I'm not sure how this keeps happening. The first year I waited at a mall for 5 hours to get the original iPhone. The following year my friend Mark Rein convinced me to see a midnight showing of Hellboy II and then wait outside of an AT&T store all night to get the iPhone 3G. You'd think I'd learn by the third year but once more I was in line at the mall hours before the Apple store opened to get the 3GS. This year I thought it would be different. Apple offered free overnight shipping to anyone who wanted to pre-order the iPhone 4. Figuring everyone would go that route I decided to beat the FedEx trucks and just show up at the mall at 6AM. I'd be in and out in a little over an hour, which would give me a head start on battery life testing on Apple's 4th generation iPhone.

I promise that not all of my decisions play out this poorly. Those who pre-ordered the 4 and requested overnight delivery got their phones early and my one hour wait turned into six hours at the mall, for the fourth year in a row.

Apple's iPhone 4 with Bumper Case

It's a self fulfilling prophecy. Steve gets up on stage, proclaims the iPhone 4 to be the biggest introduction since the original iPhone, and the public flocks to Apple stores to fork over $200 on day one and around $2500 over the course of two years for the privilege. But this isn't 2007. Apple has real competitors in the smartphone space. Android phones have grown in features, polish and popularity. Even Palm entered the race with a competant offering, and Microsoft isn't far behind. It's easy to start a revolution when everyone else is doing the wrong thing, but what about when more companies actually get it? Was Steve justified in his excitement over the 4? That's what we're here to find out today.

Straight on it looks like just another iPhone. You get the black face with a shiny trim. From the side it is the redesign that Apple has needed for a while now. It’s not revolutionary but it’s the type of improvement that makes its predecessor feel old. And that’s exactly what this does. Have a look for yourself:

iPhone 4 (left) vs. iPhone 3GS (right)

The straight lines, smaller dimensions and lack of unnecessary bulk make the 3GS feel like a car from the 90s, unnecessarily curvy. The styling is now so much more compact. Compared to the iPhone 3GS the 4 is around 5% narrower (but no more difficult to type on) and nearly 25% thinner. It even makes the Nexus One look dated:

The iPhone 4 is slightly heavier than the 3GS (4.8oz vs. 4.7oz). You feel the added weight but I wouldn't call it heavy. The front and the back of the iPhone 4 are both made out of glass, and they protrude beyond the stainless steel band that wraps around the phone (more on this controversial decision later). While this gives the 4 an amazing finish, it also makes carrying the phone nerve racking. Coupled with the smaller, more dense form factor I’m now deathly afraid of dropping and shattering this thing. Apple has done a lot to reinforce the glass, however there have been enough reports already of shattered iPhone 4s for me not to feel very safe. Only Apple would think to make the two surfaces most likely to hit something out of glass. It's like making mouse traps out of cheese, something bad is bound to happen.

iPhone 4 (left) vs. iPhone 3GS (right)

The physical buttons (but not their layout) have changed on the 4. The ringer switch has shorter travel and feels sturdier as a result. The volume rocker has been replaced by discrete volume up/down buttons, also very sturdy in feel. The power/lock button is also now made out of stainless steel. Only the home button remains unchanged, although it does seem to make a deeper click when you use it.

The speaker moved to behind the right grill at the bottom of the phone instead of the left. The dock connector thankfully remained unchanged. It looks like Apple is committed to maintaining this connector until it makes the jump to something wireless (or optical?).

The back of the phone is pretty. Apple broke with tradition and finally included a single LED flash on the phone. The flash comes on in low light conditions and is enough to take shots in total darkness.

The camera has been upgraded to a low noise 5MP sensor. It can shoot stills at up to 2592 x 1936 or video at 1280 x 720 @ 30 fps. We’ll go into greater detail on its quality in the camera section. The iPhone 4 also adds a front facing camera capable of shooting both photos and video at 640 x 480.

Apple quotes contrast ratio as 1000:1, in our measurements we got very close (952:1). A significant improvement over the 188:1 ratio of the 3GS. Apple achieved this by both dropping black levels and increasing the white levels on the display. Improving both is always fine by me.

