Apple iOS 4.1 review: Apple iOS 4.1

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The Good HDR camera mode is useful at times;. Game Center has potential;. helpful bug fixes;. Ability to upload HD video straight to YouTube.

The Bad Game Center doesn't integrate with Facebook;. Game achievements are pretty useless;.

The Bottom Line The Apple iOS 4.1 is a handy, free update for the iPhone and iPod touch that adds social gaming and HDR photo-capability. It even fixes a few bugs, if you have them.

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7.5 Overall

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The update to the iPhone and iPod touch software, Apple iOS 4.1, arrived today, as promised by Sir Jobs-a-lot a mere week ago. To get the free update, simply connect your phone or iPod to iTunes on your computer using the USB cable. We've already taken the update for a test drive on our trusty iPhone 4 to see what the new version has to offer.

High dynamic range (HDR) photos

This feature helps to balance out the exposure of photos so that back-lit subjects, deep shadows and bright objects are all visible. It does this by taking three photos, each with various exposures, and sticking them together. 

First, we tested the HDR feature by photographing supermodel Mary Lojkine against a brightly lit window. In the example below, the exposure of the outdoor scene was significantly better with HDR, showing far more detail. The model herself, however, remained underexposed.

In cases where our model was moving, the combination of photos didn't overlap perfectly. That meant blurry, overlaid images around the edges. 

The iPhone's tap-to-focus feature is another handy way to control the exposure. Tap the area you want to focus on to ensure the camera takes its light reading from there. In our tests, tapping on the subject didn't improve the results of the HDR.

Without HDR, the bright background is overexposed. (Click image to enlarge.)
With HDR, the background is much clearer -- almost too clear for this unsightly view of rooftops. (Click image to enlarge.)

We tested landscape shots with photos taken from Blackfriars Bridge on a sunny day, but we weren't as impressed with HDR in this context. Images looked more exposed everywhere, rather than capturing detail in the sky and shadows of the pillar, as we'd hoped.

Without HDR, the camera captures the special browness of the Thames. (Click image to enlarge.)
With HDR, the vista became too over-exposed for our taste. (Click image to enlarge.)

Overall, HDR is definitely a useful feature. We'll be using it for shots in bright sun when we don't have any control over the lighting conditions. Don't expect it to turn the iPhone into an SLR-killer, though. For a mobile phone, the iPhone 4's camera is better than most. If you don't like the HDR results, the phone saves both versions of the photo, so you can always stick with the original image if need be.

Game Center

Game Center is all about socialising, throwing around essentially meaningless achievements and trash talking -- which is fine with us. But, like the so-far worthless Ping, your friends must also be on board in order to make it fun. Since there's no integration with Facebook, you have to find them over email.

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