Apple iPhone 4 Review: No, You Can’t Touch It

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“What’s so great about this one?” “Should I get it?”

These are the most popular questions asked when people see that I am in possession of the latest iPhone. They then ask whether or not I’m having reception issues. No, I’m not having any reception issues and I like it very much. Whether or not you should get one is a different story.

It comes as no surprise that Apple sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s between Thursday and Saturday. If you cruised by any Apple store across the country on Thursday or Friday, you were bound to see lines wrapped around the block and then some. People love this thing. The iPhone is so heavily ingrained in the general public’s consciousness; it’s probably the most popular gadget of all time. Despite the sudden uptake of Android devices in Q1 of this year, it’s a safe bet that more people have heard of the iPhone than any Android device. It’s not fanboy pontification, it’s fact.

Apple did quite a bit to make this, the fourth generation iPhone, that much more appealing and lust worthy. The addition of Apple’s A4 CPU, 5-megapixel camera equipped with an LED flash and backside illumination sensor certainly helps. Not to mention the front-facing VGA camera, HD (720p) video recording capabilities, a radically new industrial design and a new fangled Retina Display all add to the iPhone 4’s appeal.

Still, though, 1.7 million of anything sold in three days is quite a feat. But it’s difficult to ignore the issues marring an otherwise successful launch. There are reception issues when the device is held incorrectly, which is a bit ridiculous if you think about it. Apple is said to be working on a patch that will be released in the coming days. In the meantime, why don’t you go out and buy one of those bumper cases. And then there’s the thing about yellow blotches on the screen, which Apple says will disappear within a few days. A handful of early adopters have had their hearts broken after, what seems like, an innocent drop resulting in a shattered back piece. I haven’t encountered either issue and I pray that I don’t drop mine, so I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. Or maybe I’m not.

Display

The Retina Display is a revelation to behold. Aside from the glass back piece and the steel band, the display is the first thing you notice. It’s what attracts strangers to saunter on over from the other side of the bar to verify with their own eyes what they think it is that I have. Images, text, colors and everything in between pop off the screen from any angle. The pixel density is absolutely bonkers. Text rendering is silky smooth and watching HD content is a pleasure. Surprisingly enough, the iPhone 4’s display is visible under direct sunlight if screen brightness is cranked to 100%. Apple’s Retina Display is the benchmark for all other mobile phone displays.

Design and Guts

Despite its new svelte design, which is 24% thinner than the 3GS, the iPhone 4 seems heavier even though it isn’t but it definitely feels better in hand. It’s a smidge slippery, though. Like, I’m hesitant to take it out of my pocket without a safety net. But I’m also overly zealous of all my shiny new toys. And who wouldn’t be when you’re carrying around 4.8 ounces of glass held together by a steel band? With time, like anything else, I’m sure I’ll get used to it. My anxiety, however, I’m not so sure about.

Compare the iPhone 4 to the 3GS and the latter just seems…well, cheap. Gone is the chrome bezel and in its place is a subtle steel band that houses all manner of antennae for the iPhone 4, as well as new individual volume control buttons, a microSIM tray, and a second noise-cancelling microphone that’s located next to the headphone jack. It’s a beautiful piece of machinery.

More on Techland: iPhone 4: The Specs Sheet

When Steve Jobs announced at WWDC that the iPhone 4 would come with an A4 processor, the same as in the iPad, I had a feeling that it would A) run more efficiently and thus have better battery life and B) run a heck of a lot faster. It does, of course, have a larger battery but I can’t honestly comment on battery life, yet. Early reviews stated that the iPhone 4 could run up to 38 hours without a charge. I managed a mere 8 hours with light to moderate use. You can see exactly what I did here. I’ve since removed my Exchange account but haven’t noticed much difference. I’ll update in another day or so after some more testing.

But I do know for fact that the iPhone 4 is significantly snappier and more responsive than the 3G and EDGE variants. 3GS owners needn’t worry about having a slower device. Apple won’t divulge the clock speed of its A4 chip in the iPhone but it’s probably not running at 1GHz, which is fine for now.

Cameras

Apple has been slow to evolve their cameras with the last two iterations but they managed to overhaul the fourth generation iPhone with more than just a few bells and whistles. With a backside illumination sensor and LED flash, the beefed up 5-megapixel shooter is on par with most sub $150 point-and-shoot cameras and if conditions are just right it’s even better. Low-light photos are considerably better than the 3GS and the LED flash certainly helps but like any other camera phone with a tiny flash, images can be washed out. Under ideal lighting conditions, the iPhone 4 manages to produce sharp and vibrant images. Thanks to the A4 processor and iOS4, photos are snapped almost instantaneously. My only gripe would be the exclusion of extra controls like WB but I’ll take what I can get. The front-facing VGA camera works about as well as any VGA camera before it.

Click to enlarge.

Taken during the day.

Taken late at night with few overhead lights on.

Taken around dusk.

VGA test shot.

FaceTime

Video chat is nothing new. We’ve been doing it for years but there’s something different about it now that it’s on a phone. It’s limited to Wi-Fi, sure, but is that really a deal breaker? Maybe the fact that it only works with other iPhone 4s. I’m not complaining, though. It works and it works well.

Deal Breakers?

Storage capacity is limited to 32GB and that might not be enough. With higher resolution photos and HD video recording, heavy users might run out of space pretty quickly.

As gorgeous as the all glass and steel iPhone is, I’m worried about the back glass plate breaking. Reports trickled in the first two days of shattered hearts and iPhone 4s. Is the bumper case enough? I’m not so sure.

Should You Get One?

Is the iPhone 4 all its cracked up to be? Yes. The hardware and software finally work in unison making it the best smartphone available today. No, I’m not drinking the kool-aid. For the first time in the history of the iPhone, I actually like this one and I’m recommending it to everyone. Will it reign supreme forever and ever? Depends on who you ask. Some folks are partial to the BlackBerry or to Android devices. Me? I’m beginning to leave my BlackBerry at home more and more.

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