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

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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 960×640 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.

Officially announced on June 7, 2010 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, the iPhone 4 ($199/16GB, $299/32GB) has been pitched by Apple as the most significant iPhone update since the release of the first version in 2007. Fundamentally re-engineered from top to bottom, iPhone 4’s new features include a wide variety of obvious and non-obvious hardware and software updates, ranging from significant body changes to new chip and battery characteristics and iPhone OS additions. Our Flickr Photo Gallery of the iPhone 4 includes several shots that illustrate the high-resolution screen’s pixel density with sample photographs, and our Ten Things You Didn’t Know About iPhone 4 article discusses some additional information you’ll want to read. We’ve also posted a new video comparison of the iPhone 4, original iPhone, and iPhone 3GS (YouTube HD link), showing the final, working phone from all angles, along with a full interface video for the iPhone 4 (YouTube HD link), showing off everything from FaceTime to iBooks, iMovie, iOS4 multitasking with the new Pandora application, and the iPhone 4’s other built-in applications. Thanks to Jesse Hollington for his contributions to this article.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

The iPhone 4 Big Picture: Pricing, Design, Key Features + Pack-Ins

As its name suggests, iPhone 4 is Apple’s fourth-generation iPhone, and the most completely overhauled revision of the impressive device released in 2007. Apple’s original pitch for the iPhone was that it combined a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough Internet communications device—later expanded with new software to include a fourth major asset, downloadable third-party applications. Unlike Apple sequels that have pared off features in the name of minimalism, iPhone 4 preserves literally all the functionality of each of its predecessors, but upgrades each key feature with new powers: the iPod gains superior video quality and battery life, while the phone adds video calling capabilities and a noise-canceling microphone, and both Internet and third-party apps get faster and have higher-resolution graphics. Apple has also dramatically improved iPhone 4’s rear camera to the point that it’s now as legitimate a selling point as any other part of the design.

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Yet these improvements don’t all leap out at you from moment one, as they’re all folded into the same iOS4 applications that run on the prior-generation iPhone 3GS—none of them are hidden, but in typical Apple fashion, there aren’t big flashing buttons or “new!” signs all over the user interface. In fact, turning on the iPhone 4 for the first time feels almost exactly like turning on an iPhone 3GS, except that you’ll begin to notice little graphical details that weren’t obvious before: fine gold contacts within the Connect to iTunes screen’s USB cable, and fonts that have no apparent jagged edges, even when you hold iPhone 4 at an uncomfortably close distance of several inches from your face. Contrary to suggestions made at iPhone 4’s unveiling, prior-generation iPhone screens and graphics don’t look awful or even so-so by comparison at normal viewing distances, but that’s in part because Apple has done so little on the software side to differentiate iPhone 4 from its immediate predecessor, and in part because the earlier screens were chosen so well.

 

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Apple and its U.S. service provider AT&T have kept the U.S. prices the same as for last year’s iPhone 3GS: $199/$399/$599 for the 16GB model or $299/$499/$699 for the 32GB model, with the lowest price available to customers signing new two-year data service contracts, the middle price for existing customers with seven or more months remaining on prior contracts, and the highest price for customers with no contract commitments. At press time, iPhone 4 is available in limited quantities in five countries, with further international rollouts and wider domestic availability expected through September, 2010. Additionally, although there are two different iPhone 4 colors, manufacturing difficulties led Apple to delay the white version until mid-July, so only the black version shown in most of our photos will be available until then.

Design

The first three iPhone generations looked and felt far more alike than not: apart from Apple’s decision to drop the hybrid metal and plastic body of the original iPhone for an almost entirely plastic enclosure on the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the devices had the same screens, ports, and buttons, with only small changes. It’s a testament to the original iPhone’s forward-thinking design that the core elements of that first model—headphone port and Sleep/Wake button on top, 3.5” diagonal multi-touch display, speaker and Home button on the face, and Dock Connector port, second speaker and microphone on bottom—remain in the same places on iPhone 4, with the same features.

 

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Those items aside, however, iPhone 4 has been redesigned from top to bottom, inside and out. Apple has replaced the iPhone 3GS’s plastic rear shell and metal front bezel with a new stainless steel central frame and glass back, the former a fine-dotted silver and the latter a high-gloss black or white, ringed with a super-thin plastic around the edge. As mentioned in this review’s introduction, the steel frame notably doubles as part of the iPhone 4’s antenna system, with three small gaps in the sides and top that separate the antennas between the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS antenna, and a larger one used for cellular GSM/UMTS radios; once again, all of the antennas are inside the phone’s body rather than jutting out. As with the iPhone 3GS, the ringer switch, volume and Sleep/Wake buttons are all made from metal, but with slightly different shapes than before, while other design elements are intact, albeit with small changes. The bottom microphone and speaker holes are wider now, and the camera on iPhone 4’s back has a slightly larger lens than the ones on prior iPhones.

 

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Major changes are apparent on iPhone 4’s front and back. There’s now a front-facing video camera on the left side of the front speaker, recessed behind the glass face, capable of self-portraiture and video calling. The prior 480×320-pixel, 3.5” screen has been replaced with an identically sized but dramatically upgraded 960×640 display, featuring four times the pixel density and four times the contrast of any iPhone or iPod touch screen used before. And the rear camera, formerly a 2-Megapixel sensor on the iPhone and iPhone 3G, upgraded to 3 Megapixels with 640×480 video recording on the iPhone 3GS, is now a 5-Megapixel still camera with 1280×720 video recording on the iPhone 4. A small, bright LED flash sits off to its right behind the glass, as well. Less obvious are the internal changes that power these features: the battery’s a little bigger, the CPU is faster, and there’s a gyroscope inside for more precise and complex motion tracking.

 

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Another big change is found only on the white iPhone 4, which we previewed at Apple’s WWDC unveiling earlier this month. For the first time on an iPhone, this version’s white back is now matched by a white front plate, complete with a white Home Button, contrasting with the jet black faces of iPhone 4, iPad, and all past iPhone and iPod touch models. Unusually, the white version’s front-mounted speaker is topped by a small grid of dots that appear to be aiding the proximity and ambient light sensors; these dots are very uncharacteristic of Apple designs, but no doubt necessary to enable the sensors to work properly. Apple has also relocated the SIM card tray to the right of the iPhone 4 body from the tops of its predecessors and switched from a full-sized SIM to a micro-SIM card—a change that will make it a little harder to find cards that work in this model—and added a second microphone in a hole alongside iPhone 4’s headphone port. This mic acts as a noise-canceling partner to the bottom-mounted mic; its performance is discussed later in this review.

 

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Both iPhone 4 versions measure 2.31” wide by 4.5” tall by 0.37” thick, versus the 2.4” wide by 4.5” tall by 0.48” thick iPhone 3GS, and weigh 4.8 ounces, the same as iPhone 3GS. By keeping the weight the same while narrowing and thinning the body, Apple has increased iPhone 4’s apparent density—it feels even more solid in the hand than its plastic predecessor—yet achieved a form factor that’s almost as compact as the still wow-inducing iPod touch, no easy feat for a device with all the hardware iPhone 4 includes. If there was ever a question as to Apple’s willingness to continue slimming its devices down, iPhone 4 puts that to rest.

 

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Unfortunately, iPhone 4 also demonstrates conclusively that fragility is not Apple’s primary design concern. Like iPhone 3G and 3GS, iPhone 4 comes out of the box looking equally beautiful and delicate, like something born to attract battle scars rather than to discourage them. The glass front and back initially conjure up nightmarish thoughts of a shattered phone—an issue Apple engineered around with glass that’s flex-capable, as well as stronger and supposedly more scratch-resistant than the iPhone 3GS’s prior plastic. Both sides are coated with the oil-resistant “oleophobic” coating found on the iPhone 3GS screen, which makes fingerprints easier to wipe off, though they’re just as noticeable as before—arguably more so than on the smudge-ready iPhone 3G and 3GS. Hairline scratches also quickly appear in the oleophobic coating if it’s placed near anything sharp. Moreover, glass is still glass, and initial third-party testing has shown that the iPhone 4 casing can break after a few of the accidental drops that seem to be common to cell phones. Only extended real-world testing will determine whether the glass actually holds up to the types of use most people subject their devices to; for now, a protective case and/or fingerprint-resistant screen film would be a wise early investment.

