iPhone 4: first thoughts

Okay, so I’m about three weeks behind everyone else on the iPhone 4 front. However, the phone that is taking 2010 by storm is now mine and from only 24 hours of ownership I can confidently say that it’s already making its mark.

A substantial upgrade

Some context is necessary, however, to explain just why I’m finding this new handset to be just as revolutionary as it is. I’ve made the upgrade to the iPhone 4 from the iPhone 3G. The 3G was, and is, a fine phone, and has served me well. However for a number of weeks it’s been running iOS4, which as many users have realised does the iPhone 3G no favours at all. It seems that iOS4 is trying to fit too many features across too great a range of handsets and it’s simply too demanding of the iPhone 3G’s hardware. I found that simple tasks such as texting became extremely slow and would often crash the app. Running apps while listening to a podcast – a task causing no problems at all under OS 3.1.3 – suddenly led to stuttering, apps crashing, and on occasion the iPhone crashing entirely. I stuck with iOS4 as I wanted to easily set-up the iPhone 4 using the existing restore, however the weeks of waiting did severely test me.

The delivery of my iPhone 4 yesterday finally saw end to this torment. Setting it up was simplicity itself, using the last restore point from the iPhone 3G and O2′s astoundingly straight-forward SIM swapping website. The hardest part of it all was getting the micro-SIM snapped out of the card it came in.

Using the restore point meant that the iPhone 4 was immediately familiar, with all the apps in their usual places, yet the speed increase was instantly noticeable. The iPhone 3G has always struggled with Twittelator Pro; my Twitter client of choice. As a result I’d always switched between it and the quicker Twitter for iPhone (formerly Tweetie) app. Now, Twittelator offers all the speed you’d want. It’s universally quick and responsive, and a joy to use, overcoming all of my bugbears with it on the 3G.

I quickly realised that the performance limitations of the 3G had actually greatly influenced the way I’d been using the phone and apps on it. iOS4 had caused such instability and performance issues that I’d avoided using certain apps and generally taken a cautious approach to using the phone’s functions as a whole. Essentially I’d not been using the phone to its full potential; shackles now broken with iPhone 4.

At last: a decent camera

The iPhone 4 is not only fast, it also includes the enhancements brought by the subsequent iPhone 3GS and a great deal more besides. It brings the compass, and with it the augmented reality apps that use it, plus the new, but thus far little used gyroscope and proximity sensor. Most eagerly anticipated by me, the iPhone’s camera is finally brought up to spec with that of other phones; a respectable 5 megapixels with flash, HD video recording and a secondary camera. The potential of this improved hardware excites me, as I’ve been wanting to use the iPhone as an all-in-one mobile device. For it to succeed in this role it needs to be able to capture the moment; whatever that may be. The 3G’s camera simply wasn’t up to the task. Now, at first glance at least, photos are looking good and video is great quality. It means I shouldn’t need a separate camera for general usage photos and I’ll be able to share clear content on social media sites. All in all it’s an excellent and perhaps a rather overdue development.

For the commute

I put my iPhone to its greatest use on my weekday commute into central London. This takes around an hour each way – longer if I walk for part of the way – and as with many journeys to the capital often involves cramped and crowded conditions. The iPhone has long been essential for entertainment, distraction and maintaining sanity on the commute.

Until now the iPhone’s multi-tasking abilities have only extended as far as running an app with the iPod playing in the background. Now, the iPhone 4 offers much more complete multi-tasking capabilities. Most attractive are those of streaming audio services while working on apps in the foreground. Multiple apps can also now be run, switching between them without needing to close them, pausing those not in use in the background. All in the all, multi-tasking should represent a real progression for productivity and flexibility.

The other key element is the battery life; a¬†perennial¬†issue with smart phones. On the iPhone 3G the battery can struggle to last the day with reasonable usage, to the point where I always now take the charger to work to ensure there’s charge enough to last the commute home. The iPhone 4 promises 40% longer battery life. Although I’ve yet to test the phone during a full working day, it should comfortably last the day.

However, greater battery capacity does in turn encourage yet more use. As slow and fragile performance on the iPhone 3G under iOS 4 lead to me limiting my use, so has a need to conserve battery. Suddenly there’s the prospect of being able to fully embrace features and functions on the iPhone. Ironically, as the potential for productivity reaches its peak, the mobile networks take away the promise of their unlimited data usage.

Still, my average monthly usage on the iPhone 3G was just 160MB. I’d have to step up my usage a good deal to exceed the new 500Mb usage limit now imposed by O2, and even more so the 1GB limit offered by other networks.

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