The Practical Mac

30 Days with My iPhone 4

- 2010.09.21 - Tip Jar

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 rating

A little over a month ago, I finally broke down and bought an iPhone 4. More accurately, my iPhone 3G broke down, so I had to buy an iPhone 4.

Theoretically, I could have replaced my old phone with an iPhone 3GS, which Apple still purports to sell. However, neither the AT&T nor Apple Stores I visited had any in stock. Plus, the iPhone 4 was only $100 more, so I took the plunge.

iPhone 4I was on an out-of-town trip when my unanticipated purchase became necessary. The AT&T store in Charlottesville, VA, had neither model in stock. An hour later, I was in Richmond at the Apple Store, and they had the iPhone 4 but no 3GS.

My decision was made for me; no thinking necessary. Since I was already leaning toward a 4 anyway, I had no angst about having one "forced" on me.

The Apple Store (the one in Richmond, anyway) had a special, roped-off section just for iPhone buyers. While you were waiting for your name to be called, you could peruse the iPhone selection away from the throng of Mac and iPod shoppers. However, it should be said that there was something of a "throng" of iPhone shoppers present as well.

After a short wait, the nice lady called out, "Next iPhone customer, Mr. Watkins." As I knew exactly what I wanted (16 GB, black), my purchase was completed in no time. The associate offered to transfer information from my old SIM card and began showing me several of the features new to the 4.

Truth be told, however, I did not need selling. She had me at "next."

The battery had a decent charge right out of the box, so I sat on a bench right outside the Apple Store and started playing with my new toy, familiarizing myself with the features of my new phone.

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed is that the 4 is slightly smaller and sleeker than the 3G/3GS. It has a lot of other cool improvements (see graphic below, adapted from Apple). However, as soon as you open an app designed for iPhone 4, there is no doubt as to the most impressive feature: the Retina display. In short, it is an amazing visual spectacle.

Apple claims the Retina display's pixel density is so high that your eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels. I don't disagree. It is stunning.

To appreciate the Retina display in all its glory does require that the app be designed for iPhone 4. Apps designed for the much lower resolution previous models do not benefit from the Retina display.

The camera is finally capable enough to allow you to leave your dedicated digital camera at home on trips where you don't anticipate doing heavy-duty photography . The 5 megapixel camera with (finally!) LED flash is capable enough for most casual photo taking. HD video? Hello!

And last, but not least, a second, front-facing VGA resolution camera for video chats using FaceTime - or self portraits. Camera capability is a huge step up from the 3GS.

Call quality seems a bit improved from my 3G. Another new feature, dual-mic noise suppression, undoubtedly contributes to this.

Finally, another improvement you can't help but notice is the speed bump. With Apple's own A4 processor and 512 MB of RAM (twice as much the 3GS and four times as much as the 3G), the speed difference is markedly noticeable to the naked eye.

iPhone 4 vs. 3GS comparison

Suggested Improvements

While the iPhone 4 is a huge leap forward, Apple did leave some room for improvement, though most of the negatives are more attributable to the iOS than to the phone itself.

Selectively Disable Multitasking

While multitasking is great, there should be a way to disable multitasking on a per-app basis. When you exit an app, the app does not entirely close. It leaves a background process behind. When you double-tap the home button, all the apps that remain resident are scrolled across the bottom. Tap on the "-" in the top left-hand corner of the icon, and the app closes completely.

There are a few apps that don't so well in this arrangement. LogMeIn Ignition is one. For those who have not used this program, it is a client program that allows you to remotely control (over the Internet) Macs on which you have installed the "server" portion of the LogMeIn program. It works very well on the iPhone.

However, when it remains resident, it will give an error message when you return to the program later. The error is a result of the login information for the remote computers "timing out" due to inactivity. Clearing the error message and logging in to the remote Mac again fixes the issue. It is not a major problem, rather more of an annoyance - but an annoyance that could be avoided if it were possible to tell the LogMeIn Ignition app to completely exit every time you close the app.

If you are a gamer, We Rule has a similar problem. If you exit the program and then go directly back into the same kingdom the next time you open the app, you will find that the kingdom is not properly updated. Curiously, We Rule's cousin, We Farm, does not have the same problem. Undoubtedly, the games' creator, ngmoco, has tweaked We Farm to get around this bug. Again, though, setting the behavior through the iOS would be a nice feature.

Shooting Video

The only other irritation I discovered was with the video camera. It is hard to be very irritated at HD video recording, built-in LED light, and the ability to edit footage right in the camera. However, if you want the video to display properly when played back on a TV or edited in iMovie, you have to turn the iPhone 4 sideways (landscape mode) while filming. If you don't do this, the result is very tall video frames that appear cropped when played back. Couldn't Apple devise a way to make it work properly in either orientation?

Conclusions

Despite a couple shortcomings, the iPhone 4 is definitely worth the price if your contract is up or is near enough to its end that you are eligible for the upgrade pricing. At full, unsubsidized prices ($499 and up), the value goes down quickly unless you have a specific need for features unique to the iPhone 4.

As for the much hyped antenna problem, I did not notice any signal degradation compared with my 3G, either with or without a case. So, if you put your finger over the antenna, the signal strength goes down? Guess what else I discovered - if you put your finger over the mic, it's hard for the person on the other end of the call to hear you. And if I put my hands over my eyes, I can't see where I'm driving. IMHO, the whole "antennagate" non-event was whipped up by other, envious, cell phone manufacturers.

Getting the iPhone 4 in your hands does not mean your shopping trip is complete. No one in their right mind would just slide such a beautiful (and expensive) piece of engineering and design excellence in their pocket without properly protecting it with a case. Next time I will take a look at the clear choice for maximum iPhone 4 protection. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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