Review: Apple iPhone 4

While Apple fans in metro areas waited around the block in the cold for midnight launches last Friday morning, regional customers had to wait for 9am. Stock was extremely...

iPhone 4

While Apple fans in metro areas waited around the block in the cold for midnight launches last Friday morning, regional customers had to wait for 9am. Stock was extremely limited with Optus Albury receiving around 7 devices, with a line of around 15 people, there was some disappointed customers. Naturally I was first in line to make sure I got one to review. After living with the phone for a few days its time to detail my review of iPhone 4.

Hardware

Reports of antenna issues have plagued the device since launch in the US, so much so that Apple felt the need to call a press conference to defend itself. Naturally Australian’s were concerned about the issue when the phone launched down under. I’ve been surprised how much this message has penetrated, reaching everyday Australians with a number of everyday people asking my opinion. The good news is that the iPhone4 antenna is a non-issue.

I’ve made and received plenty of calls on the iPhone4 and haven’t dropped a single call. Naturally if you active try to kill the reception with the ‘death grip’ you can, but if your in an area with adequate coverage you’ll be fine. If your getting 4 or 5 bars, and holding it aggressively means you drop 2, then your down to 2 or 3 bars, still plenty to maintain the call. So really it’s only in an extreme fringe area where you may have an issue.

If your a Telstra customer, then you will have had great 3G coverage on the 850Mhz spectrum. Optus and other telcos use 2100Mhz for 3G in metro areas which is fine, but use 900Mhz for 3G regional areas. The problem is iPhone’s have never supported 3G over 900Mhz before the iPhone4, now that it does its great news for non-Telstra customers. This means high speed 3G coverage is now available in large parts of Australia, significantly decreasing the gap between Telstra and Optus. Coverage is one thing, speed is another, Telstra still has the best speed by many magnitudes, so if you can stretch to the higher cost and speed is important, Telstra is still your best bet.

iPhone 4 Retina Display

Retina display

Make no mistake, the screen on the iPhone4 is the best display available on a phone. A 3.5” multi-touch display with 960×640 resolution at 326 pixels per inch makes text incredibly crisp and clear. The numbers themselves don’t really describe just how clear things are, the only disappointing things is that apps that take advantage of the higher quality are still quite rare. As someone who shoots with a DSLR, I do appreciate being able to see more detail in my photos. My only criticism is screen brightness is still too bring when on the lowest setting, doesn’t Apple realise us insomniacs want to use our phones in dark rooms at 3am ?

Apple say the screen has a magic finger-print-proof (or resistant) coating, so is it any better than the 3GS ? Actually it is. After 5 days of use I haven’t cleaned the screen once. If only the iPad had this screen it wouldn’t require cleaning every 27 seconds.

iPhone 4 Rear Camera

Camera(s)

iPhone 4 has an upgraded rear camera capable of taking 5 megapixel stills and record 720/30fps video. It’s pretty amazing feat out of such a small lens and no doubt image processor. If your thinking this means all your photos will now be perfect, you’d be wrong. While it is better, its still a phone camera, hold still or you’ll still end up with a blurry image. The flash on the back is a nice addition to allow at least some kind of picture in low-light environments, sadly noise is still an issue. Naturally with all camera flashes they are only effective to a certain distance, so if your subject is too far away, forget it.

The addition of a front facing camera allows for self-portraits so u can update that Facebook profile photo and also video calls.

iPhone 4 FaceTime

FaceTime

Hmmm.. video calling.. is the reason that nobody does this because it hasn’t been an integrated seamless experience now offered by Apple ? Or is it that we simply don’t want or need to see the person we’re calling ? We’ve all got webcams on our laptops now, but do we make many or any video calls ?

FaceTime is an interesting attempt at getting widespread adoption of video calls, you know, like they had in the Jetsons. Most people will try this out a few times just for the novelty of it, but use it rarely. That’s the reality, people don’t necessarily want the other person on the other end of the phone to see them, or it might simply be that holding the phone in a way that permits video is uncomfortable.

