They say the 3rd times the charm. But when it comes to the new iPhone, version 4 is much more charming. Between the terrific dual cameras, the zippy performance, and the luscious Retina Display, we were quickly absorbed in photography, games, web-browsing, and loads more. It’s truly a dramatic leap forward from the not-shabby-at-all iPhone 3GS.
With so many meaty new features, it’s hard to play favorites, but after a couple weeks of use, the dual cameras emerged as the iPhone 4’s biggest upgrade. The rear camera gives you 5-megapixel still photos and 720p video, and our test shots produced impressive results. That’s in part because Apple began using a back-illuminated sensor in the iPhone 4’s camera, which is techno-jargon for a more sensitive, er, sensor that lets you capture remarkably crisp, detailed shots in even low-light settings. In fact, the new LED flash really only trips for fairly dark scenes--and you’ll want to do your best to avoid using it because its harshness often washes out a lot of detail. When shooting video, the main thing to remember is there’s no stabilizer, so if you get jiggly with it, you’re in for some seriously shaky footage. But the overall quality of photos and video is fantastic--so much so that I stopped carrying around my now-redundant point-n-shoot.
But that’s just half the story. The front camera is 640x480 VGA quality (or roughly 0.3 megapixels), so it works decently for those casual self-portrait moments. But where it really struts its stuff is during FaceTime calls. Once you enable these video phone calls in the Settings menu, they “just work” in that effortless Apple way. True, FaceTime calls are only possible over Wi-Fi, but that wasn’t a problem as we mostly used this feature at home with family (where Wi-Fi is always available). In that setting, we particularly loved the ability to switch to using the rear camera to show off, for example, the antics of our kids for the loved ones on the other end of the line. We did make a few business calls with FaceTime, including one cross-country conversation to New York, and video calls always performed smoothly for us, though the picture sometimes gets blurry. Still, it’s downright awkward to stare at a colleague or someone you’ve never met before during a call. But that’s not Apple’s fault--it’s just a cultural truth of the moment.
When it comes to horsepower, the iPhone 4’s A4 processor and 512MB RAM make it feel speedy and agile. That impression was backed up in our lab, where it sailed through our tests, posting performance gains of 164 percent over a 3G running iOS 4 and 34 percent over a 3GS running iOS 4 in the benchmarking app Geekbench 2. That power is put to excellent use with iOS 4, which delivers great new features like multitasking, folders, a unified email inbox, Bluetooth keyboard support, and loads more.
And oh yes, etter yet, the new Retina Display: one of the sharpest-looking we’ve ever seen, and at 326 pixels per inch, it should be. The 3.5-inch screen is the same size as the 3GS’s but packs in four times as many pixels. Yeah bright sunlight may wash out some of the beauty, the display is much more clear, detailed, and just plain pretty than anything you’ve seen on a mobile device before. All told, Apple did it, again! Fourth time IS charm.