∞ Review: iPhone 4

I could just say that the iPhone 4 is gorgeous, packed with features, it works great and end the review right there. While that’s all true, I do have a few things to say. So, here is the long version of the review. iPhone 4 design

When I first saw the iPhone 4, I was amazed at how square it looked. It really didn’t seem like a design that Apple would come up with. However, the pictures were a bit deceiving.

In a lot of ways, the iPhone 4 is more sleek than the previous generation phones. The rounded corners aren’t as pronounced as the iPhone 3GS, but the overall design is very Apple-like.

If you used a previous iPhone, the main functions of the iPhone 4 will be instantly recognizable. The Volume buttons are on the left side with the Silent switch, and the headphone jack is on the top with the screen lock button. Of course, the main touchscreen still has one Home button for navigating through the iPhone.

Camera and video camera

iPhone 4 CamerasOne of the biggest new hardware features of the iPhone is the camera. The iPhone now has a five megapixel, five times digital zoom camera with one of the most talked about missing features (in my house anyway): a flash.

To get a better idea of how important the new flash was, I handed the iPhone off to my 17 year old daughter, Nicole, and let her play around with it. She was so excited to see there was a Flash, she immediately went in to every dark place she could find to see how it worked.

I must admit, I was a bit surprised how well it did. Nicole went into the pitch black Garage and took a picture of her hand — it turned out perfect. There is an onscreen button to turn the flash on, off or leave it on auto, which is quite handy.

I’m not a big fan of digital zoom, but the fact the iPhone has one is a plus, although I don’t think I’ll use it much. Like the flash, the zoom slider pops up when you touch the screen — you simply slide from one side to the other to adjust the zoom.

The front-facing camera was another big hit with Nicole and her friends. No more guessing if you have everyone in the shot before taking a picture. This is, I’m told, of major importance to many users.

If you’re going to put in a video camera, do it right. I think Apple definitely did this right. The video camera shoots 720p HD at 30 frames per second. I’m certainly not a pro videographer, so this more than suits my needs for video.

In fact, the camera and video camera will replace the need for me to have a separate point and shoot camera and a video camera. I have both, but the quality of what I’ve seen from the iPhone is perfectly fine.

Antenna and iPhone 4 reception

Some of the biggest news about the iPhone 4 has been about the reception issues and the antenna. The problem is that you can lose signal bars by putting the iPhone in a “death grip” and squeezing.

Now, can I replicate this issue on my iPhone 4? Yes, I can. However, there is some weirdness going on with it, that doesn’t make any sense to me.

For instance, when I’m not on a call, I can use the death grip to completely lose the signal. However, when I’m on a call, I can’t. No matter what I do, the iPhone will not lose the signal enough to hang up on the call.

Here’s another thing. I turned off 3G, gave the phone a death grip and the signal bars went from three up to five. A reverse death grip? I’m not sure what happened there.

Apple said on Friday that it had figured out the problem and will release a software fix in a few weeks. That’s fine with me. As far as I can tell,  the iPhone 4 reception issues are real, but they haven’t prevented me from making or staying on a call.

iOS 4

A big part of the iPhone 4 for me was the integration of the new operating system, iOS 4. My favorite feature is multitasking.

While not all apps have been updated to take advantage of multitasking, enough of them have to give me an idea of how it all works. Multitasking is easy to bring up — just double-tap the Home button and all of the apps you have running show at the bottom of the screen.

In a typical day, I will have many of the same apps running, so it’s annoying to open Mail; check my email; close Mail; find Twitterrific; open Twitterrific; check tweets; close Twitterrific; find Facebook; open Facebook… you get the idea.

With multitasking, you open an app, do what you want, double-tap and open another app. That easy and quickly, you’re in and out of apps. What’s more, with multitasking, you re-enter the apps at the exact same place you left them.

