Apple iPhone 4

Some will still consider Apple's iPhone the benchmark for today's smartphones, but its revised design raises issues we haven't seen in a phone of this calibre before. Those upgrading from an iPhone 3G would be wise to consider a 3GS instead.


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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon


Reviewing the iPhone 4 a month after its US release seems like the work of a cartographer re-mapping New York city; there isn't an opinion to form that hasn't been blogged, tweeted or screamed out about since the phone hit the streets five weeks ago. But of those million little voices praising or cursing the latest Apple smartphone, which ones are correct and which are coloured in bias?

Designer woes

Physically speaking, the iPhone 4 represents the most significant shift in aesthetic for the iPhone to date. Gone is the curved plastic finish and in its stead you find cold, reflective glass. Around the edges are stainless bands, most notable for being the phone's antenna — the cause of the entire antennagate issue, but more on this later. Up front is the iPhone's 3.5-inch, 640x960-pixel resolution display, codenamed Retina by Apple which professes that the screen is so sharp that the human eye cannot differentiate individual pixels from one another. While this may be true, the human eye would also be hard-pressed to differentiate the clarity of the iPhone's screen from any on its competitors using a 480x800-pixel resolution display — these extra pixels are wasted on a screen this size.

Though the new design looks fantastic in renders on the Apple website, in the hand it feels cold and industrial. It lacks the subtle ergonomics of previous iPhone models and the brushed steel trim feels sharp against our much softer fingers. Speaking of fingers, be prepared to wipe maniacally at the fingerprints that accumulate not only on the touchscreen, but also across the glass backside of the new phone. People often buy thin plastic screen protectors for touchscreen phones, but we wouldn't be surprised to see thin plastic handset covers hit the market for the iPhone 4 before long.

The new iPhone 4 beside the iPhone 3G.
(Credit: CNET.com)

Current iPhone users will find little else to coo over once they power up their latest gadget. As with the experience of buying a new Mac or PC, once you boot it up there is an inevitable disappointment to be greeted by the same old operating system as before. If you've downloaded the iOS 4 firmware for your 3G or 3GS then you'll find there are no surprises short of the new phone processing slightly faster.

The continental grip

In tennis, the continental grip is a standard racquet grip, which is excellent for return of serve, or so we've been told. If you hold the iPhone like this, however, you can expect a nasty shock. Yes, we're talking about the iPhone "death grip", and if you thought Apple would solve this issue before daring to release this phone in Australia then you'd be wrong — dead wrong.

The first thing we did with the iPhone 4 when we ripped the plastic off the milky white box was grab it in the death grip and watch for the signal bars to disappear. It takes about 30 seconds before the first bar drops, then the fall off is steady after that. But what does this all mean in real-world situations? It's one thing to watch signal bars come and go, but does this issue affect the way the phone operates?

This depends on where you use the phone. When we tested the phone in the city with strong network coverage, phone functionality remained fine even when the iPhone reported only one bar signal. We ran online speed tests to trial the death grip data throughput and we couldn't find any noticeable loss of speed. Though we did see wild fluctuations in results, we couldn't isolate this issue as being related to the design flaw. However, when we tested in an area of low network coverage, we saw a much more serious issue. Starting with two or three bars of signal the so-called death grip killed the phone's reception entirely and the iPhone continued to report "No Service" until we moved our hand. If you are someone who struggles for reception anyway we suggest you choose a different phone.

Quick draw

Though much of the iPhone 4's hardware remains the same as the previous model, the 5-megapixel camera module has seen a vast improvement. Apple is using a new backside-illuminated image sensor in this camera, which is technology only just adopted by manufacturers of compact point-and-shoot digital cameras, and by no other mobile phone manufacturer. This sensor is designed to deliver better low-light photography, which is a plus for a camera you'll probably take with you everywhere you go.

A shot in our studio with a 100 per cent crop inset.
(Credit: CBSi)

Photos we've taken in dark rooms under dull incandescent lighting have turned out extremely noisy, as you might expect. But while the image becomes grainy, the iPhone camera still manages to keep the light levels quite high. Under better, some might say more normal lighting conditions, the iPhone camera is among the best camera phones we've tested, and almost certainly the fastest. From the moment you hit the shutter button on-screen it takes less than 300-hundredths of a second to capture. This speed means you can capture those magic moments, and your photos won't suffer so greatly from blurry pics due to handshake.

