iPhone 4 Review - A Mom's Perspective

As has been previously established, I'm a geek, a nerd. To earn one of the Geek Badges, you absolutely have to have a new technology toy tool on the day it's released. It's just a requirement. Waiting in line for more than two hours gets you the gold hashmark annotation for your badge. Alas, I won't be getting that golden hashmark, but I gots me the New Tech Geek Badge.

I pre-ordered a new iPhone 4 for myself from my friendly neighborhood AT&T store. I wasn't optimistic about receiving it yesterday, but I stopped in at 9 AM on my way home from camp drop-offs, and they said it was "in shipping." Later in the afternoon it had "in shipped" right to the store and I dashed in to pick it up. There was no line-waiting required. I walked right up to the AT&T guy who had originally taken my order and had called me (to be fair, I told him I'd be right over and only had 25 mins, so he was sort of waiting for me, I think? Not complaining, as it might have appeared I was line-jumping, but it was no Jason Batemen line-jump. I was CALLED. The guy was WAITING for me to get there.)

First impressions:

It's gorgeous. This is no surprise, those Apple Folk know design. It feels as heavy as the iPhone 3G (not the 3GS, I was such a technology red-headed stepchild that I didn't have the most recent generation, I was one removed. Let's not mention that DH is using my hand-me-down first gen, shall we? I'll be procuring his upgrade soon.) It feels as heavy as the 3G, yet it's a good 25% thinner (z-axis) and a little bit skinnier (x-axis.) The result is that you have no doubt that you're holding a DEVICE. It feels very substantial in your hand. 

It doesn't have the soft dove-bar like corners and edges, instead it's a rounded-off rectangle. Reminds me of the difference between cutting slices off a roll of cookie dough (the new phone) versus plopping down a blob. Not that the 3G is a blob, of course, but it really gives the new phone a different appearance.

In addition to the cookie-roll cut, it also doesn't have the silver bevel my 3G has. the screen runs edge-to-edge, further enhancing the cut glass look of it. It's really spectacular, I might just have to run away and marry this phone. Sorry honey. It's a very manly design, I think.

my old and new phones side-by-side

On to actual features:

The iOS4 was released a few nights ago, which I had already downloaded to my 3G, so I was familiar with some of the features. One of the silliest is that the "dock" of apps at the bottom of the screen now has a cool reflection-effect, so it looks like they're tiles standing upright on an infinity pool edge. But that's just look (but it also goes to the whole point that them Apple Folk know design. It just looks pretty.)

One of the biggest enhancements is being able to multi-task. It's not unique to the iPhone4, since the new OS is available for other iPhone customers, and I haven't really looked into that so I won't comment further, but this was on pretty much every iPhone user's wishlist.

They also have introduced foldering for apps. This works on the old phone as well as new, but in typical Apple fashion, they've pre-anticipated how you'd like to do this, and it's not a geek-way like "File - New Folder...name folder, fill folder, etc." Instead, you press and hold on one of your apps that you'd like to bundle with another. You get that wiggly dancing app icon thing. You drag App A onto App B. A folder is created. You must now immediately make your naming decision (keep the default name - it came up with "Games" when I put checkers on top of chess, and "Books" when I put the B&N ereader on top of Classics, a freeware reader for public-domain titles. Not bad.) You can't put a third app into the folder until you've decided what you're calling the folder.

The interface to then access the folder is great - I was fearing a nesting screen-page-turning thing that would be difficult to travel down into and then back out of, but instead, when you select one of these folders, the screen darkens, and the contents of the folder come up in a dialog-like pop-over, complete with a little carrot to show you which folder you're looking at. Works for me. 

The other killer app of the new phone (in my book) is the Facetime video calling, which I'll have to address in a separate post after my friends catch up with my light-speed technology adoption curve. (Read as: I haven't found anyone else who is available who has the new phone and can test this feature out with me. Haven't gotten DH's upgrade yet. Our primary use case for Facetime is for DH to be able to videocall with the kids when he's out of town. Can't wait. More on this soon.)

The new camera is splendid. You probably already know that there are actually TWO cameras, one on the back of the camera like before (with a flash which is very easy to change to auto, on, or off using a small button in the upper left corner that's done in outline form so you can still see the picture you're trying to capture.)

The cool new thing is the forward-facing camera. Man is my face getting OLD looking. I mean, oh how nifty! The kids thought this was fantastic, and this is the way facetime will work (since only a back-facing camera would require contortions of epic proportions.) This front-facing camera does not have the flash, you've been warned.

