It's been about two weeks since launch day, and I've been test-driving a black iPhone 4 since then. As you may have seen from my previous postings, I promised a review. Well, instead of getting one out after a week with the unit, I moved from a two-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment. While it was an overall terrible experience, I had iPhone 4 with me the whole way.
All the reviews you usually read have to do with what iPhone 4 is like when life is good, and you've got all the time in the world to play with your shiny new toy. I spent the first week doing that. The second week, however, saw me using iPhone 4 when life is at its most challenging and taxing. Few reviews will tell you what kind of companion iPhone 4 makes in the roughest times. This one will.
I. The First Week
On launch day, June 24, 2010, I got a box from UPS. Though I knew what it contained was just a test unit, and not my still-absent white iPhone 4, I was excited. Really excited.
I opened the box slowly, a piece at a time, savoring the moment. Inside, I was rewarded with one of the most beautiful pieces of technology I think has ever been produced. The phone, as soon as I lifted it from the box, was immediately in a class by itself. It was elegant. It was well-crafted. It was perfect. As I held it there, at that moment, I forgot even about the white one. The black iPhone 4 is beautiful.
It reminded me of the first time I sat behind the wheel of a Mercedes or a Jaguar, or of the first time I put on a designer watch, or of my now three-years-gone Nokia 8600 Luna. iPhone 4 isn't just technology, it is technology enmeshed with design. It is your thoughts translated to fine prose, a masterpiece that does your bidding, an interactive objet d'art. Even now, looking at it as I write this two weeks later, it hasn't lost any of its impact upon me.
I then set about examining and testing its new features. I'll leave iOS 4 upgrades out of this review, since I already reviewed it. I'll simply say iOS 4 was clearly designed for this phone.
1. The Retina Display
Wow. That's all I can say. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to check it out in person, you will be blown away by this screen. I sat it next to my iPhone 3GS, which when I first heard about Retina I couldn't believe could be improved upon very dramatically. I was dead wrong. The display is sharp, clear, crisp, colorful, and way easier to see. I can't relay in words how much better it is. Really. I just can't. You have to see it.
As for whether any pixels are visible, I couldn't find any, not at normal viewing distance. And I have good eyesight. And it is so much brighter, the screen is easier to look at in full sunlight. Granted, it's still an LCD, so it isn't perfect in sunlight. But it is much better than the 3GS.
Viewing angle is incredible as well. If you can see the screen, you can see the image. It's as simple as that. It might as well be printed on the front of the thing, because the only limitation is your own comfort with the viewing angle.
Bottom line, the upgrade is worth this feature alone.
2. The Camera
After playing with this iPhone for awhile, I can comfortably say it is, at least for me, the death of the point-and-shoot. I've never been much of a photographer. I usually find cameras annoying and distracting when I'm trying to have a good time. But not anymore. I love this camera.
Here's a test image I took on day 1:
The fine detail in the image, the vivid color, everything just looks better. Since this photo, I've actually started taking pictures regularly. And I'm actually enjoying it.
The video camera is sweet too. I went ahead and downloaded iMovie, and though it's not perfect (it doesn't let you use multiple tracks of audio in the same movie), I've managed to make some pretty cool stuff with it. To give you an idea, I created this movie biopic of my move. I hope it isn't too traumatizing:
The front-facing camera, though I have yet to find someone else to test FaceTime with, is pretty awesome for taking self-portraits and shooting video introductions, as you noticed in the above movie. (It doesn't make everyone look like a hobo, I promise. I'd had a long day.)
To conclude, the new camera rocks, and the new video functionality with iMovie opens up a whole new realm of creative possibilities.
3. The New Battery
I'll be brief here. It is waaaaay better. You know how your 3G or 3GS runs out of battery part way through the day if you use it heavily? Forget about that. I don't have to re-charge iPhone 4 during the day. Ever. I use it all the time, and I don't sleep much either. The battery just won't run out if you charge it to full once every 24 hours. In short, the battery is a huge improvement. In fact, the time is now 1:00 p.m. here, and the battery's at 86 percent. If you're using a 3G or 3GS, where's yours? Case in point.
I haven't tested it. But based on the front-facing camera's functionality, I'd say it'll be pretty sweet as well.
