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Apple's iPhone 4 is 'the one to beat'

Overall design, new OS, FaceTime and super hi-rez screen make a powerful combo

June 28, 2010 05:27 AM ET

Computerworld - Last Thursday, Apple released its latest bit of hardware, the iPhone 4. Perhaps you've heard of it?

After months of anticipation, the iPhone 4 is finally in users' hands. Although many details were revealed in the Gizmodo leak in April, two months before Apple's official announcement of the new iPhone at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) three weeks ago, the controversial unofficial sneak peak failed to give away all of the goods. Apple CEO Steve Jobs pretty much filled in the blanks at WWDC, but there's no substitute for actually having the iPhone 4 in hand -- even if it means waiting in a line of hundreds outside an Apple Store on launch day, as I did.

The iPhone 4
Apple's new iPhone 4 sitting on top of a MacBook Pro.

Unlike past years, when the iPhone was available only through Apple or AT&T stores, this year's models was available on Day One at Radio Shack, Walmart and Best Buy. Each had a limited number of iPhones in stock, and some early buyers had better luck finding the devices at one of the consumer electronics retailers than at Apple's own stores.

Retailing for $199 (if you wanted the 16GB model) and $299 (for the 32GB version), the iPhone 4 knocks the previous 3GS model into the entry-level role, with the 8GB iPhone 3GS selling for $99. But the 3GS, while still a nice device is now last year's news.

A new look

The iPhone 4 comes in a smaller, tighter and sleeker package than its predecessors did. I've always been a fan of the iPhone's appearance. The Zen-like minimalism, the lack of superfluous hardware buttons and the absence of blinking lights won me over from the start. None of that has changed, really, except for one thing.

I've appreciated the variations in shape and size as iPhone models have evolved since the first model debuted in 2007, but I never questioned the build quality or materials until a recent product release made me, for the first time, look at my iPhone 3GS in a different light. Suddenly, in comparison to the new hardware, the 3GS felt flimsy and a little cheap. The new product that made me feel that way? It wasn't the latest Android phone, or even a phone at all. It was the iPad. Apple's mobile operating system wrapped in a thin aluminum-and-glass shell not only tied in nicely with the company's hardware lineup, it also made the then-current iPhone and iPod Touch look like toys.

The iPhone 4 does not look like a toy. It doesn't feel like a toy. It doesn't act like a toy. Though it retains the classic iPhone appearance, the iPhone 4 looks more like a technological ice cream sandwich: twin sheets of glass enveloping modern mobile technology ringed by a thin metal band. It's the kind of device that looks like it's expensive and -- backed by a solid build and quality materials -- it feels expensive as well. In hand, the smaller body, the lack of flex, and the 4.8-oz. weight deliver a feeling of luxury. The drawback, given the glass front and back, is that the iPhone 4 is a fingerprint magnet, it feels less organic than previous versions and it's perhaps even a tad slippery. There's something about it that makes me want to hold it with a death grip, just so I don't drop it.

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