Videos comparing the iPhone 4, original iPhone, and iPhone 3GS, showing the new phone from all angles, along with a full interface video for the iPhone 4, showing off everything from FaceTime to iBooks, iMovie, iOS4 multitasking with the Pandora application, and the iPhone 4’s other built-in applications, are available on YouTube via the above links.

Packaging and Pack-Ins

Though Apple has shifted to clear plastic boxes for most of its iPods, iPhone 4 continues the iPhone family’s tradition by arriving in an opaque cardboard box. Unlike the all-white iPhone 3G and all-black iPhone 3GS boxes, the iPhone 4 box now features a black front with an angled front image of the iPhone 4—the first time the device has been shown on Apple’s package in a diagonal orientation—plus white sides that have word and logo designs mostly unchanged from the prior iPhone packages. This box is modestly smaller than the iPhone 3GS’s, as well.

 

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The company packs iPhone 4 with basically the same items found in the iPhone 3GS box: a Dock Connector to USB cable that has the same modified USB plug shell as the one included with iPads, a pair of Earphones with Remote and Mic, and a USB Power Adapter—notably the 1-Amp version included with the iPhone 3G and 3GS rather than the more powerful 10W USB Power Adapter used for the iPad. A “Finger Tips” documentation pamphlet provides pointers on using the device, and is found inside a small folder with Apple stickers and warranty information. At least for now, the SIM tray ejection tool included with past iPhones is no longer packaged with the iPhone 4 in the United States; it’s still found in the packages in at least some other countries, however. More shots of the iPhone 4’s packaging and the unboxing process are available on Flickr.

 

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As has been the case for years, the user is expected to download the media and data management program iTunes on his or her own, and install it on a Mac or PC to transfer songs, videos, photos, and contacts between the iPhone and computer. The iPhone’s included Dock Connector to USB Cable is required, at least for now, to perform this synchronization process. iTunes is a free download from Apple, and iTunes 9.2 or later is required to use iPhone 4. Our Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iTunes 9.2 feature article discusses the software at length.

iPhone 4 Technical Changes: Screen, Cellular, 802.11n + Transfer Speeds, Capacity + Battery Details

Two features in the iPhone 4 are most notably improved from the iPhone 3GS, and the screen is one of them. Apple refers to it as a “Retina Display” because the 960×640 resolution on a 3.5” diagonal screen translates to 326 pixels per inch, smaller than the human eye can individually perceive. In short, the iPhone 4 screen is capable of rendering graphics that are equivalent in sharpness to the output from some color laser printers—assuming they were printing on a 3-inch by 2-inch surface. Combined with the 800:1 contrast ratio, four times the prior iPhone’s, the screen enables photographs and artwork to feature smoother curved lines and gentler color variations than on any past iPhone or iPod touch.

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Comparisons with the iPhone 3GS screen reveal that iPhone 4’s display is slightly yellow tinted—a “warm” color balance relative to the pink-tinted 3GS—with roughly identical brightness at their respective lowest, middle, and highest levels. Tests of identical applications running on the two screens repeatedly and conclusively showed the iPhone 4 screen to be superior: old 480×320 artwork is rendered with crisper lines, while updated applications with higher-resolution art and text just look nicer on the newer display—smoother and more realistic, with only the faintest hint that dots are being used to create the images. DVD-quality videos that previously played on the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and 3GS at downscaled resolution are presented in their full glory on the iPhone 4 screen, and the device now plays HD 720p videos, slightly downscaled, but still with more detail than the best-looking standard-definition films. Apple’s processors also enable iPhone 4 to display 3-D games with the same Open GL 2.0 special effects found on iPhone 3GS, but with dramatically improved textures and curvier lines.

 

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But in fairness, iPhone 4’s screen deserves both praise for its technical excellence and criticism on the software side. Apple has done little to make better use of the new screen from a user interface standpoint, replacing fonts and control graphics with smoother versions, but includes almost nothing else to show off iPhone 4’s capabilities. Moreover, the screen has become data-hungrier at a time when new iPhone customers are being required to purchase limited data plans, calling into question the wisdom of relying on a cellular network to feed the phone map, video, or other visual content. Fully loading maps on iPhone 4 actually takes longer than on the iPhone 3G and 3GS because more data is being gathered to fill the high-resolution screen, even though the actual benefit to the user—imperceptibly small details in a tiny space—is modest. Loading a 9.7” iPad screen with all that data makes sense, but cramming it all into the little iPhone 4 will burn through a low-capacity data plan unnecessarily.

 

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Cellular Calling and Data Performance. Though we discuss the performance of iPhone 4’s Phone application in far greater detail in the next section of this review, we’ll note that voice calling performance of this iPhone is at least as strong as on iPhone 3GS, subject to a couple of caveats. First, gaps and heavy user demands on AT&T’s network have been the primary causes of dropped calls on past iPhones, and given the surge of new customers who are already buying iPhone 4s, AT&T will need to radically improve its network to handle calls more reliably in some areas. In our primary testing area in Western New York, however, prior iPhone models very rarely dropped calls, and iPhone 4 hasn’t had any problems of that sort at all. That having been said, there are ways that iPhone 4 can be held unnaturally for calling purposes that can impact its antenna performance, which as discussed subsequently can be eliminated by using a case.

 

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On paper, the only change Apple has made to iPhone 4’s 3G data performance is support for HSUPA, a high-speed data upload protocol with up to 5.76 Megabit per second transfer speeds, which augments the theoretical maximum 7.2 Megabit per second download speeds of HSDPA, previously supported by Apple—and, importantly, some international carriers—in the iPhone 3GS. Most U.S. cities have lacked for HSDPA- and HSUPA-enabled cellular towers, which led iPhone 3GS users to see performance well under those theoretical maximums in this country, but the Canadian cellular network operated by Rogers was more advanced, so iPhone 3GS hardware in Toronto routinely outperformed the units we tested in multiple U.S. cities. AT&T has continued to make selective enhancements to its data network on a city-by-city, neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, and the iPhone 4 is ready for such improvements—capable of doing even better than the iPhone 3GS, particularly when sending e-mails and other data, at least under the right conditions.

 

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Under supposedly 4-5-bar AT&T signal conditions, our iPhone 4s achieved peak download speeds of nearly 3.1 Megabits per second (note: updated from prior 1.9 Megabit per second result after further testing in different neighborhoods), with most results in the 1.6 Megabit per second range—an improvement over iPhone 3GS speeds that fell between 0.5 Megabits per second to 1.2 Megabits per second in the U.S., but not over Canadian speeds in the 3-4.5Mb/second range. Upload speeds ranged from 0.9 to 1.2 Megabits per second, a huge improvement over iPhone 3GS speeds in the 0.25 range in both the U.S. and Canada. However, there are significant variations in the speeds iPhone 4 actually achieves in different areas resulting from AT&T tower and congestion differences, as well as drops in speed due to Apple antenna engineering issues. Depending on where we were testing, holding the iPhone 4 normally in the hand either had no effect on transfer rates, or literally stopped speed tests from running at all over a cellular connection—a nearly complete loss of data service when iPhone 4’s steel antenna band was touched in certain ways. Your performance will vary based on where you live and work, whether you’re inside or outside, and what sort of physical contact you’re making with the iPhone 4’s antenna band during use. Using rubber and plastic cases completely eliminated this issue in our testing. We expect that Apple and AT&T will be addressing some of these performance irregularities in the near future. You can see a video of the reception issue in action here.

