FaceTime

Meet Manveer. I’ve known him since I was in the 6th grade. Somewhere around the 8th grade we started a ritual of calling each other every day after school and talking about video games, computers and dumb things that happened at school. We talked on the phone for hours. Back in those days we would even play the same game on separate computers while talking on the phone. It was a precursor to voice chat in gaming networks like Steam or Xbox Live. It was ridiculous amounts of fun.


Manveer is up in the corner, the crazy guy is yours truly

Tonight Manveer and I FaceTimed. It’s the feature I wish we had when we were back in middle school. These days it’s a lot harder to explain why you’ve got some random dude’s face on your phone talking to you about completely pointless things at 12:54AM on a Tuesday night. I spent part of the chat covering one of the lights in my room with my head and calling it an Anand Head Eclipse. At the risk of further embarrassing myself publicly, it was fun.

For those of you who don’t know, FaceTime is Apple’s VoIP protocol built into the iPhone 4.

Granted we’ve been able to do this sort of thing for quite a while now over instant messenger networks. Integration into your smartphone is just the next logical step, and in the right conditions it works very well.

The first requirement is that both users need to have an iPhone 4 obviously. Both also need to be on WiFi. While the FaceTime icon will appear if you call another iPhone 4, if you try to activate the connection you’ll get this error unless you’re on WiFi:

With a bit of poor UI design Apple will actually display a FaceTime icon with a question mark in it if you call another iOS phone. Trying to activate FaceTime however gives you an error.

FaceTime requires roughly 100 - 150Kbps of bandwidth in both directions to work smoothly. The download should be fine but the upload is pretty high given that many broadband providers in the US are ridiculously stingy with their upload bandwidth. For FaceTime to work well you can’t be uploading or downloading anything large in the background, or if you are just throttle everything else to give you enough bandwidth to work with.

The next problem with FaceTime is the iPhone 4 lacks an absolutely necessary integrated stand. HTC got it perfect with the EVO 4G, unfortunately the 4 has no such thing. The closest you can get is Apple’s iPhone 4 dock, it’ll set you back $29 but it’s necessary to prevent you from getting tired holding your phone out in front of you. Laying the 4 down on your desk while you FaceTime just gives the person on the other end of the line a great view of your nostrils. Not very welcoming.


This is the on-table view of FaceTime, you need a stand

Even once you’ve met all of the requirements it’s still not a guaranteed thing. Even with ample bandwidth I had one FaceTime chat stall in the middle of the chat. My incoming feed froze and I had to wait a couple of seconds for it to resume. I also had a problem where FaceTime would fail to start on the first try. A subsequent try fixed it.

As you'll see in our camera investigation, the low light performance of the 4's front facing camera is horrid. Couple that with FaceTime and you will get bad image quality if you're not in a well lit room:


Ugh, what is this, 1998?

While in FaceTime you can easily switch between front and rear cameras by tapping the camera icon in the lower right corner. Unfortunately the compression on the video is enough to render text illegible while in FaceTime:


This was taken using the rear facing camera over FT

Obviously everyone knows where FaceTime is going. Apple is supposedly opening the protocol up to all developers, so you’d be able to theoretically build desktop and other smartphone FaceTime clients. And ultimately as mobile broadband speeds (hello WiMAX and LTE) improve the WiFi requirement will be dropped. But is it a good feature today?

It really depends on who you know with an iPhone 4. If you’ve got a Manveer, absolutely - the feature is worth it. If you have a bunch of casual acquaintances with iPhone 4s, probably not. It’s only useful if you know the person on the other side very well.

There is one other major benefit to FaceTime. Once enabled your call is routed over WiFi to the Internet, not AT&T’s 3G network. It doesn’t use any of your plan’s minutes and more importantly, voice quality is much improved over a regular 3G/EDGE phone call. It’s VoIP, not a crappy cell connection. Even if you just cover the camera it’s actually better to make calls over FaceTime than 3G based on the sound quality alone.

Camera Usability Sidebar: Luxa2 H1-Touch, a Great FaceTime Stand
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  • JAS - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Yes, "more open, more configurable" is a double-edged sword. A comparison of Microsoft Windows and Macintosh OS X is apt in this regard.

    P.S. -- Can we advance beyond the juvenile label of "fanboy" when criticizing a person's like for a product?
    Reply
  • bplewis24 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Juvenile comes with the intent. I have the utmost respect for Anand and his opinion/reviews. If you take "fanboy" as a disparaging remark, fine, but it essentially means you have a bias or preference that obscures some of your objectivity.

    Brandon
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    As I've often expressed here, I like the reviews to not have any 1st person views. I don't care if one waited for 6hours for a phone. I don't want to hear any "this phone is the all to be". I just want a detail review of the phone and it's features. If one can qualify and/or quantify the differences with other products great. If you can't then don't, rather then having the innate urge to add your own opinions.

    Yes, the apple UI is more smooth, the experience is more enjoyable. The druid UI is a tad slower but by no means going to destroy or ruin anyone's experience. If you can't justify it, don't!

    Lastly, the problem with 1st person perspectives being included in reviews and especially technical reports is that the reader will see it as favoritism. This is why absolutely NO credible technical and scientific review/report is written this way. I don't write my engineering tests and reports in 1st person. Just stick to the material and leave opinions out of it. This type of review ONLY happens online and sadly it's affecting technical and scientific materials as well.

