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Apple iPhone 4 Review

 

Apple iPhone 4 Review

 
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Even from the outside, you'll see that the iPhone 4 marks the biggest upgrade since the iPhone 3G (the 3GS didn't add much beyond a compass). The profile is thinner and you'll notice a new front-facing camera (more on that later). The iPhone 4 also serves as the debut device for the newly named iOS 4 operating system, which brings such much-needed features as multitasking, a unified e-mail in-box, and app folders for the home screen.

On the whole, this iPhone 4 has us more excited than we were last year when the the 3GS was born. The new features, particularly those in the new operating system, are long overdue and we welcome any efforts to improve call quality (remember that it is a phone, after all). There were a few things that we were hoping for that we didn't get--a 64GB model, among them--but we look forward to reviewing this model.

Design

The new iPhone's design is a sharp departure from the previous iPhone models. The front and back sides are glass, both surfaces are flat, and a stainless steel border circles the entire phone. Indeed, it looks very much like the photos that appeared on Gizmodo after an Apple engineer allegedly lost it in a Redwood City, Calif., bar back in April. Other new design elements include the aforementioned front-facing camera, split volume controls, two noise-cancellation microphones, and a new LED flash with the main camera lens. The iPhone 4 also switches to a Micro-SIM format, just like the iPad.

We welcome the new design elements on a couple of levels. The flat backside means that the iPhone will no longer wobble when it's resting on a table. Also, even though the overall effect is a tad boxy, the handset has a clean and unmistakeably Apple look. At 0.37 inch (9.3mm), the iPhone 4 also is 25 percent thinner than its predecessors. Jobs called it the thinnest smartphone around, but since that race changes daily, it may not hold the title for long.

We haven't had an opportunity to test noise-cancellation microphones, though we expect that they can only do good. The camera flash also is a win, and we're hoping that the front-facing camera can be used for self-portraits in addition to the new FaceTime feature. The split volume buttons are fine, even though we never had a problem with the previous control.

That said, we have a couple of concerns with the new design. It's clear that Apple is pushing the Micro-SIM format, though we're not exactly sure why. On a superficial level, it saves plastic, but a Micro-SIM doesn't offer any functional benefits over the standard SIM. Is Apple starting a new format war or is this merely a barrier (albeit, not a very high one) to iPhone jailbreakers? We'll have to wait and see the answer, but in the meantime we hope that you'll be able to use the same Micro-SIM between on an iPhone 4 and an iPad 3G.

We also have a small concern about all that glass. It is shiny and beautiful, but the glass attracts smudges by the ton and durability remains a concern. Jobs said that glass better resists scratches, but we hope that the iPhone 4 will take a few drops to the floor without cracking. On the upside, it feels solid in the hand.

Antenna

The stainless steel border is more than just decorative; it doubles as a new antenna that circles the entire phone. Though Jobs did not promise that it would improve call quality or Wi-Fi reception, its very mention is an indirect admission that data and voice reception is not perfect. Though current iPhone users largely blame AT&T for connectivity problems, remember that both a carrier's network and a phone's antenna play a part in reception.

Whatever the reason for its development, the redesigned antenna should be good news for iPhone users. And if it improves call quality while looking good at the same time, that's even better.

Display

Apple has a unique talent for making us want something we never knew we wanted. The iPhone 4 features a 940x640-pixel (or 300 pixels per square inch) "Retina Display," which is four times the resolution of previous iPhone models. What's more, it uses the same IPS display that's found on the iPad with an 800:1 contrast ratio. Though we've always thought highly of the current iPhone displays, perhaps Apple wanted to respond to the gorgeous screens we've seen on phones like the HTC Evo 4G.

In our brief hands-on, the display is clearer than crystal clear (Brian Tong's words).

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