The iPhone 4 is, without a doubt, one of the best smartphones on the market today. It's speedy, svelte, and certainly slick. But the iPhone 4 didn't impress me quite as much as I expected, and this phone is more of an incremental upgrade from the iPhone 3GS rather than a must-have device.
Price and Availability
The iPhone 4 is available from AT&T, which sells the 16GB iPhone 4 for $199 and the 32GB iPhone 4 for $299 when you sign a two-year service contract with a compatible voice and data plan. (For more information, see .) You can buy the phone from AT&T, Apple, Best Buy, Radio Shack, and Walmart.
One of the most obvious differences between the iPhone 4 and past models is the new look of the phone. For one, it's noticeably thinner: the iPhone 4 measures just 9.3 millimeters thick -- 24 percent thinner than the already-svelte iPhone 3GS. Apple says it is "the thinnest smartphone on the planet," and it certainly does look tiny.
The iPhone 4 measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.31 inches wide by .37 inches thick. The iPhone 3GS, meanwhile, measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by .48 inches thick. Put the two phones side by side, and the iPhone is noticeably smaller, all around.
But the iPhone 4 feels heftier than the iPhone 3GS. Both weigh 4.8 ounces, but that weight is rounded up; the iPhone 3GS actually weighs 135 grams while the iPhone 4 weighs 137 grams. It's not a huge difference, but the iPhone 4 does feel heavier in your hand than the 3GS.
The iPhone 4 also is more squared-off in shape, with a thicker metallic border running around the phone's edges. The new phone doesn't feature the plastic backing found on the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 3G. Instead, the front and the back of the iPhone 4 are covered in aluminosilicate glass, which Apple says is found on helicopter and high-speed train windshields. It's designed to be significantly stiffer (20 times) and harder (30 times) than plastic, with a fingerprint-resistant finish. So far, the iPhone 4's case does seem to be resisting some smudges and smears, but I'll have to see how it holds up over time.
One of the iPhone 4's most-hyped features is its display, which features an astounding resolution of 960 by 640. It measures the same size as the screen on the iPhone 3GS (3.5-inches diagonally), but packs in four times as many pixels. Apple calls it a "Retina display," and says it offers more pixels than the human eye can see. Experts have debated that claim, but the iPhone 4's screen does look remarkably crisp and clear.
Text looks sharp enough to jump off the screen. Colors look deeper and richer than they do on the iPhone 3GS, and images have a crispness that I haven't seen on another smartphone. The only complaint I have with the display is its size; after spending so much time testing out the 4.3-inch screen on the HTC EVO 4G, the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch display feels small.
Apple's iPhone is known for many things, but excellent call quality is not one of them. I was hoping that the iPhone 4's new design -- with the antenna built in to the steel frame that rings the phone -- would improve matters. But my test calls sounded just like calls made over my iPhone 3GS: loud enough and mostly clear, but with a bit of a background echo.
Many iPhone 4 users have complained of dropped calls and interference with their cellular service when they hold their phone near the bottom left corner of the device. I tried to test this out, and the first call I made with the iPhone 4 promptly dropped. I was unable to repeat this experience though, and have had no more dropped calls. I also have not seen any reduction in signal strength by holding the iPhone 4 in this area.
The iPhone 4 runs version 4 of Apple's iOS. As always, Apple's mobile operating system is intuitive and easy to use; it works as you expect it to.
iOS 4 adds several new features, including a long-desired multitasking capability, which allows you to run more than one third-party app at a time. Multitasking works as advertised; to switch between apps, you minimize the one you're using to a tray, which you can access to go back to another application. It's not multitasking in the way that your computer can multitask; you can't always start a time-consuming process, like a download, and then go back to it when it's complete. That's because, most of the time, iPhone apps will suspend or go to sleep when you minimize them, and will only resume operation when you go back to them. And not all apps support multitasking, as developers have to add the capability on their own, which more should do over time.
Other new features in iOS 4 include folders for organizing all of your apps, a new Mail client, and a Game Center. For more information, see iPhone OS 4 Gets Multitasking and More.
Browsing the Web
Despite the "4" in its name, the iPhone 4 does not support 4G wireless networks. Still, you do have plenty of options for speedy Web browsing. The iPhone 4 now supports speedy 802.11n wireless networks, and you still get support for AT&T's high-speed 3G network.
The iPhone's Safari browser remains the best mobile browser I've used, without exception. You can see mobile or desktop versions of Web pages, can open multiple pages, and can zoom in and out with ease.
The iPhone's new iOS 4 also adds tethering capabilities, which allows you to use your iPhone as a modem to connect other devices to the Internet. Tethering requires the purchase of an additional $20-per-month tethering plan, though.
The iPhone 4 features a 5-megapixel shooter, which is a decent step up from the 3.2-megapixel camera found on the iPhone 3GS. It adds an LED flash and a 5x digital zoom. In my tests, images looked sharper and colors definitely popped, especially when viewed on the iPhone 4's gorgeous screen. But the LED flash wasn't terribly powerful.
In addition to snapping photos, the camera can record HD video clips at a resolution of up to 720p. Video clips captured with the iPhone 4 did look markedly better than those recorded with the iPhone 3GS.
The iPhone also features a front-facing camera for video chat through a feature called FaceTime. While FaceTime sounds impressive, it comes with some serious limitations: it works from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 only, and video calls can only be conducted over Wi-Fi networks. I was unable to test it.