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iPhone 4. A review after actual use.

Physical Design

Okay, much has been said about the physical design of this phone, it's industrial features, it's glass front and back, stainless steel metal band around the side that doubles as an antenna, dual camera, and an led flash. The buttons, the glass, the band, everything. It makes for a great design, feels smaller and better in your hand than the 3GS. In fact, the 3GS feels fat, plastic, and bloated. I only see two problems with the design.

One, front and back are both glass, meaning, if you drop it it might break. Even though Apple claims that the glass is harder than sapphire, if you drop the thing at the right angle, it will break. Ask my wife, who has already shattered the back of her phone after dropping it on the driveway. (Which Apple wants 199 dollars to replace the back, which is the cost of a new phone! Apple, have you lost your mind?).

Problem Two: it's slippery. If you place your phone on something smooth, say, like in my car, I have a center console. If I place the phone on there, it slips right off. Or on the arm rest of an easy chair. This is as a result of it being glass. Neither is that big of a deal, if you just are careful about how you take care of the phone. If you buy a bumper (which Apple is now giving away for free until September 30th) it has a bit of rubber on the back edge, making it non-slip, and a bit more protected.

The Display

Just after the iPad comes out, and those of us who bought one were running around saying "Wow, look at this really big touch screen display", then following that the Evo comes out with that big screen and people say "Wow, look at this really big touch screen display". For instance, I have a friend of mine that went from an iPhone (o.g.) to an Evo, and he was like "This screen is huge, it's so big!", but I digress.

Apple comes out with this display on the iPhone 4, it's has 4x the pixel display density of the iPhone 3GS. This results in much sharper rendering of, well, damn near, anything. Photos look great, video looks great, games look great, apps look great, but what's the one thing you do, or view on an iPhone the most?


Oh, it rocks. If you have an iPhone (not)4, do this, and you'll understand:

Go to Don't zoom in after it loads. Big newspaper website right? Look at the text, see how it's barely readable and all pixelated? On the iPhone 4, you can read it. READ it. Right from this screen. You can zoom in on the (not)4, and you'll be able to read it just fine, which you'd probably want to do on the iPhone 4 as well, but that's just an illustration of how much better this display is.

After you see and use the "Retina" Display, and go back to another phone (even the iPad, or a regular computer) you'll wonder how you ever complimented that old screen and how bothersome it is to have all that fuzzy text.

There has been some dispute about the fact that Apple calls this the "Retina Display". As to whether or not the pixel density is actually higher than what the Retina can perceive. First off, two things.

  1. I am not an optical engineer, and don't play one on TV, so I'm not going to get into the argument by adding my own thoughts here. All I know is that it looks great.

  2. It's a marketing term people, there is a line to how pedantic you must be people.

In short, the display is quite awesome.

The Antenna

Now, the antenna has been in constant controversy since the iPhone 4 came out. Let me cover a few parts of it.

  1. The Antenna is broken into two parts, if you are looking at the left hand side of the phone, you will see a black band. The piece of metal that is around the outside of the phone on the left hand side is for Wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The rest of the metal is for Edge and 3G.

  2. It's on the outside of the phone, for better reception.

  3. If you touch it, right at that black band on the left hand side, the "bars" or signal on the phone degrade into almost nothing, and if you are in a weak signal area, your call will just drop.

Not really an optimum design for an antenna you might think. One that you can touch in 2mm of the phone and the call drops? Yup. I can replicate it, I can do it, at will. You know what else I can do?

Not put my pinky over that part of the phone.

Or if worst comes to worst, get a case.  I got a bumper for my phone which covers the antenna and the phone works perfectly.

Now, some people have said that Apple should have never released a phone like this. Well that may be a good point, but I don't know if that would have helped. The antenna is on the outside of the phone, okay? Any phone you grip around the antenna is going to attenuate the signal. It's just the way it is. Apple says this, and you can replicate it on any of the prior iPhones as well as a bunch of the iPhone's competitors.

Remember when we were kids and you grabbed the rabbit antennas on your TV? Remember how the signal would get worse when you did that, even some times when you just got close to the TV? Same principle.

The phone is a radio. Sorry. It has to retrieve and transmit, and they have to put the antenna somewhere. Apple put the antenna on the outside of the phone to try and reduce the dropped calls everyone on AT&T was complaining about.

I personally have much less dropped calls than I used to (despite what Apple said about the iPhone 4 dropping more calls), and I'm not complaining about it one bit. Yes, I can hold the phone in a certain way to attenuate the signal and make the bars go down, so I just don't hold it like that.  It de-tunes the antenna, and therefore make signal reception go down.

Since this post is running right around 1000 words right now, I'll cut it into two posts...  stay tuned for part two.


Meghan said…
Hi Joel,

That was a thorough review and it was only part one! It looks like you are enjoying your new phone, though. In case you are interested, Peter Burrows of Businessweek is going to be discussing the antenna issues surrounding the iPhone with Charlie Rose tonight on Bloomberg Television at 8P and 10P ET.

Looking forward to part two of your review,

Joel Esler said…
Meghan, Part 2 is up.

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