FaceTime video calling is cool, but mainly a novelty at this point
Reviewers agree the iPhone 4 is the best yet, with huge upgrades to the iPhone 3GS (*Est. $100 with contract). Though its prowess remains undisputed, few critics are willing to peg it the absolute best out there, however. "The iPhone 4 deserves its place in the pantheon of cellphone gods, but as part of a distinguished group, not as a single overlord," says Sascha Segan at PCMag.com. With a level playing field, many critics feel that choosing the right smartphone boils down to a matter of personal preference. "iPhone is no longer the only worthy contender," says David Pogue of The New York Times. The iPhone 4 is available in 16 GB (*Est. $200) and 32 GB (*Est. $300) configurations. We review the newest model, the Apple iPhone 4 (Verizon) (Free with contract for 8 GB) as well.
The buzzworthy feature this time around is FaceTime video calling, which allows you to make face-to-face calls using the VGA camera on the front of the iPhone 4 or the 5-megapixel shooter on back. The technology isn't new, but experts say Apple gets it right. "It's the first phone to make good video calls reliably, with no sign-up or set up, with a single tap," Pogue says, while other critics report it's easier than Android's Fring or Qik apps. However, FaceTime works only on Wi-Fi, and both callers must have an iPhone 4. "That makes FaceTime a special-occasion parlor trick rather than a general purpose solution," says Segan.
Improved iOS4 software and faster processor overshadowed by antenna issues
The iPhone 4 rips past the iPhone 3GS with new iOS4 software (which includes over a 100 new features) and a faster processor. Multitasking is "one of the prime movers here," says Joshua Topolsky at Engadget.com, with fast app switching and home screen app folders. However, only seven apps can run at a time, while the Android competition has no such limit. Segan wishes Apple would follow HTC's lead with integrated social networking, and Topolsky wonders why Apple still doesn't have widgets (programs that run in the background, such as weather or news) and clings to its "broken" notification system -- feats mastered by devices like the HTC Incredible (*Est. $150 with contract).
"Apple's device easily has the best industrial design," says Mark Spoonauer at Laptop Magazine, who places it ahead of the Motorola Droid X. The iPhone 4 is 25 percent thinner (0.37 inches as opposed to 0.48 inches) with fortified glass plates trimmed by a stainless-steel band that doubles as an antenna. Square corners make room for a gyroscope and a stockier battery that lasts at least a day. Critics rave about the new Retina display, which has four times the pixels and an 800-to-1 contrast ratio, perhaps outdone only by the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S with its super AMOLED screen, says Segan. Likewise, the 5-megapixel camera -- which shoots HD video that can be edited in the phone with iMovie -- rates as top in its class, with better photos than the HTC EVO 4G (*Est. $190 with contract), says Lisa Gade at MobileTechReview.com.
However, Apple has been pelted with complaints about the antenna. Dubbed the "death grip" by critics, signal strength cuts out when a user's fingers cover the stainless-steel band. Apple says careful handling (avoid touching the lower left-hand corner of the phone) or a phone case (*Est. $29) solves the problem, but that hasn't satisfied many frustrated owners. "You mean I have to hold the phone a certain way to make the reception work !?" says a user at CNET. Despite the volume boost from noise-canceling dual microphones, call quality, reception and AT&T remain "sticking points," says German. Apple has acknowledged the antenna issue and will issue free Bumper cases to iPhone 4 users through September.
Leading mobile tech review sources, including PCMag.com, CNET, Engadget.com and MobileTechReview.com, put the iPhone 4 through the paces with hands-on testing and comparisons with rival smartphones. Rounding out our sources are user reviews at CNET, which reveal problems that surface with extended use.
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"The iPhone 4 is the best iPhone ever," says Sascha Segan. The new Retina screen is gorgeous and the media experience unparalleled, he says. However, the smartphone isn't the best for phone calls, and Segan considers the FaceTime video a "gimmick" for the time being.
Review: Apple iPhone 4 (AT&T), Sascha Segan , June 25, 2010
Joshua Topolsky is one of the few reviewers to consider the iPhone 4 "the cream of the current crop." Unlike other smartphones, he says the iPhone has stepped beyond the competition with its ability to put together "the total package." However, FaceTime video calling freezes up on more than one occasion.
Review: iPhone 4 review, Joshua Topolsky, June 22, 2010
Lisa Gade says the powerful iPhone 4 runs circles around its predecessor, and the new Retina display has fonts "smooth enough for an amoeba to slide down the slope of a letter s." However, she's less than impressed with the new design and complains about Steve Job's recommendation to "hold it like a dainty watercress sandwich" to eliminate "death grip" reception problems.
Review: iPhone 4, Lisa Gade, June 25, 2010
"With the iPhone 4, Apple again shows that it is a powerful player in the smartphone wars," says Kent German. He appreciates the enhanced performance and improved design, but multitasking "has its trade-offs," and a number of CNET users agree with his assessment that call quality remains a sticking point.
Review: Apple iPhone 4 - 32GB - black (AT&T), Kent German, June 23, 2010
5. Laptop Magazine
The Apple iPhone 4 "raises the bar" on a number of fronts, including its industrial design, FaceTime video chat and camera quality, says Mark Spoonauer. However, he wishes the smartphone had a dedicated camera button and an HDMI port for easy HD video transfers. Nevertheless, the iPhone 4 earns an Editors' Choice award.
Review: Apple iPhone 4, Mark Spoonauer, June 25, 2010
Though the iPhone 4 excels at most of ConsumerReports.org's tests, its antenna problem is enough to keep them from recommending the phone, blogger Mike Gikas says. Follow-up posts indicate dissatisfaction with Apple's offer of free iPhone cases.
Review: Lab Tests: Why Consumer Reports Can't Recommend the iPhone 4, Mike Gikas, July 12, 2010
7. The New York Times
Although the iPhone 4 makes its mark with beautiful design, new multitasking abilities and great-looking HD video, the iPhone is "no longer the only worthy contender," says David Pogue. Android phones are stepping up to the plate with "rave reviews."
Review: New iPhone Arrives; Rivals, Beware, David Pogue, June 22, 2010