Internally the iPhone 4 uses Apple's new A4 SoC, built around an ARM Cortex A8 CPU and a PowerVR SGX GPU. The new SoC is built on a 45nm process and features 512MB of memory on the package. Apple hasn't made CPU clock speed public, but I'm guessing around 800MHz compared to the iPad's 1GHz for reasons you'll see later. GPU clock speed is unknown as well. Having more memory on package is an interesting move by Apple as it makes the iPhone 4 better suited for multitasking compared to the iPad. Also implying that shortly after the iPad gets multitasking it'll be updated to a version with more memory as well.

The iPhone now has an gyroscope as well the rotation sensors of its predecessors. Developers are given full access to the gyroscope making the iPhone 4 capable of becoming a very expensive Wii-mote.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Apple iPhone 3GS HTC EVO 4G (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650) HTC Droid Incredible (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8650) Google Nexus One (Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250)
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 115 mm (4.5") 121.9 mm (4.8") 117.5 mm (4.63") 119 mm (4.7")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 62.1 mm (2.44") 66.0 mm (2.6") 58.5 mm (2.30") 59.8 mm (2.35")
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 12.3 mm (0.48") 12.7 mm (0.5") 11.9 mm (0.47") 11.5 mm (0.45")
Weight 137 g (4.8 oz) 133 g (4.7 oz) 170 g (6.0 oz) 130 g (4.6 oz) 130 g (4.6 oz)
CPU Apple A4 @ ~800MHz Apple/Samsung A3 @ 600MHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz Qualcomm Scorpion @ 1GHz
GPU PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX 535 Adreno 200 Adreno 200 Adreno 200
NAND 16GB or 32GB integrated 16 or 32GB integrated 8GB micro SD 8GB micro SD micro SD
Camera 5MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 3MP 8MP with dual LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8MP with LED Flash 5MP with LED Flash
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 3.5" 320 x 480 4.3" 480 x 800 3.7" 480 x 800 AMOLED 3.7" 480 x 800 AMOLED
Battery Integrated 5.254Whr Integrated 4.51Whr Removable 5.5Whr Removable 4.81 Whr Removable 5.18 Whr

The iPhone 4's logic board shrinks in size thanks to further component integration, making room for a much larger battery. The 5.25Whr battery in the iPhone 4 is a 16% increase from what was in the 3GS, and 95% of what HTC put in the EVO 4G. While raw performance improved, it's clear that Apple's focus this time around was battery life. Again, we'll dive into specifics later in the review.

Moving back outside Apple surrounded the phone with a stainless steel band. This band doubles as the 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth antennas. And if you hadn't noticed, it also moonlights as a giant elephant. Let's talk about it.

The Real Story on iPhone 4's Antenna
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  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    You know, I realized that seconds after writing it and decided that it'd just be too much to go into a detailed explanation. I corrected it to something much simpler ;)

  • zerosomething - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Fantastic article thanks for the in-depth review.

    From the article on page 5. "...iPhone capacity markings have disappeared from the back of the phone - no doubt this was done so Apple could make one part and one part only for each color."

    There is actually a Model number on the back of mine. So there will need to be 4 different backs. However they can make one part for each color for the fronts. In reality they will have to make 2 fronts and 4 backs to cover all capacities and colors which is one more than they had to make for the 3G/GS phones.

    Wow I'm picking such tiny nits in a fantastic article. Guess everything else was so through this one stood out.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    If you already own an iPhone, how is it worth it to upgrade? You said so yourself... tiny text is still tiny. So what are you getting for hundreds of dollars that the 3GS doesnt give?
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    I'm a 3GS owner in Canada (Fido is my provider), so we've had tethering ever since iOS 3.0 launched roughly a year ago. I noticed two small errors in the discussion on tethering, and felt one thing was possibly mischaracterized.

