Our Official Apple iPhone 4 Review

You've heard the hype. You may even have seen the hordes of fans who queued round the block the night before it was launched, just to get their hands on one. So what exactly is the all the fuss about the new iPhone 4?

Apple's new wonder gadget landed on 24 June, after various sneak previews and sightings on the internet – including the legal fuss when an iPhone 4 was lost by an Apple engineer on a drunken night out, only to turn up on the pages of tech blog Gizmodo.

Now that I've got my hands on one, the new handset confirms most of that speculation. It boasts a much higher spec than its predecessors.

It also addresses one the biggest criticisms of Apple's previous smartphones by including multi-tasking - the ability to run more than one application at once. But instead of babbling on, I'll get straight to the review.

Design

From the moment I opened the box, it was obvious that Apple had taken a small but significant leap in terms of style. Gone are the smooth curves of previous iPhones, replaced with steel and edge-to-edge glass that Apple claims is 30 times tougher than plastic. Only time will tell if that will translate into fewer broken screens.

The outer metallic trim integrates the phone's antenna – something that Apple claimed would improve its performance – though a flurry of complaints from users disappointed by dropped connections and poor reception has thrown that into question. Overall, the look is decidedly more macho. With an air of industrial chic, the iPhone 4 is definitely now more of a man phone.

The controls are largely the same as earlier iPhones: a vibrate switch, volume controls, on/off button, and beneath the screen, the home button, which feels now feels 'clickier'.

As before, at the bottom of the phone you'll find the microphone, speaker and the dock connector. A new addition is a second microphone located next to the headphone jack, designed for noise cancellation, which in theory means better sound quality.

The new front-facing camera blends in nicely, and is located to the left of the speaker grill. Flip the phone over, and you'll see more geek eye candy: the iPhone 4's main camera, accompanied by an LED flash and the shiny Apple logo.

The phone's SIM card slot is now placed on the right-hand side of the phone, and uses a microSIM to save space. This means you'll have to get a new SIM if you want this phone – or take matters into your own hands (as we did) and cut down your existing SIM with a pair of scissors. It's a tricky business, but it works – though you do so entirely at your own risk.

All in all it’s a much slicker phone than the iPhone 3GS it replaces. The 3GS was criticised for being largely identical to its predecessor, the 3G. Apple has clearly learned its lesson, as the iPhone 4 is a genuine departure. Take one of these out in company, and you'll have good reason to show off.

Display

Switch the phone on and the view is mouth-watering. The 3.5in screen has a high 960x640-pixel resolution, providing greater detail. It also has an improved contrast ratio of 800:1, making it super-bright, and faithfully reproducing the highlights and shadows in images. Specs can't ever tall the full story, though. The proof comes from actually using the thing, and in my opinion, the iPhone 4’s display is the best I've seen. With so many pixels being packed in, text looks almost as good as a printed page – giving some weight to Apple's claims for its new “Retina Display”.

The higher pixel density has had a dramatic effect on icons and text. From writing an email all the way to the simple things such as looking at the menu’s and icons, everything looks crisp. There's so much detail here that, depending on your eyesight, you can read a whole web page without zooming in.

Something that’s often criticised about touchscreen phones is the amount of grease and fingerprints that accumulate on the screen. As with earlier iPhones, Apple has used an 'oleophobic' (oil-resistant) coating on the iPhone 4's screen that is meant to smudges. I'm still not impressed, and I still found myself wiping my phone on my shirt – though not as much as I used to. Maybe my shirts are just cleaner.

Camera

When showing off a previous iPhone to another Smartphone user, you might typically have shied away from mentioning the camera. Now you can puff out your chest with pride. There's no groundbreaking change in the main camera – it's just better quality. With five-megapixel resolution, images are crisper than those from the 3G and 3GS. Five megapixels might not sound much when compared to today's digital cameras, but Apple has opted for the “it's not just megapixels” approach, and included a backlight sensor for better results in low light. Colours and detail are more accurate, too. Again, it's a cut above most other Smartphones.

The LED flash is a nice addition for indoor and night-time shots, though you need to be careful about how you use it. I found most of my photos were either bleached out by the flash or under-exposed. I’ll still stick to my point and shoot. Still, the flash does double as a handy torch!

The iPhone 4's camera application also offers 5x digital zoom, though it simply blows up the image electronically without adding any extra detail – and you can do that with an image editing program. The camera also captures HD video at 30 frames a second. I found the results were pretty much on a level with handheld HD camcorders like the Flip Mino - smooth and accurate. A definite bonus for a built-in feature on a phone. The one down side is that you'll need a steady hand to get good results as there's no image stabilisation.

Back on the screen side of the phone, there's another front-facing camera. This is Apple's attempt to move kickstart video calling on the iPhone. It uses Apple's new built-in Facetime software, which is currently only available for the iPhone 4. Tapping the Facetime button during a call launches the front-facing camera, allowing you chat face to face with the person at the other end.

At the moment, Facetime will only work when your iPhone is connected via a WiFi network. 3G just doesn't have the bandwidth to send smooth video – so Facetime's popularity, at least for now, is likely to be limited. Still, it's early days. I may soon have to eat my words. Quality varies depending on your broadband connection speed, but on an average broadband connection I was able to obtain a clear video chat.

Performance

I'll leave some of the technical specs for someone else to bore you with. Essentially Apple has crammed into the iPhone 4 the same A4 processer that is used in its bigger cousin, the iPad. The chip has a clock speed of 1GHz, and it's backed up by 512MB of RAM - double that of either the iPad or the iPhone 3GS. That combination is more than powerful enough to open applications, navigate through menus and type with the on-screen the keyboard without an annoying time lag.

Call quality is a big improvement on previous iPhones, with all praise going to the second microphone. I called my mother from the back of a car with the windows open, and she couldn't hear any traffic noise or wind rush. The speaker seems louder than earlier versions, too.

One major criticism levelled at previous iPhones was poor battery life. In testing, I found the iPhone 4's battery lasts around 12 hours in normal use – that's about 30 per cent longer than the iPhone 3G. Downloading a few emails, instant messaging, browsing the internet and making calls over 8 hours, I found the iPhone 4’s battery had dropped by just eight per cent – a big improvement over its predecessor.

Summary

So should you buy one? If you're an Apple fan, the chances are you've already made that decision. For those who are still wondering, I can say that iPhone 4 is drop-dead gorgeous. It has the best display of any smartphone I've seen, and enough grunt to power the latest applications. All in a very a neat little package.

When the iPhone 3GS was launched, critics were a bit underwhelmed by the fact that it really wasn't much of an advance on its predecessor, the iPhone 3G. Many thought the few tweaks didn’t justify that additional expense.

That isn't a reservation I have about the iPhone 4 – and I'm clearly not the only one. Nearly two million of the things have been sold since launch, and I can see why.

Right from the off, the iPhone 4 established itself as the most appealing smartphone I've seen, offering features that will make competitors green with envy. By improving the whole user experience, Apple has made a good job of gaining back users disappointed by the 3GS – especially when it comes to the long-overdue inclusion of multi-tasking in the new iOS 4 operating system. It remains to be seen whether the problems that some users have reported with the phone's display and antenna are teething troubles, or evidence of bigger design flaws. I didn't personally experience any issues.

With the iPhone 4, Apple has succeeded in reinventing an already successful formula. Let's just see what rival manufacturers have up their sleeves when it comes to creating an iPhone killer.