control. On top we have the Lock/Power button and an accompanying 3.5mm audio jack. The Apple iPhone 4 is equipped with a speaker and a microphone for FaceTime chats, both of which are located along the bottom of the phone. The SIM card slot is concealed nicely along the right side of the phone while the front and back panels of the iPhone 4 ooze with glossy swank. The panels are composed of the same aluminosilicate glass used in helicopter and high-speed train windshields, so they can withstand a fairly hefty dosage of gravitational force, as in skydiving.

We think the Apple iPhone 4 is without a doubt the sexiest smartphone on the market, and its Retina display just adds more fuel to the fire. The iPhone's 3.5-inch screen is not as impressive when compared to the Samsung Captivate's 4-inch screen, but its 960 x 640-pixel resolution makes up for the short staffing in the dimensions department. The iPhone 4's screen cranks out 326 pixels per square inch, and we struggled to find any visible pixels. They're just too small. While the Captivate's screen technology was top-notch in many scenarios, the Apple iPhone 4's Retina display experience was overall the most realistic and lifelike display we've ever encountered in the smartphone world, and needs to be experienced to be believed.

iPhone 4 iOS 4 Experience

Apple has renamed the traditional iPhone OS to iOS, which is geared to work across the full spectrum of Apple products including the iPod and iPad. That also means synchronization across all Apple products, so if you download an eBook or game on the iPad, you can sync it to your phone, and vice versa. As far as email, we get Exchange support, as well as IMAP and POP3. We could also check all of our mail via a unified inbox that showed multiple accounts in the same stream.

Multitasking for select types of functionality is also part of the deal. With an Apple A4 processor and 512MB of RAM, the iPhone 4 flies through operations and handles multiple tasks at once. What happens is that the iPhone 4 ironically gets a limited version of a feature Windows Mobile has had for nearly a decade, where it'll freeze an application or program, keeping it in a background cache for future use. We were able to rifle between applications thanks to the bottom Application bar that can be accessed from anywhere by tapping the Home button. We could also listen to music in the background while performing various tasks like web browsing or playing games, thanks to third-party applications like Pandora. GPS can be kept running while performing other tasks and Skype or VoIP calls can be answered while doing other things.

We were very impressed with Apple's iOS experience. It's highly intuitive and takes the previous version of the OS to a new level of productivity and efficiency. However, we're still married to the proprietary world of Apple-branded features. For instance, there was no way to set a custom Ringtone or Notification tone unless we dropped some cash or went the jailbreak route. On for instance the Samsung Captivate, we could just drag and drop any sound we wanted onto the microSD card and assign numerous different sounds to different actions. Hopefully Apple will do something about this in the future.

Check out iPhone 4 specifications.

iPhone 4 FaceTime

Let's talk about the Apple iPhone 4's camera configuration. We've got a 5-megapixel CMOS shooter in the back and a 1.3-megapixel VGA cam in the front for FaceTime chats and self-portraits. The camera on the back has an LED flash that functions as a video light while recording 720p video or any other quality. We get down and dirty with the cameras a few sections down, so we're going to focus mainly on FaceTime, which is Apple's version of in-phone Web chat via Wi-Fi. We used FaceTime and were satisfied with how clear the subject was and the refined motion. There was no frame lagging, and we could hold conversations clearly, thanks to the dual-mic noise suppression. Unlike a laptop, FaceTime also gave us the freedom to roam around the house, taking our FaceTime buddies with us.

iPhone 4 Multimedia and Voice Quality

We know that Netflix is heading Apple's way, which will open up the floodgates to downloadable content via wireless or 3G networks, and we still have Apple's omnipotent App Store for thousands of games, tools, and other miscellaneous applications. Speaking of gaming, the Apple iPhone 4 has a 3-axis gyroscope and a 3-axis accelerometer for improved game control. We loaded Need for Speed on the iPhone 4 and Rolling Thunder on the Samsung Captivate and iOS 4 proved to be better optimized for such a task than Android 2.1. We also enjoyed watching movies on the iPhone 4, despite not offering the latest and greatest display technology on the market.

Now for voice quality, we tested the iPhone by calling the Samsung Captivate. Both phones are in the same arena, and it is a good one. Apple's dual-mic noise suppression led to a background-free talk experience, even by a busy road. We were impressed by the clarity and lack of static. And about the antenna issue, we never had an issue with the iPhone 4's antenna€”in fact, reception was great. Still, it's worth noting that Apple will provide iPhone 4 buyers with a free case as of late July, which should alleviate this issue if appearing.

Another one of Apple's claims centered around battery life€”as always. Being packed with high-end technology in a compact body, what usually ends up happening is we see the same battery lifespan every round of new phones.

iPhone 4 Still Image Quality

The Apple iPhone 4's camera is one of its feature attractions. We've got a 5-megapixel 720p HD CMOS image sensor with 1.75-micron BSI pixel architecture geared to improve low-light sensitivity.

