Differences from a 3GS
The first noticeable difference about the iPhone 4 is the construction. Gone is the plastic back construction of the previous two iPhone models, replaced by strengthened glass sheets on the front and back with a stainless-steel band around the edge. The screen of the iPhone 4, like that of the 3GS, should be very resistant to scratches, but early reports indicate that the latest model may be more susceptible to cracked glass when dropped, so get a case if you are worried about dropping your phone (that goes for just about any smartphone). The volume buttons and ringer on/off switch feel much more solid than those of the iPhone 3GS, which felt fairly cheap.
The screen is the second major difference between the iPhone 4 and its predecessor. Apple has created a screen with twice the resolution of previous iPhones. The improved text on the display is most impressive: images look much better as well. The high resolution screen makes reading documents, ebooks and online articles on the small screen much more enjoyable. In addition to the resolution, Apple also noticeably improved contrast (blacks look much more black) as well as the viewing angle (the screen looks much better than that of the 3GS and most other smartphones at an angle).
The iPhone 4 is faster than the iPhone 3GS, resulting in smoother animations and a more responsive user interface. Apple has also improved the camera, now at 5 megapixels with better low-light performance and a built-in flash. There appear to be some problems with white balance in low light, producing very yellow images. This will presumably be fixed in a software update in the near future. There are also reports of Apple replacing phones exhibiting this issue. Under normal lighting conditions the camera performed well. The iPhone 4 will also take 720p high-definition video which can be edited on device using the new iMovie app for iPhone ($4.99 on the App Store). Click here to view side-by-side photos from the iPhone 4 and competitor Evo4G: iPhone 4 vs. Evo 4G, iPhone 4 vs. Evo 4G 1:1 crop
One disappointment is the storage capacity. The iPhone 4 retains the same 16GB and 32GB configurations as the iPhone 3GS. This is an issue for people who store large amounts of music, and will surely be a problem for others as they take HD video and larger photos with the new camera.
Some early users have reported a problem with the iPhone’s reception when holding it a certain way, stemming from the iPhone using the stainless steel band as an antenna (three antennas actually). This is easily remedied by using a case or even tape to cover the black dividers between the antennas. I have not noticed any trouble with reception during normal use thus far, although AT&T’s coverage is fairly good throughout St. Louis.
Other new features
One of Apple’s highlighted features of the iPhone 4 is FaceTime video chat. To accommodate video-chatting, the iPhone 4 now has a front-facing camera. FaceTime is currently only compatible with other iPhone 4s, but will surely spread to other Apple devices later this year and may be added to other phones/devices as Apple tries to make FaceTime an open standard. Additionally, FaceTime is currently limited to WiFi networks, although Apple hopes to allow it over 3G after negotiation with carriers. FaceTime works well if you have someone to chat with and an available WiFi network.
A gyroscope was the most surprising addition to the new iPhone. This sensor will give developers access to much more precise motion data from the phone. The obvious uses for this are in games and augmented reality apps (which layer information about your surroundings on top of a live image from the camera). I tried one of the first games to make use of the gyroscope – Eliminate: Gun Range – and the results are impressive. Turning your body moves the view so precisely that it feels as if you are in the 3-dimensional world displayed on screen.
Compared to Android
Android phones have come a long way in the past year and will surely continue to make improvements in the areas where Android is lagging behind the iPhone. The iPhone is a superior media player, building on the iPod legacy. Perhaps the greatest strength of the iPhone is the large catalog of apps. Apple’s app store has the most apps, and arguably the best quality apps. Android, however, allows developers more freedom in two key areas: multitasking and greater access to the operating system.
The iOS 4 update brought limited multitasking to the iPhone. Apple’s multitasking capability attempts to preserve battery life and user interface responsiveness by limiting what can continue to run in the background. This limited multitasking is sufficient for most apps, but does not allow for all cases in which an app may want to multitask. For example, a Twitter client may want to poll Twitter every few minutes to check for new tweets. Overall, I find Apple’s multitasking implementation to be a good tradeoff between app control and conservation of system resources, but not allowing apps to perform checks at specific time intervals is a glaring oversight.
Android also allows Android developers greater access to the system. Developers can modify the look of the operating system, replace the phone dialing app, and interact more closely with other applications than Apple allows.
The choice between Android and the iPhone comes down to priorities. The iPhone has far more apps available (especially games), although Android is improving in this regard. Android allows more freedom at the expense of added complexity. Any apps can run in the background unchecked, but some users find themselves forcing apps to quit to preserve battery life. Apple is more restrictive, but manages the complexity with minimal user interaction. Android allows carriers to modify the settings, default apps, and interface of the phone so some Android phones are more restrictive than others. In the U.S., carriers are a big difference between the two platforms as well. AT&T is currently the sole carrier of the iPhone, while Android devices are available on all the major carriers.
The iPhone 4 is a big improvement over previous iPhones. It has the best display currently on the market. FaceTime video chat is a neat feature with the potential to become more useful as more products gain compatibility. The gyroscope will allow for additional innovation in iPhone games and augmented reality apps. Storage capacity for the iPhone 4 retained the 16GB and 32GB options from its predecessor. The price also remains the same as the iPhone 3GS and is in line with other smartphones at $199 and $299 for the 16GB and 32GB models respectively. The iPhone 4 is an excellent device overall and is highly recommended.
- Apps – large catalog of high quality apps
- Screen – high resolution, better contrast, better viewing angle
- Speed – No lag in the user interface
- Limited Multitasking – Conserves battery life while accommodating most apps’ needs
- Hardware design – new look, improved buttons
- Storage – limited to 32GB
- Limited multitasking – not as flexible as Android
- Single U.S. carrier – AT&T