Apple

Apple iPhone 4 review: Everything you need to know

Apple's iPhone 4 has sold like gangbusters, but how well does it measure up from an IT and business perspective? Here is TechRepublic's review.

Apple's iPhone 4 has sold like gangbusters, but how well does it measure up from an IT and business perspective? Here is TechRepublic's review.

Rather than overwhelming you with a long narrative, TechRepublic product reviews give IT and business professionals exactly the information they need to evaluate a product, along with plenty of photos, a list of competing products, and links to more information. You can find more reviews like this one on our Product Spotlight page.

Specifications

  • Carrier: AT&T Wireless
  • OS: Apple iOS 4
  • CPU: Apple A4
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 16GB or 32GB; no expansion slot
  • Display: 3.5-inch 960x640 pixels; 326 ppi
  • Battery: Lithium-ion 1420 mAh
  • Charger: Apple Ultracompact USB Power Adapter
  • Weight: 0.3 lbs
  • Dimensions: 4.5(h) x 2.3(w) x 0.37(d) inches
  • Camera: 5MP with LED flash and video recording; plus a new front-facing camera
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, GPS, digital compass, proximity sensor, light sensor
  • Keyboard: Virtual QWERTY keyboard only
  • Networks: 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM and UMTS; Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
  • Tethering: USB
  • Price: $199 for 16GB and $299 for 32GB (with 2-year contract)

Photo gallery

Ultimate iPhone 4 gallery: Unboxing, comparisons, and screenshots

Who is it for?

Three types of business users are well-suited to the iPhone: 1.) Workers who are intimidated by technology and have not had good luck with other smartphones such as BlackBerry or Windows Mobile in the past; 2.) Executives who want the iPhone not just for corporate mail and calendar but also for multimedia (iPod/iTunes) and reading (Kindle/B&N/iBooks) because they spend a lot of time on the road; and 3.) Technophiles who are into the power of digital information and can use the iPhone's massive selection of apps to enhance personal productivity.

What problems does it solve?

Since its debut in 2007, the iPhone has transformed the smartphone category, leading smartphones to become much more accessible to use, much more touch-screen dominant, and far more Web-centric. But, last year's iPhone 3GS was only an incremental upgrade from 2008's iPhone 3G — the device that brought the iPhone to the masses and to the enterprise with the introduction of Exchange support and third party applications.

However, the iPhone has been stagnant for two years, and in that time Google Android emerged as a fierce competitor. Since Google released Android 2.0 in October 2009, there have been four Android devices that have been big hits - the Motorola Droid, the Google Nexus One, the HTC Incredible, and the HTC EVO 4G. Each device has advanced the Android platform another step forward and produced features that have outpaced the iPhone, such as processor power, display, camera, OS widgets, and more.

So the biggest issue the iPhone 4 solves is to bring its platform up to speed with the rest of the leading smartphones of 2010.

Standout features

  • Next-generation display - The most remarkable feature of the iPhone 4 is its new "Retina" display, as Apple calls it. That's mostly a marketing term, but the screen itself has a resolution of 960x640 and has set a new standard in screen quality. The first smartphone screen that really impressed me was the Google Nexus One with its 3.7-inch AMOLED. The iPhone 4 is even better, as photos look very bright and sharp, and text looks as good as a page printed from a high quality laser printer.
  • 3.5G bandwidth - As I wrote on Friday, the iPhone 4 can effectively double 3G bandwidth compared to the iPhone 3G. That's because Apple upgraded the hardware in the iPhone 3GS in 2009 to support HSDPA and then upgraded the iPhone 4 to support HSUPA as well. These upgrades mean the iPhone 4 can theoretically reach speeds of up to 7.2Mbps for downloads and 5.8Mbps for uploads. While those kinds of speeds aren't likely, I was surprised to discover that the iPhone 4 has topped out at 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up in some of my initial speed tests. Previously, with the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS, the maximum speeds that I was able to get were typically about 1.5Mbps down and 250K up.
  • Platform versatility - The iPhone is arguably the most versatile smartphone on the market. It's like a digital Swiss Army Knife that can replace multiple single-function tools. Much of that is due to the fact that there are over 200,000 iPhone apps available, which shows how many different ways developers have morphed the platform to serve a wide of variety of functions. But, there's also the solid camera and photo editing software (more on that in a minute), the e-reader applications from multiple vendors (including Amazon's Kindle and Apple's own iBooks), and the iTunes integration for managing a digital entertainment library that was likely started years ago with an iPod for many users. Throw in a navigation app from a company like Tom Tom and suddenly the iPhone 4 can effectively serve the function of five devices: smartphone, digital camera, MP3 player, e-reader, and GPS.
  • Camera capabilities - The iPhone camera has never been the market leader in megapixels for a camera phone. But, Apple has consistently put a decent sensor into the iPhone, which has allowed it to take solid pictures with a large depth of field when outdoors and in well-lit settings indoors. When you add that to quick photo editing apps like Photoshop Mobile, Photogene, and Best Camera (plus panorama apps like Pano) then you have a fast, always-available solution for Web photos. Apple has upped the game with the iPhone 4 by adding a larger sensor and lens, upping the camera to 5MP, and adding an LED flash. There's also a new front-facing camera that, combined with Apple's FaceTime software, provides a glimpse of what the future of mobile video calling will look like. This may sound like a consumer-only feature, but many professionals put smartphone cameras to use for business purposes as well.
  • iOS 4 - Apple's latest mobile operating system introduces a ton a new features, most notably multi-tasking, app folders, and tethering. The new features keep iOS a step ahead of Android in terms of its overall polish and ease-of-use, but Android still has some advantages, especially its widgets.