What is important to note is that FaceTime happens over Wi-Fi and not the cellular networks. As an interesting hack, you can press the home button during a FaceTime call to make it voice only over Wi-Fi. So if your family or friends have iPhone4’s and Wi-Fi, you can call them for Free ! A very nice, low-publicised feature of the new model. 

iPhone 4 Volume Controls

Volume controls

One of my few criticisms about the industrial-style redesign is the volume up and down buttons as well as the silent switch. Unlike previous models where you could easily slide your fingers over the buttons and depress them to control the volume, the new design means your fingers get stuck. The buttons are now heavily outset and have no bridging between them. They do feel solid and look good in photos, but as a user experience it’s certainly not as nice as it was.

iPhone 4 Micro SIM

Micro SIM

On the surface it seems like an annoying decision from Apple to switch to the Micro SIM format. In reality there may have been good reason to do so. There’s so many components crammed into the internals of the iPhone, if changing to the Micro SIM means there’s more room for battery or other components, then it’s worth it. The experience in store went quite
smoothly and was handled by the Optus service staff. I left the store with the new Micro SIM in the phone with my number ported over, 3 hours later and it was activated. I’ve heard a number of reports that Telstra was able to do this instantly, still overall the process was simple.

About a week prior to the iPhone4 launch Optus attempted to simplify things by sending users a ‘2 to 1 SIM’. Only problem is, that hardly anyone got them before the launch. Upon sign up we were told they’d be delivered on the 28th of July, 2 days before launch, but in reality mine arrived too late, about lunch time on launch day – 30th July.

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Battery Life

With each generation of the iPhone battery life has improved, so how much better is the iPhone4 ? While it is improved, the battery life is only about 10% better than the 3GS. If your still rocking the iPhone 3G, then you’ll get a big jump by upgrading. One of the best ways to save battery is to disable email Push, instead setting it to arrive every 15 or 30 minutes. If your life doesn’t depend on getting email the second it arrives, then this is an easy way to significantly extend your battery life.

So even with the iPhone4 you’ll still need to charge it each night to ensure your not left with a dead phone the next day.

iPhone 4 dock

Accessories

One of the most frustrating issues with the new phone is that it makes almost all your previous iPhone accessories useless. I’ve invested in a couple of official Apple iPhone docks as well as a VentMount for the car, none of which fit the new squarer design. Ever tried to fit a square peg in a round hole ? Yeah it doesn’t work too well. So get ready to start spending on new Apple accessories for the iPhone4. If you have a clock radio with an iPhone dock, you may be lucky and still be able to use this, these don’t tend to be tightly moulded around the base of the device.

Software

Unfortunately there’s not a lot new when it comes to software, iOS4.0 shipped earlier this year to iPhone 3G and 3GS models. This means with a new phone doesn’t come new software. Shortly after getting the phone I couldn’t help but throw the development version iOS4.1 beta on the new phone. If your hoping for changes in the new versions, you’ll be disappointed. iOS4.1 beta 3 came out today and there’s nothing new in this one. Just bug fixes again.. that old chestnut. 

iPhone 4 Social

Overall

So in summary, iPhone 4 is a great refinement of an industry leading product. The single best feature of the new phone is strangely not the phone at all, but rather the competition it has created in plans. Each generation since launch the iPhone has seen fierce competition between carriers for the top end of the market, iPhone customers continually want more data, more txt, more calls and for lower prices, the good news is we’re getting it.

I’ve been blown away at the progress made in this area, now entering its 3rd year on sale in Australia, iPhone competition has never been stronger. It’s well known that Telstra has the best network in Australia, but they used to charge exorbitant rates to get on it, finally there’s been a changing of their business model to finally drop prices to a reasonable premium for a premium service. As for Optus and other carriers, their biggest bargaining chip is price, so they have to undercut Telstra to keep customers while they invest in growing network infrastructure.

Personally I’m on a $59pm plan with Optus that gets me 2GB data, unlimited SMSand MMS, $550 worth of calls, free social networking and free tethering. When I first got an iPhone (lauch day 2008), I was on an $89pm plan. Amazing progress. I feel sorry for my friends in the US, being tied to one provider AT&T means they don’t have any competition, something that has served Australian iPhone owners extremely well.

iPhone 4 Top angle

Should you buy ?

Even if you wanted to you couldn’t.. they’re sold out ! Yep, iPhone 4 has been incredible successful in Australia and around the world with Apple selling every unit they can make right now. Initial launch numbers were low and sold out in less than 48 hours. There’s meant to be some limit stock come in this week to some Telstra stores, but most retail outlets are saying at least a couple of weeks before they get new stock. Even Apple’s website says 3 weeks for those who want to buy outright.

More info @ Apple

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.