Apple iPhone 4: Hands-on review


59 Responses to “Apple iPhone 4: Hands-on review”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I always find humor in those that bash AT&T for the dropped calls with the iPhone. AT&T doesn’t design or manufacture any of the cell phones that run on their network which is why some phones have better call quality than others. Why do you suppose that Apple designed the new iphone with the antenna as a metal band around the outside of the phone? Do you think that maybe it was because the previous design was causing call drops? I’ve owned several different types of phones (iphone, blackberries, non-smartphones) on both AT&T and Verizon and found that the iphone was the worst when dropped calls were considered. I realize that a lot of people believe that Apple is coated with a teflon surface, but they do have to take some of the blame for the engineering deficiencies in the iphone radio.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That picture of the kids in the skate park looks great!
    I would love to see some sample video as well.

  3. Anonymous says:

    the very first pic with the green blades of grass: does the new iPhone allow something like this to be your wallpaper/homescreen? The one thing I don’t like about the iPhone is that (I think) your homescreen always has to show those blocks of apps

  4. Xeni Jardin says:

    Coming up shortly! I’ll be posting more photos and some video.

  5. lolbrandon says:

    Assuming you own and are under contract with a 3GS, would you pay the extra money to buy the iPhone 4? I’m not asking if you’d recommend this to a complete stranger, but you personally, Xeni, would you do it?

    Did you have a chance to edit a LOT of 720p video on the 16 gig model? Do you have any idea how iMovie handles space issues, considering the largest phone is 32 gigs and HD video is fairly big? Is iMovie meant for editing an hour long videos or 5 minute videos? Can the smaller 16 gig iPhone handle a good amount of video and edit it, while also having maybe a few thousand songs, a few thousand photos and a couple dozen apps?

  6. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Are those tears?

  7. bibulb says:

    Propellerhead edge-use question :
    Having just got the iPad Camera Connection Kit, I tried playing with some of the off-brand “video camera” apps for the iPhone 3g and slurping the videos onto the iPad. Sadly, while the Photos app sees them, ReelDirector can’t do diddly with them.

    Any idea as to whether ReelDirector can use the footage shot with either of the two cameras on the iPhone 4? The idea of having a small casual video project rig with the two devices, but still having a slightly larger edit space appeals to me.

  8. boingaddict says:

    now that i stopped salivating at the review. That phone is sexy, now to wait till July when it arrives in Canada…..

    I know what i will be taking to Poland with me in August as a video device. Panorama Raclawicka via Iphone here i come *evil, take over the world kind of a laugh*

  9. Anonymous says:

    Can you adjust the recording volume while taking video? With the old 3g phone, I was disappointed to find that while taking my iphone to concerts, I’d get pretty good video but utterly blown out audio that rendered the recording useless.

  10. Sean Eric FAgan says:

    the ability to read one book on iPad, laptop or desktop Mac, and iPhone

    Unless I missed something, there is no iBooks for the Mac, only the iPad and iPhone. Did I miss something?

    • lolbrandon says:

      Kindle for iPhone, Mac, PC, etc. can do what Xeni is describing, but I don’t believe iBooks can. Yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

  11. Anonymous says:

    “[...]awfully excited about the ability to read one book on iPad, laptop or desktop Mac, and iPhone, and start where you left off at any given device.“

    Ok with the IPad and IPhone, but you can’t read your IBooks books on a desktop or laptop, no? (well you can, but through 3rd party software that will not comunicate with IBooks)

  12. schuss says:

    Great review, Xeni, thanks!

    I love that you pointed out the orientation lock thing – no one else has mentioned that, and that’s exactly what happens to me!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Want to put your old iPhone to use doing exciting new things? How about sending it to Kenya in two weeks to record oral history interviews in endangered tribal dialects? My name is Kamilah Welch and I am the public relations intern for Smallbean(, a Boston-based non-profit. Smallbean’s initiatives teach technology skills and document community life around the world through the use of refurbished electronics and solar power.

    With yesterday’s debut of the iPhone 4, we are seeking old iPhones for use as digital voice recorders for our oral history-based Citizen Archivist Project. Any information or references of people whom we could contact on this prospect would be very much appreciated. Thanks

    Kamilah (

  14. Outtacontext says:

    Those photographs are beautiful. THE main reason I’m buying an iPhone 4 is because of the camera. Yes, I have my other, more professional digital cameras but I never seem to have them when I need it. I have my iPhone all the time. Every time.