The iPhone 4 also records HD video, but we're not as impressed with this feature. You could argue that the video capture is better than on other phones (a statement we will test in an upcoming feature) and there will always be someone to shoot a short film using the iPhone as a gimmick. But we can't get past the fact that the resulting video you will most likely shoot with the iPhone will be shaky, often out of focus and accompanied by a tinny, wind-blown audio track.

Performance

Would you expect anything less than first-class performance from an iPhone? We wouldn't either. Apple has set its benchmark high with the previous models, but still manages to squeeze out noticeably, if slightly, better processing performance, with thanks to its new A4 1GHz processor. Side by side with an iPhone 3GS you can see web pages load faster and apps launch quicker, but only by a matter of moments.

The new multitasking feature baked into iOS 4 works well on the new hardware and is a major improvement that affects iPhone usage across the board. As we've discussed previously, the multitasking is a saved state implementation, and while this is limited in its functionality, it does help to speed up workflow across multiple apps.

If we have one complaint about the iPhone 4's performance it's that it doesn't differ greatly from the performance of last year's iPhone 3GS. With the iPhone 3GS still for sale this year, customers could pick up last year's model for less but enjoy the excellent user experience.

Overall

Apple tried every shady trick in the book to cover up "antennagate", from blaming its customers for holding it wrong, to blaming it on its network signal attenuation algorithm, to playing down the severity by dragging other mobile vendors into the debate. When it's all said and done, you simply can't deny there is a flaw in the phone's design and an easily replicable network reception problem. Slipping a band-aid on the antenna will fix this issue, but it doesn't mask the fact that Apple has designed a phone with a flaw that you won't see on any other smartphone, and for this reason the iPhone does not get our Editors' Choice award.

That said, those who don't mind covering the antenna with a rubber bumper or case will buy a very capable smartphone. It doesn't multitask like a BlackBerry and it isn't customisable like an Android, but the iPhone is slick, fast and supported by the largest of the applications stores. Just remember to take a look at last year's iPhone 3GS before you commit to the new iPhone 4; it may not be the latest gadget on the shelves, but it very nearly matches the newer model's performance and you'll pick it up on a cheaper plan.



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greg grubb
8
Rating
 

"i dont care what other people say this is the best phone ever!"

greg grubb posted a review   
Australia

The Good:fast great touch screen

The Bad:nothing

i brought the Iphone 4 the day it came out and it was clearly better than the 3GS they have made a huge difference in it. But after a year the iphone 5 came out so i brought that. there was no difference and going to the shop to get a refund i miss my iphone 4.

 

LiamM1 posted a comment   

LOVE IT!!!!!! I'm a 15 year old boy and my white iPhone is like, I don't know but I couldn't live without it!

KERBCYDE
5
Rating
 

"An alright phone"

KERBCYDE posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Easy to use,

The Bad:Terrible battery life, slippery like butter. Hard to put custom ringtones on.

Their an alright phone from my experience. The camera on it takes good photos, for a mobile phone camera. The battery is a major let down, the iPhone 4 cannot go for 2 days without recharge. I've dropped mine numerous times before, it's very slippery and hard to grip. It's a very complicated process to put custom ringtones onto the phone.

I wouldn't bother suggesting people to buy this phone.

LukeP Facebook
6
Rating
 

"Fast but heavy with small screen. Non-competitive product."

LukeP posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Quick & clever operating system.

The Bad:Apple is closed market, non-competitive. Small, heavy, brick phone.

Quick operating system.
But large heavy handset, with a small screen. Cannot change layout of apps or express creative individuality on the phone. Pretty boring phone.
Like all Apple machines, it is non-competitive, closed market, only accepting apple brand apps.
Happy with the performance, but looking forward to switching to equal performance on an Android - open market & competitive hardware & software brands - healthy competition! Just as good and better phones now available with larger screens and lighter weight.

susie39ss
10
Rating
 

"Love it, is the best one"

susie39ss posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Everything

The Bad:none

This is an Excellent Phone better signal than my 3gs and is a lot quicker, this is an upgrade to the 3gs for sure. Dont have any problems.

APPLET3K
10
Rating
 

"EASILY THE BEST PHONE EVER MADE"

APPLET3K posted a review   
Australia

The Good:EVERYTHING

The Bad:NOTHING

I can't believe the hate the iPhone 4 is getting from users on this site and cnet. iPhone 4 is the best phone there was is or ever will be aside from the Phone 5 (or possibly 4S) coming in september which will revolutionize Phones (again) :). Face it people the iPhone is here to stay, apple even has enough money to buy the whole mobile phone industry. There is just no competing with it, You can hate alllll you want but the iphone will never be beat and all you people know it.