This is especially important if you are copying and pasting text a lot, like I do for stories. Having to restart apps all the time and find your place is a real pain in the ass.


iMovie for iPhoneIn addition to an HD video camera, Apple has given us the ability to edit those HD movies and share them, right from the iPhone. It’s incredible when you think about it, but it works and works really well.

I shot a couple of quick movies just to test out iMovie. After fooling around with iMovie for no more than 15 minutes, I was able to make a really nice looking movie with transitions, titles and a theme. Of course, iMovie did all of the heavy lifting, but I’ll take credit for it.

When I played it back on my iPhone, it was okay. However, when I exported to my hard drive, I was amazed at how good the movie looked in HD. This is definitely an app that you need to have if you have an iPhone 4.

Retina Display

This is another feature that caused a flurry of controversy after its introduction. While some people said the display isn’t all Apple says it is, I talked to a vision scientist that says Apple’s claims are accurate.

Here’s what I can tell you. The Retina Display is the most brilliant mobile screen display that I’ve ever seen. Everything you view on the iPhone is crisp, clean and smooth.

For me, it’s especially prevalent when viewing text. It’s much easier to read, even at smaller sizes. Being easier to read, it also doesn’t seem to strain my eyes as much and that’s important as I get a bit older.


FaceTime is one of those cool Apple features that you just can’t wait to try. It uses the front and rear facing cameras to give users the ability to do video chats.

I honestly didn’t know if FaceTime was something I would like. Typically, I don’t do video chats unless absolutely necessary, mostly because I like to walk when I talk. Just a habit I’ve developed over the years and one I’m probably not going to break anytime soon.

Having said that, I really like having FaceTime as an option. The tests that I did with it were fun, but I can see a real-time use for them too.

Obviously, the ones that Apple uses are calling home when you’re traveling and showing grandparents the children, but there are other uses. Business users can utilize FaceTime for video conferencing, as an example.

The ability to flip the camera from front to back during a call is a big plus. People can see what you see without manually turning the camera around and having that motion sickness feeling while things get situated.

Definitely a cool technology, but we’ll have to wait to see how much it gets used.

Bottom line

Honestly, I’m thrilled with the iPhone 4 and iOS 4. It has so many new features that make it an even more useful device for me in my everyday work and personal life. I would highly recommend it as an upgrade to an existing iPhone user or anyone that is buying one for the first time.

  • Nice review, very concise.

    I can attest to your daughter’s testimony of the importance of a decent front facing camera for self-portraits, my little sister loves it, too.

    As for your reception weirdness I might have an explanation. From my (very) limited knowledge about cell phone technology, I think I remember that GSM uses a top-down approach for retaining a signal, while UMTS uses a bottom up approach. This means that a GSM cell phone will always transmit at full power, until it determines that the reception is good enough to turn the signal strength down. I believe this mode is called EFR (Enhanced Full Rate). Coupled with the frequencies GSM usually uses, it might explain why the reception was so good. UMTS on the other hand, turns up the signal strength on demand, to always provide a good connection. AFAIK it uses different frequencies that might react differently to dampening by human tissue. That paired with Apple’s explanation of the issue and a few others (AnandTech, …), leads me to believe that Apple might have made an error when defining the signal quality thresholds on the iPhone 4.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      That would certainly explain what happened to me. Thanks for that!

  • Perry Clease

    My wife and I checked out the iPhone 4 this morning at an Apple Store. Both of us were very impressed and will probably upgrade our iPhone 3Gs in August. My wife really likes FaceTime and for her that was selling point. I would like to see FaceTime working with iChat, maybe Apple will add that feature.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      A lot of people share your views on FaceTime and iChat. Maybe we’ll see it in 10.7.

  • Paulo

    Great, honest review. The retina display and faster CPU are what interest me most about this new iteration of the iPhone. What other device over the past several years has caused so much buzz, whether good or bad? Looking forward to picking one up, gonna wait for the crowds to thin a bit.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Paulo, the speed of the iPhone 4 is just insane. People said it was a big jump from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS — this is an even bigger jump in speed. You’ll love it.

