The First iPhone 4 Reviews: Spoilers Ahead!

By  |  Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 6:17 pm

It must be Apple Product Release Week–the first reviews of the iPhone 4 are out, shortly before the first consumers get their mitts on the thing. As usual, these reviews are from a handful of writers for big-name traditional media outlets and blogs–the ones that Apple provided with pre-release access to the product. And as usual, the iPhone 4 has already been discussed so widely, in such detail–sometimes by people who got a bit of hands on time with one at Apple’s launch event–that the likelihood of any astonishing revelations in these reviews was always low.

All the reviewers think the iPhone 4 is outstanding; all of them point out limitations such as FaceTime’s Wi-Fi-only functionality; all detail the major features which we already knew about. But they all share at least one or two non-obvious thoughts or two based on real hands-on experience.

If you don’t like spoilers, go off and read the reviews in their entirety before proceeding with this post. If  you are okay with spoilers, read on–and then read the full reviews anyhow. I recommend them all…

Walt Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal, “New iPhone Keeps Apple Top of Class

But, in my tests, network reception was a mixed bag. Compared with the previous model, the new iPhone dropped marginally fewer calls made in my car, both in Washington and in Boston, and was much louder and clearer over my car’s built-in Bluetooth speaker-phone system.

Yet, in some places where the signal was relatively weak, the iPhone 4 showed no bars, or fewer bars than its predecessor. Apple says that this is a bug it plans to fix, and that it has to do with the way the bars are presented, not the actual ability to make a call. And, in fact, in nearly all of these cases, the iPhone 4 was able to place calls despite the lack of bars.

However, on at least six occasions during my tests, the new iPhone was either reporting “no service” or searching for a network while the old one, held in my other hand, was showing at least a couple of bars. Neither Apple nor AT&T could explain this. The iPhone 4 quickly recovered in these situations, showing service after a few seconds, but it was still troubling.

David Pogue, The New York Times, “New iPhone Arrives; Rivals, Beware

Sound is much better on both ends of the call, thanks in part to a noise-canceling microphone and an improved audio chamber (which also helps speakerphone and music sound). The stainless-steel edge band is now part of the antenna. The new phone is also better at choosing the best channel for connecting with the cell tower, even if’s not technically the strongest one. (Ever had four bars, but a miserable connection? Then you get it.)

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

Ed Baig, USA Today, “Apple Makes All the Right Calls on iPhone 4

I was impressed with the quality and ease of FaceTime calling, though the experience seems to depend on a strong Wi-Fi connection. I encountered momentary hiccups talking with a caller in Europe and on calls in which I was on the edge of decent Wi-Fi.

Josh Topolsky, Engadget, “iPhone 4 Review

Well in our testing, we had far, far fewer dropped calls than we experienced on our 3GS…It wasn’t perfect, and we had some connection issues in downtown New York City in particular, though it’s tough to say if it was the fault of our phone, the cluster of buildings we were near, or the person we were speaking to, who was on a 3GS in the same location.

The first time we took a call on the device we were walking down New York’s extremely noisy Fifth Avenue, and right away it was obvious that the secondary, noise-canceling mic was doing some heavy lifting, at least on the other end of the lineAs far as the speakerphone goes, it gets loud without distorting or producing cutting midrange, a problem we’ve noticed on quite a few recent phones.

We were a little surprised by the fact that you can only mute the audio on your [FaceTime] calls; if you want the video off, you need to cover the lens in the old fashioned way — with your hands.

The battery life on the iPhone 4 has been outstanding thus far, exceeding our expectations for longevity during testing. We’ve only had a short time to use the phone, but in the week or so we’ve been carrying the device as our main phone, we’ve had pretty amazing results under normal to heavy use. In fact, we managed to squeeze more than 38 hours — yes, 38 hours — of life out of a single charge using the phone as we normally would.

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing, “Apple iPhone 4: Hands-on Review

With light use, but with 3G data and WiFi turned on the whole time, I got a full 4 days of battery life. With very heavy video recording and playback, instant messaging, email and data tethering over 3G, I got a full day of battery life. I didn’t have enough time before this review to do careful benchmark testing against Apple’s claims, so I can’t provide specific percentages, but it felt like the battery life was a good 20-25% meatier.

Standing in one familiar trouble spot that used to drive me crazy, I often had one or two “signal strength” bars on the first-gen iPhone, maybe one or two more bars on the 3GS, and 4 or 5 bars on iPhone 4.

Bottom line: I think the engineering is better. But issues of call quality and dropped calls will not be completely gone with this improved device. As we’re now four hardware iterations in, I believe that has everything, or nearly everything, to do with the carrier.

And on the iPhone 4 hardware itself, speed and sensitivity with [the camera] on the iPhone 4 itself become nothing short of stunning. I experienced far fewer “lost moments,” those dead shots that happen when you’ve tried to grab just the right instant, and instead you end up with a photo of several instants after the right instant. I brought my iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 to the Venice Beach skate park, to take shots of fast-moving skaters in those magical aerial moments, just before a swan-dive into the belly of the bowl. With earlier iPhones, man, just forget it…But with iPhone 4, I was able to tap-tap-tap in rapid succession, or tap once at just the right instant, and bring home some real trophy jpegs.

[Tethering] worked flawlessly over Bluetooth, using AT&T’s 3G, when the cable modem and wireless network in my office happened to be down for a while. What more do you want? It worked when I wanted it to work.

I don’t expect to take possession of an iPhone 4 until Thursday morning, when I’ll pick one up at my local Apple Store (and blog about the experience). If you ordered one for delivery, you may beat me to the punch. Let’s exchange our own notes once we’ve spent some time with the beast.


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. shawn Says:

    as someone who, i assume, saw the ebb and flow of at least the 3gs, if not the 3g, release[s], how would you compare this gushing to previous iterations?

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    I haven’t gone back and checked, but these are really favorable reviews. The consensus has always been positive, but the 3GS and 3G were more incremental in their improvements…


  3. KazikM Says:

    Does anybody know where iPhone 4 is made? I want to add it to my “made in where?” website – – but can’t find any info about its origin. Is it China (and Foxconn) as usual?

  4. Paul Judd Says:

    Yes, near as I can tell FoxConn builds the iPhones.

  5. Ryan Says:

    At least you can *get* yours on Thursday… There’s still no news on a release date for Canada. GRRR.

  6. Shawn Says:

    Typing this on my 4, and loving it vs. the 3G.

    Btw, hope my comment didn’t sound critical of your coverage, Harry…I was trying to see if you thought the 4 comments were even better than the 3G/3GS reviews.

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  1. Advanced Technology Blog » Mossberg on iPhone Reception Says:

    […] Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg–who was the only early iPhone 4 reviewer to bring up reception as a potential problem–has written about his experiences after having used the phone for a […]