A Review of the iPhone 4
I’ve been an iPhone user since the iPhone 3G two years ago, followed by the iPhone 3Gs last year. My wife also uses an iPhone 3Gs – we’re an “iFamily.” Now, lest you think I’m an Apple “fan boy” let me say for the record that I grudgingly came over to the Apple iPhone mobile platform having used Nokia Symbian based smart phones, followed by Windows Mobile (WinMo) phones. I’m a Windows 7/Intel (WinTel) user for both my desktop and our laptops. In short, the iPhone was a very hard sell for me. But the device has completely won me over. Everything about it – the form factor, the seamless integration, the “it just works” OS, and the great 3rd party support the device gets from the App Store has made an iPhone my daily companion for over two years now – the longest I’ve ever been loyal to a mobile platform. So I’ve been hotly anticipating the next iteration of the iPhone almost since the 3Gs shipped. Of course, there was the whole debacle of both Apple and AT&T’s web stores getting crushed during the tsunami wave of pre-order traffic. That, and my hectic travel schedule kept me from being able to pre-order in time to be part of the first group to receive the iPhone. But mine finally shipped about two weeks later. So here are my thoughts having spent a weekend putting the phone through its paces.
FORM FACTOR AND USABILITY
The iPhone 4 is perhaps the most significant physical upgrade since the platform was introduced, and it does represent a significant departure from the familiar iPhone form factor, but not so much that you won’t recognize the iPhone as an iPhone. The new iPhone 4 is slightly thinner, and slightly longer than the iPhone 3Gs. It’s also noticeably heavier than the 3Gs, though not objectionably so. The added weight comes from different materials used in the construction of the iPhone 4. Whereas the iPhone 3Gs case was largely plastic, the iPhone 4 is all glass (front and back) with a metal band circling the outer edge which contains improved reception antennas. Here’s a couple of photos comparing the previous generation iPhone 3Gs to the iPhone4.
The glass portions of the case are constructed from chemically treated, hardened glass. The iPhone 4 is much flatter now – gone is the familiar curved case back of previous models. One of my chief complaints about the iPhone 3G and 3Gs was that in my hand, the phone felt “slick” and difficult to hold on to. I had to immediately get a case for the iPhone 3G just so I could hold on to it without dropping it. The iPhone 4 is MUCH easier to grip and hold onto in my hand. However, it has a lot of glass surface area to scratch and crack. So for very different reasons, I see a case as being a necessity for the iPhone 4.
TALKING ON THE iPHONE 4
I’ll get this out of the way right now – I absolutely see the signal drop on the iPhone 4 when I hold the phone a certain way in my left hand. So I’ve been careful in my first few days of talking on the iPhone 4. But to me, this issue isn’t a big deal. Any non-conductive rubber or plastic case I purchase (which as stated above is already needed for other reasons) will negate this issue. Apple has also suggested the issue can be corrected with a future firmware/software update. This issue aside, call signal quality seems much improved on the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 seems to be quite tenacious in its ability to hold onto a call with very little signal, which results in fewer dropped calls. I experienced my share of dropped calls with the iPhone 3Gs, and simply chalked it up to AT&T , as everyone seems to blame them for everything bad in the mobile phone world. But as it turns out, the iPhone 3Gs had room for improvement in this regard as well. Now, about half the time I talk on the phone, it’s in my car over the Bluetooth hands-free system in my BMW 330i. So Bluetooth performance is extremely important to me. Having tested several calls in my car, I can tell you that Bluetooth performance with the iPhone 4 is much improved over previous iPhones. I can both hear and be heard much more clearly and with higher volume while using my hands free systems. So this is a huge plus for me. If you use the “speaker phone” a lot, the iPhone 4 has a dual-microphone noise cancellation setup (primarily for enhanced audio during video capture I believe) which improves performance in this regard as well. I’m not a big speaker phone person (unless on hold with “customer service”) so I haven’t test this a whole bunch yet.
HARDWARE IMPROVEMENTS – SCREEN, BATTERY, AND PROCESSOR
In my “smart phone” experience, there are three primary hardware components which impact the user experience – the screen, the processor, and the battery. All of which are improved on the iPhone 4. Apple calls the iPhone’s screen on the iPhone 4 the “Retina Display.” The Retina Display has 4x the pixels in the same amount of space as compared to the iPhone 3Gs – 326 pixels per inch. Steve Jobs has suggested that the Retina Display resolution is so good that it theoretically approaches the limit which the human eye can differentiate. While I can’t confirm or deny Steve Job’s claim, I can tell you the iPhone 4 is darn purdy and clearly improves over the already fantastic iPhone 3Gs screen.
