iPhone 4: Nearly all it's cracked up to be

If there ever was an over-hyped product, it's... well, actually, it's the iPad. But the iPhone 4 is close on its heels. But even after all the hoopla -- from the speculation and rumors to the "lost" phone incident and police action -- the arrival of the iPhone 4 is no letdown. The iPhone 4 really is all that was promised and more. Except for a potential reception problem.

The first reason to love this phone is the screen. The beautiful, extraordinary screen. Whether you believe Steve Jobs's claim that the pixel density is beyond what the human retina can interpret or not, you really do have to see this screen for yourself. The Retina Display in the iPhone 4 is simply amazing.

[ The excellent iPad is a sleek media player and a highly functional tablet computer, but there's room for improvement. See "InfoWorld review: Apple iPad surprises, disappoints." | Find out what iOS 4 does -- and doesn't -- do. ]

In fact, it's almost too amazing. While Apple's iOS4 application icons have clearly been enhanced for the new display, existing applications from independent developers -- which appeared perfectly crisp on an iPhone 3GS -- are suddenly looking hazy and unfocused. Looking at the Apple Compass application icon adjacent to, say, iWant Pro, it's immediately apparent that developers everywhere will be rushing to release updates of their applications with higher resolution icons.

That "problem" extends to the applications themselves,  which now appear extraordinarily pixelated, especially when interposed with the text that is rendered so shockingly clear on the new display. The exception to this rule appears to be games, with several popular titles still looking quite sharp.

iPhone 4 horsepower Games are also performing quite admirably on the iPhone 4. Of course, they're more than happy to take advantage of the enhanced CPU and RAM resources, which from all accounts appears to be an Apple A4 SoC with 512MB RAM -- the same central processor and twice the RAM found in the recently-released iPad.

Measured side by side with an iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4 is noticeably faster in a variety of common tasks, and it really excels at handling the new iOS 4 capabilities such as multitasking. While there aren't a huge number of multitasking-aware apps available yet, the extra oomph provided by the iPhone 4 makes app switching and application backgrounding extremely snappy. All the new bells and whistles in iOS 4 simply fly on the iPhone 4, while they may stutter a little on iPhone 3G S and iPhone 3G hardware. In the case of the iPhone 3G, some of the new features are not available at all.

Other hardware improvements include the much-ballyhooed front-facing camera, and the enhanced main camera. Speaking as the owner of a Nokia N95 that had a front-facing camera way back in 2007, I'm not too impressed with this addition, but I am impressed that there's finally a framework to use the thing. In all the years I owned the Nokia, there wasn't a single application that took advantage of the forward camera in a general-purpose way. With FaceTime, Apple's mobile videoconferencing tool, a front-facing camera is suddenly useful. Anyone else with an iPhone 4 can take part in a video chat, simply by looking up their contact info, or calling them on the phone and clicking the FaceTime button.

The iPhone 4's newly enhanced rear camera is quite a step up from any previous iPhone incarnation, taking 5 megapixel photos, and leveraging an LED flash. I'm certainly not a photographer, but the few photos I've taken have been on par with my two-generations-back Canon Elph. It's not a DSLR, but it's certainly a usable camera. Coupled with the 30FPS HD video recording, and we'll be seeing much higher quality pictures all over Flickr and YouTube in the very near future.

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