Tuesday, June 29, 2010

iPhone 4 - the review

Yes, I got one. On launch day. Fortunately, I have sufficient connections that I was able to avoid a lengthy wait, but it was still a launch day spectacular.

First of all, let me address the biggest question: Yes, there is a potential antenna issue. Here's, as far as I can determine thorough my non-scientific test methodology, the exact circumstances that will reproduce the issue for you:

- You need to be in an area with less than full-power service.
- You should be left-handed.
- Big hands are also a factor.
- The iPhone needs to be held by the bottom edges.
- You should be somewhat sweaty.
- Squeeze the iPhone with a very firm grip.
- Do not use a case or bumper on the phone.

If you do all these things, you will assuredly see a noticeable signal loss. Repeatable, too. However, break any one and your odds go way down of reproducing the issue, and if you use a case, bumper, or even a little bit of Scotch tape at the bottom gap, your odds drop to 0% of causing it. So it is real, there is a potential loss of signal, and it's incredibly easy to mitigate. I always use a case for my phone so it's a non-issue for me.

Now that that's settled, on about the phone. There are a handful of bullet points I'll make. First of all is the speed. Everything's faster on the iPhone 4 - from photo display and scrolling, to webpage rendering, to application launching and switching. Having had iOS 4 running for several weeks on my old iPhone 3Gs before this, I can say that the extra processing horsepower of the A4 plus the extra 256MB of RAM in the iPhone 4 make a significant performance difference. At the same time cellular performance is improved, particularly on network uploads (sending emails is now pretty much instant with the faster uplink) and I also have been able to hold calls through several spots that were formerly dead on the prior iPhones. Big improvement.

The next major feature is the build quality of the device. The iPhone 3 series felt solid in the hand and pretty comfortable to hold. The iPhone 4 feels like a brick - but lighter than the older one at the same time. I mean it's solid. It feels like I could drive nails with it. Remarkable.

As for the screen, it's as good as advertised. Possibly the single biggest improvement in the iPhone overall, and one of the biggest advances so far in any mobile phone I've used. To look at the "Retina Display" and compare it to the iPhone from last year is silly. To compare it to an older phone like a Treo isn't even fair. Type looks like paper. Photos look like film. It's that good.

The last major addition to the new phone is the camera. I haven't used the much-balyhooed FaceTime yet, but I've taken pictures with the new rear camera. The quality is comparable to a last-generation point&shoot camera - which sounds poor until you remember that digital cameras have been pretty darned good for a number of years now. 5MP, with a fast shutter speed and good dynamic range. I was able to take some photos at a grownups party last weekend during the evening in low light that I might not have gotten with my far smarter Canon G9. Video quality is good - roughly on par with low-end HD cameras like the Flip.

In short, the iPhone 4 on paper isn't a major change for the series, but in practice it improves in a lot of places (performance, build, and screen) and it's almost barely recognizable to people who still have an original iPhone. In 3.5 years since the original announcement they've come a real long ways. Unless you're a really big sweaty-palmed lefty with a hatred of cases the new iPhone 4 is full of Win.