802.11n. Unlike all three earlier iPhones, iPhone 4 includes support for 802.11n, the most recent Wi-Fi standard to reach mass consumer adoption—and one that is found in most wireless routers shipping today. Though Apple caveats this new feature by noting that iPhone 4 only supports 2.4GHz 802.11n, a limitation that prevents the device from joining 5GHz 802.11n networks, it will work on dedicated 2.4GHz 802.11n networks, and mixed 802.11b/g/n networks, including the ones created by Apple’s recent dual-band routers. Even on a mixed network, the result is a very tangible download speed improvement: 9-10 Megabits per second on iPhone 4 versus 5-7 Megabits per second on iPhone 3G or 3GS, with nearly identical upload speeds in the 0.9-1.1 Megabit per second range. Results will vary based on your broadband connection, and on the web sites you visit, but if you’re using an 802.11n 2.4GHz mixed network, expect web pages and other Internet-dependent data streamers to load roughly 50% faster than on a 3GS when you’re on Wi-Fi, with little change when you’re sending e-mails.

Transfer Speeds and Storage Capacities. Test transfers between two iTunes 9.2-equipped Macintosh computers took an average of 1 minute and 20 seconds to move 1GB of audio and video content to the iPhone 4, roughly on par with prior versions, assuming that other data transfers weren’t taking place on the USB ports at the same time. Slower speeds were observed when other devices were active on the USB chain, as would be expected.

It’s worth noting that, like past iPods and iPhones, the storage capacities on Apple’s boxes aren’t precisely reflective of the actual available space on the 16GB and 32GB iPhone 4s. The 16GB iPhone 4 starts with 13.8GB of usable storage space, and the 32GB starts with 28.8GB of space, partially due to the footprint of the iOS 4 operating system. We found use of the 16GB model to be extremely cramped between apps, media files, and the products of iPhone 4’s still and video cameras, such that we would be disinclined to recommend the 16GB model to users who expect to take frequent advantage of the photo, HD video, and app features. Adding a single GPS application to iPhone 4 will consume 1.5GB or more, and HD movies are each routinely 3GB in size. From our perspective, Apple’s 32GB iPhone 4 is a smarter purchase for such people; the 16GB model will suffice for less demanding users.

Battery Performance.

Due to a combination of a larger battery and more efficient processors than in prior iPhone models, iPhone 4’s battery life is touted as superior—and our tests confirmed this.

 

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– 3G Web Browsing: Apple promises 6 hours of battery life. Our aggressive web reloading test, with 50% brightness, Wi-Fi turned off, and reloading of a large page every minute ran for 6 hours and 47 minutes.

– Wi-Fi Web Browsing: Apple promises 10 hours of battery life. The same exact test from above using Wi-Fi on a mixed 802.11b/g/n network ran for 8 hours and 35 minutes. Superior performance would be expected if the 3G antenna was turned off, but disabling or limiting iPhone 4’s calling features during web browsing isn’t in our view a real-world test of its performance.

– Video Playback: Apple promises 10 hours of battery life. Our standard two-movie loop ran for 11 hours and 14 minutes on 50% brightness and 50% volume through the headphone port without disabling 3G or Wi-Fi.

– Audio Playback. Apple promises 40 hours of battery life. Our test of this feature has not yet concluded, but based on the current status of our testing, we believe that the iPhone 4 will easily exceed Apple’s claim. Even without disabling 3G or Wi-Fi, our test iPhone 4 at 50% volume with headphones is using 20% of its battery life every 10 hours and 20-some minutes, which is to say that a 51-hour run time appears likely at this time. Updated: The iPhone 4 audio test result came in at 52 hours and 45 minutes, handily exceeding Apple’s promised run time—even without the device’s wireless radio hardware turned off to conserve power.

– 3G Talk Time: Apple promises 7 hours of battery life. Our test of an iPhone 4 with 3G and Wi-Fi both on ran for 7 hours and 6 minutes of continuous 3G talk time, doing nothing else in the foreground, while an iPhone 4 with Wi-Fi off ran for 7 hours and 22 minutes of continuous 3G talk time.

– FaceTime: Apple makes no assurances as to the run time for this feature. In our tests, FaceTime ran over Wi-Fi continuously for 3 hours and 10 minutes. Two separate iPhone 4 units showed battery loss of 30% per hour on mixed 802.11b/g/n networks.

– 720p Video Recording: Apple makes no assurances as to the run time for this feature. Our 720p video recording session ran continuously for 3 hours and 3 minutes, though recording had to be restarted every 50 minutes as the camera is not designed to create video files longer than that.

As a general rule, iPhone 4 will require less mid-day charging as a multipurpose device than the iPhone 3G and 3GS—a very welcome though not ideal return to the calling battery life of the original iPhone, with considerably more power under the hood in this newer model. While further battery improvements are still needed, the option to stretch iPhone 4’s life by switching to EDGE for calling purposes does exist, expanding the promised calling time to 12 hours. We don’t recommend actually doing this due to its negative impact on iPhone 4’s numerous data features, but it’s an option.

iPhone 4 Core Features and Apps: Home Screen, Phone + FaceTime

The heart of every iPhone is its Home Screen—a touch-based collection of rounded square application (“app”) icons, divided into a dock and a scrollable, desktop-like surface. You choose four of your most-used apps to go into the dock, and then scroll through pages of 16 additional non-dock icons. iPhone 4 includes Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 4, which arrives with 22 Apple-developed applications already installed, most appearing as individual icons on the first Home Screen. Four of these apps are in a folder, one is on the second Home Screen page, and the last is hidden from the Home Screen by default. The next three sections of this review discuss briefly how each of the installed applications works, and what’s changed on the software and hardware side for iPhone 4, starting first with the most heavily updated apps. Additional apps can be downloaded for free or at variable prices from Apple’s App Store, accessible either wirelessly from the iPhone or via a wired connection to iTunes on a Mac or PC.

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Phone. Located initially in the bottom-of-screen Dock, this application includes a list of contacts, a keypad for manual phone dialing, a voicemail screen—generally with support for “Visual Voicemail” non-sequential playback of voicemail messages—and tabs for both your favorite and recent callers. As with iPhone 3GS, the Phone app can also be activated via Voice Control by holding down the Home button. On iPhone 4, Phone adds the ability to make video calls using FaceTime, Apple’s proprietary iPhone 4-to-iPhone 4 video chat feature. For now, FaceTime only works between two iPhone 4 devices, when both are connected to Wi-Fi networks, and can be activated by pressing a new FaceTime button during a voice call, or at any other time by hitting a FaceTime button at the bottom of any Contacts page.

 

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Handset Performance. The most noticeable improvements on the iPhone 4 relate to its two speakers, which have both seen dramatic volume upgrades. In handset mode, the iPhone 4 at 9/16 of its volume is roughly equivalent to the iPhone 3G at maximum volume, so the iPhone 4 at peak volume is roughly 40-50% louder—an extremely noticeable difference. iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 have a smaller gap in peak volumes, but it’s still obvious. iPhone 4’s handset speaker also sounds a little clearer than the ones in iPhone 3G and 3GS, even at higher volumes, for “very clear” overall sound that has roughly the same tonality as before.

iPhone 4’s noise-canceling microphone works properly and impressively in handset mode. During silences, the microphone sounds just a little clearer than with the iPhone 3G and 3GS, such that words are will be a little more distinct to your callers. However, iPhone 4 opens up a huge lead over the iPhone 3G and 3GS’s performance when there’s ambient noise in the background. During an iPhone 3G test call, music playing loudly in the background could be heard during both gaps in speech and while the person was speaking; with the iPhone 4, the music was completely filtered out after only a couple of seconds, becoming all but impossible to hear during either gaps or speech, with only very slight clipping of the speaker’s voice—the caller can hear virtually everything perfectly. The effect is similar to the Jawbone series of headsets, only built right into the phone.

Headphone Performance. Sonic differences were very modest between the iPhone 3G and iPhone 4 when testing with the same pair of Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic. Audio sounded ever so slightly clearer on the iPhone 4, but not in a meaningful way. Notably, the iPhone 4’s second noise-canceling microphone doesn’t work as well when you use microphone-equipped headphones; trickles of ambient noise pop in and out both during silences and speech.

