Hands on: Apple iPhone 4 review
Hands on: Apple iPhone 4 review
Hands on: Apple iPhone 4 review
After the WWDC keynote on June 7, media were invited backstage to get hands on with
Apple's new iPhone 4, including access to the upcoming iOS 4 operating system, and a
brief demo of the FaceTime video calling.
We left with our credit cards burning rectangular shapes in our wallets, already yearning
for its June 24 debut.
The iPhone 3GS was only different on the inside compared to its predecessor, but iPhone
4 is a totally new animal.
It's just a tiny bit thinner from its left to its right edge, because the flat edges mean
effectively less casing around the sides of the screen. It's possible to stand the iPhone on
its side, say to shoot a video.
The stainless steel looks quite handsome, but the glass front and back both picked up a
good deal of fingerprints in the few minutes we had our hands on them, although the
smudges were less noticeable on the all-white model.
Every accessory should come with a polishing cloth; we usually lose them within about
48 hours of acquisition, so get ready for some trouser-rubbing with the new iPhone.
The flat body is only 9.3 millimeters thin, 24 percent thinner than the iPhone 3GS at its
thickest. It feels great in the hand, and at the keynote Steve Jobs remarked, "Its closest
kin is a beautiful old Leica camera."
The metal buttons, shiny edge, and the way the flat-edged case feels more camera-like
when you're shooting pictures, like a particularly slim point-and-shoot. Solid and
familiar, yet futuristic.
It's 4.8 ounces, just 0.1 ounces heavier than the iPhone 3GS, an imperceptible difference.
The SIM card slot has moved from the top to the side, and sadly it's now a micro SIM
slot - meaning changing networks when you finish your contract will be trickier.
The camera on the back is paired with a bright LED flash that you can have on or off.
The volume rocker switch has been replaced by round metal volume-up and -down
buttons, but the Hold and Silence switches are pretty much the same.
A second microphone appears at the top of iPhone 4 to provide noise cancellation. The
black lines visible at three places along the stainless steel edge are integrated antennas
attached directly to the iPhone's stainless steel frame, which is actually its structure - a
nice solution to a tricky problem.
Apple hopes this design will add strength and help improve call quality, one area where
the iPhone has always been criticized, although we'll wait until our full iPhone 4 review
to fully test that out.
By far the most in-your-face improvement is iPhone 4's 960x640 screen. It's got 326
pixels per inch, and we're talking tiny pixels, only 78 micrometers wide.
This iPhone has 4 times as many pixels as the last one, and 78 percent of the pixels in an
iPad's 9.5-inch screen.Packed into a 3.5-inch screen, at this resolution it looks gorgeous.
Everything looks sharp and crisp on this, especially text. You can really zoom in close
and not see any jagged edges whatsoever, making reading a more comfortable
iOS 4 will automatically optimize the text in all apps for this screen, but Steve Jobs
recommended developers update the images in their apps too.
In our hands-on, the photos in the Camera Roll looked clear and detailed, with great color
thanks to the 800:1 contrast ratio, four times better than the iPhone 3GS.
IPS technology in the screen provides a wide viewing angle, a feature we're already
enjoying with the iPad - although we're still not convinced that it's better than the OLED
technology seen on the likes of the HTC Desire, despite what Jobs has said.
The video played at the keynote to highlight iPhone 4's technology included a shot of the
chemically strengthened glass being stress-tested, bent in a deep curve without breaking.
Apple claims this will be "harder, more scratch resistant, and more durable than ever."
When we got hands on with the iPhone, the screen lived up to the hype from the keynote.
It's called the Retina display because its 326 pixels per inch surpasses the point at which
pixels should be noticeable at all, somewhere around 300 pixels per inch.
Apple has a dedicated page to show the technology in a side-by-side approximation, but
we can attest that it must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
Apple's A4 chip powers the iPhone 4, the same kind of chip inside the iPad. We noticed
that apps opened and closed quickly and the iPhone 4 in general felt incredibly
responsive and snappy, but not a night-and-day improvement over the already-zippy
However, Apple says that the A4's better power management combined with the larger
battery the engineers were able to cram into the new case will equal much better battery
This means up to 7 hours of talk time (a 40 percent increase), 6 hours of 3G browsing or
10 hours over Wi-Fi, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music, or 300 hours of standby.
Based on how well Apple's laptops and iPads have been performing in battery life tests,
we're inclined to believe Apple's hype here as well, and it's something the public have
been clamouring for since the first release of the iPhone three years ago.
The iPhone 4 adds another sensor to the standard lineup of proximity sensor, ambient
light sensor, compass, and accelerometer: A three-axis gyroscope that senses the phone's
pitch, roll, and yaw.
