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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  • JAS - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    The build quality of the iPhone 4 is outstanding. It reminds me of Nagra (Swiss-made) professional tape recorders I have used. Very solid.

    The edges of the iPhone 4 are not as smooth as those on the iPhone 3GS; but they aren't "sharp" or prone to cutting your pants when you slide the device into your pocket.

    Still, I would want to use a rubber/silicone "skin" on the iPhone 4, not just a bumper, primarily to improve its grasp.
    Reply
  • jsbruner - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I see the reception bar issue as well but do not experience any dropped calls because of it. However the biggest issue I have is with the proximity sensor. I have accidentally hung up numerous times because the screen lock turns off and the buttons become active. I watched myself in a mirror talking and I see the phone flickering on and off. Have you seen this issue at all? Would the bumper minimize this issue?

    Great article.
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    While in theory I'd love higher resolution displays on monitors, in practice they're already too high, and can't get any higher until somehow operating systems are able to offer true resolution independence where ANY program (even if it's written in 1988) will be flawless scaled so it's the right size at a given resolution. So far the ONLY example in the computer world of this being done right is on Palm devices, where they just quadrupled the resolution and on older programs 1 pixel = 4 real pixels. Presumably it's the same on iOS.

    But until OSes can do that that successfully on ANY content on ANY monitor at ANY resolution, raising the resolution is a TERRIBLE idea, as we're already WAY past the point of usability on a lot of displays, since stuff just keeps shrinking rather than adding detail.
    Reply
  • inperfectdarkness - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    "If there's one thing I hope the iPhone 4 display does, it's generate demand for 300 PPI level desktop displays - the era of 110 PPI displays being the norm needs to end now."

    i could not have said it better. 1080p on a 17" screen is pathetic for a laptop.
    Reply
  • minememy21 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I registered just for the sole purpose of saying thank you to Brian and Anand.

    I really appreciate the amount of work and objectivity you've put in this review. I don't know of any other site with the same level of dedication and thoroughness.

    Please don't pay attention to the few, vocal, and overly sensitive anti-apple crowd and just continue writing the way you do.
    Reply
  • HilbertSpace - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    "Perhaps even use diamond vapor deposition (like they did with the glass screen atop the iPhone 3GS) to insulate the stainless steel from users." -The Real Story on iPhone 4's Antenna.

    There's no way apple used physical vapor deposition (PVD) on the iPhone 3GS, way too expensive! Supposedly a Nokia Vertu phone adds a TiC coating - the cost - oh only ~$15000!
    Reply
  • gronkman - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    The word on the grapevine is that the antenna issue will be dealt with by an upcoming software update. What I am interested in is whether it will really change the antenna attenuation, or whether it will "fix" the bars just by not showing the bar degradation. I'm hoping AT will do an in-depth look at the update when/if it comes out. Reply
  • thomas.magnum - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I am not sure what you mean when using 40% in the context of the bar. But I think you need to improve the discussion of dB. Because it runs on a log scale, changes in dB are more complex than just looking at dB1-dB2 and computing percentage. You really need to think about 10^(dB/10). I would bet that the bars are setup to be representative of a dB scale. NOT simple percentages base on dB numbers, like you're trying to do. Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Your comment reminds me of richter scale :) Most people will look at 6.0 and 7.0 and say oh that's nothing hahaha If only they knew they'll be completely shocked. Sorry, I had a good laugh out of this. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    Of course that is also assuming they think the Richter scale is still in use. Reply

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