Apple iPhone 4 review

What Mobile
July 28, 2010

As of today, Apple has shifted over 3 million since it went on sale at the end of June. That’s not to be sniffed at. Most were upgrades too. Should you be joining the iPhone 4 club?

The latest iPhone hits the market with a few points to prove. The fact that Apple only releases one model a year means it risks being overtaken in some features by rivals who release several steadily better handsets over those 12 months. Witness the progression HTC has made with its Android smartphones since the iPhone 3GS was made last summer.

iPhone 4 sees Apple striking back, not least because it corrects some of the flaws of its predecessor. The battery life is significantly improved, the camera is much better – with an LED flash – and its A4 processor means it can go toe to toe with its most powerful rivals. For these reasons alone, if you’re an existing iPhone owner and eligible for an upgrade, it’s a must-buy.

Screen dream

Few people had grumbled about the quality of the 3GS screen, but iPhone 4’s new Retina Display is a huge leap on. Apple has been waxing lyrical about its pixel density of 326 pixels per inch and 800:1 contrast ratio, but to boil it down beyond the tech specs: it’s beautifully sharp, whether you’re reading e-books, playing games or browsing through your photos.

iPhone 4’s camera is still playing catch-up with some rivals when it comes to megapixels – it boasts a five-megapixel sensor – but the software around it makes the device excellent for taking photos. It performs much better than the 3GS in low-lighting conditions too, while the new front-facing camera is fine for quick self-portraits.

HD video recording is another big selling point for the iPhone 4 – and another feature that’s already been seen in rival devices. Apple has released an app version of its iMovie video editing software purely for iPhone 4, which makes it easy to turn your video clips into small-screen epics – complete with background music filched from your iPod collection.

Face Off

That front camera is the key to one of iPhone 4’s big new features: FaceTime. It’s essentially video calls, but over Wi-Fi only, to other iPhone 4 handsets. That means it will be a niche for now, since you can’t use it when not logged on to a hotspot, or to call anyone who’s not packing an iPhone 4 themselves.

However, in the long-term, FaceTime could be more important. Apple is encouraging other device makers to use the technology, and it’s reasonable to assume that at some point it will make its way into iPad – or at least iPad 2, if that device gets a front-facing camera – and perhaps desktop applications too. The quality of FaceTime calls is excellent though: a big step on from 3G videocalls.

iPhone 4’s hardware design has been another big talking point. It looks great: slimmer than the iPhone 3GS, with tough glass on the front and back, and a stainless-steel band running around the edge. That band doubles as the handset’s antenna, complete with a second microphone on top for noise cancellation. The quality on voice calls is noticeably better – at least according to the people we called.

Signal failure

However, that antenna has already sparked controversy, with first-day buyers reporting that the reception quality dropped when they held the iPhone 4 in their hands. We were able to recreate the effect, although only by trying. Whether you suffer will depend on how you hold the device (and in which hand).

A key point is that if the iPhone 4 is housed in a case – or one of Apple’s official ‘bumper’ peripherals – the problem is removed, since it relates to your fingers touching the antenna. Many people will be outraged at having to buy a £25 accessory to make their Phone 4 work properly, but many others will shrug their shoulders since they planned to get a case or bumper anyway. Update: Since this review was published, Apple has offered full refunds for the bumper casings and offered them free with every iPhone 4.

iPhone 4 ships with the new iOS 4 software, which is also available for the iPhone 3G and 3GS handsets. Features like multi-tasking, folders for apps, homescreen wallpapers, and a unified inbox with threaded emails are hugely welcome. It’s also worth noting that over the course of the next few months, more apps will be released that make specific use of iPhone 4 features like its gyroscope and the FaceTime API.


The iPhone 4 is an impressive advance on the iPhone 3GS, and won’t disappoint existing Apple owners looking for an upgrade. The hardware competes well with rivals, even if multitasking is a bit of a bodge. Apple’s trump card remains the App Store and its huge community of developers who will be making apps to take full advantage of a screen that has to be seen to be believed. After a year when Apple’s rivals stepped up with some impressive handsets of their own, iPhone 4 has hit back as top dog in the smartphone world – for now at least.

Ratings (out of 5)

Performance: 4
Features: 5
Usability: 5

Overall: 5

Note from the Editor: Since our review was published in the August issue of What Mobile, Apple has admitted the signal issue and stated that it will provide a free bumper for every iPhone 4 customer (as well as refunding those who already purchased one). We’ve taken the decision to keep our rating, despite the known flaw, on the basis that people are made aware of it and consider that before purchasing. If you would be happy to use a case of some sort, whether the Apple bumper or one of the many other third-party casings and skins, we would still recommend the iPhone 4 for its sheer power and user experience.

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