Apple iPhone 4 review: Apple iPhone 4

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

3.5 stars 92 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Excellent design; pin-sharp screen; iOS 5 ready; Loads of apps and games to download.

The Bad Antenna issues; Some iOS 5 features are missing; No expandable storage.

The Bottom Line Even though it’s now over a year old, Apple's iPhone 4 remains a fantastic device. The introduction of iOS 5 makes it even better, but if you can afford the additional expense, then it’s worth at least considering the superior iPhone 4S.

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Superseded by the iPhone 4S but freshly equipped with the very latest version of Apple's iOS software, the iPhone 4 remains a formidable challenger in the mobile arena.

It has a super-sharp retina display, a 1GHz processor and has been manufactured in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB variants. You can pick up the 8GB model for £400 on a pay as you go deal, with SIM-free prices coming in slightly higher at £430. The iPhone 4 is available for free on a monthly contract from £25.

Should I buy the Apple iPhone 4?

In summer 2010, the iPhone 4 was the hottest name on the mobile scene. It had the looks, the software and the desirability factor. With the exception of a few irksome issues with its network reception, nothing but positive things were being written about it.

Today, the story is slightly different. The more powerful iPhone 4S is Apple's new crown prince. It has features that have been withheld from its older sibling -- virtual assistant Siri being the most notable.

Apple iPhone 4 pre-loaded apps
The iPhone 4 comes pre-loaded with the usual suite of Apple-coded extras, such a compass and voice recorder.

While existing iPhone 4 owners will be pleased that their devices have been upgraded promptly to iOS 5 , it's trickier recommending this handset to new customers. The iPhone 4 sits awkwardly in the middle of Apple's current mobile catalogue, sandwiched between the cheap-and-cheerful 3GS and the all-singing, all-dancing 4S.

It's still a highly recommended phone, however. If you can grab one at a decent price SIM-free, then we'd advise you to do so. However, if you can afford it, you'd be better off stumping up the extra cash for the newer iPhone 4S.

iOS 5 on the iPhone 4

As well as updating the doddery old 3GS to iOS 5 , Apple has delivered its latest and greatest software to iPhone 4 users. Key features were missing from iOS 5 when the iPhone 3GS recently received its update. We're sad to report that the same story applies with the iPhone 4.

It's to be expected -- after all, Apple wouldn't sell so many iPhone 4S handsets if the older hardware got the exact same features. What does make the cut is so fantastic that you're unlikely to be too disgruntled.

Notifications

If you're a long-standing iPhone owner, you'll no doubt have endured a few debates with Android lovers over the merits of your respective platforms. The topic of notifications usually gets dragged up during these exchanges, and until recently, it was generally accepted that Google's way of handling such alerts was superior to Apple's.

Not any more. iOS 5 boasts a completely re-engineered notifications system, which borrows ideas from Android whilst applying that traditional Apple lick of paint.

Apple iPhone 4 notifications
Android-style notifications are new to iOS 5 and really improve the overall usability of the device.

New to iOS 5 is the Notifications Area, which can be pulled down from the screen, just like the Android notification bar. In this area you'll find all of your alerts, be they text messages, emails or calendar appointments. You can select which notifications are pushed to this area from a separate settings menu, should you find the flood of alerts too overbearing.

Die-hard traditionalists can revert back to the old-fashioned pop-up notifications if they wish. It's even possible to mix and match, so you have emails appearing in the notifications area and text messages flashing up on the screen as a pop-up.

It's a surprisingly customisable arrangement and caters for all tastes. If you're an Android user moving to iPhone , you'll be very much at home.

iCloud

One of the biggest complaints iPhone users have had since the device launched in 2007 is its dependency on iTunes. Although Apple enabled us to download apps and games directly to our phones many moons ago, you still need to plug your iPhone into your PC to install updates and back up existing downloads.

This outdated procedure is removed in iOS 5, unshackling the iPhone and bringing it more in line with Android and Windows Phone. Firmware updates can now be installed over the air, which means you don't need to tether your phone to your PC when the next big iOS update is released.

Better still, you can now re-download purchased applications directly from your handset. The App Store remembers which apps and games you've previously installed. It even displays a list of them so you can effortlessly reacquaint yourself with some vintage classics.

