Living with the iPhone 4

So, it’s been almost a week since the arrival of the iPhone 4 on the doorstep and with all the hoo-hah in the forums and the press I thought I’d give my opinion on the device an actual use. It should be noted that my previous smartphones have been the Handspring Treo 600, Palm Treo 680 and iPhone 3G so I do have quite a background in the use of the things from really their first iteration.

Well, lets first get down to the big issue of the moment, the reception problems. Yes, there is a problem but it’s nowhere near as bad as made out by fanbois and Apple-haters. I often hold the phone in my left hand and if I merely make sure I hold it very slightly higher than I usually would (by about 1cm) my palm misses the area of the insulating gap, problem solved. My advice to those who are complaining is to grow up, get a life and move on. All technology has flaws, it’s inherent in the structure of the Universe that it’s a compromise, tough, live with it. If you’re REALLY bothered with it then put a 1cm strip of sticky tape over the area of the gap. Even if you then bridge that gap then the resistance of your skin will be enough to attenuate the problem to a tiny value.

Having said that, there is a bug in the radio part of the software which I’ve discovered. Here’s how to reproduce it:

  1. Go to an area with no of highly marginal signal strength.
  2. Go into the Carrier control panel and select the service provider manually if one appears.
  3. Wait until the phone complains about loss of service.
  4. Select Automatic from the list of service providers and close the control panel.
  5. Reboot the phone.

You will now find that even when you go into an area with strong signal the phone won’t be able to pick it up. To fix this you will need to turn Airplane Mode on and then off again to resume normal operation.

Other than these two problems I’ve not had any others and the device has been fast and rock solid.

In general use the whole thing is a pleasure to use. The screen is beautiful and has a very wide viewing angle. iOS4 is merely an evolution of the iPhone OS so that works practically the same as previous versions, i.e. slick. The web browser, Safari, is actually fast enough to use now on sites with complex CSS. On the iP3G some sites would take almost a minute to render with a fast WiFi connection but on the iP4 they take less than 5 seconds.

The camera system works and produces pretty good images. Not quite up to dedicated camera standards but not far off. The only criticism I have with it is that the colour balance tends to over emphasise reds or give a red hue to the whole image. The videos produced are pretty good as well, better than my FujiFilm FinePix F31fd compact camera can produce. I’m not saying that it’s dedicated cam-corder quality but definitely usable and the microphone hardly ever picks up wind noise.

As for the battery life. Well, the iPhone 3G in the area I have been this week would last just about 24 hours on a charge or, if I’m playing Bejewelled 2 a great deal, about 5-6 hours. In comparison the iPhone 4 generally drops 1%-3% per hour (I can’t give a percentage for the iP3G as it doesn’t have a percentage measure) which would put the battery life in the region of 30-90 hours. When playing Bejewelled 2 the battery is depleted by about 10% per hour, so that’s about double the life of the iP3G. Therefore, it’s not quite in the same league as the Handspring Treo 600, which lasts about 10 days on a charge in normal use, but it’s certainly getting close to the life of most non-smartphones. (It’s also infinitely better than the Palm Treo 680 which would struggle to last 8 hours on a charge.)

So, there you have it. The iPhone 4 works and (other than one flaw which is easily worked around) works well and is a definite jump in usability over the iP3G, especially in terms of speed, screen and battery life.

Many will quibble about the unsubsidised, unlocked version of the iP4 at about £600 but they forget that the unsubsidised price of most smartphones is about the same. For me the price of the tool is worth it, your mileage may vary.