Apple iPhone 4 review

Apple has followed it’s plan of keeping older iPhone models in the wake of newer releases. With the iPhone 5 on sale, you can now pick up an iPhone 4 for a much lower price. The iPhone 4 costs £329 unlocked, which compares pretty favourably to the £529 that Apple is charging for the newer iPhone 5.

In this review we take a look at the iPhone 4 as it was when first released in 2010. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the last two editions of the iPhone, while offering some new features, aren’t radically different. The iPhone 4 has the same aluminium design (black or white) of the iPhone 4S, it has the Retina display screen and a fast CPU. It’s slightly heavier than the iPhone 5 and has a smaller 3.5in display, but the £200 in your pocket will soften those blows significantly.

In terms of features, it doesn’t have Siri, Apple’s voice activated assistant, which is a shame but not the end of the world. It also lacks Flyover and turn-by-turn navigation which is more of a shame. But again, not the end of the world given the price. Click here to view the features you get with iOS 6 on different models of iPhone.

Apple is a company with some clear priorities when it comes to designing mobile devices. The ideal Apple mobile device is razor-thin, with a simple design and killer battery life. You can see those principles at work in the iPhone 4, the latest generation of Apple’s smartphone hardware. This is a smaller, thinner phone, with a stripped-down design and an impressive improvement in battery life compared to previous models.

Three years ago, the original iPhone blasted a hole in the side of a listless, boring phone market. That initial success has spawned numerous strong competitors, but with the iPhone 4, Apple seems to be competing more with itself than trying to respond to the competition.

A pair of fours

If there’s one thing that defines Apple as a company, it’s the idea of creating products that are a synthesis of hardware and software. Apple makes Macs and Mac OS X. It makes the iPhone and the iOS. Many tech products are the melding of two different visions; Apple’s products are generally singular.

As a result, much of the appeal of the iPhone 4 is in its tight integration with iOS 4, the latest version of the recently-renamed operating system that drives the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. My colleague Dan Moren has already reviewed iOS 4, which adds features such as multitasking support and App folders to the mix, and I won’t repeat those points here. However, many of the iPhone 4’s hardware features wouldn’t make sense were it not for corresponding additions to iOS 4. It’s the Apple way, and iPhone 4 is no exception.

Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4

But first, the hardware

The iPhone 4 is recognisably an iPhone, bearing most of the same traits as all the other iOS devices Apple has released over the past three years: Glass front, rounded corners, big screen, circular button at the bottom. The white model, sadly unavailable on launch day, exposes that the iPhone owes a design debt to the classic iPod as well.

This iPhone differs in details of design. The faces of previous iPhones have been surrounded by a chrome bezel, but that’s gone. Instead, there’s just the phone’s glass face and the thin silver edge of a stainless-steel frame that wraps around the device’s circumference. The frame’s matte texture is more in line with Apple’s current design aesthetic than the shiny bezel of previous models.

Another big change is on the device’s back, which is now a flat glass surface rather than a curved polycarbonate shell. By swapping out the bezel and replacing the curved back, Apple has dramatically changed the feel of the iPhone. The curved edges of past iPhones are gone, replaced with 90-degree angles and flat surfaces, like a cake that’s been removed from its pan.

In general, the product feels like a remarkably solid slab of technology. It’s thinner and narrower than its predecessors, but the same height. Since it packs its 4.8 ounces into a smaller space (4.5 inches by 2.31 inches by .37 inches), it’s noticeably denser – and I mean that in a good way. Like the iPad, the iPhone 4 feels like a remarkably solid, well-built product. The fit and finish are immaculate; not a single thing about the iPhone 4 feels cheap. If you don’t like my cake metaphor, try this one: in terms of styling, the iPhone 4 feels like the most expensive electric razor ever made, or maybe like a finely-tuned luxury watch.

Apple has designed the iPhone’s steel frame to act as its wireless antennae; the strip of frame on the device’s left side serves at the antenna for its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, and the strip on the right side and bottom works as a mobile antenna.

Apple iPhone 4Apple iPhone 4

Attempts to quantify mobile phone reception are always dodgy – reception varies from city to city and even block to block within a city. One of our editors reports that her iPhone 4 can actually get a (weak) signal in her apartment, where her iPhone 3G simply reported no service at all. Our colleagues at PCWorld report that the iPhone 4 has faster data speeds than the iPhone 3GS. In my testing, the iPhone 4 was extremely fast, especially when it came to data uploads. This boost in upload speeds is due to the iPhone 4 supporting HSUPA, a high-speed 3G upload protocol, in addition to the HSDPA protocol that was added to the iPhone line with the 3GS. In any event, the iPhone 4 was so fast, it put my poky old home DSL connection to shame—so much so that I’m finally going to replace it! But unless you live in my particular suburban San Francisco neighborhood, your mileage will likely vary.

Now about that cellular antenna. Reports all over the Internet suggest that if you hold the iPhone 4 in such a way that your hand makes contact with both antennae (generally by holding the phone down toward its base, specifically touching on the left side), you can drastically decrease the iPhone 4’s mobile reception. The method of holding the iPhone in question is actually how I hold my iPhone – and I discovered, sitting in my own house, that I could slow or even stop my iPhone 4’s cellular data transfer by holding the phone in that way. It was such a dramatic effect that I was able to cause cellular data transfers to fail mid-stream just by shifting the phone in my hand.

Judging by the Internet, just as many people have failed to reproduce this problem as have reproduced it. Maybe it varies based on your skin type, or what kind of cellular tower you’re connected to, or the relative strength or weakness of your cellular signal. Apple released a statement late last week saying that this sort of thing is common with cell phones.

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