Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) | iLounge


Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB)


Company: Apple Inc.


Model: iPhone 4

Price: $199/16GB, $299/32GB with New 2-Year Contract

Compatible: PC/Mac

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Jeremy Horwitz

Pros: The most museum-quality phone design yet from Apple, packing the most powerful iPhone hardware in history into the smallest and sleekest enclosure. Overall camera performance is outstanding, even by comparison with low-end dedicated still and video cameras, with configuration-free video calling an option over Wi-Fi. New 960x640 display equals past iPhones in brightness and off-angle viewability while surpassing them by a factor of four in detail, improving the smoothness of photos and fonts. Improved speaker performance across the board, and markedly better microphone performance in handset mode amidst ambient noise. Markedly faster data performance under some conditions. Reasonably priced given the technology inside.

Cons: Smudge, scratch, and shatter issues await users who avoid cases. Antenna reception is more noticeably reduced under some conditions than on prior iPhones, particularly impeding cellular performance in certain indoor environments. Despite improved screen, user interface is only modestly improved from iPhone 3GS. Lowest capacity version feels cramped given video recording capabilities and release of high-resolution apps. High-resolution video output to monitors is confusingly limited; video calling is presently incompatible with even Apple’s own iChat application. Data consumption due to higher-resolution screen is ill-suited to lowest-end limited data service plans. Sole U.S. cellular data provider AT&T continues to provide inconsistent and sometimes poor service. Updated: Click here for Verizon iPhone 4 details.

If Apple hasn’t convinced you already that it is capable of creating some of the most beautiful consumer electronics products on the planet, consider for a moment the G4 Cube, a decade-old computer that was quite literally museum-ready upon its release. Suspending the entire box-shaped computer above the surface of a table in a clear plastic frame, the Cube was a masterpiece of industrial design, a departure from what had come before, and ultimately, a flop. The plastic cracked during normal use, the high price tag kept it out of reach for people who wanted to own it anyway, and the company discontinued it after only a year. Yet many people, including us, still think of it fondly as a brilliant concept that wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Due to its more aggressive pricing, Apple’s new mobile phone iPhone 4 ($199*/16GB, $299*/32GB) will unquestionably sell in numbers that would have kept the G4 Cube around for years, but it’s the product of the same bold, brilliant, and sometimes reckless design philosophy that has made so many Apple products lustworthy, yet destined for early repair or replacement. Like the Cube, it achieves its physical beauty by making novel use of a delicate material—this time, twin panes of glass—held together with a metal internal frame that notably includes its wireless antennas. Fresh out of the box, iPhone 4 sparkles with a minimalist sleekness that some have compared to the work of vaunted German designer Dieter Rams, though it simultaneously evokes durability concerns that even its plastic predecessors couldn’t match, and creates issues that Rams might call antithetical to a few of his famous principles of good design.


As with all Apple products, however, there’s far more to iPhone 4 than its enclosure. Inside are two impressive new cameras, a dramatically improved new “Retina Display” screen, and internal changes that improve its speed, battery life, wireless, and video capabilities relative to last year’s iPhone 3GS. Collectively, these changes enable iPhone 4 to deliver limited video calling functionality (“FaceTime”), improved still and video camera capabilities, and iPad-rivaling graphics in a thinner, denser enclosure than before. Under some circumstances, it also achieves noticeably better data transfer rates, as well. These are all big improvements to a design that’s offered at the same prices as last year’s models, as well as with the same storage capacities and color choices. There are also two catches: Apple has left the user interface all but unchanged from the iPhone 3GS, which made great use of a lower-resolution display, so the screen improvements are of the subtle variety until you begin to try certain applications. Additionally, the company continues to offer iPhone 4 solely in partnership with a single American wireless phone provider, AT&T, which has notoriously lagged behind domestic rivals in dropped calls and customer service, though the device is now being offered by an impressive array of international carriers.


Following in our long-standing tradition, iLounge’s comprehensive review of iPhone 4 discusses both the positives and negatives of Apple’s latest device, including everything from the build quality of the hardware to the performance of its new and old phone, audio, photo, video, and battery features. Numerous screenshots, comparative camera snaps, and videos are included, as well, so that you can see the iPhone 4’s features for yourself. We’ve divided this review into ten pages that can be easily navigated with the section bar at the top or bottom of the screen; those looking to cut straight to the conclusion section can do so at any time. Enjoy.


Updated February 9, 2011: We have created a Verizon CDMA iPhone 4 addendum to this review, discussing and separately rating Apple’s second iPhone 4 version. Read it here.


Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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