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
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


View All Comments

  • scarnie - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    See my article here: http://bit.ly/5pxjgk

    Basically, the iPhone 4 is about 33% faster than the 3GS (600MHz) and 25% slower than iPad (1GHz) putting it squarely at 800MHz.


  • heri16 - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    Since it has been confirmed that Apple would not be able to beat physics, the best way for them is to issue a firmware update to hide the signal loss in terms of bars (GASP!) . Since after-all, calls won't be dropped at one bar, why make us all worry?

    From my tests, attenuation by water-containing bodies is always a problem to RF. My best way around has been using micro-strip circular polarized antennas to reduce the effect. I've been using such antennas to cut 2.4Ghz signals through dense trees, which have "waterly" leaves. It also works better in rainy conditions compared to linear antennas.

    (My tests shows reduction in attenuation by 70% in dbm units for my modded 2.4Ghz enterprise router through those same trees.) This will work since our hands/bodies are "waterly" too.

    My suggestion to Apple to is have both thin circular-polarized micro-strip antennas embedded in the back surface, and linear polarized antennas at the sides, and diversity-RF controllers to get improved best-case and worst-case performance.

    I'm not sure whether an iphone accessory maker can create the same fix through a paper-thin antenna plugged in.
  • heri16 - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    Here are some links to help understand the iphone RF fix.

  • NordicNINE - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    I finished up work & school for the day and just popped down to relax. Brought up my favorite tech news site and started the recorded DVR shows. I pulled up this article and then the recording of the new Futurama started up. Reply
  • Xeeros - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    Not to nitpick but The Incredible has 8GB internal PLUS the microSD which Verizon gives you a 2GB stick so it would be 10GB stock as they now package the SD card in the phone. Had a Launch unit and the refresher that says Droid on the box versuses the HTC incredible box. ONly difference was my store gave me a card for the 2GB and now its pre-packaged. To be honest most review sites that have it listed in comparison have it labeled this way, so probably not your fault. Reply
  • sporadic - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    A question though:
    When you ran your PDF download tests were you using any encryption or was this on an open network?
  • dhvanii - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    This is a great article on i4 antenna and DL reception. I have a few questions.
    1. if you take 1.5 MHz channel bandwidth, then the lowest signal strength measurable should be around -112 dBm. But this WCDMA and so if it is 4.5 MHz the lowest RSSI should be -107 dBm. Add to that a 4-6 dB noise figure and the lowest RSSI should be around -100 dBm. How is the device reporting -113 dBm for 3G ? Is that only for GSM reception where it is 200 KHz channel bandwidth and so theoretical lowest is around -120 dBm ?
    2. How about UL ? What is the Max Tx Power of this device ? 23 dBm ? How is that affected by this antenna glitch. Radio link protocols requiring UL acks for DL packets will definitely get affected by this poor antenna performance if UL is also affected.
    Thanks again for your detailed analysis.
  • navderek - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    Well I'm glad we agree...to be honest I did not read the entire article, but only the section about the antenna issues with the handset.

    I did not see you bring up the point of CQI, nor did I see you mention that RSSI is really not a good measure for network coverage / quality (when used alone). Perhaps you've mentioned it in other articles, and if so a link to those would have been warranted for charities sake.

    Have you ever considered writing up an article about how the air interface works? I think everyone would be much further ahead if they had a good basic understanding of the air interface and how the handset communicates with the BTS...especially now with so many networks competing it would put a little more power into the consumers hands to judge the quality of the network rather than rely on their silly marketing adds and crappy signal strength bar displays.

    Finally, you said that at -107dB the iPhone4 "deals just fine" with it. Do you have data to back that up? What kind of data rates were you getting? I'd be surprised if you could even hit 1MB/s.

    Just so you know, I work for TELUS Mobility in Canada. We have the first TRUE "all IP" network running in North America. We launched back at the end of 2009 with a 3.5G network. In my area we use NSN equipment and in practical use you can easily get sustained data rates greater than 10MB/s (downlink, theoretical = 21MB/s). We are also talking latencies of less than 50ms and almost no jitter....how did we do this? Well we are the only company in North America to have built the network from the ground up using IP transport all the way to the radios. We have fiber going to every single tower which serves only this 1 network (we have 2 others to manage as well, PCS / iDEN). :-) I'm not trying to prop-up my company or anything, but just giving a hint as to why other carriers such as AT&T have so many problems with their "patchwork" network which still most likely uses legacy copper circuits multiplexed and converted into IP packets...this puts significant strain on the core to keep up with the demands.

    If people understood the air interface protocols in a general and basic sense at least they could judge the quality of this part of the network and then focus on looking into the other parts...I just find it frustrating that most people who don't understand how it works tend to give the network a "basket" rating based on simple RSSI measurements which does not really give much insight except as to how much radiation your standing in.
  • zmslink - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    So the net effect is that iPhone 4 drops fewer calls then the 3GS despite losing as much as 24dB when held "incorrectly," but does that signal loss affect battery life much? Reply
  • davidcjones - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    It is amazing how someone can do such detailed research to get to the bottom of this!

    Thanks for your hard work. Of course, I am distressed that people are so inclined to run to the courts to file class action suits before they actually investigate the issue in detail...

    David Jones
    Jericho, VT

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