Update: Apple recently released their latest phone: the long awaited iPhone 5.
Editor's Note: With the release of the iPhone 4S the iPhone 4 is no longer Apple's flagship smartphone. Nevertheless, it's still a powerful device and one that's available at a very good price: $100 with a two-year service contract.
It's also received a number of system software updates since this review was first written, and is now running iOS 5.1. This means it has most of the features of the iPhone 4S except the Siri voice-recognition system.
Every year Apple hits us with a new, shiny iPhone. This year, we are finally getting features that we've wanted for a while now, such as a new design, front facing camera, a better quality camera with flash, and of course a much improved screen.
The iPhone 4 also packs some hidden treats on the inside, making this the best model so far. Is it worth the upgrade from the iPhone 3G? Did you just recently buy an iPhone 3GS and you aren't sure if you want to upgrade already? Or maybe you have never owned an iPhone yet and are thinking the iPhone 4 might be the time to switch. Keep reading to find out, and see if the iPhone 4 can live up to your expectations.
Note: Pay attention to all the pictures in this review, as they were taken strictly with the new iPhone 4 camera.
DESIGN & BUILD
Apple gave the iPhone 4 a design overhaul from the previous 3GS version. The new model is only 0.37 inches thin, compared to its predecessor which is 0.48 inches.
There is no plastic on the exterior of the iPhone 4, and the standard silver bezel that was the trim to all previous iPhones is now gone. The front and back now glass. Supposedly, the glass used is "30 times harder than plastic", and is "comparable to the strength of sapphire crystal", according to Apple's Jonathon Ives.
Between the two pieces of glass is an aluminum strip that wraps around the entire phone. The cool part about this is that the metal trim serves as an antenna for 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth, which helps signal significantly.
When you first look at the display on the iPhone 4, it is simply gorgeous. This is without a doubt one of the best improvements on the new model. The new screen resolution is 960 x 640, up from 480 x 320 on all previous iPhones and iPod touches.
Since the screen didn't get any bigger, there is a lot more pixels per inch now -- 326 to be exact. Currently, there is no other smartphone on the market with a screen of this resolution. To the human eye, it is almost like a digital print. You really can't see any individual pixels anymore, and everything is more crisp.
It will only be a matter of time before all the current applications are updated to support the resolution. The developers have to do little work to make this change.
Now if Apple increased the screen size of the iPhone, that would have been a completely different story, but I can't see that happening anytime soon.
Buttons and Controls
On the front of the Apple iPhone 4 you have the standard "Home" button, along with the proximity and ambient light sensor, and the biggest change, a VGA front-facing camera.
Around the outside of the device you can find the standby button, the new microSIM slot (which has some improved benefits over the standard SIM card), a speaker, a microphone, another microphone (that helps remove background noise), a headphone jack, a silent toggle, and two separate volume buttons.
The inside of the iPhone 4 packs a serious punch. It has the same Apple A4 chip that is also used in the iPad, which has 1 GHz of processing power -- although Apple underclocks it to improve battery life. If you are coming from an iPhone 3G, you are going to be very pleased with the results because you will indeed notice a drastic change in performance.
The iPhone now also has 512 MB of RAM, which is a big step up from the 256 MB found in the iPhone 3GS. This brings better performance when performing many tasks, most especially multitasking.
Apple iOS 4
UPDATE: As noted earlier, this smartphone has been upgraded iOS 5.0. More information on this new version is available in Brighthand's review.
Apple's latest smartphone is launching with iOS 4, the latest version of Apple's operating system. This brings a range of new features, including the greater support for multitasking I've mentioned several times now.
iPhones have always been able to run Apple's own apps in the background, but the new version gives third-party software a limited way of doing this. Apps are essentially paused, and only some special service tasks will be truly running in the background.
When you hit the Home button twice, the current page you are looking at shifts upward, and up from the bottom rises icons for four applications that are already running. From here you can just tap one of those applications and be taken to it.
iOS 4.0 also lets you store application icons in folders, gives you an improved inbox, and even lets you use Bluetooth keyboards.