We found the iPhone 4's camera to be pretty good, though we could discern a few tricks. First off, colors are vibrant, to the point of almost being neon at times, so saturation is undoubtedly pumped. There's also a lot of internal sharpening going on, giving us a defined image at the cost of boosted noise in low light. The saturation and vibrant color reproduction came to the iPhone 4's aid in low light, though certain images were pelted with black noise. However, the iPhone 4 could expose where many other popular phones couldn't. We also experienced an excellent handling of motion while shooting out of a moving car and the phone's LED flash provided a significant illumination boost.

It's worth noting that the Camera mode is strictly stripped down to the ability to tap Focus. When you tap, you are essentially adjusting the Focus, Exposure, White Balance, and ISO, so it's more of an Auto/Manual hybrid tool. While the Samsung Captivate provides a wealth of filters, effects, manual controls, and shooting modes, the iPhone 4 relies on 3rd party Camera applications to get the job done. We would have liked a nice suite of manual controls to go with this nice sensor, but Apple's aim is simplicity, and for a camera that can point, tap, and shoot with great results nine out of ten times, the iPhone 4's camera is still great in terms of image quality.

Bike Graveyard

Portrait of a Geek

The Lone Lupine

Maine Field

Fuzzy Macro


Backlight Test

Audi on the Dock

Shot While Moving

Satellite Farm

Flowers at Night

Flowers at Night With Flash

Stove at Night

Stove at Night with Flash

Apple iPhone 4 vs. Samsung Captivate Gallery

Indoor €“ Samsung Captivate

Indoor €“ iPhone 4

Low Light €“ Samsung Captivate

Low Light iPhone 4

Low Light €“ iPhone 4 with LED Flash

Outdoor 1 €“ Samsung Captivate

Outdoor 1 €“ iPhone 4

Outdoor 2 €“ Samsung Captivate

Outdoor 2 €“ iPhone 4

Night €“ Samsung Captivate

Night €“ iPhone 4

iPhone 4 Video Quality

That back-illuminated CMOS sensor rocked the Casbah in video mode. Recording drunken shenanigans in dimly lit bars is a smaller task for the iPhone 4 than you'd think, especially with its LED video light. We were greeted to smooth motion with no lag or frame jumping, and we actually checked the frame rate, which showed 29.97fps, a video standard. The competing Samsung Captivate's videos showed at 29.55fps, which led to some motion lag on its end.

iMovie is also available for the iPhone 4 for five bucks, allowing users to edit their videos right in the phone and send them off as text messages to friends. Videos and still images can also be geotagged, pinpointing the exact location they were captured or snapped.

iPhone 4 Low Light Videos

Apple iPhone 4 vs. Samsung Captivate Video Showdown

Apple iPhone 4: The Final Answer

Between the iPhone 4's image quality, beautiful Retina display, Web chat capability, multitasking in the revamped iOS 4, delicious build quality, and Roadrunner-quick operation, this is as close as you can get to the top of the entertainment totem pole. But we didn't like the same proprietary Ringtone/Notification corner we were backed into, and feel that we should have the choice to set a Legend of Zelda magic sound every time we get an email or edit our own version of the Reading Rainbow theme as our ringtone.

Apple should also have done a better job at giving iOS 4 a boost into the future as far as Web service integration is concerned. Last year's Motorola Droid slammed free Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation on the table. Furthermore, we'll soon see a BlackBerry Bold 9800 QWERTY touch slider powered by BlackBerry 6 being launched on AT&T that integrates corporate Gmail. In the early days of the iPhone, being the leader in taking advantage of for instance new Google services were one of its merits.

We're sure Apple has a plan for the future as far as Web services are concerned, and we're confident that iTunes and App Store will keep improving. However, 2010 will not be remembered as a year when Apple really nailed it in the smartphone world. It'll primarily be remembered as a year when Apple spent most of its resources getting up to speed on previous shortcomings.

Naturally, the iPhone 4's much asked for features are as important as any for devoted iPhone users, and as such, it's a great addition to the smartphone market for many people (along with the $100 iPhone 3GS 8GB). However, as a "Jesus phone", it simply falls short as there are now other smartphones out there that also deliver features that people didn't know they wanted. If you're looking for a top-notch entertainment device, we can safely recommend the iPhone 4, but if you're looking for the latest and greatest smartphone, you won't necessarily find it in the iPhone 4.

iPhone 4 Photo Gallery

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Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4

Price and Availability

The iPhone 4 is available for AT&T now. It sells for $300 with a new two-year contract. A $100 mail-in rebate will be given when signing up for a qualifying plan. The iPhone 4 is also available for $600 unlocked, and a white version will start shipping later this year.

In late July, Apple will also start offering a free bumper to iPhone 4 customers. Also, if you're not happy with your iPhone 4 experience, undamaged units can be returned within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

Starting July 30, the iPhone 4 will be available in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
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