A lot of speculation was dished out leading up to the launch of the latest iteration of the iPhone, and plenty more has followed since it has started landing in the hands of early adopters. I was one of the lucky few that managed to secure a pre-ordered phone, but wasn't able to get it shipped to my home. Instead, I woke up and the crack of dawn and stood in line for several hours to get my iPhone 4 - meeting several great people during the process. Since having time to play and experiment over the weekend, I've been surprised by several things - good and bad, big and small - about the phone and the new OS.
The Good: High Resolution Screen & 5 Megapixel Camera
The absolute best thing about the phone, and the single-most influential reason for which I bought it, is the high-resolution screen. Upon turning on the phone for the first time and looking at the icons and text of the home screen, the quadrupling of pixels is immediately noticeable. Videos, photos, apps, and text all look absolutely amazing on this screen and I am very excited to see more devices, like the iPad, include the technology.
The second best feature, in my opinion, are the major improvements made to the phone's outward-facing camera. The camera takes surprisingly great shots in poorly-lit conditions, and the flash works great as well at capturing crisp images with a short exposure. The camera also takes great close-up photos, and can focus on objects roughly three inches away. With the excellent assortment of apps to edit photos, some great shots are sure to come from the device, like the one on the right of my TV remote.
The Bad: Battery Life & The Antenna
There are several bad things about the phone as well, and its hard to pick which is the worst. The first big negative I noticed, and was surprised by, is the battery life. Other media outlets with pre-release devices reported using the phone for over 30 hours with normal everyday use, but personally I have not seen this myself. I have found the battery life to be equal to, if not a little worse, than that of its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS.
The other issue that falls in the bad category is the antenna and the problems caused by holding the phone. From my own tests, I can submit that, yes, holding the phone in the most normal of fashions is likely to have some effect on signal. While holding my phone, I steadily watched the bars tick down from 5 to 1, and at times to an entire loss of signal. To make sure this was an accurate representation of the signal, I tried sending a text message, which hung on about 90% on its progress bar. Upon releasing my grip and letting the phone rest in my palm, the message sent almost immediately.
I have not found myself lacking a strong enough signal to send and receive calls or text messages when holding the phone during normal use, however. The only time holding the phone has been a problem was during my tests when I held it for a prolonged period of time and with more pressure than one would normally apply.
The antenna issue does, however, have an influence on the behavior of users. While the antenna problems are not likely to have a direct effect on signal in normal use, it exists enough to make you aware of how you hold the device when you are trying to assure you have enough signal to complete various tasks. I have found myself resting the device in my palm as a form of early troubleshooting if I can't seem to load a webpage or update my Twitter app. The fact that the problem exists is enough to make users of the device think twice about how they hold device, whether it is the real solution to their signal problems at that time or not.
The Meh: FaceTime
I tried FaceTime on a few occasions from various WiFi connections. It seems the most important factor in the quality of video calls is the WiFi connection. Attempting to FaceTime with a friend using public WiFi at a Starbucks was a terrible experience, but it was far better when both of us were on secured private networks in our homes. Even then, however, the call failed once and we had to redial each other. Hopefully this will get better in time, but for now, once the novelty of video calling on a mobile device wears off, FaceTime may not be that exciting.
The Huh? Strange Bugs and Quirks
The iPhone 4 is buggy. Very buggy. One of the most annoying ones, especially for a user like me who takes a lot of photos, involves the deletion of photos from the camera roll. Almost every time I delete a photo while viewing the camera roll, some error occurs where the photo is replaced by an immovable black box.
I have noticed, however, that deleting items while viewing them (by tapping the trash can icon while viewing a photo, for example) does not produce the same problem. It only seems to occur when marking one or more items with the red deletion check mark that it happens. Usually, syncing the device in iTunes will fix the issue, but sometimes that will even make things worse. I have had several photos disappear and deleted videos reappear unplayable in my camera roll, which was only fixed with another iTunes sync.