Along with the accelerometer and compass, it provides developers with 6-point motion
sensing to build into their games, augmented reality apps, and whatever else they can
One surprise was the lack of a 64GB storage option. iPhone 4 comes in 16GB and 32GB
only, even considering how much space HD video can take up. In the US, both models
cost the same as their iPhone 3GS predecessor, $299 for 32GB and $199 for 16GB -
although we're still waiting for UK pricing.
The new camera is, as Steve put it, really a "camera system," because along with the 5MP
camera on the back, a VGA camera on the front allows self-potraits and FaceTime calls.
The more powerful camera even supports HD video recording, in 720p at 30 frames per
Using the camera is a piece of cake with the touchscreen. You just tap the area that
should be in focus, both when shooting stills and video.
The LED flash can be on or off—we didn't get to try it in low light, but it seems pretty
bright, and can provide continuous illumination while you're recording a video.
The 5MP camera on the back has the same-sized pixels as the iPhone 3GS's 3MP one;
shrinking them would have reduced the amount of light the sensor lets in.
The front-facing camera is VGA 640x480, and Apple says it's been "tuned for FaceTime"
with a field of view and focal length appropriate for focusing on a face at arm's length.
You can take self-portraits with the front-facing camera too, but you lose the tap-to-focus
and flash capabilities.
You can still do basic camera editing right inside the Cameras app, to trim out a section
to keep out a longer clip. You can record video into a new MMS message in the
Messages app, plus attach video to an email or send it right to YouTube and MobileMe.
But with Apple's iMovie app you can perform more elaborate edits, combining video
clips you shot with iPhone 4, photos, and music to create little movies.
It's got 5 themes, complete with titles and transitions and premade theme music. We
played with an incomplete version and found it well designed and responsive, actually
something we would indeed use if we decided not to bring the laptop on vacation and still
wanted to paste together and send a quick movie.
The controls stay out of your way, it easily switches between portrait and landscape, you
can record video straight into the timeline, and if you use theme transitions and then
switch themes, all the transitions are updated to the new theme.
iMovie even recognizes geotagging data on your videos and photos, to plot your
adventures on the Travel theme's map. It'll cost $4.99 in the U.S. App Store, but Apple
didn't give a firm release date nor UK pricing.
Apple's take on video calling only works on Wi-Fi for now, but it's built in and easy to
execute right from the Contacts list, or during a current phone call—as long as your chat
buddy also has an iPhone 4. The other person has to accept the request, but there's no
setup or screen names or anything.
The FaceTime call just begins. Apple showed this off to the media with a bank of 10
iPhone 4 units that were set up to FaceTime call each other. It worked pretty well, with
the VGA-quality of the video being apparent and only a bit of lag.
Switching cameras is easy; your chat buddy can see either your face (in the new front-
facing VGA camera) or what you're seeing when you switch to the rear-facing 5-
megapixel camera. It works in portrait or landscape, which is pretty cool.
We asked if Apple would eventually bring this capability to the Mac, so you can make a
video call to a computer, but they wouldn't say.
They are making FaceTime's protocol an open standard, though, so a lot is possible. In
the photos on Apple.com, the FaceTime button takes the place of the Hold button when
the iPhone is mid-call, so we're not sure how you'd put a call on hold or whether this
feature is gone for good.
iOS 4 and iAds
iOS 4 itself debuts June 21, a free update for all users, although first-gen iPod touch units
can't run it, and some older iPhone and iPod touch models can't multitask or use other
The iPhone 4 demo units were all running iOS 4, with its easily changed background art,
super-simple app-switching interface, and newly revealed software audio controller that
works with any background audio app, not just the iPod app.
Apple flips the switch on its iAds business July 1, so get ready to see a lot of ads coming
to your favorite iOS 4-optimized apps.
iAds are tagged as such, hopefully to entice you to click them, since doing so keeps you
inside the app instead of kicking you out to a web browser to view a web ad.
Rich media iAds can be interactive, and the demos sure looked polished and ready for
prime time—but they're still ads users have the option to simply not click, novelty
Apple's thought enough about design and performance combined to give the iPhone 4
great potential—we think it'll keep the iPhone brand out in front of the smartphone pack.
The Retina display, especially, is hands-down the clearest, most enjoyable screen we've
seen on a handheld, and the sheer amount of technology packed into the device is
But we'd imagine that it's the way the iPhone looks that will attract the greatest number of
new users - an Apple-branded, super-slim, glossy device is going to win over a lot of
those on the fence, and the improved battery life is going to mop up the rest.
See related stories from techradar.com