The iPhone 4 is no small thing to review. As most readers of Engadget are well aware, in the gadget world a new piece of Apple hardware is a major event, preceded by rumors, speculation, an over-the-top announcement, and finally days, weeks, or months of anticipation from an ever-widening fan base. The iPhone 4 is certainly no exception — in fact, it may be Apple’s most successful launch yet, despite some bumps on the road. We’ve already seen Apple and AT&T’sservers overloaded on the first day of pre-orders, the ship date for the next set of phonespushed back due to high demand, and die-hard fans in line outside of Apple locations a week before the phone is actually available. It’s a lot to live up to, and the iPhone 4 is doing its best — with features like a super-fast A4 CPU, a new front-facing camera and five megapixel shooter on the back, a completely new industrial design, and that outrageous Retina Display, no one would argue that Apple has been asleep at the wheel. So the question turns to whether or not the iPhone 4 can live up to the intense hype. Can it deliver on the promises Steve Jobs made at WWDC, and can it cement Apple’s position in the marketplace in the face of mounting competition from the likes of Google and Microsoft? We have the answers to those questions — and many more — in our full review, so read on to find out!
Perhaps the most notable change with the new iPhone is the drastic industrial design overhaul — Apple seems to have completely rethought its strategy on how the phone should look and feel, and the results are nothing if not striking.
It’s not just the face of the phone that’s undergone a transformation — the iPhone 4 is all new inside as well. For starters, Apple has moved on from the Samsung-built ARM Cortex-A8-based CPU used in the 3GS to its custom A4 chip used in the iPad, which funnily enough… is an ARM Cortex-A8-based CPU. While the company hasn’t yet said what the clock speed of the processor is, we’re guessing it’s something below the 1GHz touted for its tablet cousin. The phone is definitely snappier than the 3GS, so we’re not about to volley complaints just yet — in particular, graphics seemed to render faster, and overall responsiveness was slightly higher, though admittedly, it wasn’t blowing the doors off the joint. It’s certainly faster, but the 3GS wasn’t hurting on speed to our eyes, so it’s not as wildly noticeable a leap as the 3G to the 3GS.
As usual, Apple isn’t fessing up about the RAM situation, though we have on very good authority that the iPhone 4 has 512MB onboard, a big step up from the 256MB in the previous model and the iPad. We would have liked to see it futureproofed with something like 1GB, but then again, Apple’s got to sell a new phone in a year. As far as internal storage goes, you can buy the new iPhone in either 16GB ($199 on contract) or 32GB ($299 on contract) capacity — fine for now, but since the company has just introduced 30FPS 720p video recording, you could find yourself outgrowing that number pretty quickly. It’s a little odd, in fact, that the company didn’t double down here and bump the capacity to 64GB, as it’s recently done with the iPod touch. In terms of wireless, the iPhone 4 is packed with an 802.11n WiFi radio, as well as a quad-band HSUPA chip and Bluetooth 2.1.
The redesigned housing allows for a much larger lithium-ion battery on the inside, providing improved numbers for Apple’s life ratings (more on that in a moment), though it’s still not easily replaceable. Additionally, the new phone has those two new cameras (VGA up front, five megapixels with LED flash around back), a new second microphone used to combat background noise while on calls (similar to the Nexus One), a gyroscope in addition to the standard accelerometer, a light sensor, and a proximity sensor. As with the 3GS, an AGPS chip and compass are bundled somewhere in that tiny frame as well.
Of course, the big internal story is what has become external: namely, the UMTS, GPS, WiFi, and Bluetooth antennas. Apple has made the stainless band around the phone essentially a couple of big antennae, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job at hanging onto radio signals. The big question is obviously whether or not this fixes or helps with the constant dropped calls iPhone users on AT&T’s network have gotten used to. Well in our testing, we had far, far fewer dropped calls than we experienced on our 3GS. Let’s just say that again: yes, the iPhone 4 does seem to alleviate the dropped call issue. It wasn’t perfect, and we had some connection issues in downtown New York City in particular, though it’s tough to say if it was the fault of our phone, the cluster of buildings we were near, or the person we were speaking to, who was on a 3GS in the same location.
By now you should know that iPhone 4 has an all-new display well. Apple is calling the LED backlit, 960 x 640 IPS screen the “Retina Display” due to its high resolution and pixel density. At the same 3.5-inches as the older screens, the new display manages an insane 326ppi pixel density along with an 800:1 contrast ratio. Steve made a huge point about the science behind this technology during his keynote, claiming that the resolution of the screen essentially tops what is perceivable by the human eye. There have been some debates as to whether or not this argument holds water, but we can tell you this: to our eyes, there has never been a more detailed, clear, or viewable screen on any mobile device.
This is a big one for many people, and we have some fairly surprising news to report. The battery life on the iPhone 4 has been outstanding thus far, exceeding our expectations for longevity during testing. We’ve only had a short time to use the phone, but in the week or so we’ve been carrying the device as our main phone, we’ve had pretty amazing results under normal to heavy use. In fact, we managed to squeeze more than 38 hours — yes, 38 hours — of life out of a single charge using the phone as we normally would. We’re talking calls, some gaming, lots of push email and calendar invites, playing music over Bluetooth in the car, and just general testing (like downloading new apps, rearranging icons, tweaking settings). We went from 10:30AM on a Saturday morning till 1:00AM on Monday without needing to charge the phone. Of course, it switched itself off just after the clock struck 1, but it was thrilling — like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer and the car salesman see how far they can get in a car with the tank on E. Sitcom references aside, the battery life seems markedly improved in the iPhone 4, and why not? It’s got a much larger battery coupled with that iPad-powering A4, which has already shown that it can sip rather than gulp power.
Once the rest of the team has their iPhones in hand, we’ll do some hardcore battery life testing and see what we come up with, but we think under pretty active use, the iPhone 4 blows Apple’s previous generation phone out of the water, and makes a lot of the competition look downright needy.
Oh… one more thing.. The only surprise: Apple decided to save $0.0000000001 and didn’t include the SIM ejector tool. Use your own clip to open the SIM slot.