I'm not sure how this keeps happening. The first year I waited at a mall for 5 hours to get the original iPhone. The following year my friend Mark Rein convinced me to see a midnight showing of Hellboy II and then wait outside of an AT&T store all night to get the iPhone 3G. You'd think I'd learn by the third year but once more I was in line at the mall hours before the Apple store opened to get the 3GS. This year I thought it would be different. Apple offered free overnight shipping to anyone who wanted to pre-order the iPhone 4. Figuring everyone would go that route I decided to beat the FedEx trucks and just show up at the mall at 6AM. I'd be in and out in a little over an hour, which would give me a head start on battery life testing on Apple's 4th generation iPhone.

I promise that not all of my decisions play out this poorly. Those who pre-ordered the 4 and requested overnight delivery got their phones early and my one hour wait turned into six hours at the mall, for the fourth year in a row.


Apple's iPhone 4 with Bumper Case

It's a self fulfilling prophecy. Steve gets up on stage, proclaims the iPhone 4 to be the biggest introduction since the original iPhone, and the public flocks to Apple stores to fork over $200 on day one and around $2500 over the course of two years for the privilege. But this isn't 2007. Apple has real competitors in the smartphone space. Android phones have grown in features, polish and popularity. Even Palm entered the race with a competant offering, and Microsoft isn't far behind. It's easy to start a revolution when everyone else is doing the wrong thing, but what about when more companies actually get it? Was Steve justified in his excitement over the 4? That's what we're here to find out today.

Straight on it looks like just another iPhone. You get the black face with a shiny trim. From the side it is the redesign that Apple has needed for a while now. It’s not revolutionary but it’s the type of improvement that makes its predecessor feel old. And that’s exactly what this does. Have a look for yourself:


iPhone 4 (left) vs. iPhone 3GS (right)

The straight lines, smaller dimensions and lack of unnecessary bulk make the 3GS feel like a car from the 90s, unnecessarily curvy. The styling is now so much more compact. Compared to the iPhone 3GS the 4 is around 5% narrower (but no more difficult to type on) and nearly 25% thinner. It even makes the Nexus One look dated:

The iPhone 4 is slightly heavier than the 3GS (4.8oz vs. 4.7oz). You feel the added weight but I wouldn't call it heavy. The front and the back of the iPhone 4 are both made out of glass, and they protrude beyond the stainless steel band that wraps around the phone (more on this controversial decision later). While this gives the 4 an amazing finish, it also makes carrying the phone nerve racking. Coupled with the smaller, more dense form factor I’m now deathly afraid of dropping and shattering this thing. Apple has done a lot to reinforce the glass, however there have been enough reports already of shattered iPhone 4s for me not to feel very safe. Only Apple would think to make the two surfaces most likely to hit something out of glass. It's like making mouse traps out of cheese, something bad is bound to happen.


iPhone 4 (left) vs. iPhone 3GS (right)

The physical buttons (but not their layout) have changed on the 4. The ringer switch has shorter travel and feels sturdier as a result. The volume rocker has been replaced by discrete volume up/down buttons, also very sturdy in feel. The power/lock button is also now made out of stainless steel. Only the home button remains unchanged, although it does seem to make a deeper click when you use it.

The speaker moved to behind the right grill at the bottom of the phone instead of the left. The dock connector thankfully remained unchanged. It looks like Apple is committed to maintaining this connector until it makes the jump to something wireless (or optical?).

The back of the phone is pretty. Apple broke with tradition and finally included a single LED flash on the phone. The flash comes on in low light conditions and is enough to take shots in total darkness.

The camera has been upgraded to a low noise 5MP sensor. It can shoot stills at up to 2592 x 1936 or video at 1280 x 720 @ 30 fps. We’ll go into greater detail on its quality in the camera section. The iPhone 4 also adds a front facing camera capable of shooting both photos and video at 640 x 480.

Apple quotes contrast ratio as 1000:1, in our measurements we got very close (952:1). A significant improvement over the 188:1 ratio of the 3GS. Apple achieved this by both dropping black levels and increasing the white levels on the display. Improving both is always fine by me.

Internally the iPhone 4 uses Apple's new A4 SoC, built around an ARM Cortex A8 CPU and a PowerVR SGX GPU. The new SoC is built on a 45nm process and features 512MB of memory on the package. Apple hasn't made CPU clock speed public, but I'm guessing around 800MHz compared to the iPad's 1GHz for reasons you'll see later. GPU clock speed is unknown as well. Having more memory on package is an interesting move by Apple as it makes the iPhone 4 better suited for multitasking compared to the iPad. Also implying that shortly after the iPad gets multitasking it'll be updated to a version with more memory as well.

The iPhone now has an gyroscope as well the rotation sensors of its predecessors. Developers are given full access to the gyroscope making the iPhone 4 capable of becoming a very expensive Wii-mote.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Apple iPhone 3GS HTC EVO 4G (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650) HTC Droid Incredible (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650) Google Nexus One (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250)
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 115 mm (4.5") 121.9 mm (4.8") 117.5 mm (4.63") 119 mm (4.7")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 62.1 mm (2.44") 66.0 mm (2.6") 58.5 mm (2.30") 59.8 mm (2.35")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 12.3 mm (0.48") 12.7 mm (0.5") 11.9 mm (0.47") 11.5 mm (0.45")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 133 g (4.7 oz) 170 g (6.0 oz) 130 g (4.6 oz) 130 g (4.6 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz Apple/Samsung A3 @ 600MHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 535 Adreno 200 Adreno 200 Adreno 200
RAM 512MB LPDDR1 (?) 256MB LPDDR1 512MB LPDDR1 512MB LPDDR1 512MB LPDDR1
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 16 or 32GB integrated 8GB micro SD 8GB micro SD micro SD
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 3MP 8MP with dual LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8MP with LED Flash 5MP with LED Flash
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 3.5" 320 x 480 4.3" 480 x 800 3.7" 480 x 800 AMOLED 3.7" 480 x 800 AMOLED
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Integrated 4.51Whr Removable 5.5Whr Removable 4.81 Whr Removable 5.18 Whr

