I’ve had an iPhone 4 for almost two weeks now, and I can honestly say it’s the best iPhone yet. I had the 2G, which was great, but was far too slow for data. So I upgraded to the 3G, which was a big leap forward on the data front but, after a while, slowed down for pretty much everything else. I skipped the 3GS partially because of the terrible name, and partially because I was still locked into a contract. But now, the 4 is a whole new beast, and I love it accordingly. But why? FaceTime? Retina Display? Multitasking? HD Video Recording and Editing? 5-Megapixel Camera with LED Flash? Let’s have a look at the iPhone 4’s biggest features (as per the Apple website), and one that I’m sure Apple wishes everyone would stop talking about.
I spoke to some Apple representatives on launch day, who made it pretty clear that FaceTime is the feature that Apple wants us to fall in love with. They even went so far as to call it the “headline act”. Now, having only had the chance to partake in one FaceTime call (a lot of my friends have Wi-Fi and a few of them have iPhone 4s, but it seems none of them have both), I can’t vouch for its everyday viability. But I can talk about its ease of use.
FaceTime is about as simple as video calling can get – except for the fact that you need a Wi-Fi connection to make it work. (Hopefully the local telcos strike a deal soon, as our 3G networks can probably handle the extra data better than the crippled AT&T in the US). It’s as easy as starting a call, pressing the FaceTime button, and a few seconds later you’re connected. Or if you’ve FaceTime called (FaceTimed?) someone before, you can go straight to it without the need for the mobile network at all. The picture is reasonable, given the lower-quality front-facing camera (which has a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels), and the audio is far clearer than on 3G, even with a good signal.
But simplicity aside, it’s still the video calling that we’ve had in Australia for 10 years and has never quite taken off. It’s still awkward to do when anyone else is around – you wouldn’t use speakerphone on the tram, and the addition of video doesn’t make it any less weird – and, usually, I don’t really need to see the person I’m speaking to.
Granted, the emotional theme of the FaceTime ads is a brilliant marketing device, and I can see Apple selling bucketloads of iPhone 4s on this feature alone. No one wants to miss their baby’s first steps, and it’s great to see your family when they live interstate or overseas.
With that in mind, FaceTime does have a hope of succeeding, but first it needs to overcome the one hurdle that has plagued video calling since it began: becoming ubiquitous.
To make video calls previously, there’s been a reliance on phone hardware and the network working together, in addition to the person you’re calling having the same abilities. Given the astonishing uptake of the iPhone in Australia, I can envisage a time when nearly everyone has one, and even if that’s not the case, FaceTime is an open standard that other manufacturers will surely adopt if iPhone 4 reaches the same level of success as previous generations. Then all we’ll need is widespread Wi-Fi.
Do I love iPhone 4 for FaceTime? Nope. But it’s pretty cool.
Quite frankly, it’s hard not to be smacked in the face with the iPhone’s 960 x 640 resolution display. That’s 614,400 pixels – more than half that of my MacBook screen, despite the latter being around 10 times larger. Once you’ve seen the Retina display, everything else looks pixelated; the iPhone 4 is to other displays as laser printers once were to their dot-matrix forebears. Even the iPad, which was my biggest ‘gadget love’ until a week ago, has now lost its sheen.
Pixel count aside, the iPhone 4 has, without a doubt, the most beautiful screen I’ve seen on any device, ever. It’s bright, sharp, and instantly on, plus the ‘optical lamination’ (meaning the screen is adhered to the glass) gives the feel of the screen being printed on the glass’ surface, rather than buried beneath.
Is it the Retina display that makes me love the iPhone? It certainly helps it along. But it’s not everything. There’s more to this new beast than a fancy display.
It feels like the nerds (myself included) have been asking for multitasking on the iPhone since time immemorial. Well, a couple of years at least. Apple finally implemented a version of multitasking in iOS 4, which all you lucky 3GS owners have had for weeks now. My slow-old iPhone 3G couldn’t cope with the new feature, so I had to wait until 4 to get my hands on it.
So what do I think of it? Well, it’s not that great.
It’s definitely a handy feature some of the time: any time I need to switch between apps to complete some sort of task, it’s incredibly worthwhile – for example, copying multiple images or paragraphs into an email. But more often than not, I feel like I’m needing to go through and closing all kinds of detritus apps that I can’t even remember opening.
