The iPhone started the smartphone revolution, and in a few short years competitors are everywhere, but Apple continues to innovate with the newest version— the iPhone 4. The new phone, updated iOS operating system, and the anxiously awaited move to availability on the Verizon network, make this phone very popular. But is the iPhone still the best smartphone? We decided to take a look and give you our opinion.
As shown in Figure 1, the iPhone comes in Apple’s typical sturdy white box. The box has a picture of the iPhone that covers the top of the box. The bottom of the box, shown in Figure 2, is nicely compartmentalized with areas to hold the USB charging cable, the wall adapter, and the earphones, which unfortunately still have the classic Apple hard ear buds. You will notice that although the phone is mostly black, the cables and ear buds are the standard Apple white.
Figure 2: The interior of the box
Figure 3 shows the items listed above, the phone itself, plus two small information folders. The first is the iPhone Product Information Guide. This guide focuses on safety information and is printed in type too tiny to read. The other guide is a much more useful brochure called “Finger Tips.” The Finger Tips Guide has a brief getting started guide plus 17 extremely useful tips. It is a must-read for new iPhone owners.
The Apple design engineers have gone out of their way to make the iPhone 4 a thing of beauty. The iPhone 4 is sleeker, flatter, and slightly thinner than the iPhone 3G and 3GS. The rounded back of the previous iPhone has been replaced with a piece of flat glass. The same type of glass is found on the front.
Apple uses aluminosilicate glass that is chemically strengthened. Sometimes referred to as Gorilla glass, this glass is said to be scratch-resistant as well as 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic.
Even with some rough use, which included an accidental drop on a hard floor, the only problem we had with the glass is that, in spite of Apple’s assertions to the contrary, it is a magnet for fingerprints.
The front and back pieces of glass are held in place by a smooth stainless steel frame with slightly raised buttons. Although the iPhone 4 has the same 3.5-inch size screen as previous iPhones, the result of the design changes is a phone that feels sturdier, fits better in the hand, and has a screen that seems slightly larger. Everything about the design and feel shouts “quality.” The iPhone 4 is 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37 inches (115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm) and weighs 4.8 ounces (137 g).
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The iPhone 4 is now available on both AT&T and Verizon. We tested the Verizon model which is similar, but not completely identical, to the AT&T model. We’ll point out the differences as we progress through this review.
On the face of the iPhone, shown in Figure 4, you can see the front-facing camera opening and a slit for the earpiece near the top, above the display. The Home button is at the bottom, just below the display. Just above the Home button on the screen are the typical four Apple buttons: Phone, Mail, Safari (for browsing the Internet), and iPod (for music and videos). Above that are small white dots that act as page indicators.
When looking at this iPhone, the first thing you notice is the clarity of the screen. This phone has what Apple calls their Retina display which has a resolution of 960-by-640-pixels at 326 ppi. The typical contrast ratio is 800:1. The brightness is adjustable in the settings. This multi-touch display is not only clear and crisp, but it is very responsive to the touch. It is, without a doubt, the best display that we’ve seen in a mobile phone. There is absolutely no pixelating of text and photos look extremely smooth and clear.
Figure 4 also shows one of the newer features of the iOS operating system that runs this phone. If you look at this figure closely, you will notice that the first two icons (top row, left) are folders that contain other icons. As the Apple App store grows, so does the number of apps that the average user downloads. This feature helps you organize some of the 350,000 apps that you can now download to a mobile device.
The top of the iPhone 4 is seen in Figure 5. The on/off, sleep/wake button is shown on the left and the 3.5 mm headphone jack is on the right. If you look closely, you can also see the new noise-canceling microphone next to the headphone jack.
The bottom of this iPhone, shown in Figure 6, has a speaker, microphone, and the typical 30-pin Apple dock connector port in the middle.
The left side of the iPhone 4, shown in Figure 7, has three simple buttons: the redesigned mute switch and the round up and down volume buttons. These buttons are nicely raised so you can easily find them by touch.
