After queuing last week at UK mobile phone carrier O2’s store on London’s Oxford Street for over 2 hours, I actually came away feeling a bit silly. As I weaved between the tourists, pigeons and ‘Golf Sale’ guys clutching my prize I thought to myself “I’ve just queued for 2 hours… for a mobile phone… have I gone crazy? Is my life so empty that I needed so badly to upgrade to the iPhone 4 today?”. Well yeah, it was. The internet was alight with debate around Apple’s new device so I couldn’t possibly miss out, the curve might get ahead of me!
So after over a week in possession of the latest shiny object to drop out of Cupertino, here’s how I got on with iPhone 4:
I upgraded from a two-year-old, jailbroken iPhone 3G so I was always going to be blown away by the speed. Nevertheless, it is impressive wherever you’re coming from. The speed has changed the way I rely on it (ie. even more). For instance I can open ‘Maps’, search a street and pinpoint where it is within a few seconds. No delay in opening the app, typing or locating me. This could take a whole minute on the 3G, now I can do it in just a few paces.
With Apple’s A4 processor and 512MB of memory it’s no surprise that this thing never stutters. Multitasking seems smooth and I’m yet to crash or freeze an app.
Amazing. When they made a song and dance about the screen at WWDC 2010, where the launch of iPhone 4 was announced, it seemed like a fairly trivial point to drive home. Apple call it ‘retina display’, which basically means that the pixels are so small and numerous that the eye can’t detect that your text and images are in fact made up of little blocks of colour. In practice this is a really important feature. It removes another barrier to the phone, making it easier on the eye, more readable and just looks gorgeous. Apps are starting to update to make use of the higher resolution (old apps look really pixelly on iPhone 4). Notable updates so far include Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Twitter.
One big ‘problem’ this brilliant display poses is that if you’re an iPad owner, your ‘revolutionary and magical’ device will start to feel a bit old-fashioned. The display is of course bigger but I started to notice that it was made up of pixels. I found the same thing when opening my MacBook Pro. This really highlights what a step-change Apple have brought about with retina display and we the consumer will no doubt start to demand imperceptibly high resolution from all our devices very soon.
The accelerometer has always been more than satisfactory for me in terms of detecting movement on the iPhone, largely for the purpose of games, but Apple have fitted iPhone 4 with ‘Gyroscope’, an enhancement in tilt detection. This means incredibly accurate pinpointing of exactly how the iPhone is oriented in relation to the earth. This can be seen in updated shooter game ‘Gun Range’ which isn’t the best game in the world but demonstrates just how accurate the gyroscope is by relying on it to aim your weapon (instead of the old method of tapping the screen where you wish to shoot). Check out the game here.
This isn’t good news for my compact digital camera (a Canon Ixus 870 IS since you ask, and it takes nice shots for a compact). The iPhone 4 not only has a 5 megapixel sensor but the lens itself is bigger, taking richer-looking shots and working much better in low light. Throw in 720p video, iMovie (which is £2.99 in the app store and offers basic but decent editing functionality) and I think you really can leave that proper camera at home… unless you’re going out on a photography field trip.
The iPhone has also grown a second, front-facing camera which whilst not the same quality as the back camera is perfect for Apple’s new video-calling service FaceTime. To maintain a high-quality experience, Apple has restricted use of FaceTime to wifi connections, and having made Skype video calls through a tethered iPhone 3G I’m down with that. Until our mobile data networks can handle higher up and down speeds video calling will always produce Monet-esque results.
The Antenna Issue
There are enough column inches… and pixels written about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems. Suffice it to say that I find in strong reception areas it doesn’t matter how I hold the phone, but in weaker signal areas covering the bottom-left corner with my hand does make two or three bars disappear from the signal indicator. I love Apple (can you tell?) but some things they do royally piss me off. Like releasing new products and constantly being out of stock. Like rejecting perfectly good apps from the App Store whilst allowing that same store to be flooded with a long tail of dross. And like charging £25 (around $37) for a rubber band to put round your iPhone 4, which apparently helps with what is ultimately quite a big product fault. I can’t actually believe people are really buying them.
The new operating system is awesome, offering a long line of small but welcome tweaks such as a new iPod interface, better typing correction, smoother GUI animations and many more. Probably most significant is multi-tasking which allows you to access an app menu and open a new app whilst already having an app open and seems to work well, though with the speed of the new iPhone, opening and closing apps is pretty swift anyway.
The great letdown with iOS4 is simply that it’s not available for the iPad until ‘fall 2010’. Like many people I’m using my iPad as a replacement for lugging my MacBook Pro around town (nothing could replace it at home of course). But using the iPad as a business machine could really do with multitasking. Along with the relatively low-res screen this is another reason my iPad feels a bit ’09 now.
In short and sweet conclusion, this is the iPhone you need to have. If you’re still clinging onto that Blackberry or Android, this is the mobile that I guarantee will make you forget all about your old brick. In my opinion this is the first iPhone that really lives up to the hype and now that we have a mature and thriving app store plus tons of websites optimised for it, the iPhone 4 really does stand clear above any other mobile phone, mp3 player or PDA. Just pack a fold-up chair and some lunch when you go to buy one 🙂