The camera is significantly upgraded from the 3G. I am now in a new state of hard-drive-space-panic, since I am a somewhat prolific phone-photo-taker. When I went to email a photo I had taken this morning, the interface helpfully informed me the filesize was 1.2M (or something like that) and offered me the option to compress the file to a small, medium, or large size. This is where Apple just gets it. A standard user does not want/need/care/even know about the need to go to another app, look at the picture, save it as a jpg, select a lower-quality compression, etc. etc. Who has time for that baloney anyway? We're busy moms (I maintain that the iPhone was invented by a mom for use by moms to keep us from losing our cotton-picking minds on a daily basis.)

So excellent step on this option to compress as I'm emailing, I'm sure my email recipients will be pleased as well.

I tried it out in our very ancient Bose sounddock (a 1st gen iPod dock.) As expected, it will not charge my iPhone 4. It wouldn't charge my iPhone 3G either. It only charges the 1st gen old iPod brick we have and the 1st gen iPhone. This is fine, though, because of course I use the Bose not for its charging abilities but for the superior sound quality. One thing I noticed (might be true of the iOS4, not specific to the iPhone 4, don't know) is that the error messages that tell me that this device will not charge on this dock were clearer, and included only the "Dismiss" button. Previously, I'd get the "this dock will not charge this device and might get interference, do you want to turn on Airplane Mode?" which if you're rushing and not paying attention (who does that?) you might not notice and might hit the wrong button and then might miss that important call from the doctor's office that you've only been waiting for ALL AFTERNOON. Not that I'd know what that was like.

So the clearer error messages for unsupported docks/accessories was appreciated, thanks Apple Folk. 

The sound was lovely. However, I ran side-by-side tests with the 3G and the iPhone 4 both undocked (ironically enough, playing the REM song "Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight") and I think the iPhone 3G has a little edge over the iPhone 4 in sound quality. I felt the iPhone 4 was a teensy bit tinnier, more of a machine-speaker sound, less roundness to the sound. But I'm very much not an audio snob so I really don't know what I'm talking about, and the difference was small. Just thought I'd mention it. If you are an audio snob, you might want to look up the speaker specs on the iPhone 4 as I think they've changed the design (they probably had to in order to accommodate that nifty wraparound aluminum antenna. Which you can see that and all kinds of other iPhone 4 nakedness on the ifixit's teardown of the iPhone 4, which is really cool.)

The email handling that was part of the iOS4 upgrade is a significant improvement in how I manage my life, because I regularly read three email inboxes (an ISP one, a gmail account, and a hotmail account.) It's always been a bit of a chore in the 3G to have to delve into an account, then an inbox to get to my messages. The new interface for mail includes a unified inbox, but then also the same account breakdowns so I can zoom in and just read the slush messages for the online magazine I am a staff editor for, or dig just in the email box that I use for "work"ish kinds of things. Or just the one where I send all the email solicitations from gap and amazon and such.

Did I mention the crazy bright screen yet? I wish I could photograph the difference, because it's REMARKABLE. I played photos from my photo library on my 3G next to the same photos from the same library on the iPhone 4. Holy crapola. The 3G was like looking through a gray overwash. The colors were duller, the lights less bright. And I've always thought the pictures looked GREAT on the 3G! The new Retina screen or whatever fancy name they came up with has moved the goal posts on screen resolution, yet again. The pictures, all of which were shot with the crappier 3G camera, were astonishingly different looking. The sky was bluer, the greens greener, everything brighter and clearer. Unbelievable. I haven't watched a movie on the new phone yet but I can't wait!

With the unbelievably crisp and bright screen also comes an unbelievably smooth and shiny surface on both front and back, which I am now completely terrified about scratching. It's so pristine, so beautiful. Off to hunt (through one of those amazon emails...) for iPhone 4 cases (the AT&T store had a few models that looked good, but I do love me the marware brand and want to see what they've come up with for the new phone.)

Meanwhile, the biggest downside to the pretty new phone? I now expect everything else in my life to work nicely, give me a crazy-clear view, and be beautiful to see and touch.

Oh, and by the way, the phone handles calls just fine. Kind of funny that here I am 1700 words into a cell phone review, wrapping it up, and only just thought about commenting on the actual phone feature. Ah, well, we're not in Kansas anymore, ladies and gentlemen. And as a sci-fi writer, I have to tell you, that's pretty cool.



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