The iPhone 4's logic board shrinks in size thanks to further component integration, making room for a much larger battery. The 5.25Whr battery in the iPhone 4 is a 16% increase from what was in the 3GS, and 95% of what HTC put in the EVO 4G. While raw performance improved, it's clear that Apple's focus this time around was battery life. Again, we'll dive into specifics later in the review.

Moving back outside Apple surrounded the phone with a stainless steel band. This band doubles as the 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth antennas. And if you hadn't noticed, it also moonlights as a giant elephant. Let's talk about it.

The Real Story on iPhone 4's Antenna
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  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    How does international work? Are other parts of Europe covered by that as well or are they all additional? Reply
  • B3an - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    Theres way WAY less options for network and internet providers in the U.S, especially compared to here in the U.K..
    So less competition means higher prices. And of course the size of the U.S/Canada is a problem.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    Some friends who have been living in England say that cell usage over there is way more expensive. They claim the only affordable way to do it is with pay as you go SIMs and just not use them much.

    But yes more competition would be nice. For me Verizon is the only carrier that offers the kind of coverage I need. So between the fact that I can't go anywhere and that they don't offer an off-contract rate I have no reason not to take the subsidized phones and contract extensions.
    Reply
  • Chissel - Sunday, July 04, 2010 - link

    I'm an American living in the UK. iPhone 4 rates here are much lower. The best I have seen is from Tesco (o2 network). Low cost no frills service. 750 minutes + unlimited texts + 1gb of data per month. Also, incoming calls do not charge minutes. 1 yr. contract 32gb iPhone 4 = £299/$450 + £35/$50 per month (all tax included). After 1 yr. they have to unlock your phone. After you unlock the phone you can drop down to £20/$30 per month.

    This means the 2 year cost of the phone + service in the UK is £959/$1,438. In the US the 2 year cost is $299 + tax and $105/mo + tax. Total cost over 2 years is $2,819 without tax.

    As you can see the UK has much lower price over the 2 years. Plus, after 1 year you 'own' your phone and can resell and buy iPhone 5.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, July 06, 2010 - link

    I think the unlock on AT&T can be requested after 3 months, definitely after a year as I had a friend do that. Reply
  • StormyParis - Saturday, July 03, 2010 - link

    I've abandonned data plans, and switched back to plain voice, on my HD2. I get Wifi most everywhere (at home and at work for sure, and most places in between). I was simply not using data that much, it's not worth the monthly 30 euros they want for it.

    99.5% of the time, there's no difference at all. 0.5% of the time... i can survive...
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I agree, but...

    "The fact that Apple didn't have the foresight to coat the stainless steel antenna band with even a fraction of an ounce worth of non-conductive material either tells us that Apple doesn't care or that it simply doesn't test thoroughly enough. The latter is a message we've seen a few times before with OS X issues..."

    Apple would just see this as another selling point for the bumper.

    Anand/Brian-
    I'm curious if you've had a chance to test with the microfilm covers like Bodyguardz or Zagg.

    I use these because of how thin they are and how great they are at protecting the device (scratch free even when dropping on concrete). They cover all points of the phone rather effectively. I'm curious if they would be beneficial to your testing.

    vol7ron
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    vol7ron,

    You're totally right, I need to test with a thin film or some heavy duty tape/invisible shield. I originally thought of doing that, but somehow it got lost in all that frenzied testing. I'll whip something up and see if anything changes. I mean that's a good point too, it might not do very much.

    I mean, ultimately there's a thickness you do need to achieve, and to be fair a lot of the benefit the case adds is that extra couple mm or two from the antenna. If the film is too thin, it might not do much. What makes me uneasy about saying anything definitively is that this is so near field - literally on top of the radiative surface. I'll admit I have only a basic level of understanding about what kind of interference happens in the very near field. I mean even at 1.8 GHz, one wavelength is 16 cm - the case and your hands on the phone is way inside near field.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • rainydays - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Agree. Outstanding review. The detailed analysis and level headed tone is excellent. Keep up the great work.

    Antenna section was illuminating. Good point about using SNR. I wonder if that number by itself is sufficient though. I guess signal power in dbm along with SNR would give the most complete picture of reception.

    At any rate, as is abundantly clear in the article, you never really know where you are till you see the numbers.
    Reply
  • John Sawyer - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    Yes, the numbers, details, etc. are more important than a lot of people realize. It often annoys me when I see people commenting about issues that involve actual measurement, technical facts, etc., without referring to any of those, and thus winding up with all kinds of conspiracy theories, bogus suggestions, etc. As applied to hardware problems from any manufacturer, generally many such commenters, in their understandable desire to just see a fix for a problem, wind up suggesting the only important thing is for the manufacturer to set up a return exchange program, which would be nice if it were always that easy, but it doesn't address the details of the problem that are often quite interesting, and can be very useful for people trying to learn from the situation. Reply

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