In this Figure, you will notice a slit or notch in the silver band that surrounds the phone. This is a break for the antenna. There are several other “breaks” of this kind in the metal band, and because AT&T and Verizon use different technologies, the antenna breaks are in different locations on the two phones. This causes little difference except for the antenna slit on this side of the Verizon iPhone. There is no break on the AT&T phone; so on the Verizon phone, to accommodate this antenna, the mute switch has been moved slightly closer to the volume controls. This causes no change in usability, but will mean that some cases made for the AT&T iPhone will not fit the Verizon iPhone.
The rearrangement and the adjustments made to the antenna system have solved any problems that the initial AT&T iPhones had with the antennas. Even holding the phone in the so
-called “death grip” resulted in no change in connectivity.
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We are happy to announce that the Verizon iPhone 4 has very good phone functionality. During our testing, we never experienced a dropped call. The phone and speakerphone is considerably louder than the iPhone 3G and 3GS. A new second microphone dulls background noise while on calls, so call quality is much better in noisy situations. The speakerphone is loud and clear.
In our testing, Verizon offers better coverage than AT&T, especially in rural areas. However, the Verizon CDMA technology is not as usable as the AT&T GSM technology outside the US. So if you are traveling overseas, the AT&T iPhone may be a better choice for you.
The Verizon iPhone 4 is feature packed and quite capable. It has a speedy A4 CPU. Although it is now competing against phones with dual core processors, we found this device to be speedy enough for all common chores and entertainment. You can purchase models that have 16 GB or 32 GB of storage, for USD 199 or USD 299 with a two-year Verizon contract (plus monthly service fees).
This phone has all the features that have become common to smartphones including WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. It has the iPhone ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, digital compass, GPS, and three-axis gyroscope. It also has a full iPod player, voice control, voice memo recorder, Google Maps, and the Safari browser, which now gives you the option to choose a default search engine. It supports full email and messaging, and the email program has been updated to accommodate things such as a unified in-box. On top of that, this phone has access to hundreds of thousands of apps and a multitude of media through the iTunes store.
This version of Apple’s iOS also has new functionally in that it supports multitasking. A double-press of the home button shows the most recently used programs that are currently active at the bottom of the screen, as shown in Figure 8. You can swipe to the next screen to see more and can close any application from this screen. This implementation of multitasking is not as elegant as the one that Android uses, but it is quite usable and a very welcome addition.
Figure 8: Multitasking on the iPhone 4
Other new things have been added in this operating system. Apple has ported the iPad’s iBooks to the iPhone so you can read your books on the iPhone, albeit on a much smaller screen. The iPhone 4 also supports AirPlay, so with an Apple TV or AirPlay-enabled speakers, you can wirelessly (over Wi-Fi) transmit your iPhone 4 data to your television and/or speakers. In the same manner, you can also play music or video from iTunes on your computer wirelessly on your iPhone. An AirPrint enabled device will let you use your Wi-Fi network to print wirelessly from your iPhone.
With the introduction of iOS4, Apple also updated the accessibility functions. There are many excellent accessibility functions including a VoiceOver screen reader and support for wireless Braille displays.
The Verizon iPhone runs iOS 4.2.6. This is identical to the version that runs on the AT&T iPhone except that it has CDMA support and a new hot-spot feature. This feature allows you to share the cellular data connection with up to five other devices via Bluetooth, USB, or Wi-Fi. You can even use all three connection methods at the same time, if you like. This eliminates the need for more complicated and expensive tethering options. However, there is an extra monthly Verizon charge of USD 20 per month for 2 GB of data to get this feature turned on in your phone.