  • Chris

    Love my iPhone 4 and your review Jim. Agree the phone is great and likewise, I’ve not dropped calls but have dropped some bars… all good with me. Been having a very annoying issue with the proximity sensor not working but think I may have found a resolution for that too. Will let you know.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Hey Chris,

      I’ve heard about the problems with the proximity sensor, but haven’t experienced it myself. I do believe it’s because I always use a Bluetooth headset. If you find a solution, let me know.

  • Bob

    I’m disappointed to learn that the zoom is digital. I was hoping it was optical. To me the digital zoom is almost useless, I’d rather take the shot and crop it after. Speaking of which, are there any editing tools with the new camera?

    • Jim Dalrymple

      I agree, I’d rather crop the image later than use digital zoom. I’m sure a lot of people will find it useful though.

      There are no editing tools in the camera.

    • Perry Clease

      Apple doesn’t include any photo editing apps, but there are a number of 3rd party apps. I usually like to edit on my iMac, but I have used Camera Plus Pro to edit photos on my iPhone. It can also upload directly to facebook

      • Jim Dalrymple

        I’ve used Camera Plus too. Typically though I just snap a shot and post it to Twitter or Facebook, so I don’t get too caught up in editing.

        • I’ve had Camera+ installed on my 3GS before I sold it and I was impressed by the app (bought it after I heard Lisa Bettany on MBW). It’s one of the apps that I’m itching to try on the iPhone 4.

  • Steven

    I really enjoyed reading your article and enjoy my new iPhone 4 as much as you do. I agree with the strangeness of the signal but completely disagree with all these lawsuits and ballooning it way out of context. One thing I didn’t see you comment on was the glass. This glass is soooo smooth. It feels like baby’s skin. I never really remember any iPhone surface being this smooth. Its very hard to put this phone down….and add in the retina display? Very nice piece of machinery.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Can’t argue with you on the glass. Really nice.

  • I can actually reproduce the signal loss on my 3G S running iOS 4. It has to be in a low reception situation which is hard to find with my provider in Australia, but it doesn’t drop the call. I’m with Telstra and have never had a dropped call.

    I can also reproduce it with WiFi in low signal areas.

    Waiting for iPhone 4 in Australia, I’ll be in line.

  • Thomas Moudry

    Nice, truly dead-on review. Everything you’ve said and done pretty much sums up my impressions and experiences with the iPhone 4 thus far.

    I’m intrigued to see how soon it will be before iOS 4 is tweaked and made available for iPad.

  • I’ve played with it in my Apple Store. Love it.

    Another thing is the “traction” of the brushed stainless frame. It feels good and offers a good positive grip surface.

    I’m waiting for a white one.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      It actually does feel good. I can easily navigate the menus holding the iPhone in one hand.

  • JohnO

    Nice, concise review. Thanks.

    I had my first experience with an iPhone 4 at a friend’s house. As expected, the display is very nice. The camera and flash were surprisingly good. We were outside, and the sun had already set, but it was still somewhat light. I took a photo with my 3GS and my friend’s iPhone 4. The difference was really surprising, especially considering the car I was photographing was about 8 feet away. I was surprised and pleased that the flash carried so far.

  • logan

    wow very impressed with my iphone4. best unlocked gsm phone in my opinion right now. great touch screen, love my black one but probably going to get a white one. it’s responsive and the processor is faster, email is practical and the games and apps are great for downtime. love my new unlocked phone. got my last 2 at gsmallover.com and going to get one more for my daughter. 2 thumbs up

  • I made a little video on youtube to show the problem. Its definitely a design issue. Hopefully they can tune the software to shut the screen off or make it more sensitive to you being further away from the phone before the keypad comes on. Sorry if im rambling a bit, didnt have time to adjust much on it..and i shot it on a tripod. http://www.applereviewed.net