    Do the job, state the facts and tests and let the reader decide how to deal with it. Don't offer the reader any types of suggestion or persuasive comments. If you do include it, like other websites, in the editorial section or something similar.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I wouldn't want to read reviews that just state facts. I'm an engineer/scientist and have written many peer-reviewed scientific papers. For tech reviews, though, I really appreciate user experience. There are just too many intangibles that can't be expressed by facts and tests. That's why I have been reading Anadtech for over 11 years - I appreciate the blend of techiness and user experience. Reply
  • totenkopf - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I have to agree with TheOne on this. Also, you can express "intangibles" without using the first person... If the iPhone's UI feels smoother than another phone then just say that and leave off the "I feel" bit.

    Remember that any statement comparing the iPhone to "Android" will have its flaws. You can only compare the iPhone 4 to other phones, not android. Any such statement will inherently be some form of generalization. Besides, Comparisons made with particular Android phones will be far more helpful as many android phones offer an experience distinct form any other Android phone.

    It's really not that uncommon for iPhone users to play with an Android phone and really like it. Many of them actually seem quite surprised that they actually like it; some merely think that iOS is the only show in town as it has been the best for a long time. Widgets, in particular, offer a lot of customization and, perhaps just as importantly, personalization, that many iPhone users seem to appreciate. If used correctly, widgets can multiply the functionality of your phone many times over, and in some cases preclude running many apps at all. That said, setting up an android with just the way you like it and hunting down the newest and best apps and widgets can be an ongoing struggle. However, many people will enjoy it immensely if for no other reason than to make their phone that much better in their own eyes.

    There! My experience with android without sounding too biased... I think ;) It certainly sounds better than "Android rulz 'cus widgets are soo good and apple doesn't even have them because apple is fail!"
    Reply
  • John Sawyer - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    As an iPhone user for the past year, I can concur with your observation that many iPhone users would be impressed with the latest Android phones. I've tried the Evo for about ten minutes, and during that time, I did some web browsing, ran some apps, etc., and it was fast (even with a 3G connection), seemed polished, and I wouldn't complain too much if it was the only phone I had to use. If I had the chance to use it longer, I might start seeing its deficiencies, but a quick look, looked good.

    Though a week later, the iPhone 4 was released, and I was blown away by its display, which no other phone matches yet, though I'm somewhat biased about that since I like to be able to read tiny text.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    The problem with user experience is that it's just that and it affects how readers perceive the product. I don't mind really that reviews are done this way, but many are done extremely bad. Here are a few examples of comments people include in their reviews...

    "I let me wife play with it for a day or so and she loves it!" This is quite common for PMP player reviews.

    "This is the best thing ever to come out on a phone..." Best thing is more or less an exaggeration. Way too many improper adjectives are used in reviews. Anandtech is no exception to this.

    "I like it..." Okay, that means what, I should too?
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    I disagree, in that I think the subjective "feel" of one phone (and OS) relative to another is largely subjective and can't be quantified in just plain numbers. Would you really feel better if he stated that "after observation with a high speed camera phone X illustrates a scroll with 5 frames and phone Y does so with 20" as opposed to "phone X is noticeably choppier"? Or say for example Sprint shipped a special edition EVO with 768MB RAM, we know that is 50% more, but would it actually make a difference in your interaction with the phone if you had less than 20 apps open?

    I have an HTC Touch Diamond, a WM 6.1 phone with TouchFlo 3d. None of the reviews I read before purchase adequately described how clunky the interaction between the TouchFlo plugin and the background OS is, or how poorly optimized WM6.1 is for a touchscreen, and certainly not how the speed of the device goes from marginal when new to completely unacceptable after a few months and requires a hard reset to restore.
    Reply
  • ipredroid - Saturday, July 03, 2010 - link

    What many fail to realize is with out opinion there would only be numbers and no reason to have site with user friendly technical data (a site like this). Everyone's opinion is biased or influenced by something, simply sticky by facts and zero emotion devoted towards every product is impossible. Many opinions itself is laced in bias preference for facts.

    I for one want as much information as possible not half the information.

    Facts and opinions have and always will be better than just one of them. Would you rather have technical data about someones trip to Mt. Everest or an opinion. I would want both, so would everyone else or else you are missing facts.

    Science and opinion go hand in hand. Cause and effect.

    Reply
  • noiserr - Friday, July 02, 2010 - link

    I am getting really tired of people who have no clue what OS X actually is.

    Android is much more similar to OS X than Windows. OS X is based on an Open Source kernel for starters and both Android and OS X are *nixes, OS X also uses open standards (OpenGL vs. DirectX for instance).

    OS X is in many ways much more configurable and open than Windows, compare how many file systems Windows supports vs. those OS X does.

    Apple is foremost a hardware company. They strive to create tightly integrated devices which come at the price of less configurability but they are renowned for their intuitive UI and ease of use. You may disagree with it but you can't argue against the fact that It's a business model that has served Apple well.

    Personally I am a geek. I also write code for a living, while I do indeed like Android a lot when it comes to my phone I just don't care nor do I have time to tinker with it.
    Reply

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