For an in-depth look at this new operating system, go to: Apple iOS 4.0 Review
This smartphone has a typical quad-band HSUPA chip for data and voice, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1. There is a difference in data-transfer speed in the iPhone 4 compared to the iPhone 3GS, but it isn't that much of a leap.
The iPhone 4 is experiencing signal issues when you hold it in your hands, especially in your left hand. This is due to the iPhone's redesigned antenna. The conductivity of your palm is affecting where the two trim pieces meet, and as a result, the signal drops. As soon as the phone is set down, the signal returns to full strength. People that are using cases aren't having this issue, and it generally doesn't happen when you hold the phone in your right hand, only left.
The latest version of Apple's smartphone is the first with two cameras. The main camera sports a 5 megapixel resolution. That may seem low, but Apple has something called an illuminated sensor that is more sensitive to light. This increases the light being brought in, which raises the photon count, and the pictures are clearer.
As you can tell by the pictures in this review, the camera has a pretty good quality for it to be just a cell phone. I personally have always wanted the iPhone to have a camera good enough to replace a stand-alone point-and-shoot digital camera, and now it has. I was considering buying a nice new digital camera sometime soon, but don't see the need anymore.
There is no need to worry about low light situations, as the iPhone has a built in flash now as well.
As far as video recording quality goes, there are no complaints here for the 720p capture quality. Again, for a phone, this is above par. The only downside is the size of HD video and storage on the iPhone. An hour of recording is anywhere from 4 GB to 5 GB, which can add up if you don't sync back to your Mac or PC. You also can't upload that video in full 720p quality to YouTube unless you use the iMovie app, which is $4.99 in the App store. Otherwise, the quality won't be 720p. They had to get us somewhere, didn't they?
The iPhone 4 is the first with video calling. This has never been popular, but Apple hopes to change it.
The second front-facing camera comes into place here. This is VGA quality, so it won't be anything like the backside camera, but it's good enough. The FaceTime app is really cool if you are using it to communicate with someone you don't always get to see in person.
There are two huge downsides to this at the moment though. First, it can only be between two iPhone 4's, and no previous iPhone model. Second, and the biggest, is that currently it can only be used over Wi-Fi. Apple and AT&T really need to come to an agreement to have video calling allowed over 3G, and the way AT&T is right now, that won't be anytime soon.
To initiate a FaceTime call, you must call the person first, and then switch over. This will only use a minute of your voice plan, and once you are connected, it is all on Wi-Fi, so your minutes don't go dwindling away.
You can switch between both rear-facing and front-facing cameras, so you can show someone what you are looking at, instead of just having them look at you all the time.
As more iPhone 4's get to the public, and eventually the ability to be able to use FaceTime over the 3G network, I can see this really catching on.
The iPhone 4 is the first version of Apple's smartphone with a Gyroscope, which now gives it the ability to sens six axis' of rotation. I can't wait to see the new applications that take advantage of it. Along with the accelerometer and magnetometer already included, any game that you have played where the device has to be controlled via motion will be incredibly precise now. Augmented reality applications will also be something to look for in the coming months.
The iPhone 4 also has a bigger battery, which seems to match up with Apple's own timings.
I'm pleased with the iPhone 4. It's hard to write complaints when Apple just keeps making the phone better and better.
Nowadays though, there is more competition than ever. I personally like competition, because then the companies strive to make the best product. The Droid X, EVO 4G, and the Nexus One are right up with the iPhone 4. If you can't get AT&T, those phones are great options. However, if you have AT&T now, the iPhone 4 is your best option.
UPDATE: The iPhone 4 is now available in just a single configuration: 8 GB of stoarge fore $100.
At $200 for the version with 16 GB of storage, and $300 for 32 GB, and of course signing a two-year contract, those prices are hard to pass up.
Only available in black for now (White will come late July)