iPhone 4 Review: Before the storm

iPhone Retina DisplayIf you’ve ever really wondered what the word schadenfreud means, Microsoft’s COO just gave us a material example. No, the 4th generation iPhone is not Apple’s Vista, but (as someone on Twitter said), it might very well be Apple’s XBox 360. A piece of hardware with a critical flaw that somehow manages to sell and remain a market leader. Perhaps it’s the content, the gorgeous screen, or simply the Apple reality distortion field, but the iPhone 4 will sell.

Maybe this will change after the press conference tomorrow, but I doubt it.

Can you hear me now?

Yes, the reception issues are real, but I’d venture that the impact on a user is over-emphasised. Just last week I stated on the record to the NBR that I couldn’t replicate the grip-of-death. This was true at the time: I sat around at home and work, gripping the phone in many unnatural ways to try to make the signal drop, with no result. Then this week I sit down with that very same reporter in another part of town, and could repeatedly make the iPhone reception indicator drop from 5 bars to 1 by covering the bottom area of the phone with both hands. Go figure.

Then there’s the real world. A world where I make calls with my left hand and left ear (but I’m normal-handed). In this crazy-strange world, the iPhone 4 works perfectly. I’ve got no idea what the signal bars are doing because I don’t have an eye in my ear, but the reception is fine and I’ve dropped no calls. In fact, in a notorious building close to Auckland’s microwave-packed Sky Tower, the 4 performs better than my 3GS.

The other stuff

That screen. My god. It’s full of stars. Even after a couple of weeks, I still find myself playing “spot the pixel”. It’s impossible, even with my prescription glasses. I’ve never seen a screen this crisp. Book and web reading is all but perfection, and hi-resolution images are just gorgeous. It really is a breakthrough, and hopefully (like capacitive touchscreens before), Apple’s foray will commoditise these hi-res displays for the rest of us.

The camera is as good as any other modern cellphone camera. That is to say: passable. It’s not going to out-do a mid level compact camera. However, when you add 720p HD video recording, coupled with iMovie and YouTube uploading, then the iPhone 4 surpasses the utility of a compact camera and most other phones with cameras.

The front camera is little more than a gimmick. Video calling never caught on before, and Facetime is unlikely to.

In Conclusion

Let’s pretend for a moment that the iPhone 4 has no issues with reception or a controversial external antenna. On this basis it is a refined 3GS. Once you get used to the frankly jaw-dropping screen resolution, the phone feels and behaves like its older brother. The OS is identical, and the speed only marginally improved. I’d venture that 3G users will want to upgrade, but 3GS users – unless desperate for the new camera and HD video – can quite happily wait for contract expiry or the next model.

Thanks to Parallel Imported for lending me an iPhone 4 to review. Go and buy stuff from them. They’ll be selling unlocked iPhone 4s pretty soon.

Join the Conversation


  1. One thing I’m kind of curious about…I’ve seen very little in the way of hard numbers in any evalutation of the IP4 signal reception issues.

    It’s all subjective testing with what quantitative data we have being visual observations of the signal bars, which Apple has already admitted uses a flawed algorithm.

    Are there any signal monitor apps out there on the App store? Or are they banned, like wifi scanners.

    On the Android platform in similar crcumsances, what I would do is download any of a number of free apps that (Antennas, NetMonitor, even the Star Trek Tricorder app!) give hard numbers, wirte logs and even geo-locate using the gps and google maps.

    Subjective testing is a valuable part of analysys from a user perspective, but if you are talking class actions, then nothing beats hard data.

  2. Further review post 4.01 update.

    Gotta say, that Kapton tape is not unattractive!

  3. Any experiences with your apps showing ads from iAd yet? Ive been wondering how the iAd service would manifest itself, is it invasive or strangely useful?

  4. I’m having the iPhone 4 for the last 40 days ,it is great the reception is far better than 3GS ,the screen is amazing ,the whole phone is elegant look and it’s joy to own it ,battery life is far better also than 3GS iam very pleased with it

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