What's wrong?

  • Disappointing battery life - Leading up to the official iPhone 4 announcement at Apple's WWDC 2010 I noted that the biggest thing Apple needed to fix with the iPhone in order to make it a better business tool was its battery life. Based on the fact that the iPhone's cousin, the iPad, has excellent battery life in the real world and that the iPhone 4 was getting the same Apple A4 processor as the iPad, I was guardedly optimistic that the iPhone 4 could improve the situation. However, while others such as Engadget have reported major battery life improvements, I have not experienced any significant improvements. In fact, in my tests the iPhone 4 has roughly the same battery performance as the iPhone 3GS and similar performance to most of the popular Android devices. None of these devices can make it through an entire business day of heavy use.
  • Inconsistent AT&T network (U.S.) - One of the most anticipated customer hopes for the iPhone 4 was that it would no longer be an exclusive to AT&T in the US, but would also be available on Verizon Wireless and other carriers. While numerous countries now have the iPhone available on multiple wireless providers, US residents remained locked into AT&T as their only option. While AT&T works great in many parts of the country (PCMag recently named AT&T the fastest wireless network in the US), it does not do well in areas where there are large concentrations of iPhone users, especially San Francisco and New York City. Whether it's the iPhone itself or AT&T or both, the iPhone also tends to drop more phone calls than other phones so if you need your smartphone to make a lot of business calls then you'll probably want to select a different smartphone and a different network.
  • Apple ecosystem lock-in - As I mentioned in my review of the iPad for business, the fact that you have to connect the device to iTunes in order to do several things is very distasteful to corporate IT. The same holds true for the iPhone 4.
  • Antenna problems - Some users have reported problems with the iPhone 4's reception when holding it with the left hand. At the iPhone 4 launch announcement, Steve Jobs played up the fact that the iPhone 4 changed the location of its antennas by integrating them into the metal side plates of the phone, and implied that this could improve the performance of the device. This could be contributing to the improved 3G speeds, but it may also be causing problems, especially for people who hold the device with the left hand. I have not been able to replicate the reported problem, but I am right-handed and I'm using one of Apple's Bumper cases, which is said to counter-act the problem. There may also be a forthcoming software fix to address the antenna problem, but it remains an issue to watch.

Bottom line for business

The iPhone 4 does much of the same stuff that the iPhone platform was already good at - provide excellent ease of use, serve as a digital Swiss Army Knife, and offer a large ecosystem of applications to extend the product in many useful ways. However, the iPhone 4 kicks it up a few notches with its ground-breaking new display, dual cameras, improved bandwidth capacity, and iOS 4 improvements such as multi-tasking and app folders.

As with previous versions of the product, it's still bogged down by the AT&T Wireless network in some places and it's still just as locked into the Apple ecosystem. While that will cause some consumers and businesses to choose BlackBerry or Android, I doubt it will slow down the iPhone's overall momentum. There were already 40% of iPhone sales coming from businesses and companies like UBS may have large numbers of users moving from BlackBerry to iPhone.

While the iPhone 4 doesn't introduce a lot of new business functionality, it succeeds at refining the existing product and that will likely be enough to continue to win over enterprise users from legacy products built on BlackBerry, Nokia, or Windows Mobile.

For instant analysis of tech news, follow my Twitter feed: @jasonhiner

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About

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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