Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB)
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.
In addition to support for gyroscope-assisted six-axis motion controls, hardware that’s presently unique to the iPhone 4 but will likely appear in future iPod touch and iPad models as well, iOS 4 is capable of running first- and third-party iPhone 4-specific applications, including iMovie for iPhone, which are prevented from running on earlier iPhones due to screen and processor hardware differences. The number of iPhone 4-only applications is currently tiny, with screen- and gyroscope-based applications outnumbering ones that require iPhone 4 processor hardware for other reasons.
iBooks. Apple’s free ePub and PDF reading application iBooks 1.1 runs on iPhone 4, with the same features discussed in our iBooks 1.1 review from earlier this week. On iPhone 4, text and graphics alike benefit from four times the screen resolution of the iPhone 3GS, a fact that enables iBooks 1.1 on the iPhone 4 to display more words on an ePub-formatted book’s page than on earlier iPhones, but fewer than on the iPad. The application is otherwise the same from device to device.
iMovie for iPhone. Released the morning of June 24, Apple’s $5 video editing program iMovie for iPhone is a miniaturized and streamlined version of the Macintosh iLife program iMovie ‘09, enabling iPhone 4 users—and only iPhone 4 users—to perform more sophisticated movie making than with the device’s built-in clip editor: photos, music, text, and transition effects can be added to video clips, which can be cut and spliced together. The program outputs files at 360p, 480p, or 720p HD resolution for instant viewing through the iPhone, recompressed YouTube, MMS, or e-mail sharing, and full-sized synchronizing to a computer. We will review iMovie for iPhone in a separate article.
Third-Party Applications. Developers have scrambled to release updated versions of their earlier iPhone applications with higher-resolution graphics for the iPhone 4 screen, and/or support for the multitasking features of the iOS 4 operating system; a couple of others have debuted new applications with iPhone 4 support built in. Several noteworthy initial titles include:
Pandora and Slacker Radio. These applications allow you to stream music from Pandora and Slacker Radio, competing on-demand Internet Radio companies whose software lets you create “stations” with songs similar to ones you already enjoy. On iOS 4, these apps can now run in the background while you’re using other programs, identically to the integrated iPod music player, but with greater battery drain and the need for an Internet connection to load new songs.
Real Racing. Firemint’s breakthrough 3-D racing game for earlier iPhones has seen repeated updates to improve its performance from generation to generation of Apple’s devices. This week, a new free update added improved graphics on the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3G, as well as high-resolution artwork and gyroscope support for iPhone 4 players. Real Racing’s tracks now curve without jagged polygonal lines on the iPhone 4.
Turn-by-Turn GPS. TomTom hurried to update its same-named GPS navigation software for iOS 4, resulting in a version that looks nearly identical from device to device, but features smoother and more accurate vector and rotation data on the iPhone 4 versus the iPhone 3GS. By contrast, our favorite iPhone 3GS navigation program, the less expensive CoPilot Live 8, displays a scrambled screen when used on iPhone 4—it is in need of an update.
Rubik’s Cube. This application simulates several different variations on the real Rubik’s Cube, as well as ones that wouldn’t be possible in the real world. iPhone 4’s gyroscope is used to rotate the Cube, while you touch its surfaces to solve each puzzle.
Eliminate Gun Range. Ngmoco’s game is a series of shooting ranges that are unlocked by hitting a specified number of targets per stage, with multiple guns that are unlocked by succeeding on multiple stages and earning credits. Though the stages are highly repetitive, the game demonstrates both the possibilities of the iPhone 4 gyroscope and the detailed graphics that can be placed on the screen.