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Apple iPhone 4 Review

DT Editor's Choice

Highs

  • FaceTime video chatting
  • High resolution Retina 960 x 640 pixel 3.5-inch display
  • 5-megapixel camera with LED flash; HD video recorder
  • 16GB or 32 GB built-in memory
  • Long battery life

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 5

Lows

  • Sharp edges
  • Less memory than 3G S; no 64GB version
  • Greenish screen tone
  • No HDMI out
  • Orange hue on indoor photos
  • No external camera shutter button
The iPhone 4 delivers a super-sharp screen and clever videoconferencing abilities, but existing iPhone owners shouldn’t be in a hurry to upgrade.

Introduction

The Apple iPhone is no longer the Superman of the cellphone world, despite all the hoopla, lines and glitz. Every carrier now has (or will have) at least one comparable Android superphone to the iPhone 4, such as Sprint’s EVO 4G, T-Mobile’s Google Nexus, the upcoming Droid X from Verizon on July 15, and Samsung’s Galaxy S from either AT&T or T-Mobile later this summer. Plus, the iPhone 4 also has to compete with the lower-priced 3G S, which also can run the new-and-improved multi-tasking iOS 4 operating system.

The question really isn’t whether the iPhone 4 is a cool, new phone – it is. Its video chatting FaceTime is fascinating and fun, the Retina high-resolution screen is a salve to squinters, its 5-megapixel camera is exceptional. But the iPhone 4 also suffers from a couple of niggling issues which, now that you have plenty of superphone choices, make it less than it could have been.

Design and Layout

Apple touts the iPhone 4 as being the thinnest smartphone ever. This is misleading. The iPhone 4 is actually thicker around the edges than the tapered 3G S, so it feels thicker. And its glass rear is slipperier than the plastic 3G S.

The iPhone 4 is a smidgen smaller all around than the 3G S and the same weight, but thanks to the metal band around the perimeter and the glass front and back, it feels more solid. It’s also squarer than the tapered 3G S, which means form-fitting skins won’t fit (they’ll be too small), and the upper frame by the earpiece has a sharper edge, which means a naked iPhone 4 held tight to your ear will feel sharp and uncomfortable.

The iPhone 4′s controls and jacks remain in the same place, but the volume controls and home key require a firmer touch, which eliminates accidental presses.

Storage

Inside the iPhone “General/About/Capacity” settings menu, we’re told the 32 GB S has 29.3 GB of user memory, and the iPhone 4 29.1 GB. When you plug the two phones into iTunes, you’re told the S has actually has 29.33 GB and the iPhone 4 just 29.06 GB. But that approximately 270 MB difference (if my math is right) is not big enough to account for the disparity between the content that fit on my S and what didn’t fit on my 4. I had 4,750 music tracks and 2,250 photos on my 3G S with 1.4 GB left to spare; I had to trim these down to 4,550 tracks and just 400 photos, with just 830 MB left over on the 4 (all other content – video, apps, books, et al – remaining consistent between the two). Considering I was hoping the iPhone 4 would be available in a 64 GB version, this memory short-sheeting is doubly disappointing.

Retina Display

Everyone will be talking about FaceTime, but the iPhone 4′s Retina screen that will be the longest-pleasing improvement.

The iPhone 4′s Retina 960 x 640 pixel screen leans to the greener end of the color spectrum compared to the 3G S’s cooler blue hue, most noticeable on white background Web pages, on faces, and on clear blue skies. But those extra pixels make a world of difference in illuminating tiny details and creating sharper edges in images and video. More importantly, the iPhone 4′s screen has deeper blacks (noticeable when comparing the iPhone 4 and the S when in sleep); colors pop in both tone and in contrast like never before.

But all of a sudden, the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen seems small in the expanding world of 4-inch and larger superphone screens.

iTunes Integration

As it does for photos, the latest version of iTunes gives you the choice of down converting all higher bit-rated AAC and MP3 files to 128 Kbps AAC for use on your iPhone. We were able to save nearly 4GB of space by doing this, with no real loss of headphone sound quality.

Sound Quality

We could discern no qualitative improvement from the 3G S, but the speaker did pump out a bit more volume during FaceTime conversations. In a quiet room, we didn’t even have to go much beyond three quarters of maximum volume.