 

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Speakerphone Performance. The iPhone 4 at 10/16 volume is roughly as loud as the iPhone 3G at maximum volume, and doesn’t suffer from the same audio clipping and harshness that the earlier speaker did at the peak volume level. At maximum volume, there’s a substantial difference—the iPhone 4 is roughly 40% louder than the iPhone 3G, and still clearer than the iPhone 3G or 3GS at peak. Unfortunately, these improvements benefit only the person listening with the iPhone 4, while the person on the other side doesn’t get a huge benefit. Noise-cancellation with iPhone 4’s dual microphones doesn’t appear to work very well, if at all, in speakerphone mode; the iPhone 4’s mics pick up as much ambient noise as voice, making it difficult to discern one from the other. On the other hand, the iPhone 4 user in a noisy music-filled room can hear you talking if the iPhone 4 is at maximum volume, whereas the iPhone 3G/3GS are drowned out.

Bluetooth Calling Performance. Bluetooth wireless performance with iPhone 4 is essentially unchanged from the iPhone 3GS. Calls placed over a monaural Bluetooth connection still sound a little compressed by comparison with ones taking place solely over the handset, losing access to the noise-canceling microphone in favor of whatever they have built in. iPhone 4 supports the same Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and earlier accessories as the iPhone 3GS.

FaceTime Performance. If you’re on a Wi-Fi connection—and assuming that the feature is turned “on” under the iPhone’s Settings application, under Phone—you have the option of another way of making calls with iPhone 4: FaceTime. FaceTime is Apple’s just-announced standard for H.264 video and AAC audio-based video calling, and is apparently being offered by the company to competitors who may wish to support the same feature in their video-capable devices. Currently, FaceTime is solely for one-on-one conversations over Wi-Fi, limitations that may change in the future, and since there are no devices other than iPhone 4 that currently support the FaceTime standard, the feature works only between two iPhone 4 handsets. Battery drain is considerable when using FaceTime: iPhone 4 loses a little under 30% of its battery life for every hour of video calling, which is to say that a fully charged device can run for a little over 3 hours of continuous conferencing without assistance from a charger, or roughly half as long as for audio calling.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 43

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 44

Apart from the power and Wi-Fi requirements, FaceTime works very well. So long as FaceTime is turned on, FaceTime buttons appear on two screens—one replaces the Hold button when you’re in the midst of a cellular phone call and in range of a Wi-Fi network, while the other is added to the bottom of any contact on your Contacts list, eliminating your need to start a phone call to begin a video call. No configuration is required to use FaceTime; if the other person has an iPhone 4 and the feature enabled, video calls go through, but if no iPhone 4 is found or FaceTime is turned off, it won’t work. At the start of a FaceTime session, any active cellular voice call is disconnected, a beep identical to the Mac program iChat sounds on the caller’s side with a ring on the receiver’s side, and three buttons then appear on screen: a mute button to cut off audio, a call end button, and a camera icon with two arrows. There’s also a picture-in-picture image enabling you to see a small preview of your own camera, which can be moved to any of the screen’s four corners. Video automatically shifts orientations between tall and wide depending on how you’re holding the iPhone, rotating dynamically on the other user’s screen regardless of how that user is holding his or her iPhone. If you attempt to multitask in the middle of a FaceTime call, the video pauses, but the audio continues until the Phone app is brought back to the fore—a nice touch.

 

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Though you’re forced to start your video chat with the front camera, which is less than ideal for people who aren’t feeling photogenic, the camera with arrows button lets you toggle to the rear camera at any time. Because of the compression needed to ensure smooth motion, video from both cameras is limited to something lower than the 640×480 capabilities of the front-facing camera, with roughly 20 frame per second performance and only modestly noticeable macroblock artifacting under peak conditions; the frame rate falls to something in the 5-10 per second range at other times, while attempting to preserve the clarity of individual frames. The video and audio quality will be extremely familiar to users of iChat video conferencing on Apple’s computers—smooth enough visually and sonically to be impressive to people who have never video conferenced with one to three other people before, albeit with a greater emphasis on preserving the audio stream even in the event of video frame drops.

 

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Our overall impression of FaceTime is that it’s a very strong first pass at pocket-sized video calling: once you’re past the “is FaceTime turned on” question, a one-time concern, the simplicity with which calls are initiated and received is impressive, and across multiple calls tested locally and even on opposite sides of the country, the quality was solid enough to be worth actually using. That said, the video’s not so smooth or detailed that talking to someone feels just like doing so in person—somewhat of a surprise over 802.11n Wi-Fi connections, actually, and perhaps a deliberate decision on Apple’s part to mitigate expectations for eventual FaceTime performance over 3G—so there is some room for improvement going forward. Our hope is that cellular data companies don’t attempt to double-charge users for FaceTime calling—or use voice minutes for this data service—as there’s certainly an opportunity for nightmarish new battles between customers and their wireless carriers to develop over this feature.

iPhone 4 Core Features and Apps: Camera, Photos, iPod + YouTube

Camera. Located on iPhone 4’s Home Screen, Camera is the single most improved application on iPhone 4, backed by some of its most impressive new hardware. The heart of Camera remains its ability to capture still photographs that are instantly ready to share via e-mail, but successive gradual improvements to past iPhones have added one-tap focusing, video recording, and most recently a 5X digital zoom to certain earlier models. On iPhone 4, there are now two cameras to choose from, each with still and video capture capabilities, and the rear camera has optional assistance from a small but bright LED flash.

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As noted in earlier sections, one camera faces frontwards and offers VGA-quality resolution, while the other camera faces backwards and has a 5-Megapixel (2592×1936, or 5,018,112 pixels) sensor. When the rear camera is active, a button on the top left of the screen toggles the LED flash between auto, on, and off settings, while a top right button switches between the cameras. Tapping on the screen to focus in still camera mode also causes a sliding digital zoom bar to appear; adjusting it does nothing more than create a cropped version of the 5-Megapixel original image, blown up to fill the same 2592×1936 pixels of a fully zoomed-out image. This isn’t a replacement for an optical zoom lens, but serves as a convenient alternative to using a third-party application to crop the raw image taken by the camera.

 

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 49

The rear-facing camera’s sensor has seen tremendous quality and speed improvements from the ones on past iPhones. It doesn’t just capture bigger and more detailed pictures than before under a wider variety of lighting conditions—it also snaps and saves shots quickly enough to let you grab new full-resolution images roughly once per second. Even in the dark of night with limited outdoor lighting, iPhone 4’s new backlit photo sensor is capable of capturing usable—albeit grainy—images, and its LED flash is optimized to brighten up subjects several feet away from the device. Under poor light outdoors the camera has more of a tendency to exhibit slight motion blur because it’s keeping the shutter open longer, but some shots come out stable, and the results compare so favorably to prior-generation iPhone cameras that it’s hard to really complain.

 

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We shot photos in pitch black rooms that were illuminated only by iPhone 4’s LED flash, and though they’re pared back in color rendition in a manner that approximates Sony’s NightShot night vision camera features, they capture so much more detail than earlier iPhones that the results aren’t even comparable. The shot above shows a picture taken in a hallway that was pitch black, other than illumination from the iPhone 4 LED. Autofocus was dicey under low-light conditions like this, but otherwise remarkably good.

 

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 52

Under superior lighting conditions, iPhone 4’s camera really begins to shine. Images fall only modestly short of the dynamic range seen in low-end to midrange point-and-shoot cameras, and in some cases look indistinguishable apart from resolution; in other cases, color bleed and blown-out colors make iPhone 4’s images look less polished than they could be. While iPhone 4 lacks for optical zoom, it has great macro and depth of field capabilities, enabling deliberate blurring and sharpening effects that are more impressive than on iPhone 3GS or most point-and-shoot cameras. A tap on the screen shifts the focus to nearby or faraway subjects, softening either the foreground or background even if you’re very close to the object you’re shooting. Moreover, the images are instantly GPS tagged, then preserved at full size or resized at your choice of three smaller sizes for immediate e-mailing, features that very few cameras offer today. Consequently, iPhone 4 can serve as a truly viable substitute for a low-end still digital camera, handily surpassing its capabilities while on the road or in the dark. Photos transfer at full resolution to your computer’s photo management program upon wired connection, generally ranging from to 1.2 and 3.1 Megabytes each, depending on the color spectrum and detail captured by a given shot. A complete collection of photos comparing the iPhone 4’s camera to a Canon PowerShot S90 is available on Flickr.

