In 2007, the iPhone was truly revolutionary. Every June since, there’s been a new model. Apple typically kept adding features like 3G, GPS, the ability to run third-party apps … features that seemed thrilling and exotic within the context of the iPhone but which in the larger world of smart phones were about as unusual as nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere.
But who cares? Each of these features made the iPhone materially better. And the true star of the iPhone experience was always the iPhone Operating System, which I’m convinced remains head-and-shoulders the easiest, most attractive, and most meticulously-cultivated mobile OS out there.
Another season has come, and we inevitably have another iPhone. Once again I made every attempt to get one, and paid a lot for it. As I run through the list of the iPhone 4’s new features, I am once again tempted to crank up my cynicism generator and note that most these items are features we’ve seen before on other phones: things like a high-definition display, an LED flash, a forward-facing camera and the ability to do video conferencing.
If a quick glance at the iPhone 4’s new features inspires initial cynicism, spending days immersed in the actual device makes another impression entirely. For the first time since 2007, I feel as though the device I’m carrying isn’t merely an improved iPhone, but a truly new one.
iPhone 4 Design
Well, I can’t imagine a phone being any thinner without sacrificing function. I was concerned that the flat shape and hard edges would be uncomfortable to hold and operate. Not so…. the iPhone 4 feels terrific in your hand. It has a positive and reassuring heft as you root it out of a jacket pocket. That kind of thing actually does matter. The iPhone 4 represents a radical new design. I’ve never seen a phone that even comes close to this.
I noticed nothing odd with the iPhone signal, despite massive reports and even rumors of a re-call. Naturally, this problem has received a lot of play online.
The iPhone’s stainless-steel frame isn’t just there for style and structure; it’s also the phone’s antenna assembly, and to me that’s what hit competitors about the design.
And Now, Let’s Bring Out your Headliner: Retina Display
The iPhone 4’s signature feature, the one that appears above the title on the poster and website, is the Retina Display.
It’s not enough to simply say that the iPhone 4’s new display offers “higher resolution” than the iPhone 3GS. It contains four times the number of pixels in the same screen size, so, yes … quite right.
It depends on the kind of user you are. During the simple, dull process of tapping your way through application buttons and drilling down through hierarchical menus … no, you won’t really appreciate the difference. Obviously, watching movies and viewing pictures on the iPhone 4 is up on a whole separate level and many games will get a profound upgraded experience thanks to this display.
I Take That Back: The Camera Is The True Headliner
The upgraded display is one of the features that redefines the iPhone for me. The camera is the other.
This will read as a backhanded compliment, but I’ll hold my nose and forge ahead anyway: the iPhone 4 is the first camera-phone that earns the honor of being thought of as “a real camera, with some limitations” as opposed to “a great camera-phone.”
My mental attitude is different when I shoot with the iPhone 4 cam. I’m not thinking, “Gee, I wish I’d brought my real camera … but I guess this camera phone is better than nothing.” When I’m shooting with the iPhone 4, my goal is to make real photos. And it’s an eminently attainable one.
As with the still HD camera, you can tap a button and shoot video from the iPhone’s front-facing camera …
iMovie for iPhone
iMovie allows you to assemble a fairly sophisticated video from all of the clips you’ve shot with the iPhone. It’s a $4.99 download from the App Store and well worth the price.
A forward-facing camera isn’t a new thing … nor is the ability to video chat via a phone. But with the iPhone’s FaceTime feature, mobile video chat isn’t a stunt feature that you’ll play with once or twice and then completely ignore. And for a simple reason: unlike the rest of the video chat systems out there, it isn’t more trouble than it’s worth.
Video chatting via FaceTime is almost anticlimactic. You place a phone call to another iPhone, or any device that supports FaceTime (I need more people to buy the iPhone). You have a phone conversation. At any point, you can press the onscreen FaceTime button. A second later, you’re seeing and hearing the person you were just talking to.
Other iPhone 4 Upgrades
- The iPhone 4’s battery life is just fine.
- Audio quality.
The iPhone 4 is a revolution. It’s interesting, and that first little turn of the focusing knob that makes the line between “phone” and “computer” a little tougher to make out.