Micro Review of the Apple iPhone 4


The following is strictly a mini-review based on a few hours of playing around with an iPhone 4 as part of a test of multiple phones. Subsequently not all of the usual aspects were tested, but those that were are included here.

Last Updated: 30-Sep-2010

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

RF Sensitivity: I did not test RF sensitivity, but I did try and reproduce the DEATH GRIP. Even when the signal was weak we couldnít cause the phone to loose much signal by bridging the gap between the two antennas in the lower left corner of the iPhone. There was some loss, but nothing quite as bad as you might have read about elsewhere.

Audio Performance

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Tonal Balance: I was rather surprised to find that the iPhone 4 was a bit tinny. It also had a rather hollow sound to it that was rather annoying. In numerous tests I found the tonal balance adequate, but hardly inspiring. This was rather surprising, because in my review of the Apple 3G (from a couple of years ago) I noted that the tonal balance on that phone was ďnear perfectĒ. Iíd therefore expected at least the same from the iPhone 4.

Sound Reproduction: The actual reproduction of the sound was quite clean and there was no discernable hiss or distortion in the background during test calls.

Earpiece Volume: Sadly the iPhone 4 falls short on this issue. Even if it is louder than the 3GS (which was in turn louder than the 3G), itís woefully inadequate for use in noisy environments (like a crowded food court or out on the street). It was approximately the same volume as the HTC Desire, which I also criticized for lack of earpiece volume.

Outgoing Audio: One of the things advertised by Apple for the iPhone 4 is its dual-microphone noise-cancellation feature. This feature is both amazing and disappointing at the same time. It DOES cancel background noise exceptionally well and it is truly a wondrous thing. However, the price you pay for this noise reduction is a very district loss of audio quality. The noisier it gets, the more distorted your voice sounds. Even in the presence of just mild background noise the audio quality on outgoing calls is clearly substandard. The HTC Desire sounded much better, especially in noisy conditions.

Speakerphone: The speakerphone is acceptably good, but hardly terrific. The speaker in the iPhone 4 can generate a fair amount of volume, but it does so with a bit of sympathetic vibration at higher levels, and it sound a bit tinny all around. It is however quite acceptable in multimedia situations and it produces audio thatís more than adequate for watching YouTube videos or movies.

Support Features

Keypad Design: The iPhone does not have a physical keyboard of course, and relies instead on a virtual keypad. Compared to the HTC Desire the iPhone was markedly more accurate and I only had to correct a fraction of the number of mistakes Iíd been making with the Desire. As virtual keypads go, the one on the iPhone is pretty good, but it lacks tactile feedback (and as far as I could tell it didnít even offer haptic feedback, which the Desire did).

Display: What can I say. The Retinal Display on the iPhone (which offered an astounding 960 x 640 resolution on a 3.5-inch screen) is just incredible. It literally looks as though the material you are reviewing has been painted on the glass. It is impossible to detect pixels and everything looks sharp. The screen isnít quite bright enough to work exceptionally well in direct sunlight, but it does a credible job.

Icing on the Cake

Camera: I was especially interested in the camera, given the hype its received in the press and online. Yes, the quality of stills is much better than Iíve seen on other camera phones, but donít expect the type of quality that would put dedicated digital cameras to shame.

I also tried a few videos at 720p resolution and I was disappointed to find that they were a bit more jerky than expected. So many reviewers have waxed ecstatic over the smoothness of the HD videos, but all those Iíd seen online were less-than-silky-smooth. I put that down to the playback on browser, but when I saw the real thing from the phone I discovered that the jerkiness was there too. Donít get me wrong, the phone does a pretty good job at 720p videos, but again, donít expect them to match or exceed what you get from dedicated digital cameras or from camcorders.

Conclusions

I went into this test HOPING that I would like the iPhone 4 enough to actually buy one, because Iíd decided that it would be interesting to live with a iPhone 4 for an extended period of time. However, the disappointments far outweighed my enthusiasm and Iím likely to just wait for the iPhone 5 to see what that has to offer.

So, if you were looking for a top-notch phone first and foremost, the iPhone is clearly a bit of a compromise. I doubt this will sway many people buying one, because the lure of the iPhone far exceeds any of its failings. However, if you are like me and find yourself on the fence, you might want to think twice before spending a boatload of money (or wasting your subsidy for a 3-year contract).

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