 

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 54

Video from the rear camera is a somewhat different story, though not a bad one. It’s recorded at an unchangeable 1280×720 resolution—720p in TV parlance—which is achieved by a combination of resizing and substantially cropping the output of the 5-Megapixel still camera. As a result of the cropping, and despite a change in aspect ratio that might normally make videos look wider than photos, videos shot through the rear camera actually have a much narrower width than still photos, appearing more like closeups than wide shots. Within minutes of our first comparative test, it was obvious that videos were being recorded with considerably greater actual detail than ones created with the iPhone 3GS—iPhone 4 isn’t just creating oversized files from a low-end sensor. The iPhone 4’s ability to change focus during video recording distinguishes it from low-end standalone digital camcorders such as Flip’s Ultra HD, which maintains a nearly fixed focus that keeps everything looking pretty sharp, rather than being capable of deliberate artistic blurs.

 

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However, the iPhone 4 rear video camera’s focus system, sensor, and overall performance make comparisons to rival products somewhat challenging. Because of its ability to shift focus, iPhone 4 is more versatile than low-end video recording rivals, but videos may accidentally wind up looking a little softer if the tap-to-focus feature is used incorrectly. The sensor captures a ton of detail at 1280 by 720 resolution, but also exhibits a jelly-like jiggling effect when it’s moved around, and tends to blow out sunny backgrounds relative to foregrounds. A sample video we filmed shows the camera hunting for the proper balance of sky and foreground colors, and other videos showed a decidedly brighter, arguably overexposed tendency, improving the color balance only when the tap-to-focus feature was used. We would give the iPhone 4’s camera the edge on detail per frame under the right circumstances, with superior macro performance and a tie at distance shooting, but the Flip Ultra HD takes the edge on automatic color balance. They’re a rough draw. But the fact that a very popular phone is capable of rivaling a physically larger, single-feature device should be a point of serious concern for Flip and similar budget camera developers. A collection of videos comparing the iPhone 4’s video to that of the Flip Ultra HD and iPhone 3GS can be found here.

 

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Videos created by the iPhone 4 rear video camera are saved by default as 1280×720 (wide) or 720×1280 (tall) depending on the orientation you’re holding the iPhone in at the start of recording—tall videos are presented right-side up, but look odd playing back on a monitor. They’re encoded with H.264 for video at a data rate of 10.5Mb/second, and monaural AAC format audio at 44.1KHz. Expect 30-second clips to consume around 41 Megabytes at full resolution, or roughly 82MB per minute.

 

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iPhone 4 automatically compresses the 720p videos for e-mailing. Sample files arrived at 568×320-pixel resolution (or, when tall, 478×849 resolution) with a data rate of roughly 0.78 Mb/second, including monaural AAC audio at 44.1KHz. A 30-second video clip thereby shrinks to 3 Megabytes, or 6 Megabytes per minute. In addition to the loss of resolution, compressed video is noticeably softer than the original video, and compression artifacts are occasionally noticeable—no huge surprise given that over 90% of the original data is being lost during the compression process. Videos are capped at a little over 5MB for e-mailing, so you’ll need to choose your favorite 52 or so seconds of any longer video in order to meet the cap.

 

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By comparison, videos and still photos shot with the front camera both are recorded at 640×480 resolution, without any change in aspect ratio, and benefit less from the quality and focus improvements of the rear camera. This camera is really designed to be used with FaceTime and for low-quality self portraiture, but its recordings are entirely usable, just with reduced detail, and downscaled to 480×320 resolution—again, softening the quality—when e-mailed. The front camera has poor low-light capabilities, impacting both recording and FaceTime video calling features in dark rooms; stick with the rear camera for proper low-light results.

 

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Photos. As a main Home Screen application, Photos is designed to display individual photos and albums synchronized using iTunes, as well as pictures and videos made with the iPhone’s camera, and images captured using either the iPhone’s screenshot creator, the “save image” feature found in Safari, or image saving tools in some third-party apps. Though Photos now supports “Faces” and “Places” sorting of images, features carried over from the Mac application iPhoto ‘09, these features are part of iOS 4 for earlier iPhones, as well; the only changes on iPhone 4 relate to the very obvious visual improvements offered by the new 960×640 display, which make pictures look more detailed and color-accurate than before. As with iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4 version of Photos contains a Camera Roll that holds both pictures and videos taken by the built-in cameras. It features the same photo transitions found on iPhone 3GS.

iPod. Located initially in the bottom-of-screen Dock, Apple’s iPod application is a storage and playback area for music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and audiobooks, capable of playing individual files, playlists, or randomized collections. It performs audio through the iPhone’s speaker, headphone port, or Dock Connector port, and video through either the screen or the Dock Connector port. As with the speakerphone, iPod output through the bottom speaker is louder on the iPhone 4 than on the 3G and 3GS: setting the 3GS at maximum is equivalent to the iPhone 4 at around 70%, and the iPhone 4’s a little clearer at that level, with room to go louder.

 

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 61

As a music player, iPhone 4 is virtually the same as the very good- to excellent-sounding iPhone 3GS: for instance, headphone port audio between the devices is not identical, but might as well be. We tested the iPhone 4 against the iPhone 3GS using three different pairs of high-end earphones, including two different versions of the $1,150 Ultimate Ears UE 11 Pros and Shure’s $500 SE530s, finding that the iPhone 4 had what sounded to be a very modest, targeted reduction in treble, which in some songs resulted in a softening of sizzle and a very slight lessening of sharp treble detail in others The difference was so minor that we had to listen to numerous songs repeatedly to hear it; users of most headphones will never notice the change. We’re still finishing testing of the Dock Connector audio, but it suffices to say that the sonic similarities between the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS from the bottom port appear to be very considerable.

 

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 63

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 64

As a video player, iPhone 4 is largely excellent, and more capable than iPhone 3GS in several ways. First, as noted earlier in this review, the 960×640 iPhone 4 display is capable of rendering greater than DVD-quality detail natively, so standard-definition movies and TV shows look as sharp and colorful as they would on a great home TV. Additionally, the iPod application benefits from support for HD video playback—downsampled from a maximum of 1280×720 resolution down to some portion of the 960×640 iPhone 4 display, or output via video cables (sold separately) to a separate TV or monitor. With Apple’s Component AV Cable, DVD-quality videos can be output to a TV at full resolution, and HD videos are automatically downsampled; the Composite AV Cable is built for older, lower-resolution displays. Unlike earlier iPhones and iPod touches, iPhone 4 works with Apple’s iPad VGA Adapter to connect to VGA cable-equipped computer monitors, and it’s subject to the same limitations when using that accessory: neither HD nor SD iTunes movies will play through the Adapter, but self-encoded movies at 720p or lower, and HD or SD iTunes TV shows will play without complaint. iPhone 4 also supports unconverted playback of 720p Motion JPEG AVI files created by certain digital cameras, a feature that makes more of a difference on the iPad, where it was first introduced, than here.

 

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 66

YouTube. As a main Home Screen application, YouTube is a browser for the Google-owned video sharing service, enabling users to stream free videos directly from YouTube’s servers to the iPhone screen. Though Apple doesn’t market YouTube as having improved over the iPhone 3GS version it largely resembles, the new application does play back HD versions of YouTube videos when it finds them over a Wi-Fi connection, resulting in visibly but not hugely improved detail relative to the standard-definition versions of the same videos—the difference is not as noticeable as it is when playing HD YouTube content on an iPad. That having been said, recently encoded SD and HD videos viewed on YouTube are hugely better on iPhone 4 than early YouTube videos were two years ago on earlier models, and are capable of being output through video cables as an alternative to the iPhone’s built-in screen.

iPhone 4 Additional Apps: Safari, Maps, Compass, Voice Memos, Mail, Messages + Settings

The balance of iPhone 4’s applications are largely identical to the ones on iPhone 3GS apart from the impact made by their higher-resolution fonts and imagery. We note the basic features of these well-established apps, as well as iPhone 4 changes, below.

