iPhone 4: Nearly all it's cracked up to be
First look: Apple's new iPhone is faster, slimmer, slicker, better -- except for potential reception problemsFollow @pvenezia
Other hardware improvements include the much-ballyhooed front-facing camera and the enhanced main camera. As the owner of a Nokia N95 that had a front-facing camera way back in 2007, I'm not too impressed with this addition, but I am impressed that there's finally a framework to use the thing. In all the years I owned the Nokia, there wasn't a single application that took advantage of the forward camera in a general-purpose way. With FaceTime, Apple's mobile videoconferencing tool, a front-facing camera is suddenly useful. Anyone else with an iPhone 4 can take part in a video chat, simply by looking up their contact info or calling them on the phone and clicking the FaceTime button.
The iPhone 4's newly enhanced rear camera is quite a step up from any previous iPhone incarnation, taking 5-megapixel photos and leveraging an LED flash. I'm certainly not a photographer, but the few photos I've taken with the iPhone 4 have been on par with my two-generations-back Canon Elph. It's not a DSLR, but it's a very usable camera. Coupled with the 30FPS HD video recording, and we'll be seeing much higher-quality pictures all over Flickr and YouTube in the very near future.
There are several other goodies in the iPhone 4 that aren't intrinsic to the device, but rather to the new iOS 4. These include the multitasking, which is obviously a welcome addition, but also the unified mailbox and email threading features, which are extremely handy. Also, there's a soft key for orientation lock and quick access to running applications and sound controls by double-clicking the home button. If the iPhone could feel more polished, iOS 4 makes it happen.
iPhone 4 issues and oddities
I've only had a few hours to work with the device, but I've found some oddities -- namely that the signal strength seems to wax and wane significantly while in a fixed position. Others are reporting that holding the phone in a certain way (in which your hand bridges the metal exterior strips) causes signal degradation. I couldn't reliably reproduce this problem at first, but after some experimentation, I was able to repeatedly decrease and increase the signal with certain hand positions. However, I sometimes witnessed apparent signal loss without touching the phone at all, and then signal resurgence while holding the phone in a variety of ways.
Apple claims this is a software bug that will be fixed post-haste -- so this may be a spurious problem or something greater, but it's too soon to tell. That said, it's telling that Apple released the Bumper Case along with the iPhone 4, as presumably, the Bumper Case reduces or eliminates this apparent problem.
Also, I had a few problems downloading and installing applications from the App Store. They appeared to fail at first, and then completed. Given that I had the same problem at the same time on an iPad, it may be due to load on Apple's servers, which are currently handling a high volume of activations or downloads, but it's certainly worth noting.
But beyond function comes form. The iPhone 4 is a sleek, lithe device, with the obvious Apple flair that leads one to think of high-tolerance machining and an overall quality product. It has good heft, but isn't heavy, and generally fits the hand quite well. Apple boasts that it's 24 percent slimmer than the iPhone 3G S, which may be true, but frankly I almost miss that extra width. The iPhone 4 can feel almost too thin for my admittedly large paws.