    As for the downside (AT&T), who makes phone calls anymore?

  15. JDVough says:

    Just one note on the AT&T comment: “AT&T still sucks, and the best engineering out of Cupertino won’t change that.” This may be true but ask any non-iphone AT&T customer that uses 3g or edge and they almost always report no problems with service. Blackberries and Motorolas may not have the bells and whistles that the iphones do but they seem to get flawless service. And AT&T was rated the fastest network by PC MAG. The common factor in almost all AT&T complaints is that they are all from iphone users. If RIM and other manufacturers can make AT&T work, why cant the engineers in Cupertino? I think the iphone simply does so much that it interferes with signals that other phones have no problems receiving.

    That being said, I like my iphone, cant wait for my iphone 4 to arrive.

    • Anonymous says:

      I know that in Europe all of the service complaints come from iPhone users. All the other phones seem to work fine. I think maybe the internal antenna just isn’t strong enough for the cell networks. I think Apple knew this when they tried to redesign the antenna into the metal band around the new iPhone’s case. Unfortunately judging from Xeni’s review, they didn’t succeed in fixing the problem. So we all have to hope that the carriers keep putting up more antennas to compensate for the iPhones limited reception range. And I too can’t wait for my iPhone 4 to arrive.

      • alm says:

        Where do you obtain statistics like that? Do you really think that people will take your posts seriously when you make up facts. Some gullible people may have believed you if you said that more service complaints in Europe come from iPhone users, but even that is probably bull. Why can’t you wait for the iPhone if you are intent on posting such negative publicity on it?

  16. friendpuppy says:

    “I wonder if they can keep up with Android”

    WTF??? I owned an iPhone and it was great. I wanted to try something different, I got an Android based phone. Android = Fender Squire guitar. iPhone = Les Paul.

    • Rindan says:

      I am really not going to argue about which OS is better. It is a pretty stupid argument that no one is going to win. When I say “keep up”, I mean it. Multi-tasking and copy and paste after Android has done it is “keeping up”. Maybe you like Apple’s later implementations better, or you are content with the limitations in exchange for something else you like in the iPhone. Fair enough. They still implemented pretty obvious features after Android did it and moved on, hence it is “keeping up”.

      There is clearly a technology race on. On one side, you have Apple doing both the hardware, software, and to a large extent greatly influencing apps. On the other side you have Google and the various organization supporting and adding to Android for software, every single major phone manufacturer doing hardware, and a complete free-for-all in terms of apps. Apple certainly has an advantage in terms of unity. The Android horde has an advantage of diversity and quantity of people and organizations being thrown at the problem.

      Can one company innovate faster than everyone? Eh, it remains to be seen. Apple certainly has proven they know how to bust new markets open, but keeping up in the long haul has yet to be seen. The lagging of no-brainer features until they get them ‘perfect’ is still lagging.

      Finally, Apple actually has struggle in the past to keep up. They just tend to surrender where they can’t win and march on in the places where they are strong. Apple computers are a good example of this. Apple computers can run the intertubes awesome and play MP3s, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that they could play 5 year old games like half life 2. The idea that this is an exact repeat of the PC battle that Apple most certainly lost to IBM is hardly crazy. The only difference is that this time instead of facing off against everyone + Microsoft. It is everyone + Google wielding an open platform.

      • friendpuppy says:

        No, I just like phones that function correctly. There’s a good reason for the joke, “Q: What’s your favorite app on Android? A: Force quit.”

  17. sdmikev says:

    Excellent review, thank you!
    I just got the 3GS in Dec, so it will be a while before I upgrade. My wife is going to get one, though.
    She’s about ready to trade in her old blackberry.

  18. Darren says:

    @Xeni, if you’re “very, very excited about the video capabilities in iPhone 4″, surely you must be very, very disappointed that there’s no way to actually play those 720p videos on an external display from an iPhone. Even the dock doesn’t allow the full resolution that the iPhone can shoot. Surely HDMI-out – like in HTC, Motorola, Acer, etc. phones – is not too much to ask?

    You’ve got all these brilliant 720p videos that you’ve shot with your iPhone and you can’t just hook them up to your LCD TV to play them? Lame. You can’t carry around your 720p video library and play your movies on a TV with a HDMI cable? Lame.