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Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 68

Safari. Located initially in the bottom-of-screen Dock, Apple’s web browser uses iTunes-synchronized and other bookmarks, or manual keyboard entry, to guide you to web pages that have been scaled down to fit the iPhone’s screen. It can keep up to eight pages open at once, though it typically dumps and reloads pages that weren’t recently used in order to free up memory. Safari benefits from higher-resolution text and graphic capabilities than the version found on prior iPhones, though large scaled-out web pages remain nearly as difficult to read with the additional microscopic pixels as they were without them.

 

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Maps and GPS. As a main Home Screen application, Maps provides users with instant access to Google’s satellite and street level photographs of the world, as well as line art renditions of streets, realtime traffic data, and a massive points of interest database. Individual locations can be looked up, and turn-by-turn directions calculated in text form, with the barest assistance from a blue pulsing GPS dot and an integrated compass.

 

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Apart from the higher-resolution imagery it displays—smooth-curved line art and more detailed photography—and the benefits it derives from the iPhone 4’s more stable compass (see Compass, below), there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application. Maps still does not provide spoken turn-by-turn directions, automated guidance, or a widescreen mode akin to the iPad’s, though it remains capable of using your Contacts database to locate addresses.

 

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It’s worth a brief note that third-party turn-by-turn navigation applications and Maps both benefit from what seems to be more accurate, timely GPS data by comparison with the iPhone 3GS. The same TomTom application running on both devices simultaneously showed smooth driving paths and roughly time-accurate turns on the iPhone 4 but not the 3GS, which lagged a little behind and struggled with turns. Our belief is that the turn performance has improved in part because of…

 

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Compass. As a main Home Screen application, now hidden initially within the Utilities folder, Compass uses a magnet-based sensor inside the iPhone to determine your rough cardinal orientation, and the GPS to give you your current longitude and latitude. A button press takes you over to Maps to see your position on a satellite image of your neighborhood. In the past, Compass frequently brought up magnetic interference warnings and was less than totally reliable at judging the current direction, floating 20 degrees even when being held still. On iPhone 4, Compass provides what appears to be a more reliable, stable current orientation, potentially due to the device’s new gyroscope hardware, which most likely accounts for iPhone 4’s superior judgment of turns during use of Maps and third-party navigation applications.

 

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Voice Memos. As a main Home Screen application, now hidden within the Utilities folder, Voice Memos enables users to record audio using either the iPhone 4’s integrated microphones or one attached to either of its accessory ports. It also provides simple trimming and sharing tools, enabling audio clips to be sent via the Messages or Mail applications depending on your needs. Apart from a subtle redrawing of the old-fashioned microphone graphic used on the main screen, which appears in lower-resolution form on iOS 4.0-installed iPhone 3G and 3GS devices, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application. Notably, Voice Memos does not appear to benefit from the noise-canceling microphone system on iPhone 4, as ambient noise is recorded as clearly as voices are.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 74

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 75

Mail. Located initially in the bottom-of-screen Dock, this application collects and sends e-mail from multiple accounts you’ve synchronized with iTunes or set up on the device. It can display the contents of PDF, Office, and iWork documents either within e-mails or using a full-screen viewer, as well as opening certain documents in separate standalone applications—including Apple’s free downloadable iBooks. Mail does not benefit from any obvious iPhone 4 hardware-related changes other than text and image detail tweaks.

 

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Messages. As a main Home Screen application, Messages sends abbreviated text, audio, photo, and video messages using the cellular phone network rather than e-mail, with a set charge for each message sent or received by your phone. On iPhone 4, Messages benefits from being able to send pre-recorded photos and videos from the device’s front-facing camera, a method of quickly communicating more personally even with people who don’t have iPhone 4s for video calling purposes. The text used in this application is noticeably a little thinner than on the iPhone 3GS and earlier iPhones, which may make it a little more difficult for some users to read.

Settings. As a main Home Screen application, Settings is a text and list-based collection of iPhone-wide and application-specific settings, varying between on-off switches, sliders, buttons, and text entry forms. It hides a huge collection of important device features, including switches to turn on and off iPhone’s cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth wireless capabilities, change its default ringtone, wallpapers, and screen brightness, and tweak the behaviors of both Apple and certain third-party applications.

 

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There are very few changes to the Settings application for iPhone 4. The Wi-Fi option looks no different from iPhone 3GS or iPhone 3G, but now finds and joins 802.11n 2.4GHz networks in addition to 802.11b and g networks. Included wallpaper looks the same as on iPhone 3GS, but contains higher resolution versions of the same artwork and photography. Under Regulatory, which shows the international certifications iPhone 4 possesses, the new device is shown to have far fewer regulatory approvals than iPhone 3GS, pending its release in additional countries. The Restrictions menu for iPhone 4 adds a FaceTime on/off switch, which enables the FaceTime feature to be locked down separately from the Cameras, which are collectively locked with another switch. On a related and final note, the Phone menu includes a switch to turn FaceTime on and off; if disabled, callers will not know you have FaceTime as an option, and will not be able to send FaceTime requests.

iPhone 4 Additional Apps: Everything Else, Including The App Store

The following applications received only minor updates, generally higher-resolution text, on iPhone 4.

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App Store. As a main Home Screen application, App Store is the most important shopping app bundled with iPhones and iPod touches. Unlike iTunes, it is solely devoted to selling and giving away additional apps for Apple’s portable devices, including iPhone 4, and instantly installs each app after wirelessly downloading it. As with iTunes, cellular downloads are limited to a maximum of 20MB per app, though any sized app can be downloaded over Wi-Fi, assuming you have the space. There are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application apart from higher-resolution text and images.

 

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iTunes. As a main Home Screen application, iTunes is the second of two shopping apps now bundled with every iPhone and iPod touch. It sells music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and ringtones from Apple’s iTunes Store, while offering free downloadable access to the Podcasts and iTunes U sections of the Store. Cellular downloads are limited to a maximum of 20MB per file, though any sized file can be downloaded over Wi-Fi, assuming you have the space. In addition to swapping the prior text and graphics for identical versions at higher resolutions, iTunes on iPhone 4 defaults to offering users the higher-priced HD versions of movies and TV shows, adding an “Also available for purchase in standard definition” button to the bottom of each listing page. “The HD version of this movie will be downloaded to this device and the SD version will be available for download to your computer,” it says, without noting that the iPhone’s wireless transfer times for even the SD versions can be very long.

 

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Calendar. As a main Home Screen application, Calendar shows the current day of the week and month on the iPhone’s Home Screen, and opens to reveal three types of calendar views: a list of all upcoming events, a list of the day’s events, or a grid-styled month view with a scrollable list of each day’s events at the bottom of the screen. Calendars can be synchronized from a Mac, PC, or online account using iTunes. There are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application apart from higher-resolution text.

 

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Contacts. Placed by default on the second Home Screen, this application merely duplicates the functionality of the Phone application’s Contacts button, providing you with an editable list of names, addresses, phone numbers and dates that can be used for phone calls, FaceTime video calls, e-mails, map searches, web pages, and birthdays of your friends, family, and business contacts. With the exception of higher-resolution text and photos, as well as the additional FaceTime button that appears at the bottom of a contact’s listing if you’re on Wi-Fi and FaceTime is enabled, Contacts is the same on iPhone 4 as on earlier iPhones.

 

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Stocks. As a main Home Screen application, Stocks enables you to track the prices of a scrollable collection of publicly traded stocks, as well as industrial averages, with links to related news stories and up to two-year price charts for each entry. Apart from higher-resolution text and images, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application.

 

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Weather. As a main Home Screen application, Weather provides six-day forecasts for multiple cities, with one six-day high/low/condition chart per page. Apart from higher-resolution text and images, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application.

 

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Notes. As a main Home Screen application, Notes provides a yellow notepad for keyboard entry of text notes, as well as the iOS 4-enhanced ability to automatically wirelessly sync the notes you create with some Mac and PC e-mail programs and multiple IMAP e-mail accounts. Apart from higher-resolution text, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application.

 

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Clock. As a main Home Screen application, now hidden within the Utilities folder, Clock includes four features: user-selectable world clocks to track times around the globe, multiple alarms to wake you from ringtones, a stopwatch with a lap timer, and a countdown timer with a ringtone sound. Apart from higher-resolution text and images, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application.

