Apple iPhone 4 review: Apple iPhone 4

The glass feels robust enough. Apple is insistent that it's more durable than any other available material. It's certainly capable of coping with everyday use, but from personal experience we can state that it is highly susceptible to scratches and marks.

It's also been illustrated that the iPhone 4's design doesn't cope all too well when dropped -- the glass (unsurprisingly) tends to crack, creating a phone that is a lot less appealing to the eye. You'll almost certainly want to invest in some kind of case to guard against such an unfortunate eventuality.

Apple iPhone 4 side view
It may no longer be the thinnest smartphone, but the iPhone 4 is still seriously svelte.

Another reason to grab a case is the antenna issue we alluded to earlier. Shortly after the launch of the iPhone 4 in 2010, scare stories emerged of a Death Grip problem -- users were finding that just holding their shiny new iPhone was enough to cause the signal strength to drop out .

As the scandal intensified, the issue was traced to the way in which the case was designed. The dual antennas are separated by two thin pieces of plastic; holding the phone can bridge the gap between them, reducing the signal strength.

Apple iPhone 4 death grip
When the 'death grip' problem surfaced on some iPhone 4 devices, rubber bumpers were issued to solve the drop in signal strength.

How badly this issue will impact you personally is hard to say. Many people have reported that they see no degradation in network strength when holding the handset. Using a case almost completely solves the problem, but you may never even notice it in the first place.

Apple iPhone 4 top
The top of the device features the power button and the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Another thing to note is that the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch screen means that it's a lot more compact than rival Android blowers. Handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Nexus positively dwarf Apple's phone, but it's hard to deny that the iPhone 4 fits snugly in the palm, with all areas of the screen easily reachable with your thumb.

Apple iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Compared to the massive Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the iPhone 4 looks almost dainty.

Conversely, the aforementioned Android big-screen behemoths require both of your hands to operate successfully.

Screen

When the iPhone 4 launched 18 months ago, its retina display caused jaws to drop. Unparalleled pixel density and bold image quality made it the screen of choice for mobile connoisseurs. Even though Samsung has upped its game with the recent Galaxy Nexus 720p HD display, the iPhone 4 still holds its own.

The 640x960-pixel resolution delivers 330 pixels per inch, which means that individual pixels are practically invisible to the naked eye. Technical mumbo-jumbo aside, what you need to know here is that image quality is absolutely top-notch.

Although Samsung's Super AMOLED Plus screen technology provides deeper blacks and bolder colours, the iPhone 4's LED backlit panel still generates a world-class picture. Brightness is decent and colours are striking.

Enabling auto-brightness naturally diminishes the impact of the display, but it's nowhere near as aggressive as what we've witnessed on handsets like the Galaxy Nexus.

Processing power and internal storage

Although Android is arguably driving the market when it comes to processing power, many devices running Google's versatile OS struggle to make the best use of the muscle they're given.

A new breed of dual-core handsets may be making slow responsiveness on Android a thing of the past, but there are still an awful lot of phones on the market with single-core, 1GHz processors that suffer from stuttering and unresponsive moments.

Compare that to the iPhone 4, which is equipped with a single-core Apple A4 chip running at 1GHz. Even with the increased demands of iOS 5, the iPhone 4 rarely feels as if it's straining under the weight, and it's only when you have multiple processes running alongside each other that it starts to lag a little.

Apple iPhone 4 Google Maps
Google Maps may offer more on Android phones, but it's still a joy to use on the iPhone 4.

The iPhone originally came in 16GB and 32GB variants, with the 8GB version arriving slightly later on . The internal storage of the phone is shared between your apps, games, movies, photos, music and podcasts. If you're planning on using the iPhone as your primary media player, you'll want to opt for the larger version.

This is because unlike many Android handsets, you cannot expand the internal storage of the iPhone 4 via microSD cards.

Camera and video recording

The iPhone 4's camera is a massive step up from the one seen on the 3GS. The most obvious change is a jump from 3 to 5 megapixels, as well as the addition of that all-important LED flash. Owners of 3GS handsets will know all too well how difficult it was to shoot in low light using that phone, so this advancement is very welcome indeed.

Apple iPhone 4 camera
The iPhone 4 has an LED flash for low-light shooting -- something that the 3GS sadly lacked.

