Apple iPhone 4 in-depth review -

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Look and feel

The iPhone 4 is an incredibly futuristic piece of industrial design and at 9.3mm, a fair bit slimmer than the iPhone 3GS. However, it’s actually 2g heavier than its predecessor and therefore feels quite dense.

Ease of use

As far as usability goes in every feature, the iPhone 4 is virtually faultless. Slick and intuitive, Apple have set the bar even higher this time.

Features

The iPhone doesn't offer anything new but the touch-screen, if possible, feels even more responsive than before. The 'Retina Display' feature and the five-megapixel HD recording camera also impress.

Performance

The powerful 1Ghz A4 processor allows for multitasking on the iPhone 4, though some apps pause rather than run in the background, so you can’t leave a page to load while you do something else.

Battery life

Battery life is improved from the 3GS model, and we managed to get a full day with Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G on.

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 Apple iPhone 4 Review -
5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,4/13/2011 9:53:51 AM

10

out of 10

Performance

10

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

10

out of 5

Features

8

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Multitasking, incredibly intuitive video-calling, even faster and slicker interface, video editing, improved camera, touch-screen and keyboard even more responsive, deliciously high-def screen, easily the best app store on the market.

Cons:

Some apps pause, rather than run in the background, so you can?t leave a page to load while you do something else; less customisable than smartphones such as Android.

Apple is both the king of hype and master of darn good tech. The iPhone 4 might not offer anything new - but it's made it all better to use. Video-calling, multitasking and HD cameras have been on other phones for at least a few years, but on the iPhone's inimitably intuitive interface, they take on a new shine. And can we mention that breathtaking, better-than-real-life display? Go ahead, squeal like a fanboy…

Industrial chic

The single biggest change in the iPhone is its looks. V.4 is an incredibly futuristic piece of industrial design, with squared edges, matt silver, and the slimmest smartphone girth yet. The classic single ‘home’ button sits beneath the 3.5-inch screen covered in tempered glass, and the back is now also covered in the same. It's surprisingly scratch-resistant, but does attract a lot of smudges. The traditional volume rocker has been replaced by two round little ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons, while the SIM slot now houses a microSIM and has shifted to the right side. iPhone 4 uses the same dock connector as previous iPhones, placed at the bottom of the device, where two surprisingly decent little speaker vents also sit. The 3.5mm audio jack remains at the top of the device. Though it’s a fair bit slimmer than the iPhone 3GS at 9.3mm, it’s actually 2g heavier and therefore feels quite dense.

Not too much has changed in the look of the user interface, though a few key new features help it stand up to its more customisable competitors. You can now change the background of the app screens, and create folders of apps, simply by dragging an app on top of another one. The phone then automatically names the folder by the type of apps they are if they’re similar – say ‘social’, or ‘games’. You can change the name as well. As before, there’s no such thing as widgets so you’ll only have uniform screens of app icons. However, things like the weather app will automatically display the temperature with a little symbol for the current weather condition, while mail and social networking icons will display the number of new events or messages. The Spotlight search at the left of the first screen allows you to search the phone, Wikipedia and Google.

Touchy, touchy

If possible, the touch-screen feels even more responsive than before, and the keyboard more accurate. The auto-correct is spot on almost 100% of the time, and the keyboard never lagged. Browsing is a pleasure, with multi-touch easily zooming in webpages and the lightest of touches zipping you round the phone. Surprisingly the browser doesn't auto-fit text in some non-mobile sites, and there's no tabbed browsing. Open windows show up in a counter in the bottom right of the screen, which you can tap to view a carousel of all windows. You can mail links, but not share them to social networks, a feature available on phones such as the Samsung Wave and HTC Desire. Copy and paste is still the best on the market though, accomplished simply by long-pressing, then dragging two pins to the ends of the desired text.

 

Mail has gotten a refresh too, with multiple email accounts now viewable in a universal inbox. Battery life is improved, and we managed to get a full day with Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G on.

Multitasking is a go

Double-tapping the home button brings up a toolbar showing all open programs, with the most recently opened apps on the left. Scrolling to the right shows the rest, in order of time opened, while a swipe left brings up the music player controls. Apple’s 1Ghz A4 processor is really doing its job here, as with 15 apps open including the browser and Spotify, we noticed zero lag in response time. But multitasking works a bit differently than in any other phone – not all apps are actually authorised to run in the background. Instead, they pause what they’re doing – so for example, you can’t open a webpage, switch to another app and let it load; the page will pause what it’s doing till you switch back. Also, not all apps have been updated with iOS4.0 compatibility and we were disappointed to find that you can’t listen to Spotify while doing something else – however, as of press time, the company had submitted a multitasking app, so this hangs on Apple’s approval.