 

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Calculator. As a main Home Screen application, now hidden within the Utilities folder, Calculator features both standard and scientific calculation features, alternating between the simpler and more complex interfaces based on how you turn the iPhone. Apart from higher-resolution text and images, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application.

 

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Nike + iPod. Hidden on the iPhone 4 unless you enable it from the Settings application, Nike + iPod is a fitness application, designed solely to be used with the $19 Nike+ Sensor and optional Nike+ remote control accessories. Nike + iPod provides voice and musical accompaniment while you run or walk, using the Sensor to track the distance you’ve covered while calculating the time and calories burned through each workout. Nike + iPod syncs your workout information to iTunes and the Nikeplus.com web site. Apart from higher-resolution text and images, there are no iPhone 4-specific enhancements to this application.

iPhone 4: iBooks, iMovie for iPhone, and Key Third-Party Applications

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.

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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.

 

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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:

 

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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.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 91

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 92

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.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 93

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.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 94

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.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 95

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.

iPhone 4: Accessories, Conclusions, and Notes on the Verizon iPhone 4

Since the iPhone 4 body design is completely different from earlier models, it is physically incompatible with the majority of cases that were previously released for iPhone and iPhone 3G/3GS devices, save for sock-styled elastic sleeves. New cases have been announced by many leading manufacturers and are expected to be in stores within three or four weeks of iPhone 4’s debut. Early releases from Speck Products, Hard Candy Cases/Gumdrop, Incipio and United SGP are already available in some stores.

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 96

Apple has released its own “cases” for the iPhone 4 called iPhone 4 Bumpers, which sell for $29 each and come in six colors. The Bumpers are two-tone plastic and rubber bands that fit around the stainless steel edge of the iPhone 4, covering all of the metal while slightly recessing the device’s glass front and back in the process. Apple describes them as “a fun and unique way to personalize your iPhone 4,” and sells the six colors separately, without making any promises as to their protective virtues. They’re unimpressive for the price, and we wouldn’t recommend them except to especially desperate users.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 97

iPhone 4 is electronically compatible with the various Works With iPhone (now Made For iPhone) speakers that have been released over the last several years, and has its own Universal Dock Adapter insert, sold in three-packs by Apple for $9. It also remains compatible with car kits, headphones, and other accessories that have been released for the iPhone: as the included Earphones with Remote and Mic suggest, the headphone port continues to support Apple’s three-button remote controls and microphones. Charging continues to work with prior-generation iPhone chargers.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 98

Like the iPhone and iPhone 3G/3GS, iPhone 4 also has its own Dock, which is considerably smaller than Apple’s device-agnostic Universal Docks, and designed solely to hold the iPhone 4 without a case—it doesn’t work with Bumpers, either. Mesh-grilled bottom vents enable the speakerphone to work while in the Dock, and as always, Dock Connector and line-out ports are found on the back. It’s the smallest iPhone dock yet released, and one of the smallest docks Apple has ever released for a portable device.

Despite the considerable hype and subsequent excitement that surrounded iPhone 4’s official debut in June, the reality of actually using Apple’s latest device is somewhat more complicated than we had expected—it looks and in some ways feels great, but there are other parts that could have used more work before its release. Viewed objectively and directly alongside the iPhone 3GS that preceded it, iPhone 4 has far more in common than not with its predecessor, save for the upgraded screen and cameras, the shiny new chassis, and the battery improvements. Users considering an upgrade from an iOS 4-equipped iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4 will for the most part find the screen and UI differences to be noticeable and better but not earth-shattering, as contrasted with iPhone 4’s hugely superior camera functionality and somewhat better run times, which will be killer features for some users; iPhone 3G and EDGE owners will find it to be a huge jump up in most respects. Literally all of iPhone 4’s new still and video camera capabilities are impressive, even if FaceTime is unnecessarily limited in compatibility for now—iChat integration would have been a no-brainer. Heavy users, particularly those using video recording features, will still find that they need mid-day recharging assistance, while lighter users may be able to stretch out iPhone’s life to a full work day, particularly if they’re willing to fall back to EDGE cellular performance. We wouldn’t be, but first-generation iPhone owners might.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 99

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 100

Even while acknowledging the physical beauty of Apple’s latest design—yet another pocketable piece of art from Jony Ive and his legendary team, worthy of awards as much for its execution as the boldness of the chosen materials—it must be said that the glass and metal iPhone 4 has a certain impracticality that will turn off some users as much as it excites others. The challenges caused by its antenna system and scratchable, glossy body are ones that many users will want to mitigate with cases, which may have been beneficial for past iPhones but seem downright necessary now. For no good reason other than to look cool, iPhone 4 feels like it has taken yet another step down the “designed to be damaged and ultimately replaced” path, a point that Apple would surely spin as environmentally friendly due to the recyclability of its glass and metal. But if iPhone 4 was truly a nod to famed German designer Dieter Rams, as noted in the introduction to this review, it should respect his principles that good design is “long-lasting,” “environmentally friendly,” and “makes a product useful.” Products should be built to last rather than disposable, and items made to be moved in and out of pockets shouldn’t break after a few drops, or suffer networking problems when held normally in one’s hand. True environmental friendliness avoids the need for product replacement and recycling rather than exacerbating it; good design also makes a product useful, rather than making the user work around its limitations. As attractive as it is, iPhone 4’s case-dependent body design is the only reason it falls short of our high recommendation, and should Apple provide a reasonable remedy to the obvious problems here, we’ll take the rare step of revisiting our rating in light of that change.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 101

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 102

That having been said, iPhone 4 is otherwise the best iPhone Apple has released: it surpasses every past model in horsepower, screen quality, data speeds and versatility while either rivaling or improving upon their feature-for-feature battery life, and the price points are reasonable given the quantity and quality of capabilities Apple is offering. This isn’t another G4 Cube, a product that looked incredible but didn’t outperform other Apple and competing products; it’s an incredibly powerful smartphone, so long as its body is protected. Were it not for the chassis concerns, and the variability of AT&T’s service, which continues to hold U.S. customers back from enjoying the data speeds and call stability they deserve—differentially on a city-by-city basis—this new model would be a close to no-brainer recommendation for all sorts of potential customers, including everyone from iPhone EDGE and 3G upgraders to first-time users. Instead, our advice is as follows: buy into the iPhone 4 solely if you’re in a city established to have reliable 3G coverage and are making the switch from an older phone. Get a case quickly and avoid dropping the phone. If you have an iPhone 3GS, you can probably afford to hold off on this one until next year’s update comes, but the camera and screen improvements may tempt you to jump in anyway. We’d wait, but we’d also understand if you couldn’t. Issues aside, the iPhone 4 once again inspires the kind of lust that will only seem foolish when it’s replaced.

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.

Updated April 28, 2011: After a ten-month delay, Apple released the white iPhone 4 today, and we’ve created an addendum to discuss the changes. It now follows on page 10 of this review; the rest of the pages remain unchanged.

April 28, 2011 Addendum: The White iPhone 4

By now, the story behind Apple’s white version of the iPhone 4 is pretty well established: the company announced it for a simultaneous June 2010 launch with the black iPhone 4, then repeatedly delayed it due to unspecified manufacturing problems. As weeks and months passed without details from Apple, various sources claimed that the white iPhone 4’s screen or body was leaking light, that the rear camera was having exposure or flash problems, or that Apple couldn’t get the Home Buttons to the right white tone. Ten months later, Apple finally announced a revised release date of April 28, 2011, and briefly suggested that component and coloration issues had indeed been responsible for the delay.

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 103

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 104

We went out and grabbed one to see what had changed, and there are in fact a number of differences—generally small ones—between the black and white models. They’re discussed in this addendum to our original iPhone 4 review, which is otherwise preserved unchanged.