    First, I'd like to give a brief mention of how tethering works with Fido (and other Canadian providers). We've always had data caps on our iPhone data plans. Typically, you get something vaguely like 1GB for $30, but both the 3G and 3GS launches featured limited-time 6GB for $30 offers that are permanently grandfathered.

    Fido/Rogers policy is that all users with a 1GB dataplan or higher get free tethering (this appears to be a permanent position), which uses the same data cap. So, in effect, the vast majority of Canadian iPhone owners have tethering.

    The first error is "With the iOS 4 upgrades the iPhone 4 supports tethering over Bluetooth or USB." Tethering is not new in iOS 4; it's been supported since iOS 3, and tethering support is identical in iOS 4.

    The second error is "You also need to either have Bluetooth enabled or be connected via USB to the computer you wish to tether." Firstly, Bluetooth doesn't need to be enabled before enabling tethering. If you enable tethering while bluetooth is disabled, a prompt appears asking you if you want to enable bluetooth, or just tether over USB. Secondly, not really an error but an important clarification: on Windows, you can only tether via USB with a computer that has the iPhone tethering drivers installed.

    These tethering drivers are bundled with iTunes, and cannot normally be installed separately, but iTunes and the drivers have separate uninstallers in Add/Remove Programs. This means that you can set up, say, a friend's laptop to tether via USB by installing iTunes and then uninstalling iTunes, leaving the drivers behind. Annoying, but workable if bluetooth is unavailable.

    In terms of the mischaracterization, the performance of tethering is called into question. This may be an AT&T networking issue, as I've not experienced the performance issues. Generally, whatever the networking performance my phone is achieving, a tethered computer will also achieve. There is no difference between the two, so any connectivity issues are strictly network-related rather than tethering-related. Performance is generally good; latency is usually 130-150 to a close remote host, and downstream bandwidth is 1-5 Mbps depending on congestion/location. Upstream, since the iPhone 3GS lacks HSUPA, is limited (335Kbps in practical tests), but tends not to vary quite as much as downstream based on signal quality.

    Upstream performance isn't stellar, but it is relatively reliable, if a tad slow. Packetloss is rare if the phone has a good signal. I regularly use tethering to get laptops connected on the road, and remote desktop over a tethered connection is very snappy, and is amazingly faster than on-device RDP.
  • Mike1111 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    "Even if you just cover the camera it’s actually better to make calls over FaceTime than 3G based on the sound quality alone."

    Cover the camera? Why? Just press Home and you have a traditional voice-only VoIP call with reduced bandwidth.

    Also I would like to see some comparison to the competition. Video calling on phones exists for quite some time. How about a comparison of video and voice quality?

    And in regard to the bandwidth requirements, would it have been realistic to allow FaceTime over 3G?

    You also mention that the compression is too high for text, is that because of a bad compression algorithm or codec, too low resolution or bandwidth? Is that something that realistically could have been done better?
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    Does returning to the home screen actually kill the camera? That would be annoying if you only wanted to look at your calendar or something else on the phone while in a video call.
  • Mike1111 - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    As with a normal (cellular) call you can always resume the video by tapping on the green status bar (call active...).
  • Oyeve - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    How is the sound quality? Is there an EQ (missing from all things "i")
  • bkman - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    An interesting review but flawed by bad metrics. The authors confuse absolute power measurement, dBm, with relative power measurement, dB. For example, a signal strength drop from -51dBm to -83dBm is not a drop of 24dBm, it is a drop of 24dB.
  • hgoor - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Hi, I loved the review: really (and mean really) thorough! Thanks for that.

    However: unless I blacked out while reading and missed it: what about the noise canceling microphone? How does that work? I guess it's not that noticeable as you only mention it one time?

    I'm very curious to find out if it's a feature that helps? Also: I wonder if it can be used for listening to music? I have an expensive pair of headphones from Sennheiser, but I wonder if it can be used (in the future?) to help listen to music (and on/or on the phone) when you have a lot of ambient noise?

    Would be nice if you could clear that up. Also: I wonder how the iPhone 4 holds up against the new Samsung 1ghz powerhouse?

    Keep up the good work!

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