REG4RDS, LEO STANOEVSKI

 

CampbellS posted a reply   

I think the Galaxy S2 is the best phone ever and there is nothing you can do to change my mind

 

kurosak1 posted a comment   
Australia

I've upgraded my home PC laptop into a new Macbook pro, but I've run into several problems. One of these problems is iPhone 4 synchronisation and ipod nano 4th generation.

Previously, I synchronised my iPhone 4 and iPod nano with a PC. Now I want to sync it with my new Macbook, but I don't want to lose all my app data, contacts, valuable messages, settings and re-upload all the music, photos, etc.

Is there any possibility for me to sync with my Macbook without losing all my contacts, messages, photos, settings and avoid reinstall apps and re-upload all the music?

Anyone know the secret sauce that will tell the iPhone and iPod to now use the mac and forever forget the old pc?

Wish i can just plug in my iPhone 4 and iPod nano to my new macbook straight away and ready to go. (without erasing and reformat all the contents...)

Mr Joseph Hanlon, please help me!

 

kurosak1 posted a reply   
Australia

Dear cnet, please please please please please make a video review and step by step tutorials on how to solve this issue immediately. PLEASE. I AM BEGGING YOU GUYS!

 

idiotphone4lover posted a reply   
Australia

Put the heap of junk rottenapple crapbookpro on ebay, and get a "WORLD STANDARD" Windows 7 64 bit notebook PC, then download idiottunes 64 bit from crapple web site.
Good Luck selling crapbook.

CreamingSoda
10
Rating
 

"Excelent phone, the very best."

CreamingSoda posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Great camera, seamless OS, easy to use

The Bad:Battery life is something to be desired.

Before you go criticising me, I am not a fan of Apple and do not go rushing out to buy every product with the Apple stamp. I recomend only what I think is a good product, not because of its brand.

The iPhone cops alot of criticism, and branded as more of a fasion accessory then a decent phone. I disagree. I believ the iPhone 4 is the very best phone avalible and it's about time someone proved it.

I decided to do a little experement. I got 5 people who had never used a smart phone before and are frankly afraid to touch them. I had 2 phones, a iPhone 4 and a HTC desire both reset to factory defults with no extra apps or anything, just like new out of the box. I then got them each to do a simple task on each phone. Find cirtain apps and download them(Angry Birds free and the Facebook app). It took them only about 2 minutes each to find both on the app store and about 30 minutes to find Facebook allone with the HTC.

Bottom line, a trained monkey could use an iPhone. They have the very best OS out there and are soo easy to use.

idiotphone4lover
2
Rating
 

"I want my money back!"

idiotphone4lover posted a review   
Australia

The Good:i-yuppy cool.

The Bad:antenna issues, glass cracks, poor battery

Well, after reading all the marketing crapple B.S.
I sold my Blackberry, for this peice of junk rottenapple4.
The glass is cracked on BOTH sides.
The antenna has a mind of its own and cuts out calls.
Battery lasts 9 hours.
Now I have to pay for new phone as I am stiil on contract.

I want my money back.

AlexS1 Facebook
10
Rating
 

"This phone changed my life, and got me connected"

AlexS1 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Its faster, and the Apps offer endless functionality

The Bad:Pretty expensive, and will probably break 1 day out of warranty

Old Jobsy knows what he's doing. Got me sucked in good to the Apple way, but I love the way all my Apple products just work together... Ok, they refuse point blank to work with anything else non-Apple, but thats ok with me.


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User Reviews / Comments  Apple iPhone 4

  • greg grubb

    greg grubb

    Rating8

    "i brought the Iphone 4 the day it came out and it was clearly better than the 3GS they have made a huge difference in it. But after a year the iphone 5 came out so i brought that. there was no diff..."

  • LiamM1

    LiamM1

    "LOVE IT!!!!!! I'm a 15 year old boy and my white iPhone is like, I don't know but I couldn't live without it!"

  • KERBCYDE

    KERBCYDE

    Rating5

    "Their an alright phone from my experience. The camera on it takes good photos, for a mobile phone camera. The battery is a major let down, the iPhone 4 cannot go for 2 days without recharge. I've d..."

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