Apple iPhone 4 App Store
The App Store is full of great downloads and iOS 5 now allows you to see what you've purchased in the past, and re-download.

iCloud is useful in many other ways too. Apple gives every iOS users 5GB of personal storage, into which they can upload music, photos and other data. You can then pull this information down to your device without having it clogging up your phone's internal storage.

If you switch phones or -- heaven forbid -- lose your precious handset, iCloud handles backups of your device. If the 5GB isn't enough, you can purchase larger storage space directly through your phone.

Twitter sharing

One big plus that Android has over iOS is the fact that you can share pretty much anything using the built-in share menu.

So if you're looking at a photo, you can click the share option and a list of all relevant apps -- such as email, text message, Facebook and Twitter -- is displayed. This allows you to effortlessly post your image. Whenever you install a new app with sharing capabilities, it's added to this list.

While iOS 5 doesn't quite take the sharing ethos that far, it does at least allow you to post directly to Twitter . That means no more having to fire up your stand-alone Twitter client to post images or links -- you can do it directly from within the iOS 5 interface.

This is a real time-saver and makes things much more intuitive. Our only gripe is that Apple hasn't seen fit to include quick sharing to more networks, but we imagine that future updates to iOS 5 will bring what we desire.

Newsstand

Another new addition in iOS 5 is Newsstand. This is basically Apple's effort to reinvigorate the ailing magazine industry. Early accounts seem to suggest that it's working, to a certain degree.

Apple iPhone 4 Newsstand
Newsstand has apparently triggered a rush in magazine sales; the app works well on the iPhone 4's high-res display.

Newsstand is the kind of app that is more suited to a large-screen tablet device, like the iPad 2.

Still, the iPhone 4's 640x960-pixel high-resolution screen does at least make it easy to read text. As such, Newsstand makes more sense on this phone than it did on the 3GS, which only has a 320x480-pixel display.

iMessage

One of the few reasons to still own a BlackBerry device these days is RIM's excellent BlackBerry Messenger service. This system allows users to keep in touch over their phone's data network, rather than having to use up their monthly allowance of text messages.

Apple has incorporated a similar feature into its latest operating system, but typically, it's even more user-friendly. In fact, it's so well-realised that many people may not even notice that they're using it and not simply text messaging.

Apple iPhone 4 multi-tasking
Multi-tasking and folders are two existing features of iOS that help make it efficient and user-friendly.

Instead of having a separate iMessage application, iOS 5 simply detects people on your contact list that are capable of receiving iMessage communication. You still use the standard text messaging application, but iMessages are displayed in a different colour.

By keeping iMessage as part of the standard iOS messaging service, Apple has avoided the annoyance of having to skip between apps when receiving the two different message types.

What's missing

Sadly, not all of iOS 5's amazing features could be shoehorned into the iPhone 4. The most obvious casualty is Siri, the famous voice-controlled personal assistant found on the iPhone 4S.

Easily one of the biggest advancements in iOS 5, Siri has been at the forefront of Apple's promotional campaign for the iPhone 4S, so it's frustrating to see it absent from the iPhone 4. This is especially true when you consider that it's been proven that the device is perfectly capable of hosting the service .

Another omission is AirPlay Mirroring, which allows you to replicate what's appearing on your iPhone's screen on compatible devices, such as the Apple TV 2 .

This is less of a blow than the removal of Siri, as there are plenty of other ways of achieving the same result which can be downloaded from the App Store.

Design

Despite being over a year old, the iPhone 4 (and its successor, the iPhone 4S, which shares the same external design), is one of the best-looking phones on the market. Even many staunch anti-Apple types will admit that no other device comes close -- you only have to cradle it in your palm for a few seconds to fall in love with the handset.

Apple iPhone 4 bottom
The external speaker and in-call mic are located at the bottom of the phone, along with the charging and data port.

The iPhone 4 is built from high-quality materials too. There's not a trace of cheap plastic in sight. The front and back are chemically-strengthened glass, while a metal strip runs around the sides. This also serves as a dual antenna, providing all of the handset's wireless connectivity. This design is ingenious, but also causes some bothersome issues -- which we will cover shortly.

Apple iPhone 4 back view
The chemically-strengthened glass on the front and back of the iPhone 4 can withstand some punishment -- just don't drop it.

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Where to Buy

Apple iPhone 4

Part Number: CNETApple iPhone 4

Typical Price: £599.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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