    Imagine if Apple wasn’t so greedy and you could just pop the back cover off and pop in your spare battery? 8 days of battery life then. Imagine if Apple allowed multitasking on the iPhone 3G instead of blocking it to force users to upgrade? Wishful thinking.

    Still, looks like the best phone on the market. I just wish Apple weren’t such bastards with all their wonderful technology sometimes.

    • ikoino says:

      >’Imagine if Apple allowed multitasking on the iPhone 3G instead of blocking it to force users to upgrade?’

      The 3G has limited graphics virtual memory. I’m developing an app that is too slow for the 3G. Simply older and slower.

      >Imagine if Apple wasn’t so greedy and you could just pop the back cover off and pop in your spare battery?

      How is not supporting a removable battery greedy? Ever hear of an external battery case? None of them are offered directly by apple. Greedy is what Panasonic does with the Lumix camera, with copy protected batteries that sell for double the price OEM battery. One reason why I’ll never buy a Panasonic camera again!

      • Jack says:

        Not having a removable battery makes the device instantly obsolete the second the battery dies. Every other phone in the world allows you to change batteries. Not Apple.

        But that said, I really wonder if it’s easier to change in the case of the 4.0 model. Sure there will still be case cracking, but if the internal connector doesn’t need soldering, hey. Easier.

        Okay, another question: Is there such a thing as a cell phone plan calculator? One that will calculate taxes, fees and such?

        I’d like to know how much total per month cost is and while Apple/AT&T do give base plan costs, the taxes/fees can eat up a good chunk of the monthly bill.

        • Stooge says:

          Jack, swapping out the battery is now trivial. The two external screws release the back panel, and there’s a tiny bit of shielding held in place by a single screw over the battery connector, but that’s it: no solder :)

          Personally, I’ve only ever had to change the battery on any cellphone once, so Apple’s policy of not allowing users to change their own batteries never bothered me, particularly as it was a fairly tricky procedure anyway. Now that it’s become about as difficult as changing the batteries in one of my daughter’s toys though, that policy’s beginning to bug me.

          • Jack says:

            Thanks for the info on the battery! Was never clear if those screws were only on the prototype or the production model.

            As far as “masculine” design goes, just look at the older iPhone: Curves on the back of the case. This new model actually looks more substantial and the design of the glass/case acknowledges its more rugged.

  19. bklynchris says:

    At the risk of sounding like a salivating fangirl (risk?), with bon mots like “a boy a bar and a blog”, and darling photos like this, how can anybody NOT love her. Every time I try not to, she just drags me back in!

  20. dw_funk says:

    I am definitely in an advanced state of gadget lust. It’s a shame that the $200 it would take to upgrade is probably better spent on things like moving and eating and stuff. Stupid real life.

    On another note, this also reminds me why I miss Boing Boing Gadgets. The BB staff always does such a good job with tech reviews.

  21. Anonymous says:

    The command to search your phone is to press the home button once, but only when you’re already on the main page of the home screen.

    If you’re in an app, that command takes you to your most recently accessed home screen page. Pressing it again takes you to the first page. Pressing it again takes you to search.

    Great review by the way! I’ll be waiting in line on Thursday because I didn’t manage to get a pre-order in.

  22. johnnyaction says:

    Great phone!

    Still too bad about AT&T though… I live in a dead zone where I have to go 13 miles to get reception of any kind. My 3G iphone is now a glorified iPod that costs $87 a month…

  23. Enormo says:

    Mmmm… Xeni in vinyl jacket and matching black bicycle helmet. Yes, please!

  24. Anonymous says:

    Do we get another “Xeni likes it, Cory doesn’t” kinda thing like we had with the iPad? That really set the site ablaze!

  25. Werner Egipsy Souza says:

    The Orientation lock sounds great… that was the main reason I picked the Xperia over the iPhone.

  26. Anonymous says:

    @Darren: “You’ve got all these brilliant 720p videos that you’ve shot with your iPhone and you can’t just hook them up to your LCD TV to play them?”

    Of course you can. Apple sells a component video cable for the iPhone. (Component video supports up to 1920 x 1080 resolution so it will handle the 1280 x 720 output from the iPhone to the HDTV.)

  27. arikol says:

    My 3G feels so old now ;)

    Still a very nice device, but my contract is finished in two months which coincides with the iPhone4 launch here in Sweden.. guess I’ll be getting one of these new ones.