That said, the fact that memory-sucking apps pause, rather than run in the background means the iPhone 4 runs far more slickly than any other phone, and we love the little app-switching animation where the screen of the new app slides in front of the last one.

 

An alert pops up when a call comes in, and whether you pick it up or cancel, when you’re done you’ll automatically go back to whatever app you were in. To manually shut down an app, you can long-press on an app in the multitasking toolbar, and tap the little red ‘-‘ in the corner.

Apps can also now ‘call up’ another app – so for example, the email client can call up QuickOffice to open a Word document in an attachment, or you could open a PDF in iBooks. It’s a neat little feature that also lets you save PDFs you want to work on for easy access from the iBook ‘bookshelf’ (more on that later).

FaceTime

Trust Apple to trademark a feature that’s been on mobile phones for years – but if anything’s going to push video-calling into the mainstream, it’s FaceTime, Apple’s Wi-Fi only video call feature that only works between iPhone 4s. Silly as that sounds, considering more than 1.7 million units were shifted in the first three days of launch, chances are high you’ll have iPhone owning friends to sit through a phone conversation with your mug peering out at them.

Just fire up the dialer, call a friend, and as the call connects, tap the FaceTime icon (which will only be available if both parties are connected to Wi-Fi and on iPhone 4s). Once connected, you can also tap the top right to switch to main camera, which shows the other person the view from the camera at the back of the device.

It’s easy to use, works really well, and we don't feel the Wi-Fi limitation is particularly evil, as it does ensure better call quality. It still feels like a cool extra though, not really a necessary feature. Especially as it means everyone would be able to hear your conversation, which really limits it to home use, when you'd have Wi-Fi anyway, one would hope. According to Apple, the FaceTime code will also be open standard in the future, potentially opening the path for compatibility with more devices.

Our only beef is that the dialer is still ridiculously unfriendly to the humble phone call. Unlike phones such as HTC’s Android line, where you can simply type the first few letters of a friend’s name for a list of possible contacts, on the iPhone 4 you still have to either type the actual number, or scroll through the phonebook. To make life easier, we added names to the favourites list – and there’s also a call log where you can call back recent numbers.

We’re all eyes

One of the most hyped features on the iPhone was the 'Retina Display' - a fancy name for, to be fair, an even fancier bit of tech that gives the illusion of 326 pixels squeezed into every inch of the screen. That's finer detail than the eye can see, and no matter how far you zoom into text, you only see smooth edges. Movies and pictures look incredible of course, but the display is particularly impressive when it comes to reading books on your device. Even in sunlight, text is eminently viewable.

The flagship iBooks app puts a virtual wooden bookshelf on your iPhone, which then fills with ebooks you can download from an iTunes-style store. Whether you read in landscape or portrait, you only ever see one page, rather than the two page view on the iPad. There's the cute page-turning animation though, and you can hold down on the dotted line at the base of each page, and drag your finger to the desired page. You can also add bookmarks, highlight bits of text as if you’re note taking and even download free samples of books before you buy. Like the App Store, there are charts of the top paid ebooks and top free ebooks.

We were blown away by the five-megapixel, HD recording camera. In classic Apple style, you don't actually get too many options - just flash on/off/auto - but the shutter speed is instantaneous. The definition and clarity is impressive in daylight. In lowlight, the flash makes the scene looks just a little yellow, but the image was still sharp. The camera automatically focuses on the face in a picture, or you can manually touch-focus. You can also switch to the front facing camera to take a picture of yourself.

Where it really shines though is in the video editing. You can crop a video with the native app, but download the iMovies for iPhone app for just £2.99 and you can do proper video splicing and create slideshows out of photos.

Conclusion

we’ll cut to the chase – is it better than all the other smartphones out there? Well, the one thing missing is widgets, and the ability to make your home screen look how ever you want – a la Android. But as far as usability goes in every feature, it’s faultless. Meanwhile, apps on the App Store have reached an incredibly high standard, and updated ones look and work even better on iOS4.0. Early adopters and techies will probably still be frustrated with the lack of customisation possible, but for the bulk of consumers, this was the super phone worth waiting for.

Natasha Stokes