The case redesign of the iPhone 4 allowed for a larger battery – It’s certainly improved to be sure… How much? It’s hard for me to say at this point. Apple is reporting 40% more talk time, but I’m thinking in “real” usage, the number is less. The iPhone 3Gs supposedly had substantially improved batter life over the iPhone 3G, again according to Apple. However, I never really noticed much of a difference. I do notice a difference on the iPhone 4 as compared to the battery life of the 3Gs. I’ll be able to better gauge the battery life during my regular work day next week. But I’m going to ball park that I’m getting 25% longer battery life on the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 has Apple’s new A4 processor on board, and I’ve noticed many applications are running snappier as a result. What is a bit disappointing for me however is that Apple didn’t create a 64 GB version of the iPhone 4 (at least yet). The iPhone 4 still only comes in 16 and 32 GB configurations, like the previous generation 3Gs.
OK, as a professional photographer who practically lives online, the capabilities of the iPhone 4 camera are of keen interest to me. So much of the focus of my review will be spent on the new iPhone 4 camera.
The iPhone 4 Camera is a 5 megapixel camera that produces a .jpg photo which is 2592×1936 in pixel size, or 36 inches x 26.889 inches. The .jpg files the camera produces range from 1.8mb to about 2.2mb in size. In terms of image quality, the images produced by the iPhone 4 aren’t just good, or even very good. They’re scary good. The camera on the iPhone 3G was virtually unusable, and was actually a step backward from the previous smart phone I had been using. The 3Gs camera was much improved, but in terms of producing photos I’d share with others, it left much to be desired. After shooting a series of photos with the camera over the weekend, I was very curious how the camera would compare to a reasonably high performing point and shoot digital camera. So, I brought our Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 along with us on our Sunday morning round of golf. On one of the tee boxes, first took the camera out, and snapped a photo of the fairway, then without moving, I had my son hand me the iPhone 4 and I took a photo from the same position. The DMC-ZS7 Clearly goes wider at the wide end of it’s 24-300 focal length than does the iPhone 4, so I had to slightly crop the DMC-ZS7 photo to try and create a similar photo for comparison with the image the iPhone 4 produced. Here are the two photos virtually straight out of the respective devices with no enhancement or correction done in Photoshop, and resized to approximately 1024×768 (click on the photos to see them at this size):
The two photos are amazingly comparable in overall image quality – without the captions I doubt most people would be able to distinguish between the photo which came from a mobile phone, and the one which came from the $400.00 point and shoot camera. Examining them full-size in Photoshop, the iPhone 4 photo exhibited slightly more digital noise than the DMC-ZS7 photo (you can see it a bit in the sky portion of the photos), but also produced a more saturated, vibrant photo. But again, it’s astounding how good the image produced by the iPhone 4 is as compared to the stand alone camera. Comparing the two unedited photos, I think I actually found the iPhone 4 more appealing. Here’s some more iPhone 4 photo samples from the golf course this weekend. Saturday morning was a bit hazy.
Again, the only editing I’ve done in these photos is to resize them – no further enhanced (sharpness, color, etc.) has been performed . I’m completely impressed with the iPhone 4’s photo quality. Most people will be more than thrilled with the images the camera can produce and share with others via Facebook, email, etc. With a modest amount of photo editing, the iPhone 4 can yield truly breathtaking images. The iPhone 4 also has an LED light on the back of the phone which can be used as a flash, or constant source of LED light illumination (makes a great flashlight). Of course, another new great feature of the iPhone 4 is the ability to produce 1080p HD video. While I’ve downloaded Apple’s $4.99 iMovie, I have not yet had the opportunity to really play around much with the video capabilities – but I’m sure you’ll be seeing some more video content soon here on ThruMyLens thanks the the iPhone 4’s impressive capabilities in this regard.
Of course, along with the iPhone 4, Apple rolled out the latest iteration of their operating system called iOS 4.0. iOS 4.0 runs on the iPhone 3G & 3Gs, and I was able to obtain an advance copy last month (click here to see my article on iOS 4.0).
So far, the iPhone 4 is meeting and exceeding my expectations in ways no previous generation iPhone has done. I’ve come to rely on the iPhone as an indispensable device to help run my business, communicate with friends and family, and in general, “do life.” The iPhone 4 is now even more useful and powerful, making the $299.00 (for the 32GB model with a 2 year AT&T contract) a no-brainer. Long-live the iPhone.
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.