The iPhone for is here. Actually it’s more than here — it’s been out for about a week now — and after putting it through its paces for a few days I thought I’d give you a full-on review.
The fourth iteration of the iPhone is certainly the most controversial handset so far. Hardware leaks, suicides and police raids have all formed part of this smartphone’s turbulent journey to market.
And whether or not this has put a dampener on the handset itself for you, it is absolutely, as Mr Jobs said, “the biggest step forward for the iPhone since the original”.
So get yourself a brew, settle in, and I’ll tell you all about it!
The first thing you’ll notice when holding the iPhone 4 is just how incredible the build quality is. I think when we all heard Jobs compare his latest phone to a Leica camera we were, to say the least, sceptical. And though my time with vintage Leica cameras is pretty limited, that is to say, about fifteen minutes worth, I can say with absolute assurance that this is the finest piece of consumer product engineering I’ve ever come across.
It feel incredibly pleasing in the hand and actually, make the 3GS feel, well, a bit chubby and cheap. The front and back are black glass with a brushed steel band running round the phone. There are two seperate volume buttons on one side with a mute switch, on the other side is the micro-sim tray. At the top is the lock button and 3.5mm headphone jack and at the bottom Apple’s cheeky 30pin jack.
Apple’s iPhone 4 ships running iOS4 which makes sense if you think about it, and while Apple’s latest operating system has some significant developments on 3.0 there are still some niggling issues that make it, well, not all that it could be.
Now, don’t get us wrong, it’d be absolutely untrue to say that iOS4 isn’t the best mobile operating system on the market, because it is. That said there are still a few things it could learn, but we’ll get to them.
First, here’s what it does well.
Multi-tasking: Okay some of you will moan that it’s not multi-tasking and maybe, in the truest, more puritanical definition of the word it’s not — it’s a series of APIs that can make an app seem like it’s running in the background, which it kind of is, but not really.
Whatever, it works really well, despite being implemented in a slightly clumsy way. Say you’re in your email and you get an IM in Palringo, just double tap your home button and a little dock of apps will pop-up, hit the one you want and it’ll swivel into place, finish with it, double tap again and go back to whatever you were doing.
The multi-tasking UI is a tad clunky, once the dock is up you have to scroll along until you find the app you’re after. The ability to pull the dock up, like you do with your main menu in Android might be a smoother way to do it. But really, we’re just happy to have it.
Spell-checker: The iPhone already had the auto-correct function, which was ducking annoying on occasion. The spell-checker, which debuted in iOS 3.2 for iPad, is really rather good. Spell something wrong and you’ll get the ubiquitious red-line hit the word and options to change it to will pop up, prod one of them, and Bob’s your uncle, you’re done.
Folders: Want to stuff some of your apps into a little stack, so you don’t have to go scrolling all around your home-screen? All you need to do is drag one app on to another and it’ll automatically convert it into something like a folder.
IOS4 will automatically name your groupings based on the type of apps you’ve lumped together. It works as you’d expect and is handy if you’re one of those app-mad types.
Unified inbox: You want all your emails in one place? Sure you do! Well you can finally do it with iOS4. As opposed to flicking between your mail accounts you can now see them all in one tidy place.
Not only that but messages are now threaded, which means you’ll be able to track your conversations as opposed to flicking through endless emails like a goon.
Orientation lock and customisable background: Are both finally making their long overdue iPhone debuts.
Unfortunately there’s still some stuff missing, chief among them — glancable information. The widget system, on which Android is based, and which makes it such an appealing option to hardcore techies and it’s a crying shame that is doesn’t make an appearance in some form on iOS 4.
You’ll have heard a lot about Apple’s highly lauded retina display. It’s got four times as many pixels as the 3GS’s screen and 78% of the pixels of the iPad.
Jobs said that he felt that it was superior to AMOLED screens which have been at the forefront of rival screen tech and have been popping up on some high-end smartphones phones, most noticeably HTC’s fine handsets.
The clarity of the screen is unreal. The extra pixel density gives it the ability to render images and webpages with a sharpness that makes everything you do on it a delight.
For example if I pull up the BBC homepage, I can read the headlines in other top stories without even zooming in one pixel.
Video looks superb on it too and Apple’s A4 processor could handle most anything we threw at it. The blacks are superbly deep and the colours are vibrant.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was beyond compare — in fact I’d say there are handsets, such as the HTC HD2 which do match up in terms of vibrancy and colour, though all fall short when clarity comes into it. You really need to get your hands on one to appreciate it fully.