The mail app is also very bug-prone. I noticed some strange things happening with mail back on my 3GS before switching, and now they are better, but still odd. Before, emails would appear and quickly disappear in my inbox, only to be re-downloaded, or sometimes not. Now, the mail app seems intent on peppering my inbox with emails from the distant past (or future depending on how you look at it). An email with no sender, no subject and no content, sent on 12/31/69 has appeared on more than one occasion, though it has been less frequent in the last day or two.
The Multitasker's Dilemma
The other source of bugs comes from apps that do not support or properly implement the phone's multitasking capabilities. I have had some apps break or become unusable, and the only solution was to delete them from the multitasking menu and "relaunch" them. While this is not really Apple's fault, it does, however, create a new level of thinking for users when it comes to their apps and troubleshooting.
Previously, apps started from scratch whenever you clicked their icons. Now, for better or for worse, some apps resume from their last active state. In the case of messaging apps, this can be useful. In the case of apps like Settings, it can be annoying when you last closed the app after digging several levels deep into various sub-menus.
To truly "relaunch" an application, users must now click the home button, then double tap the home button again to launch the multitasking menu, then hold down their finger on an app until it begins to wiggle, and finally click a red minus sign icon to remove it. In most cases this isn't really necessary, but when an app is not responding correctly, I find myself using this tactic as a crude form of "ctrl+alt+del." Here's an example of when this problem occurred.
One Hot Phone. No Really, I Mean Hot!
When out doing errands, a strange thing happened with my iPhone. I found myself with 5 bars of signal and 3G service but unable to refresh my stream of messages on my Twitter application. It couldn't be the reception, I had 5 bars, so I clicked the home button and then re-entered the app, but it still didn't work. That is when I deleted the app from the multitask menu, effectively force quitting it, but another attempt still didn't work.
Then I tried other apps, and I quickly discovered nothing was working. I made sure the phone wasn't trying to use some random WiFi, so I turned WiFi off. Still nothing. I flipped airplane mode on and off to reset the connection to AT&T, but that still didn't work. Then I noticed how the phone felt in my hand - it was hot. Very hot. And not just because I was in 100 degree Arizona weather. It still felt hot in my cool air conditioned car.
The phone had overheated, and while I could navigate to apps and menus, sending or receiving any data was impossible. I turned the phone off and immediately noticed the temperature of the device drop significantly. I turned it back on and all was back to normal, but as you can see from this example, the complexity added by multitasking changes the way users will approach troubleshooting problems on their device. The entire time I was trying to no avail, the phone was resting in my palm, a testament to the paranoia also caused by the antenna.
Final Nitpickingly Annoying Thoughts
I remember when I first heard of the very first iPhone, the biggest thing that excited me was the ability to combine my phone with my iPod. No longer would I have to keep carrying both items, and I would never miss a call while listening to music ever again. Needless to say, I am an avid listener of music. I am disappointed not only in the fact that the newest iPhone didn't get the standard 64 GB storage bump many had assumed was coming, but also that iOS 4.0 changes some behaviors for the iPod app.
Now that double-clicking the home button brings up the multitasking menu, the way controlling music and podcasts works is slightly different. Previously, I used the double-click to launch music controls from wherever I was on the phone. I don't mind having to the side the multitasking menu to the right to view the controls, but the behavior of the double-click in another situation is causing me grief.
When the phone is sleeping and the screen is off, a double-click of the home button always brought up the music controls, whether anything was playing or not. Now, it seems hit or miss on when this function works the way I expect it to. When music is playing, double-clicking usually works to bring up the controls. When nothing is playing, a double-click will only bring up the regular lock screen without controls, unless the iPod app was active when I hit the sleep button. Sometimes. The reason for this strange behavior is elusive, and annoying.
So between the great added features and the upsetting disappointments, things are kinda so-so with the new iPhone. I'm still glad I bought it, and the good outweighs most of the bad. But I still find it odd how many bugs and quirks the phone has, and I guess I will have to master the the triple click if I want the music controls to work my way. Other than that, it's a great device.