Apple iPhone 4 review: Love it or hate it

GSMArena team, 01 July 2010.
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The Retina display

The iPhone 4 Retina display is the highest resolution screen we’ve seen in a mobile phone. Retina is just a marketing name made up by Apple to differentiate it. But it doesn’t need the extra differentiation cause it’s among the best screens we’ve seen too.

The new display has the same size as those on the previous iPhones (3.5 inches) but the the resolution has been bumped up four times. From 320 x 480 pixels on the previous generations, the new iPhone 4 screen has the amazing 640 x 960 pixel resolution.

Apple iPhone 4
The Retina display

Thanks to the increased pixel density (reaching 326 pixels per inch) images now appear way sharper (or smoother, if you like) than before.

Based on an IPS panel, just like high-end desktop displays, the new iPhone’s LCD screen has LED backlighting and resulting contrast ratio of 800:1, which is 4 times the previous ones, as well.

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The new and the old display put face to face (iPhone 4’s wallpaper is grey)

In reality things look as impressive as on paper. The 16M-color capacitive iPhone 4 display delivers great image quality. Colors are vibrant, blacks are deep and the sunlight legibility is remarkable. The viewing angles are excellent as well, comparable to the results of Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays. As for touch sensitivity, it’s excellent, too. Of course, multi-touch support is here again.

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Magnified view of the new and the old display (iPhone 4’s wallpaper is grey)

Here's how the iPhone 4 display stacks up against the competition:

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Nokia N9 0 349 0 596
LG Optimus Black P970 0.27 332 1228 0.65 749 1161
Apple iPhone 3GS 0.84 134 160 2.51 504 201
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
HTC Sensation 0.21 173 809 0.61 438 720
Samsung I9000 Galaxy S 0 263 0 395
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc 0.03 34 1078 0.33 394 1207
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II 0 231 0 362
Nokia E6 0.52 757 1456 0.57 1004 1631
Nokia 701 0.64 619 964 1.12 1022 905

Going around

The left side of the Apple iPhone 4 features the Ring/Silent switch and the volume controls - two separate round knobs instead of the rocker button in previous versions. Those are prominent enough and surprisingly solid to press.

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The Ring/Silent switch and the volume rocker are on the left

On the right side the microSIM card slot is all there is. To remove the SIM card you need to use the enclosed SIM eject tool or a paper clip – or even a pinboard pin would do. Again, there is no hardware camera key.

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It takes a special tool to handle the SIM tray

At the top we find the traditional Sleep/Wake button as well as the standard 3.5mm audio jack. Next to the audio jack is the the extra mic for the active noise cancelation during phone calls.

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Sleep/Wake button • 3.5mm audio jack • Noise cancelation mic

The bottom is reminiscent of the previous iPhone generations. It has the proprietary Apple USB cable/charger/dock connector, as well as the tiny loudspeaker grill and mouthpiece on either side of the connectivity port.The iPhone 4 surely would have made a good use of a pair of stereo speakers. As it turned out in our dedicated loudspeaker performance test the single loudspeaker is not that good. But more on that further on in the review.

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The bottom • Mic hole, dock connector, loudspeaker grill

The flat glossy rear features the lens of the 5-megapixel autofocus camera. The LED flash next to it is another iPhone novelty. As usual, the battery is not user replaceable and there is no memory expansion slot.

The Apple iPhone 4 is powered by a 1420 mAh Li-Po battery, which is quoted at up to 300 hours of stand-by, up to 14 hours of talk-time and up to 40 hours of non-stop music playback.

Update 09 July: We just concluded our dedicated iPhone 4 battery life test and we are pretty pleased with it. The iPhone 4 managed almost three days on a single charge under some normal usage (or at least what we consider normal) including the following:

  • 30 min of general usage
  • 90 minutes of video playback
  • 40 minutes of voice calls
  • 40 minutes of web browsing
  • 40 minutes of gaming
  • 40 minutes of photo browsing
  • 2 hours of music playback

That's better than what we hoped for and certainly much better than the iPhone 3GS. We were even pleasantly surprised by the dedicated video playback test - the iPhone 4 played our test video for 9 hours and 40 minutes before the battery went down. Downright impressive!

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Camera lens and LED flash on the back

Come to think of it, Apple were too kind to original iPhone owners. They used pretty much the same design over three generations and the iPhone 2G users didn’t feel their device outdated.

But Number 4 turns it all upside down. All the functionality upgrades aside, rarely have we seen an upgrade that makes the previous one feel so old, if not obsolete? The Apple iPhone 4 has an extra premium feel that few contemporary flagship phones can match.

The finish is impressive – the level of refinement and sophistication is all the more remarkable considering the altogether minimalist design. The iPhone 4 is nothing short of beautiful. Handling will perhaps be less comfortable at first, if you’re coming from any of the older iPhones. The Number 4 just doesn’t allow as secure a grip.

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The Apple iPhone 4 held in hand

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