    You write a lot (alot) in your work, how practical do you think the bluetooth keyboard option would be for real writing? Something you find yourself likely to use?
    I’m just curious whether I could take notes and possibly write parts of theses on this thing, a laptop is so heavy when you mainly bike around. If it seems practical and I can easily move text to a full editor at home then I might skip some back ache next winter by leaving the laptop at home.
    Also, foldable bluetooth keyboards. Any good?

  28. echthroi says:

    Oh, it’ll blend. No worries there.

  29. Rindan says:

    It is interesting to see the blood letting in the smart phone market. It sounds like Apple has jumped up to the level of the latest Android based phones in terms of software and probably are at or above the level of the best in terms of hardware.

    That said, I have to wonder how long Apple can keep it up. Even though Apple is a big company with a killer marketing department, I wonder if they can keep up with Android now that it has big boys backing it. It is one thing to fight off and kill poorly marketed sub-performing phones like what palm was crapping out. It is another thing when Verizon wades into the market at starts throwing elbows with Droid commercials with killer Motorola hardware to back the hype.

    The lag in getting stupid things like copy and paste and multi-tasking was simply insane. Was that sort of thing a calculated move to make the next version look better, or is Apple really struggling to keep up? Is this Apple vs IBM all over again?

    Whatever the case, I love the blood letting. True, I will be a bit sad in that I won’t be able to torture my iPhone wielding friends by playing Last.FM in the background while I do something else with my Evo and asking if they have an app for that… but health competition is far more important. I personally find Apple psychotic control over their hardware and software unappealing, but you have to give them credit for blasting the smart phone market wide open and making Android possible. I don’t find it a contradiction to loath Apple products but love their presence in the market driving everyone else forward.

    • peterbruells says:

      Ah, but Apple *is* one of the big boys. When it introduced the iPhone in 2007 they really did take that market – Android is more or less a reaction to that. And while Android catches up and will undoubtedly surpass iOs in numbers, they’ll probably be one of the main smartphone producers for years to come.

      And they seem to do the same in regards to pads – what’s it no? 3 Million devices in 80 days?

    • Anonymous says:

      “It sounds like Apple has jumped up to the level of the latest Android based phones in terms of software”

      You could say that Android and iOS 4 can tick off the same checklist boxes. However, that would be missing the point and missing the value of Apple’s careful and uncompromising approach to making its software as reliable and user-friendly as possible. I don’t see anywhere near that level of concern for the user experience in the Android OS and its apps.

      “I have to wonder how long Apple can keep it up. Even though Apple is a big company with a killer marketing department, I wonder if they can keep up with Android now that it has big boys backing it.”

      Apple didn’t have any problem keeping up in terms of software capabilities and advances in the computer market. Why would you expect it to have difficulties in the handheld devices markets? BTW, “marketing” has nothing to do with it…

      “The lag in getting stupid things like copy and paste and multi-tasking was simply insane.”

      Apple takes as much time as it needs to implement features that meet its demanding requirements for user experience.

  30. hapa says:

    until i received a copy of xeni jardin’s excellent ‘apple iphone 4: hands-on review,’ i thought i was been-and-done-with the genre entirely, because we can agree, yes, that nothing is more played out than product description copy, and long-form reviews are even ~more~ of the same.

    suffice to say, i was unprepared for ms jardin and her subject to compliment each other’s fresh approaches, bringing us all consumer journalism as intelligently sensual as the device itself, gently yet profoundly in harmony with the higher level of sensitivity reached by the manufacturer’s designers.

    if anything more were needed — and it only strikes me so, or now seems lacking in all such, because of new qualities revealed here — it would perhaps be a cleaner line between the software & the hardware of the camera. software can’t make last year’s iphone shoot 1080p @ 60fps, but it can surely improve the auto-exposure.

    if i may express my gratitude more specifically with a small warning: unfortunately iOS 4 has not rescued iphone users from losing unsaved data when switching apps! instead it’s reduced the gotcha’s frequency, possibly increasing the chance that a person may be burned unawares.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Is it louder than the previous versions???!!!

  32. Notary Sojac says:

    “Greedy is what Panasonic does with the Lumix camera”

    I just bought a Lumix FZ35 last month, with a couple of aftermarket non-Pana (and half the price) batteries which work just fine.

