Friday, July 9, 2010

Apple's iPhone 4 Lives Up to All Expectations

The Apple iPhone 4 ($199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB version, with a two-year contract from AT&T) is everything that a new piece of technology should be: It's innovative, attractive, and ahead of its competition. In comparison, previous iPhone upgrades seem inconsequential--that's how much iPhone 4 brings to the table. But one serious design flaw keeps it from being perfect.

Gorgeous Display
Of course, the iPhone 4 isn't just about cosmetic enhancements, pleasing as they are. What makes this phone such a technological improvement is what's inside the handset.

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch display. But the new phone's screen doubles the resolution to a 960-by-640-pixel IPS display. At 326 pixels per inch, this is the highest resolution available on a phone to date.

That display truly makes a difference. Whereas the iPhone 3GS's text--in the menus, in apps, or on Web pages--appears thick, fuzzy, and undefined, the iPhone 4's text is razor sharp, even when enlarged (as we tried doing when viewing a PDF).

The new "Retina display"--so named because it surpasses the number of pixels that the human retina can process--also greatly improves the sharpness, clarity, and visible detail of images.

In both cases, we'd liken the magnitude of difference to that between a standard-definition 480p DVD and a high-definition 1080p Blu-ray Disc: When you view both on an HDTV, the differences are striking. And once you see them, you can't go back.

The real value of the new display will become evident for people who spend time reading on the iPhone 4. We expect that the display will make reading a more pleasurable experience (although, clearly, limits will remain given the inherently modest screen size--modest, at least, as compared with handsets such as the HTC EVO 4G, which has a 4.3-inch screen, and with the much larger 9.7-inch iPad screen).

iOS 4: Best Features
The iPhone 4 uses Apple's A4 CPU, the same processor powering the Apple iPad. It runs the newly renamed iOS 4 operating system (which the iPad will also use, starting in the fall).

As part of iOS 4, the iPhone 4 gains a bevy of capabilities. One of them--multitasking--is long overdue, but as with the long-awaited cut-and-paste feature, Apple delivers on the promise of making multitasking work smoothly.

You quickly double-tap on the home button to pull up a pane that shows which apps are open. From there, you can swipe horizontally through the apps that the iPhone 4 has retained in either a running or suspended state.

When you find the app you want, you just click on the icon. The app will then resume its activity, and, if written to take advantage of this new feature, it will pick up precisely where you left off. At the very least, reaccessing the app will be faster.

Equally as elegant as multitasking is Apple's implementation of Folders, an increasingly necessary addition. To add icons into a folder, you simply drag one icon on top of another to create the folder, which automatically gets the name of the category those apps share--or, if you prefer, you can rename the folder on the spot. You can pack a maximum of 12 apps within a single folder (giving you three rows of four apps across the home screen). And, thanks to the addition of Folders, you can now add up to a maximum of 2160 apps.

iPhone 4: Worth the Upgrade?
The iPhone 4 is a must-have for anyone with an original iPhone or iPhone 3G (the former won't get the iOS 4 upgrade at all, while the 3G won't support some features). And people who have an iPhone 3GS will find this a worthy upgrade, too.

Unlike the previous jump, from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS--which focused on slight performance improvements--the iPhone 4 bolsters the hardware's digital imaging capabilities and its display, making it a comprehensive and measurable upgrade over its predecessor.

But the iPhone 4 isn't the only hot phone this summer--some enticing Android-powered smartphones are out there, as well. If you're fed up with AT&T's service issues or want to try something beyond the Apple universe, check out the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint, the Motorola Droid X on Verizon, and the Samsung Galaxy S phones coming to all four major carriers.


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