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 6, 2010 - link

    I would assume they were referring to the launch of Windows Phone 7, which may prove to be a viable smartphone competitor. But being still months away that is a long time for competitors to move ahead.

    Also, as far as hardware goes, there are phones built with modern hardware, such as the HTC HD2. The software is the real problem.
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    the biggest turn off for me is still the lack of micro SD support.

    i use my phone as my primary mp3 player, and i end up filling up 16GB really quickly.
    with SD cards, you can swap out your storage on the go, rather than having to return home and do a sync in itunes.

    also, itunes is awful. it's such a pain in the ass to use, and i can think of no good reason that we can't drag and drop mp3 files onto our phones, or better yet, onto SD cards. (other than the fact that apple wants to force you to go through their online marketplace on a regular basis)
    Reply
  • D3lta - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    By far the best review I've ever read. Thanks and keep up the good work. Reply
  • avoidz - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    Cynical maybe, but I'm sure this was all part of the plan, knowing that users would require the $30 bumper case. Reply
  • Consolidated - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    A rough (eyeball) estimate of your diagram finds the umts antenna to be about twice as long as the WiFi antenna. Connecting the two would increase the length of the umts antenna about 50%, midway between the base length and the first harmonic length. Nasty VSWR there.
    The same calculus INCREASES the wifi antenna length by a factor of three, just about the second harmonic (an odd harmonic, yes but way better than midway between, no?).
    Reply
  • zero01 - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    This is a must have, I hear it fixes everything

    Very funny although I cant see them selling many.
    Reply
  • docflash - Sunday, July 4, 2010 - link

    as a physician, i've had lots of patients who've had allergies to metal - nickel in particular. an effective fix is coating the metal, often in a ring or other piece of jewelry, with a couple of layers of clear nail polish. this doesn't allow their skin to touch the metal, and stops the allergy.

    it's *possible* that some clear nail polish would have the same effect on the metal of the iP4's antenna. now, i am not an engineer (nor do i play one on TV) but i see no reason this won't work. and if it does: well, i'm in the market for a new phone, and the iP4 could be it.

    if it *does* work for you, great! but share the news - i'd like to try it myself (and so might other folks).
    Reply
  • scubasteve03 - Monday, July 5, 2010 - link

    I have searched everywhere! Where can I find that the background on the home screen in the " The Real Story on iPhone 4's Antenna" section? It has the vertical stripes that is yellow and black. If anyone could please help me figure out where to get send me an email. First person to find it for me gets 10 internet points! selphs03@gmail Thanks everyone! Reply
  • Romion - Monday, July 5, 2010 - link

    First of all, regarding battery life I dont think that the real talk time is bigger than what Apple announced (about 7h). I know from experience that all my phones till now had talk times around 1/2 up to 2/3 of what manufacturer announced (the talk time announced is IDEAL, most probably non existent in real life.) Just curios, how did u check the talk time?

    BUT, MAYBE THIS IS A MAGICAL DEVICE AND I AM ALL WRONG.

    Anand, if u use some technical data this doesnt mean that they are correct/ true and we can rely on this review.
    U said that u were in line at mall for every Iphone model till now, well, that tell us/me everything.
    Sorry if my english is not perfect, im not a native english speaker, but a smart enough guy to see things how they are in reality and not listen to others in their bias reviews.
    gl
    Reply
  • Stoli89 - Monday, July 5, 2010 - link

    It would be interesting to understand if changes to the WiFi/Bluetooth/GPS portion of the antenna system has an impact on the 2G/3G portion. If energy from wifi and/or bluetooth and/or GPS is causing interference with the 2G/3G signal processing when the so-called "gap" is conductively bridged. Current test seem to focus on the 2G/3G antenna being de-tuned when the external antenna gap is bridged, without considering if energy is also leaking through and corrupting the 2G or 3G signal(s). Just curious if this is just one more parameter which has confused the outcomes for different customers. Reply

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