Packaging and Body

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 105

When Apple originally showed the white iPhone 4 to journalists last year, there weren’t many obvious physical differences between the white and black models other than the colors of the front and back pieces of glass. Apart from the black version carrying “A” markings—FCC ID BCG-E2380A versus FCC ID BCG-E2380B, for example—they’re identically labeled with rear silver text and logos, while possessing the same 3.5” displays, beveled steel cores, matching metal top and side buttons, and fine mesh grilles. The AT&T version has three line-shaped interruptions and a Micro SIM tray in its steel center; the Verizon version has four line-shaped interruptions and no SIM tray.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 106

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 107

The only obvious difference from one color to the other was an extra rectangular shape immediately above the white model’s front speaker. From a distance, it looked like a gray box, but up close, it was actually a grid of dot-shaped holes in the interior paint, designed to let the proximity sensor peek through the otherwise opaque white coating. These dots were obvious in Apple’s publicity photos, and similar dots—even smaller ones—were subsequently used for the ambient light sensor on the white iPad 2.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 108

Users first discovered responsiveness problems with the black iPhone 4’s proximity sensor shortly after its release, an issue Apple addressed in a software update last year. But the white iPhone 4 obviously had more serious hardware issues: over the last ten months, the company quietly decided to replace the original grid of dots with a black pill shape that enables the proximity sensor to operate without encumbrance. Consequently, our testing of white and black iPhone 4s showed no perceptible difference in the proximity sensors’ responses to objects approaching the screen. Though the black pill doesn’t look great on the front of the white iPhone 4, it’s not awful, either—just another little thing that Apple’s designers will properly eliminate in the future.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 109

Regardless, this change required Apple to reprint all of the white iPhone 4 boxes it had previously manufactured showing the old sensor. The final box depicts the black pill on the face, as well as the thin rings of white plastic that surround the front and black panes of glass. It also shows the still black line-shaped breaks in the white iPhone 4’s steel central antenna, but the angle doesn’t reveal a couple of other tiny changes. The headphone and Dock Connector port holes are now lined with light gray plastic, replacing black parts found inside the black iPhone 4. While this is a trivial difference—an obsessive little “yes, Apple cares about that” design detail that dates back to early black iPods—it’s worthy of a footnote here because the white iPad 2’s black ports didn’t receive the same attention for whatever reason.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 110

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 111

The white iPhone 4 also appears to be a hint thicker than the black iPhone 4—seemingly only in the glass panes and surrounding plastic rings—though Apple has not in any way indicated this on its official Tech Specs page for the device. While the added thickness is not enough to impact the fit of soft rubber or partially rubber cases, it potentially could be an issue for certain cases made solely from harder materials.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 112

Last but not least, Apple has noted that the white paint on the iPhone 4 required an extra UV coating, which was believed to be necessary to protect the bright white device from discoloration—possibly yellowing—over time. Straight out of the package, the white iPhone 4 looks extremely similar to the clear acrylic-faced fifth-generation iPod, which was the last iPod model to switch from plastic to metal and glass. We’ll have to see how the white paint holds up over time, but based on the fact that our old white iPods continue to look white years later, we’re guessing the iPhone 4 will do just fine.

The Screen: Light Leakage

Another issue that was once claimed to have delayed the white iPhone 4 was light leakage from the bright Retina Display through the shell. We tested the final white iPhone 4 in pitch black rooms, and saw no evidence whatsoever that its screen was leaking light through either its front or rear casing, even when it was turned up to its maximum brightness level.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 113

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 107

You can decide for yourself whether a white bezel will be a distraction to the type of video viewing, game playing, and/or web browsing you plan to do on your iPhone; these days, our editors tend to prefer black bezels, but it’s purely a matter of personal preference.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 115

While we did notice a slight color difference between the screens of the white iPhone 4 and the primary black iPhone 4 we used for our testing—the black iPhone 4’s screen had a slightly blue color temperature relative to the white model’s slight yellow tint—we would ascribe this to device color-agnostic differences in the screens Apple has recently been getting from its suppliers. We noticed a similar tint shift in the black Verizon CDMA iPhone 4 and in a more recent AT&T GSM iPhone 4 we’ve purchased; small color temperature variations of this sort appear to be the norm now rather than the exception.

Camera Performance

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 116

Another claim was that the white iPhone 4 was delayed due to camera problems: reports suggested that the rear camera was overexposing images due to added light that was coming through the white-painted glass relative to the more light-absorbent black version, and some people believed that the LED flash might exacerbate the problems. Photos appeared online purporting to show redesigned white iPhone 4 rear casings with extra-thick paint around the rear camera and flash, so we naturally wondered whether Apple would do something so drastic and obvious—and whether there was in fact a problem at all.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 117

After testing the white iPhone 4 alongside a black iPhone 4, we were relieved to find that there were no obvious cosmetic differences in the paint surrounding the rear camera and the rest of the glass. We did, however, conclude that there are small differences between the ways that their cameras work, though we can only speculate as to whether they’re due to the white paint, changes in newer camera sensors, or something else. In any case, the differences are highly unlikely to be noticed by average users, and do not uniformly favor one version of the device over the other.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 118

First, we noticed a difference in the two models’ low light performance that slightly favors the white iPhone 4. In a dark room, the white iPhone 4’s camera benefits from gathering just a little extra light, which appears on the otherwise black screen as very grainy additional outlines of shapes. This is a benefit in that the white iPhone 4 is a tiny bit more capable of previewing the scene you’re trying to compose in the dark, though the grain initially looks like rough, unappealing additional noise on the screen.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 119

We also noticed small differences in the cameras’ color rendition, though they’re challenging to completely quantify because of the aggressive auto-adjustments made by Apple’s Camera application. Many of the sample flash and non-flash photos we shot appeared to default to slightly lighter tones on the white iPhone 4 than on the black iPhone 4, but when we used the white balance locks and manual tap-to-expose controls in Tap Tap Tap’s application Camera+, there was no clear winner between the devices—the same image snapped repeatedly on each camera sometimes looked better on one, then the other, then nearly identical.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 120

From where we stand, if an issue existed before, Apple has solved it to the extent that shots taken with either iPhone 4 are for the most part difficult to distinguish from one another. There are circumstances such as low-light or bright light shooting in which one device may appear to have a small edge over the other, but more often than not, additional testing suggested otherwise. The differences are in any case mild enough that users shouldn’t and won’t care about them.

Lingering Issues

Contrary to some speculation, Apple has not made other major changes to the white iPhone 4. The device’s controversial antenna design remains as susceptible to wireless signal attenuation as before, an issue that the company appears to be waiting to address in the true next-generation iPhone model. It also continues to be fragile due to its use of slippery front and rear glass panes, which our readers and editors have found to be susceptible to scratches, chips, and cracks under various circumstances.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 121

Mitigating the latter issue somewhat, Apple now replaces cracked rear glass for only $29 assuming that no damage has been done to the hardware inside, while charging a higher $199 fee if the front glass is damaged. Additionally, many good to great case and screen film options now exist for the iPhone 4, collectively protecting the device and reducing its wireless connectivity issues. As we’ve said before, if you buy an iPhone 4, you should really use a case; as beautiful as it is, protection is strongly advisable.

Conclusions

Given that Apple’s past iPhones have traditionally enjoyed roughly twelve-month lifespans before successor models were introduced, the company’s decision to release the white iPhone 4 ten months after its black predecessor has struck many people—us included—as surprising, if not downright confusing. Clearly the company wasn’t content to let the device be scuttled by its early engineering challenges, but since white models have twice been discontinued entirely by their first birthdays, it’s hard to know whether this version of the iPhone 4 is destined to become an extremely short-lived collector’s item, or whether it will eventually become the low-end model when the next-generation iPhone debuts later this year.

 

Review: Apple iPhone 4 (16GB/32GB) 122

In any case, the white iPhone 4 is as safe of a purchase today as the black version is—if you’re still considering the purchase of an iPhone 4, there’s no strong reason other than aesthetic taste to choose one color over the other. Late though it was, Apple appears to have fixed or significantly mitigated the engineering issues that plagued the white iPhone 4, leaving only the black pill-shaped proximity sensor as an awkward little scar on an otherwise beautiful design. That little cosmetic blemish aside, this model is as good of a pick as its black predecessor, and worthy of the same ratings and recommendation.

Our Rating

B+
Recommended

Company and Price

Company: Apple Inc.

Website: www.Apple.com

Model: iPhone 4

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

Compatible: PC/Mac

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