  33. bklynchris says:

    From one hapa to another…that’s MS. Jardin to you.

  34. pidg says:

    Android is betta ne1 who agreez reply to this post!!!!!! LOL!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Great review – thanks!!
    Where’s the white one???

  36. digibruce says:

    You could always use apps (one at a time) while on calls on an iPhone. iPhones have always been multitasking – they just didn’t let you use 3rd party apps at the same time as each other. Ironically, due to flaws in some of the other “3G” mobile cellular data networks, some “multitasking” Android phones can’t do data and voice at the same time (if they are on that type of network).

  37. RT says:

    Not bad looking, once you wash off the suicide blood.

  38. Anonymous says:

    “Battery life has been an Achilles’ heel with earlier versions of this device.”

    Really. Well, my mileage has varied. I found it pretty good compared to contemporary smartphones.

  39. bklynchris says:

    haha re-ATT, I am allowed to upgrade on my bday…given this (and WSJ Mossberg’s review), I will.

  40. iPhaedrus says:

    I was struck by the apparent quality of the second photo taken at the Venice Beach Skate Park and then I noticed the by-line “Shot by Julian Bleecker on a Nikon SLR” … WTF?

    Please be careful with what you’re presenting here! You are reviewing a device that has a camera and then including a non-comparison photo taken from some other (potentially professional) camera?

    • Xeni Jardin says:


      Unbunch thy panties, knave.

      The only photos in these posts which are not iPhone photos are photos shot by a pal who happened to be present at the skate park, packin’ a sweet Nikon SLR. They are presented here because they show me, at the location, shooting these subjects with the iPhone 4. They provide some color and some informational value to the post, a point of comparison if you will. They are very clearly identified.

      Go take a deep breath and walk around the block or something.

  41. Anonymous says:

    How is the speakers on the new iphone? is there any significant upgrade from the 3gs?

    That’s the only complain i have from previous iphones.

    Other than that, GREAT job on the hands-on review!

  42. Emily says:

    “The squared-off, thinner, steel-and glass form is more masculine, more substantial.”

    Wonderful review, and I’m so grateful to see what the photos look like, particularly in low light and with images like sunsets (and jealous, with my 3G in hand and a lot of blown out photos!) but perhaps there’s a better word to describe the phone other than masculine? (Unless something feminine can’t be substantial? :) )

    • Xeni Jardin says:

      Heh, thanks for the kind words.

      I think “masculine” is an okay word to use in this case. I’m aware of the history of sexism and gender politics and bla bla, but it’s not a terrible word to use. I’m female and some of the things I like, design-wise, have more masculine aesthetic qualities than feminine ones.

      My favorite language is Spanish, in which all nouns are either masculine or feminine. I don’t think Spanish, or French, is a terrible language for that fact.

      Anyway, I do see your point, and I do appreciate the comment.

      • Beanolini says:

        some of the things I like, design-wise, have more masculine aesthetic qualities than feminine ones.

        So go on, what are ‘masculine aesthetic qualities’? I’m not taking the piss, I’d genuinely like to know.

      • DrPretto says:

        Xeni, nice review, I also love Spanish (my native language, I live in Panama, little country in Central America).
        I will never change my Nexus One for an iphone4.
        I can mention at least 3 better phones than iphone4:
        1- HTC Evo: Video calling using 3G and 4G kills Face time (only wifi).
        2- Samsung Galaxy S
        3- Motorola Droid 2 and Droid X coming soon.

        By the way, I can watch every Flash video or Web site I want using my Android phone (Froyo 2.2 + Flash 10.1).
        Oh, with Android I can READ every Censored version of “Ulysses” by James Joyce or any classic I want.
        I could not live in a world dictated by Jobs and apple.

        • Anonymous says:

          @ DrPretto: “By the way, I can watch every Flash video or Web site I want using my Android phone.”

          That statement is far too generalized. ONLY your Nexus One supports Flash at the present time.

          “I could not live in a world dictated by Jobs and apple.”

          Apple doesn’t dictate what you see on the World Wide Web via its mobile browser. Knock yourself out. On the other hand, Apple does curate its App Store. Given today’s news, it looks like that’s a very good thing:

          • Rindan says:

            You do realize that that piece of “journalism” has a single source… the press release from a company selling a security app, right?

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