5. External Speaker
This is one that nobody seems to ever mention, but they've improved it dramatically. I like to use my iPhone as a stand-alone music player, and iPhone 4 seriously raises the bar in this respect. First, you don't have any crackling or distortion from using it at full volume. Second, the sound quality is better and the volume greater. It works, like everything else I've discussed so far, really well.
6. External Antenna
The external antenna, much-maligned lately, actually seems to enhance signal quality. Now, as I noted before, I didn't notice any reception issues with it at all. In fact, I didn't even notice the drop in bars until I read a report about it online. Consequently, I've been surprised about the vitriol surrounding this enhancement. It really does seem to get me better reception in more places than my iPhone 3GS got. I will be writing another post very soon regarding all the information surrounding the glitch, correcting a few of my own errors, and really digging into the problem. Until then, on to week two...
II. The Second Week
On the second week, I had to put iPhone 4 in my pocket, and get on with life. It sucked, but I didn't have a choice. However, it allowed me to answer a question that few reviews get a chance to touch. How does it work in real life?
The answer? Exceptionally well.
1. The Good
The iPhone 4 does just about everything better than 3GS and 3G. However, its most practical features are where it really shines in real life. It's got longer battery life, better reception, and a better external speaker. Let me break down for you how this helped make my move better.
First, the longer battery life meant that when I spent the entire day relying on iPhone as my only media source (my home theater, stereo, TV, video games, lap top and WiFi router were all packed away), I was able to freely access my media all day long whenever I needed it.
Check the weather to see if rain's coming at 3 a.m.? No problem. Listen to music all day long? Got it. Surf the web for a bit to decompress or shop for some things you realize you're going to need (like storage)? You're covered. Do all that stuff, while only having to recharge once a day during your move, in the few hours you get to sleep? Only iPhone 4 can do that.
iPhone 4, it would seem, is as much of an insomniac workaholic as I am.
Second, better reception ensured I was able to keep my access going even when driving through the middle of nowhere in a uHaul truck. Long story short, I had to store some things in a barren, unpopulated part of the Midwestern state where I grew up. This required a uHaul truck and a trek across miles of desolate highway. When I've made the drive with my 3GS, I've lost all reception regularly. With iPhone 4, the connection, though tenuous at times, remained for the entire journey. Goodbye scary out-of-civilization moments! You won't be missed.
Third, and I think most importantly, the new external speaker kept my head bobbing when it should've been hitting a pillow all week long. After all of my speaker-equipped media players were packed, I had only iPhone 4 to keep me company with a steady stream of music. With 3GS, this was a pain in the ass. You had to drag it around with you, so as not to let it get more than a few feet away.
Not so with iPhone 4. I was able to set it in one room in my house, and still hear the music a few rooms away (disclosure: my house was open floor-plan with wood floors). And in my new apartment, it could sit anywhere and still be heard clearly (second disclosure: as you saw, my new place is small). Needless to say, it's a dramatic improvement.
2. The Bad
The iPhone's only weakness in the real world comes from one of its greatest strengths. As our last poll noted, the iPhone 4's design is probably it's greatest asset. During a move, it becomes iPhone 4's greatest liability. You worry about hurting it.
There were times I felt like Smeagol from Lord of the Rings with it, stopping to protect "the precious" from potential danger in the middle of my move, while at the same time not wanting to be away from it. I found myself regularly telling my girlfriend and friends to "hang on a second" while I set the iPhone 4 out of harm's way in another room. As soon as the dangerous task or series of tasks was done, however, I went back and grabbed it and resumed carrying it around with me. I did this every time. I couldn't help myself. I didn't want to damage it, but at the same time didn't want it to sit off in a room unused for a day by itself.
Consequently, its beautiful aesthetics make you afraid it's going to be easily broken. This is definitely different from 3GS, and is probably something we'll all just have to get over. Nonetheless, it made me uncomfortably aware of how attached I am to it, and would prefer iPhone didn't rub it in so much.
To conclude, iPhone 4 is better in every way. Sometimes, that makes it worse in the real world. Is it worth it? Absolutely. When the white one hits, be prepared to lose your souls, and do so happily.