While I realise it would be difficult to implement a perfect solution, giving the user the option of which apps to multitask with could solve the problem.
Instead of leaving everything ‘running’ (of course, except for audio apps, most aren’t actually running, but frozen in their current state) in the background, the default should be as it was before iOS 4: pressing the Home button will close the app. Then holding down or double-clicking the Home button could open a menu with three choices: leave the app running and return to the home screen; leave the app running and choose another app from the multitasking bar; or close the app completely. That way the user can choose what’s going on in the background without the tedious need to manually clean up the apps before every single one appears in the list.
You can probably guess that multitasking isn’t what makes me love the iPhone 4. It’s nice, but it’s not perfect. In fact, it feels like a very un-Apple implementation.
HD video and 5 megapixel camera
I love that the iPhone 4 has HD video recording. But it’s not something I’m going to use much. With iMovie, I can make cool short videos that look great, and will impress my less technologically-savvy friends and family. If I had kids, I can imagine this (combined with FaceTime) would be the killer feature: a HD video camera always at hand to capture unexpected momentous occasions would be brilliant. Yep, it ties in quite well with the emotionally themed ads Apple has opted for.
It’s nice to have HD video, but I’d still have bought it without the ability.
The 5-megapixel still camera, on the other hand, I have used a lot already. For casual use, it does just as good a job as many compact cameras, and it’s always in my pocket. The addition of a few cheap apps like Hipstamatic and Camera Plus (before it was pulled from the app store) make it an even better option, allowing for some very cool photos without much effort at all.
Most importantly, the camera in the iPhone 4 is the most responsive I’ve ever used in a phone. It’s possible to take multiple photos in quick succession, and zooming or tapping to focus are incredibly quick. The flash is also surprisingly useful, and can be used to light up the dark for photos or videos without looking garish.
The external antenna
The design of the iPhone 4 is undeniably beautiful. It’s not necessarily practical, and plenty of people attest that it doesn’t fit their hands as nicely as the previous models, but it is striking. So striking, in fact, that Apple apparently opted for the design despite knowing that it had a major flaw. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you must be new here. New to the internet too, perhaps. But it’s quite clear that when a person touches the small black line that marks the division between two of the iPhone’s antennas, 3G reception drops.
After two weeks with the phone on Telstra, I haven’t once found it to be a problem. I’ve never been able to drop the bars to zero, and I’m yet to drop a call. I can’t vouch for other networks, but from what I’ve heard, the problem may not be quite so big here as it is in the US on AT&T – and even there it doesn’t seem to be the end of the world.
I really like the design of the iPhone 4, but it’s not why I love the phone. Perhaps without the antenna flaw, it would be. But although I love good design, function needs to be as high a priority as form.
So why do I love it?
These are the features Apple wants you (and doesn’t want you) to be thinking about when you decide whether or not the iPhone 4 is for you. They’re all great, and in some cases big improvements on previous iPhones and their smartphone competitors. But not one of these reasons is why I love my iPhone 4 so much that my iPad is getting jealous.
You see, it’s a combination of these features that makes the iPhone 4 unbeatable. The fact that Apple has put all these improvements into a shell markedly smaller than its predecessor is nothing short of incredible.
The iPhone 4 is much more than the sum of its parts, and if you get a chance to hold one – though I realise they’re still pretty rare at the moment – I think you’d probably agree. If you can see the Retina Display up close, take a photo or video with the much-improved camera, FaceTime a friend, and seamlessly (albeit messily) flick between them, picking up each where you left off, you’ll almost certainly agree.
When images first leaked of the new iPhone, I was adamant that it couldn’t be an Apple product. Having held one and experienced it up close, I’ve done a complete 180. The iPhone 4 is the quintessential Apple product.
Forget what the naysayers are ranting about. The iPhone 4 is a marvel of engineering, and if you happen to suffer from antenna problems, you can get yourself a free case. Let’s face it, most people buy a case at some stage anyway, so it’s not that big a deal.
If you still don’t think it’s a good idea, go buy yourself a HTC Desire. You’ll be happy with it, because you obviously have no taste.