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One Week with the iPhone 4

I was the first OWC employee to receive their iPhone 4. I was lucky enough to have it arrive the day before the official release (Yay!), at about 9:15 in the morning, thanks to our exceptional FedEx service. And let me tell you, it was a steady stream of people coming to look, see, touch and feel it that day since it was the only one in the office. Everyone had the same reaction—utter disbelief at just how thin and solid it is. You cannot honestly appreciate the beauty it is until you have held it in your hands. The iPhone 4 is easily the finest piece of electronics I’ve ever owned.

How did I get my iPhone 4? I was able to order my iPhone 4 straight from the Apple website at about 9:30 CST the day orders started being accepted. I would have to guess I loaded the order page probably 50 to 60 times before it went through. Three of us were successful in ordering that first day, and all three of us did get our phones the Wednesday before release; I was the only one smart enough to have the phone delivered to the office, though :>) The other 2 employees didn’t get them until they went home that night.

My initial impressions, coming from a iPhone 3G, was that it’s as fast as an iPad, which I use every day, so I was not as blown away by the raw speed of the iPhone 4 as some have been. I’ve done side by side tests and while the iPad is faster, the iPhone 4 is certainly no slouch, it’s right on the heels of the iPad. I really wish that we had iOS 4 for the iPad to make that test an honest “Apples to Apples” shootout, because I have a feeling the iPhone 4 is going to end up winning—more RAM, and actually a smaller screen are definitely in it’s favor. I can honestly say that it’s such a marked improvement over my old iPhone 3G, that I could not go back to using it on a daily basis, that’s for sure. :>)

The screen is probably the most incredible and unexpected new feature that the iPhone 4 offers to me. Watching the keynote, seeing the pictures of the retina display, I had some feelings that the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field” was in effect, I mean it’s a digital screen, how could it truly imitate fine offset printing? I probably had some doubts because I’ve always defended the screen on my iPhone when accused of having to “squint to read it.”  And, until I had the iPhone 4 with it’s game-changing retina display in my hand, the realization that this was not marketing hype did not hit home like it did. Words cannot describe just how precise the text in an email or web page renders; it’s absolutely stunning as an eBook reader. I really can’t wait till we see an iPad with this screen!

Another item I was extremely interested in playing with was the new camera. I take a LOT of photos. Like others, the much maligned iPhone 3G/3GS camera is barely passable at best and only when you had adequate lighting. I think that was probably the most embarrassing feature of the old phone to me—I couldn’t even make prints from any photo I took with it. This last weekend I was with my wife doing some family history research and in an old German cemetery about 40 miles from home. I snapped a number of photos with the iPhone 4, specifically attempting to “take a bad picture” from just a quick snapshot, not steadying the iPhone 4, just holding it offhand, and not leaning up against anything for stability. I couldn’t make it take a bad picture—honestly, I was stunned. One shot was in the shade, looking down at a flat marble gravestone which had a solid beam of sunlight coming through the trees in just a narrow swath across the stone. I took a picture with my wife’s very nice Canon Elph (10MP, image stabilization, etc.), both with and without flash to make sure to catch the details of the inscription on the stone. Then I took the same photo with the iPhone 4. And wouldn’t you know it, the pictures all did not turn out because of overblown highlights from that bright streak of sunlight—but the iPhone 4 took as good of a photo in that impossible situation. I mean my eye could not pick out the detail on the stone’s inscription, so I had no doubt the cameras would fail too, I just wanted to see how it compared.

Photos in proper lighting turned out absolutely perfect—great color, sharpness, and above all, were dead simple to take. And the fact that the iPhone 4 uses geolocation to tag the photos – I know my wife will absolutely go bonkers over that feature, because let me tell you, we’ve been to some unbelievable locations to find graves in the 20 years I’ve been married to her….. This one time, in New York, on a logging road, 3 miles off the highway……with mosquitoes and biting flies big enough to carry you off…. :>) Now you have the GPS coordinates right on it. No more carrying a GPS to mark gravestone locations (yes, we do that, and that actually happened…)

And finally, as I am certain others will comment on… the reception (or lack thereof) issue. Yes, it’s real. This was my phone used in our video. Yes, it’s totally repeatable – I perform the disappearing signal trick for people in my office on a daily basis. It’s utterly unbelievable that we’re all having the same problem that is “not a problem” according to Apple. I can tell you that unless by some incredible miracle of programming, this hardware failure is going to have to be corrected, one way or another. If I hold my phone and use an app for more than 1 minute, I have no service. That’s unacceptable. And I’m sorry, the iPhone 4 is a piece of cutting-edge electronics—as Steve Jobs described it, “It’s like a beautiful old Leica camera”. I certainly don’t see a rubber bumper around a Leica. I don’t want to see a rubber bumper designed to encompass the “revolutionary” antenna system on the iPhone 4 from the factory. I don’t want to house my work of art in a case or a bumper—I like my phones naked and always have. :>) Also, it adds bulk, and weight. I thought we were trying to have the thinnest, most beautiful phone on the market? Then don’t cover it up with a case and don’t expect customers to have to hold their phone any specific way.

The bottom line is YES, I would purchase the iPhone 4 again in a heartbeat. But I’d also feel the same way I do now—delighted yet very, very disappointed by one key point – the reception issue. Fix that and this phone is as close to perfection as you can get, at least in my eyes.

Jamie Dresser
the authorOWC Jamie
Jamie has been an Apple user since 1979, and an Apple-certified tech since the age of 16. How's that for a first job other than working for parents/grandparents?! He has been a Macintosh owner since 1989, and an OWC employee since 1999. From packing/shipping, answering customer service/tech support calls, designing award-winning products, and buying everything ever devised for the Apple universe, he's pretty much done it all at OWC over the last 21+ years.
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  • Did you check if the microsim is sitting flush in its tray? Some people reported that the found theirs placed slightly off the tray and after correcting the position, they were able to clear up the problem. From the input on the web, most users reported much fewer dropped calls than their previous model.

  • Arron:
    There is already a solution to the signal degradation when gripping the iPhone by the lower left corner. It’s called a case. The only people I’ve seen who carry an iPhone around without a case are those who just purchased one. Are you really going to carry around a $700 hand held computer without some form of protection?

  • I’m on the waiting list for an iPhone 4 at my local Apple Store, but every day I read more about the reception issue and grow more and more hesitant to buy it when they call me.

    My 3Gs is working fine, maybe I should wait until there is a solution to this problem.