A few enhancements with iOS 5 make image capture on the iPhone 4 even more appealing. You can now overlay a grid on the screen to get the perfect shot, and it's possible to quickly access the camera application from the lock screen by double-tapping the Home button.

Apple iPhone 4 test image 1
The 5-megapixel camera captures good shots with bold colours (click image to enlarge).

Auto-focus and nippy performance allow you to grab treasured moments with ease. The quality of the resultant images is great. Colours are realistic and unless you make a pig's ear of composing the shot, over-exposure is rarely an issue.

Apple iPhone 4 test image 2
Shooting in darkened environments is easier thanks to the flash, but it sometimes struggles when shooting close-ups (click image to enlarge).

The iPhone 4 has a front-facing camera so video calls are possible. Using Apple's FaceTime software you can converse with friends and family over a Wi-Fi connection.

The service is rendered with Apple's typically assured brilliance, but FaceTime is less impressive than it was over a year ago. Google's phones now have Talk and Google+ hangouts , so the game has most definitely changed up a gear.

Finally, it should be noted that the iPhone 4 is capable of capturing video at 720p -- again, this is a step up from what the 3GS was capable of, but falls short of the 1080p recording the 4S boasts.

Internet

As we mentioned before, that fantastic retina display makes the ideal viewing platform for detailed web pages. Text is rendered with astonishing clarity and images look wonderful.

Apple iPhone 4 retina display
The phone's super-sharp retina display really comes alive when surfing the web.

You can use pinch-to-zoom commands to get a closer look at particularly content-rich sites. Navigating around pages is smooth and mostly lag-free.

With this being an Apple device, you'll naturally find no trace of Adobe Flash support -- this is unquestionably one of the main reasons the iPhone 4's Safari browser is so quick. Flash is becoming less important on mobile devices now anyway, and even Adobe itself has stated that no future mobile versions will be released .

Battery life

Given all the improvements and new features introduced in iOS 5, it would be incredibly naive to expect the iPhone's 1,420mAh battery to last as long as it did with iOS 4. With iCloud sync, Find my iPhone and other new elements enabled, that pool of juice is getting sucked by a lot of new features.

Even so, there have been reports that the new operating system drains the battery with alarming speed , although we personally didn't notice a massive change when compared to iOS 4.

Apple is working on a fix that apparently solves the battery drain problem experienced by some users. But when all is said and done, you have to expect some trade-off for all of the new toys that iOS 5 brings with it.

Environmentally-minded folk will be annoyed to learn that the iPhone 4S does not contain a user-serviceable battery. The unit is completely sealed, and the only way to replace the power cell is to return the device to Apple and pay a hefty charge.

Apple iPhone 4 lock
The lock switch on the side of the device allows you to mute the ringer volume instantly.

Conclusion

There's no doubt about it -- iOS 5 makes the already impressive iPhone 4 even better. The new features are fantastic and genuinely improve usability and enrich your experience.

While it's slightly disappointing that Siri hasn't come along for the ride, it's not a massive loss. The witty voice assistant may be one of the main improvements of iOS 5 from a marketing perspective, but we'd argue that iCloud, notifications and iMessage are actually more useful on a day-to-day basis.

Putting aside iOS 5 for a moment, the iPhone 4 remains a solid device -- even after over a year of availability. Granted, its single-core processor has been left in the dust by dual-core Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and HTC Sensation XE , but Apple has proven time and time again that raw specifications are irrelevant as long as the user experience is slick and intuitive.

However, despite the positives, the iPhone 4 finds itself in a rather unusual position. If you're new to iOS and are shopping on a tight budget, then you may be better off choosing the cheaper iPhone 3GS, which has lesser specs but has been successfully upgraded to iOS 5.

If money isn't an issue, then it's arguably a better idea to pick the newer iPhone 4S over the iPhone 4 -- the latter will set you back around £430 for a SIM-free version, whereas the 4S is only slightly more expensive at £500.

Still, many networks will be offering the iPhone 4 on cheaper contracts these days. If you're about to upgrade but don't relish the thought of paying through the nose for the 4S, this Siri-less alternative could be just the ticket. In fact, no one need ever know that you took the cheaper option, as both phones look identical from the outside.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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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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