Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
We've been testing the iPhone 4 on Telus for four weeks. We've compared it to an iPhone 3GS as well as a Google Nexus One which were our previous smartphones that we used daily. Here are our impressions.
We've tried, miserably to apply screen protectors from Griffin and also from iFrogz hoping that we could both protect the glass screen and cut down on the glare. Applying these screen protectors is incredibly difficult because the iPhone 4's ridges are so precise and because now you also have the front-facing camera to deal with. Just like the iPad, the iPhone 4 seems to do just fine without additional screen protection so we just make sure to carry a piece of microfiber cleaning cloth with us wherever we go.
Fit and Finish
If gadgets were ever to become heirloom pieces, the iPhone 4 would be a good place to start. It has more in common with jewellery that it does with disposable personal electronics. It has been machined with a level of precision and detail one would see in a Cartier watch or an expensive fountain pen and makes it the kind of object you'd definitely like to look at but would love to touch.
This device is a tactile treat, everything from the it's weight, the buffed corners of the glass and the solid feedback you get from pressing the volume buttons has been carefully calibrated. Companies just don't make things like this anymore.
Spend a little time with the iPhone 4 and all the niggling complaints about iPhones in general (non-removable battery, no SDCard expansion no dedicated camera button) all seem to fade into obscurity.
The iPhone 4 is reasonably durable and scratch resistant to a point. That isn't what worries us. Should you drop the iPhone 4, it could land in a bad way and shatter the glass that encloses over 80 per cent of the device's enclosure. We've tried a number of cases to protect the iPhone 4, some of which were less than satisfactory and have come to the conclusion that we prefer using the iPhone 4 without a case but with the realities of day-to-day usage usually have it in either the Ballistic HC case or theIncipio 4 Feather Hard Case.
Next to the iPhone 4, its competent and reliable predecessor, the iPhone 3GS, seems simply bulbous and toylike. The new hardened aluminosilicate glass (AKA Gorilla Glass) covers the front and back of the device and is finished with an oleophobic coating that resists smudges and fingerprints better than regular glass or glossy plastic can. Thanks to the new squarish shape and the grooved stainless steel border, the iPhone 4 is grippier and easier to hold than the slippery smooth iPhone 3GS. While slightly heavier than the iPhone 3GS, it does feel more solid and dense.
Glass and Screen
The glass that covers the front and back of the iPhone 4 seems scratchproof enough and is suitable glare-resistant although we're partial to using anti-glare screen protectors like the ones from Power Support which are easy to apply, thick enough to protect but also quite unobtrusive and manage to cut down glare significantly.
Comparing the iPhone 4's retina display to the 3GS in similar brightness settings revealed something we didn't realize at first. The the iPhone 4's display is the most vivid, most detailed and accurate screen we've seen. We used to think the 3GS had a reasonably bright and crisp screen but next to the iPhone 4 it seems washed out and slightly dull. While we were gushing over the AMOLED screen from the Google Nexus One, we're convinced that the iPhone 4 has the advantage if accuracy and color fidelity without being over saturated which we find is the problem with AMOLED screens.
The iPhone 4's screen is readable outdoors and is substantially bright. It does particularly well with text, thanks to the retina display and the IPS technology work to offer clarity and a great contrast ratio.
The iPhone 4 has 4 times the pixels of the 3GS at 326 pixels per inch and you can quickly put this to the test by looking at photos on both phones and then tapping to enlarge them. The 3GS will likely give a 2x view of the photo but in the iPhone 4 you will get a 4x view which is even clearer and more detailed than the smaller enlargement.
App developers have started to refresh their programs to better suit the Retina display and we think that this is laudable. Give your users as much value by updating the apps they bought so that they work well on their devices.
One of the key features of the iPhone 4 is FaceTime which is a video calling application that relies on the front-facing and rear cameras, a strong Wi-Fi connection. We tried FaceTime and it works as advertised and was a seamless experience. Dial a contact from the phone app of the iPhone and if both of you are are within a Wi-Fi connection the call will transfer from 3G to Wi-Fi (which makes it free to use FaceTime).
We called relatives in Boston from Toronto and we could see and hear them clearly. There was no latency and the video was for the most part synched with the audio.
What's more, flipping from front-facing camera to the rear camera was smooth and so was changing the orientation of the iPhone 4 from portrait to landscape mode. FaceTime really delivers on the promise of video calling. It is an intimate and extremely personal way to communicate and interact and for some reason is a more engaging experience than video calling on the PC, perhaps because you can freely move the iPhone 4 around.
Sure, Apple isn't the first phone maker to offer video calling (Nokia featured it on the N95 back in 2007, as did a number of Windows Mobile phones) but it offers the best experience.
The only limitation right now is that you need two iPhone 4's and you need a Wi-Fi connection to pull it off. Still, FaceTime is a very impressive feature that shows where this technology is headed.
Speed and performance
Performance is visibly quicker than the 3GS, but not by much. The iPhone 4 has the 1GHz Apple A4 processor but we get the feeling that it is down-clocked to 600MHz or 800MHz. Opening apps is slightly faster, sending mail and switching apps (multitasking) is incrementally speedier not as blazingly fast as we had expected.
Side by side tests opening games and graphics intensive applications like Google Earth showed the iPhone 4 up to two full seconds faster on the same Wi-Fi network. Web page loading has improved and is notably faster.
Side by side tests with the iPad, which is rocking the same processor but with half the RAM shows the iPhone 4 is visibly faster although we need to consider the iPad is working with a much larger screen.
5 Megapixel camera with LED flash
We've only had the iPhone 4 for a few hours but are already impressed with the speed and the quality of the built-in 5-megapixel camera.The new camera comes with an LED flash, a welcome addition for sure. But what sets the iPhone 4's camera from the run of the mill multi-megapixel add-on in most smartphones is the new gyroscope. This works to minimize camera-shake by counteracting movement and together with the built-in compass and accelerometer does an impressive job of maintaining the camera steady for shooting photos and videos.
The camera still struggles with low-light photography and you still need a steady hand to get a good photo without flash but use it during the daytime and you'll be fine.
We've also tried the iMovie app and found it to be a novel although limited way to repurpose your videos. Below is an example of a short video cobbled together in a few minutes.
Reception and Antenna
We're using the iPhone 4 on Telus HSPA network and so far have not had any problems getting a signal. We plan to undertake more in-depth tests in the coming days, including using the device in areas where our 3GS faltered or just didn't get any reception. We can now confirm that reception is better than the iPhone 3GS, using the phone in a basement gym which usually renders our iPhone 3GS useless, we managed not only to see some bars of signal, we were at times able to access the Internet data.
We're happy to report that so far, we've not seen the signal bars go down during normal use. We did squeeze the bejesus out of it just to see if we could replicate the attenuation and we did manage to bring down two bars, but we were squeezing it with unnatural force.
Some reports are saying that the issue exists and there are some videos of Canadian iPhone 4s visible losing bars once held in a specific way. There are a lot of factors in Canada that differ from the US situation such as the choice of carrier and area where the attenuation is bound to happen. Our take? The issue is either overblown or the iPhone 4's that have been sold in Canada are somehow improved either by updated software of better quality assurance at the production end.
Could be that Telus's cell signal in our area is strong or the whole antennagate issue is predominantly an AT&T thing. The iPhone 4 has been a really great improvement overall, its great that they can be bought unlocked from the Apple Store for users that want the freedom to choose a carrier or travel with an unlocked device.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Our Continuing iPhone Coverage
Below are our links to our ongoing iPhone 4 coverage.