The original iPhone camera was a duffer, the second one was a duffer, the third one was better, but it was still a bit of a duffer. This one is good. Not incredible, but good, very good — owing to its 5 megapixels and backlit sensor.
Apple have characteristically held back with the stock camera app — there’s no pre-set japery or filters. It’s photo, video, zoom and that’s it.
The touch-screen focus works well in the photos — give it a second once the box disappears and you’ll have a pretty strong shot in good light. In poor light with the flash on the camera has the uncanny ability to turn everyone a woozy shade of puke green.
Touch screen focus also works in video mode giving you the (albeit limited) ability to get some bokeh in your videos — like in proper films and that. It takes a bit of work, your subject needs to be pretty close to the camera and your background quite far away to get any meaningful blur, but it really is incredibly impressive that a phone has the capability to do this. The Flip Mino HD doesn’t neither does the Kodak Zi8 and though the stability of the video is better in the dedicated handheld cams — the quality of the video is similar.
Once you’ve shot your video you also have the ability to edit it, in-phone. Apple’s £2.99 iMovie app is a tidy “mobile editing solution” that is a bit limited now, in terms of the variety transitions and themes available. It’s not a replacement for your desktop edition. Not that you were expecting it to be.
It is however very impressive and can create some surprisingly appealing film on the fly.
Below is a test video recorded with the iPhone 4 and edited using iMovie for iPhone. Unfortunately, though understandably, the iPhone 4 can not upload HD movie from the phone itself. I took this video off the phone and uploaded it manually.
I know this is starting to sounds a little repetitive and let me assure you I am no Apple fan boy, but the performance of the iPhone 4 is really pretty unreal.
Remember lag? Yeah. When you opened an app and for a while nothing happened, things “loaded”. After 10 minutes using this phone you’ll have forgotten what that was like because it just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter how many apps you flick between, how many apps you’ve got running, they all just work straight away.
It’s snappier than a crocodile wearing crocodile skin shoes.
Throw super high quality video at it, ipod, streaming — anything. It just works.
Calls and Signal
You know this antenna issue that everyones been talking about? Well, it happens, it most certainly happens. When you hold the phone in the most unnatural way you possibly can you’ll eventually lose signal.
In practise you won’t notice it, unless you consciously try and hold your phone in exactly the way that blocks the signal (covering both the black bands on the bottom half of the phone).
That said it’s still a balls-up on Apple’s behalf and I don’t think it would be too much to ask for a free bumper case with each phone. They’re not cheap after all.
The call quality is marginally better than the iPhone 3GS and oddly works better with bluetooth headsets too.
When Apple announced the iPhone 4 they seemed to think this was their marquee feature. Jobs said to Ive, “I grew up with the Jetsons, seeing videocalling, now it’s real.”
Well yeah, sorry Steve, you’ve kind of been beaten to the punch here — we’ve had video calling on handsets since 2003 when 3 launched their video-calling network.
It didn’t really take off then, and I’m not sure Apple have cracked it. The Facetime experience is pretty seamless and seeing the person you’re calling (if you like them) is undoubtably incredibly engaging as evidenced by the success of Skype.
iPhone vs iPad
Some uneducated web-voices have said that the strength of the iPhone foregrounds some of the shortcomings of the iPad, and to a very small degree, this is partially true. The iPad’s screen, in comparison to the iPhone’s isn’t up to much, having said that it’s still 10 times better than the average netbook and even laptop.
Why do you need an iPad if you’ve got an iPhone 4? Is another question lots of people are asking, failing to see that despite their apparent similarities they are two very different devices. The emailing, web-browsing, reading and video experience is far, far superior on the iPad despite the iPhone’s amazing screen and processing power.
You can spend hours with the iPad chatting, tweeting, reading, surfing and blogging quite comfortably and though you can do these tasks with the iPhone 4 easily, doing them for an extended period of time becomes harder.
Once all’s said and done the iPad is a computer and the iPhone is still a smartphone.
The tantilising thing, is seeing how good iOS4 is and wondering how it’ll be implemented on the iPad. The chance of a lock-screen widget dashboard are still slim to non-existent, but with multi-tasking the iPad is going to be an incredible device.
There is no other way to say it: The iPhone 4 is the best smartphone on the market. Backed-up by the now established app store, there isn’t a smartphone currently available that can compete with it.
Is it going to change everything? No, probably not. It’s made the best phone in the world better. Hipsters will still buy Blackberrys and luddites will still buy Nokias, but those disperate people who aren’t afraid to like Apple will be smugly happy in the knowledge that they own the best smartphone going.