My iPhone 4 Review

Wanted to wait a little while to make sure I had enough time with the device to do a full review.  Hard to believe, but approaching a month now.  Here goes:
Huge improvement over my iPhone 3G – MUCH faster, better battery life, better camera, front facing camera and associated Facetime feature is pretty amazing.  I’m not sure how different this would feel from an iPhone 3GS with the upgraded OS.  Of course that would lack the front facing camera and Facetime. More importantly, the iPhone 4’s unfixed proximity sensor glitch (see below) and no change in the At&t network means this is still a VERY unreliable phone for voice.  With regards to iOS 4.0 – Apple has made some great improvements (like folders) and some that fall short, e.g. “multitasking”. More importantly, Apple has become more and more closed in terms of partnerships and competition, thus stifling innovation in core apps like Maps, Mail, YouTube, etc.  So while I think this is still the best option out there, particularly because of the vast app catalog, it’s the closest I’ve come to switching to an Android device on a better network.  Ok – now the detais:
Some of you might recall my chiding of Apple’s naming prowess in a prior post.  Apple certainly simplified things by going to iPhone 4, although it would have helped if the others were called 1, 2 and 3 instead of iPhone, iPhone 3G and iphone 3GS.  At least they didn’t call it 3GS2 or something…. I still think a real name would be better though. Still not sure why Apple didn’t learn this from RIM.  And all the Android phones have some odd names too and the use of the term Droid is officially confusing now.
The screen resolution is fantastic and everything looks better/ more crisp, although of course one gets used to this far too quickly and starts to take it for granted. But photos, videos and text all look fantastic.
The battery life definitely seems better but it’s hard to say how much.  My iPhone 3G was old so the battery was quite worn out.  I have also had to turn off all non-Apple push services to optimize battery life even on this phone.  I haven’t used true multitasking (with Pandora or Skype for example) or Facetime for extended periods to really test the battery. But for e-mail, phone, browsing, etc., definitely an improvement.
The new camera has a better resolution, an LED flash and of course the front facing camera. I can now actually record video and in HD as well, but only really used this once briefly.  These are all good improvements but I can’t say that it’s made me use the camera that much more so far (except Facetime).
Form factor:
It took a bit of getting used to, and now feels about the same.  It’s thinner but not sure the thickness of the other one bothered me so much.  If anything, I enjoy the reassurance in feeling my phone in my pocket knowing that it hasn’t been stolen. This new slim phone might mean I have to wear tighter pants (actually not). It’s a bit heavier but overall fine.
I did manage to reproduce this, but quickly ordered a case.  I’ve always used a case with my iPhone and planned to all along with this so it was a non-issue for me.  I still think it was a flawed decision by Apple to release like that, but compared to the broader reception problem called At&t, it’s relatively benign. (Note – I’ve been forced to get an At&t Microcell at home to use my phone.  This works far from perfectly so it’s hard to tell what’s causing reception issues sometimes…)
Operating System Changes:
Lots of stuff here behind the scenes but in terms of what I’ve actually noticed:
Folders: awesome – I’ve actually started navigating to my apps again vs. searching for them. I just wish there was a better way to save the organized folders for the inevitable day when I need to do a fresh install/restore and lose all that hard work. As awesome as this is, it’s yet another example of Apple releasing a bare-bones product and then having its users get excited for the simplest of features.
Mail conversation threading: Looks like Apple is learning from GMAIL here, although to hear Steve Jobs talk, you’d think they invented everything, this included. It’s not as well executed as GMAIL but better than nothing.  As I’ll explain later, I wish they’d just allow other native mail apps….
Multitasking: I really don’t understand this implementation.  Background processing is only allowed for specific types of tasks – VoIP, music and location.  This means you can’t, for example, update feeds of news, social networks, etc. in the background. So for most apps, multi-tasking only means saving state (where you last were in an app).  In theory this means that you can switch more quickly between apps, but developers have to code for this properly. Many good developers have already had fast start-up and state-saving built into their apps already so this doesn’t really do anything.  The way that apps get into multi-tasking state is mind-boggling.  Basically this happens by default.  So if you use any app, it goes into the multitasking doc unless you manually remove it.  What’s the point of that? That means that all my apps will end up there, duplicating my home screens (minus the folders and organization).  Meanwhile, the hotkey to get to the phone by pressing the home button twice now goes to this multitasking doc.  This overall is a step backwards. Not impressed with this implementation.
Facetime: This is very cool and truly innovative.  Biggest problem of course is that so few people have the phone. Second biggest is wifi only. It sometimes feels like most things about the iPhone are “wifi only”, if not explicitly, then implicitly….  Two other thoughts here – one is that it seems odd that Facetime is disabled by default. This makes starting to use it unclear and cumbersome.  Second is that I wonder what percentage of conversations will take place over video-chat.  It seems a step in the opposite direction of recent trends.  Most people talk on the phone less and text more.  Asynchronous conversations allow for more [real life] multi-tasking.  Video goes the other way.  You can’t really do anything else while on a video-chat.  Maybe a good thing, but wonder how we’ll all adopt? Thoughts welcome in the comments.
Biggest problems:
1. Proximity sensor – I hope this is a software issue.  Steve Jobs mentioned during his press conference that they’re working on a fix.  The proximity sensor is the hardware that recognizes when you’re holding the phone to your ear for a voice call and turns of the touch input.  It worked perfectly on my 3G, never hit any keys by mistake.  On the iPhone 4, on about 50% of my calls, I hit something by mistake like speaker, numbers, end call, mute, etc. This is terrible.  Hopeful for a fix soon, but this is critical.
2. Network/reception: I’ve written extensively about this in the past but At&t is really just beyond terrible.  Here are 2 good recent articles about this never ending topic:
I realize that it’s been a complicated relationship for Apple but was really disappointed they haven’t added more carriers yet.  I assume Verizon will be added end of this year or early next, while I’m locked in to At&t… At least the network will decongest a bit as masses of people switch.  In the meantime, I’m using an At&t Microcell at home just to get a signal and generally still frustrate of how bad my experience with signal/network is all around.  It’s incredibly telling that I still stick with the iPhone even through that – speaks to the fact that the phone is that good but also that competing phones and competing networks aren’t that great themselves. Choosing between At&t and Verizon is like choosing the electric chair or lethal injection…
3. Apple has become more and more extreme in its closed nature, wanting to do everything itself.  Apple has removed Google branding from its maps application and hasn’t let Google update with all the goodies from Maps for Android (like turn by turn directions).  No native mail apps like GMAIL are allowed and using GMAIL through exchange push eats up battery life like crazy.  Somehow MobileMe doesn’t suffer the same fate…. Google Voice is still “unapproved”.  If Apple doesn’t realize that it can’t pick winners or areas where it wants no competition, it will lose a huge opportunity.  Apple truly revolutionized the cell phone arena, but it needs to change its stance to stay on top.
Wow, that was long.  Interested to hear what others think in the comments. Have you bought the iPhone 4? Like it? Love it? Have you returned it? Also – any suggestions for what a better name would have been?

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