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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  • Griswold - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Lets be honest, he has only very limited means to meassure the problem. To get to the bottom of this, it needs to be meassured in a HF lab. Reply
  • samspqr - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    "The fact that Apple didn't have the foresight to coat the stainless steel antenna band with even a fraction of an ounce worth of non-conductive material either tells us that Apple doesn't care or that it simply doesn't test thoroughly enough."

    I find it really funny that they would never catch this specific problem because of them just being apple: if their engineers are not as good as anand is (as in thinking "that's gonna be a problem" right after hearing the description of the antenna), and if THE FIELD TESTERS HAD THEIR PHONES DRESSED AS A 3GS BECAUSE OF PARANOID ISSUES, this kind of problem can only slip through
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I think Anand was a little light on this topic. As an multi-discipline engineer myself this type of problem with the Antenna SHOULD NEVER had happened. It can only happened due to decisions that did not properly address it. This is not rocket science to engineers. If anything, testing WOULD HAVE discover the problem and yet it's in the finish product. Quite sad if you ask me.

    For example, why put a ferrite clamp on the end of the cable instead of designing it into the PCB . The only reason I can see why we did this was due to lack of time and we severely paid for it by having products become defective because the ferrite would pull the cables loose from the connectors.
    Reply
  • deppbv78 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I'm really disappointed at the lengths taken by AT to justify that iP4 losing signal as not a big deal...If it was any other product from any other manufacturer, I'm sure you'd not have gone to such lengths to justify the signal drop and just concluded that the phone has serious antenna problems. I'm not understanding why is it so difficult for anyone just provide an unbiased view of the product.

    I have HTC Hero & Touch Pro both of which lost a bar or two (with fluctuations) when cupped tightly. However, it was always just 1-2 bars and never went down like iPhone 4 does from 5 bars to 0. This continuous loss of signal is the problem. Justifying it telling that all phones lose signal is not right, as every other phone (including 3GS) loses signal temporarily and then stabilizes unlike iPhone 4.

    No wonder the iPhone 4 is engineering marvel, but that set aside it is also true that the design has created issues as well and the reviews need to acknowledge it and not justify it
    Reply
  • geniekid - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    HTC Incredible owner here. I think AT successfully showed that the antenna issue is NOT a big deal and their methods for doing so are sound. I share your suspicion that maybe they wouldn't have made such a significant investigation if it had been another phone, but let's not accuse them of mistakes they haven't made yet. Reply
  • bplewis24 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I have a sincere question though. Does this test really successfully show the antenna issue is NOT a big deal, or does it simply show that it's not a big deal in the utmost ideal conditions?

    Sometimes the article is difficult to decipher in terms of understanding who is saying what, but upon my initial reading I take it Brian did the testing of the antenna in Arizona. By his own admission (from my understanding), he lives there because the reception is absolutely stellar and about as good as it can possibly be.

    Again, from what I can tell, it is under those conditions that he conducted the attenuation signal loss comparisons. If it still drops down to 1 bar and comes reasonably close to dropping calls under the best possible conditions, how does it react under "average" conditions? Other people are reporting dropped calls for a reason. Is Brian's test the norm or an outlier?

    Please correct me if I've read this article wrong.

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

    My understanding is you are partially correct in assuming (which is what I interpreted from your post) that under "normal" or "average" conditions you will go to one bar - which with the improved reception even at 1 bar you are still fine - OR will drop signal completely.

    This is also the reason why they say "At the bare minimum Apple should give away its bumper case with every iPhone 4 sold."

    Again, fantastic in-depth review.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    Well, he said the location he lives in has stellar reception. But he also said he drove around for a day testing, which implies to me that he found somewhere with a stable, "average" signal and did some testing there, then probably went somewhere with a "poor" signal and did some more, etc. Reply
  • bplewis24 - Friday, July 2, 2010 - link

    @strikeback03

    Correct. And in driving around to the less-than-stellar areas showed the phone dropping down below -107dB for reception when showing less than 2 bars. And this is on the low end of the reception spectrum as described earlier in the article. So it's pretty clear that the antenna does INDEED show poor signal strength in average or less than average areas when the "death grip" is applied.

    That is the determining factor. That determines that the design is defective and flawed. If it was not designed that way, when in average or below signal areas, the reception would still be average or below, and not well below because of the way you hold the phone.

    However, the article skirts this and attempts to present it in a way that shines the best possible light on Apple and their defective design. Big disappointment in terms of an objective review.

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

    The article made it clear that bars are a misleading way of measuring call quality/reception. In practice, it was noted that call quality/reception is improved/equal to the 3GS on the 4, regardless of bars (raw signal power).

    Who cares if you have 1 bar all the time if you're still making calls better than someone with 4 bars?

    HTC Incredible owner here.
    Reply

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