One feature that AT&T has and Verizon lacks is the ability to talk and perform functions that require a data connection at the same time. This is essentially because of the difference between the technology used by the cellular systems. While Verizon’s CDMA technology separates voice and data into two separate elements, AT&T’s GSM network sends everything through a single conduit. That means that on AT&T you can look up directions or Google a word while talking on the phone. You cannot do this on the Verizon iPhone. You can, however, look up contact information or access any data on your phone while talking. And if you happen to be following directions when a call comes in, you will be taken back to where you were when the call ends. While heavy data users might find this an inconvenience, most will find that they come up against this limitation only occasionally. You should remember though, that if you are using the mobile hot spot feature, an incoming or outgoing call will also stop data access on connected devices.
As more competitors enter the marketplace, we must look at this phone for its shortcomings as well as its virtues. The iPhone 4 lacks a user-replaceable battery and it has no expandable memory. It does not support 4G networks or NFR (Near-Field Communications), a newer technology which allows two-way communications for use in functions like digital payments. The Safari web browser is not as feature-laden as some of its competitors, and the Apple’s operating system needs some updating to keep up with the competition in things like notifications and some widget support.
What Apple and iPhone have, however, is great design, a loyal following, and a tremendous jump on the competition in the number and scope of apps in their App store. It also has moved ahead of the competition with a wonderful screen and excellent dual cameras. It does all of this while still maintaining decent battery life which will get the average user easily through a typical day on one charge.
The iPhone 4 comes with dual cameras. We have already seen the front-facing camera in Figure 4. The back-facing camera and flash are seen on the back of the phone as shown in Figure 9.
The front camera has only a 640-by-480 resolution, but this is adequate for videoconferencing, which is its main use. Apple includes FaceTime, which is a very easy-to-use and well-implemented program that allows you to video chat with other FaceTime-capable devices over Wi-Fi. We should mention that FaceTime uses a lot of bandwidth and only works well with a good Wi-Fi connection. Several other apps also take advantage of this camera.
The back-facing camera is a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash that is capable of shooting 720p video at 30 frames per second. According to Steve Jobs, it’s not just about megapixel count, but also about the photon count. We couldn’t agree more. A higher photon count lets more light into the camera chip and produces better photos. The iPhone 4 is a perfect example. The photos are excellent. Even fairly low light pictures taken without a flash looked good, and pictures are processed very quickly. We don’t hesitate to say that this phone takes the best photos of any phone that we have reviewed. The videos are also good even in low light.
The included camera functionality is very good and Apple has added their iMovie app to the phone, which allows you to edit video in the phone right after shooting.
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The main specifications for the iPhone 4 offered by Verizon include:
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37 inches (115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm)
- Weight: 4.8 ounces (137 grams)
- Display: 3.5-inch widescreen Multi-Touch display
- Resolution: Retinas display with 960-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi
- Contrast ratio: 800:1
- 500 cd/m2 max brightness (typical)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), Bluetooth 2.0 *Should this be 802.11 b/g
- Carrier in the US: Verizon
- More Information: https://www.apple.com
- MSRP in the US: USD 650 (USD 199 with two-year contract) for the 16 GB version and USD 750 (USD 299 with two-year contract) for the 32 GB version, early termination fee of USD 350, plus a monthly service plan
With the best industrial design of any smartphone, an amazing Retina display, a great camera, and useful updates to the operating system, the iPhone 4 is working hard to stay on top of the fray. Yet, others are moving ahead with fresher operating systems, dual processors, and 4G and NFR support. Although iOS is usable, the Android and Windows 7 Phone operating systems have moved ahead with the use of widgets, improved notifications, and customization options.
While the AT&T iPhone offers better world-wide support, the Verizon performance was better in the areas of the US where we tested. AT&T also offers the ability to access voice and data simultaneously, but Verizon’s hot-spot feature seems better implemented.
All in all, this smartphone has some wonderful features, and although it has some weak points, it won’t disappoint.
- Fantastic screen
- Very good rear-facing camera
- Excellent design
- Sturdy and stylish
- Dual cameras
- Very good accessibility options
- AirPlay and AirPrint
- Good noise-canceling microphone
- No user-replaceable battery
- Non-expandable memory
- Can’t do voice and data simultaneously
- No 4G
- No NFR
- iOS needs updating
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