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Mobility Digest Review: iPhone 4 – a quick review

The 4th Generation iPhone was unleashed on the world a couple months ago.  As a LONG time Windows Mobile user, and first time iPhone owner, I had a lot to get accustomed to in order to form this review better.  Most everything about Windows Mobile that we love or hate is completely different on an iPhone, and that was BEFORE the iOS4 update, or the new hardware was released.

I have a different feeling on the iPhone as a whole now, but I still have a soft spot for Windows Mobile (third drawer from the top, under the "I went to Kentucky and all I got was this t-shirt?” t-shirt).  This review will cover a few areas that I feel require the most attention.  I’m not going to be going into much detail since the phone has remained largely unchanged since it first launched… but the changes… they be good ones.

The phone.

The iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS were all very similar really.  The biggest difference between Gen 1 and Gen 2 was of course, the 3G data.  The biggest Difference between the 3G and the 3rd Gen 3GS was mainly the speed of the processor.  There were lots of variations of storage space of course, but when it came down to it, the iPhone was all about the web data, and how fast you could use it.  Flash forward to present day and we have been given the best iPhone yet.  It’s a screamer.  The processor is a 1GHz A8 based “A4” chip.  The same chip in the iPad.  But that’s not what sets this iPhone apart from the others.  It’s the  excellent 5MP camera with flash and HD 720p recording, and the VGA front-facing camera.  It’s the absolutely AMAZING screen which no other phone’s can compare to.  It’s the clean industrial design of the handset, and the solid construction of the thing.  Oh, and the battery which will last days under normal use (games excluded – they kill it quick).  In short, it’s the whole package.

The Features.

The iPhone has all the bells and whistles that all modern smart phones do, and then it has a few tricks of its own.  The thing not only has the highest resolution screen available on a portable device (not to mention a screen which actually has a better dpi than ANY production, commercially available device), but it has a Gyroscope!  What does that mean?  Well.. you’ve played a Wii game before (or hell, any accelerometer-based game on a phone or iPod touch) right?  The game reacts to the movement of the input device.  You turn the controls to the left, the screen moves to the left.  Sure.  That’s cool.  But what happens when you toss in a Gyro?  No longer do you have just left and right, up and down movement control.  You also get precise control in a perceived 3D environment.  The screen looks ‘forward’ at the same spot every time.  Pick up any accelerometer game, point the screen at a single point on your wall and play.  You could do UFC-style battles while you’re playing and it wouldn’t matter to the game which way you’re pointing as long as its getting the directional inputs.  With the Gyro, that point on the wall will always be ‘home’.  The perfect example for this is the EXCELLENT ‘Gun Range’ app for the iPhone 4.  You point your phone down range and aim with the gyro.  When you look left or right, it’s not the accelerometer that’s making the viewpoint change, it’s the gyro, and it’s super smooth.  It’s extremely precise and accurate and will change the way that you think about how games on a device like this should be played.

The phone also has a new to iPhone, front-facing camera.  The resolution is VGA, which is… well, sub-par really.  But the reason they threw that camera on there isn’t for the quality of photos or video it can take (which is actually surprisingly good), but for Apple’s two-way video chat application, FaceTime.  FaceTime is only accessible via WiFi (unless you JailBreak), and can only currently be used with two iPhone 4 owners.  Apple announced at the WWDC that they would be ‘opening’ the FaceTime standard for other applications.  If that means that Skype, Qik, Google, AIM, etc can jump on board with the FaceTime standard, than there will be a few million people running around with very capable video chatting devices in their pockets.  Even the FlipHD is looking into FaceTime compatibility.

The speed of the phone isn’t drastically better than the 3GS, but it IS noticeable.  When you’re flipping through emails, settings, applications, and switching from one app to another, there is no lag.  It’s fluid through and through.  My wife’s 3GS stumbles from time to time with the iOS4 update, but it’s still very much usable.  Much unlike iOS4 on the 3G.  The speed is most welcome in the Safari Browser though.  Zooming from page to page is nearly seamless and is a much better experience than on the 3GS, not to mention almost any other device that I’ve used save for the HTC Incredible or the Nexus One running Froyo and overclocked to nearly 1.5 or 2GHz.

Out of the box.

When you first get the phone and turn it on, it’s a vanilla Apple device.  It’s almost like a sterile piece of medical equipment.  There’s no fluff.  No unneeded apps, no pack-in carrier bullshit.  It’s in a simple and very smartly designed package which holds no surprises.  You bought an iPhone 4 and here it is.  That’s about it.  Then turn it on.  I dare you to try and turn it off.  As soon as you get your iTunes account info squared away and start downloading any of the thousands of apps available, you’re going to be hooked on playing with this thing.  I’ve changed my morning and evening routines because of this silly device.

The general quality of applications available on the iPhone from the App Store is very good.  Only a few times have I come across an application that didn’t work as advertised, or had issues running on iOS4 / the iPhone 4.  And in most cases, those apps have been updated to work properly as soon as it was possible for the developer.

I’m not going to get into any details on applications.  There are reviews for apps all over the place.  Every iPhone comes with the same standard features (save for FaceTime), and the user interface only has minor tweaks.  So I’m going to talk about multitasking.


iOS4 ushers in a new era for Apple’s mobile devices.. the ability to run more than one application at a time.  To be able to exit an app, goto the homescreen and do something else, and then return to the first app where you had left off.  In Windows Mobile or Android worlds. we called this “normal”.  BUT, Apple does it differently.  They don’t simply keep all of the applications running in the background all the time.  Only the applications that must run like Navigation and Music apps.  Instant messaging, games, and other applications will simply be put into a suspended state and will resume where you left off when you reopen them.  This approach allows you to still be on the phone, displaying your navigation, and have your music app in the background pause and waiting for the phone call to end so it can resume playing.  All without having Angry Birds, Engadget, Feedler and FatBooth apps eating up precious memory or battery life because they’re ‘suspended’.   I love this multitasking setup.  In the current market, Apple does it better than any other OS.

Switching apps in iOS4 is dead simple too.  Double tap your home button.  Select the app you want, and viola, you’re in it.  If you’re done with an app, you can close it from that menu too by holding on the icon until the red minus symbol appears and you click it to close.  In some cases (GPS apps) this MUST be done in order to save your battery.

Red roses and Green Grass.

Yeah, no, not everything is awesome.

  • There’s no LED notifications.  The notification system needs a drastic overhaul.  If you jailbreak your iPhone and get Notifier, you’re one step ahead.  It’s an android like list of system notifications. It’s nice.
  • Camera needs a hard button.  Taking a photo with a soft button on the screen sucks.  Jailbreak to fix it, but it should be an option to use your volume buttons from the factory.
  • Creating an email with multiple photos is a pain in the ass.  Open email, create new, tap home, open photos, select photo, long press, copy, double tap home, open email, tap in text area, paste, double tap home, select photos, select next photo, ‘peat and repeat.
  • The proximity sensor is wonky.  The phone will randomly mute, hang up or go on speaker if you hold it to your face at an angle.  “Ears are reflective” I think was the quote… I dunno, they need to fix it is all.
  • FaceTime needs a video quality adjustment or auto adjustment.  Period.
  • The antenna issue.

But aside from those few issues, I can’t complain, and actually much prefer this phone to any that I’ve owned before it.  My HTC Touch Pro 2 was a great device, and I had all the intentions in the world to replace it with the new Dell Streak, but this iPhone kinda fell in my lap at the right time, and boy am I glad that I decided to drink the stainless steel and glass flavored kool aid that day…  And I loved it.