Apple iPhone 4 Garners Praise from Journal, Times

 
 
By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2010-06-24
 
 
 

In the final days before the Apple iPhone 4 made its official June 24 debut, The New York Times' tech critic David Pogue and the Wall Street Journal's Walter S. Mossberg tested and weighed in on Apple's newest smartphone.

The verdict, perhaps not surprisingly, is that it's gorgeous, feature-rich, tied to a still-occasionally-wonky network and not without a few small annoyances for tech critics to point out. Anyone hoping that the iPhone 4 could levitate, call home and achieve stupendous battery life will be disappointed; those wanting Apple to address what ailed the 3G S while raising the technology-meets-design bar in the way Apple singularly excels at, will want to put in a pre-order now.

Mossberg starts by pointing out a fact that is easy to forget: "Just three years ago, Apple wasn't in the mobile-phone business at all." Yet, once again it's managed to create a smartphone that all new HTC, Motorola and Android-running comers will be measured against.

In the hand, say the critics, the iPhone 4 is like owning a good watch, with Mossberg describing it as a "fine possession" and Pogue calling it "solid and Lexus-like." It's 24 percent thinner than the iPhone 3G S, with front and back glass panels connected by a stainless steel band - that also acts as an antenna.

(iFixit, in its June 23 teardown, notes the glass is Corning Gorilla Glass, which is "20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic.")

Compared to its predecessor, the iPhone 4 features a crisper display, a longer-lasting battery, a faster processor and an improved 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash. For five bucks, both noted, one can pair it with an iMovie app and actually whole-hog edit video, add music and whatnot and post the creation online - no doubt an indie genre in the making.

And then there's iOS4, Apple's updated operating system, which allows users to group similar apps into folders, view messages as threaded conversations, send multiple email accounts to a single inbox and enjoy limited multitasking capabilities.

"Limited" multitasking means, Pogue explains, "Internet radio can keep playing, and GPS apps can keep updating while you work in other programs. Other apps go into suspended animation when you switch out of them. They use no power and cost you no speed, but you don't have to wait for them to start up when you return to them."

An app-switcher bar, with all recently used apps, appears at the bottom of the screen when it's double-tapped, enabling users to go directly to an app instead of routing through the home screen.

The reason for this is that having tons of open and running apps would slaughter the battery. Mossberg points out that for some apps, such as Twitter and Facebook, this arrangement is effective - but it's still not true multitasking.

"For many scenarios, such as games, Apple's version of multitasking is really just fast switching among open apps that save their place," Mossberg wrote. "And, even to achieve this, the apps must be updated. For some users, this limited version of multitasking will be a disappointment."

Both critics, however, were smitten with the iPhone 4's video-calling feature, FaceTime, which is paired with the phone's front-facing camera.

Pogue notes that the iPhone 4 is hardly the first phone with two cameras or the ability to make video calls. "But the iPhone 4 is the first phone to make good video calls, reliably, with no sign-up or setup, with a single tap," Pogue wrote. "The picture and audio are rock solid, with very little delay, and it works the first time and every time."

For now, FaceTime can only be used over WiFi for conferencing with other iPhone 4 owners, but this is expected to change. "Apple says it is making the technology free to others and hopes to have millions of compatible devices," Mossberg wrote. Pogue added that Apple has implied that next year, when AT&T is more up to the challenge, FaceTime will also work over cellular airwaves.

 As for making phone calls - which seems to be the very least that such a feature-rich device should do, but has nonetheless been a thing the iPhone 3G S often did least well - things are looking up. Sort of.  

Pogue found that sound quality is much better on both ends, and wrote that the phone is better at choosing the best channel to connect to, even if means displaying fewer bars.

"Does this mean no more dropped calls in New York and San Francisco? No. But there do seem to be fewer of them," wrote Pogue.

Mossberg went so far as to write, "The most important downside of the iPhone 4 is that, in the U.S., it's shackled to AT&T, which not only still operates a network that has trouble connecting and maintaining calls in many cities, but now has abandoned unlimited, flat-rate data plans. Apple needs a second network."

In conclusion, says Pogue, "If what you care about ... is size and shape, beauty and battery life, polish and pleasure, then the iPhone 4 is calling your name."

And even Mossberg - while suggesting that, if call quality is important to you, you may want to carry a second phone on a different network - offered the ultimate praise, calling the iPhone 4 still "the best device in its class." 

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