Apple iPhone 4

GCN LAB REVIEW

iPhone 4.0 a great device that deserves better reception

Easy-to-use navigation and sleek construction makes it easy to overlook the antenna nightmares

Performance: B+
Features: A
Ease of use: A
Price: A
Pros: Easy to use; great screen; many useful business applications available.
Cons: Reliance on AT&T network slows service; well-documented antenna issues.

The biggest problem with the new iPhone is the same problem versions 1 through 3 had: its exclusivity clause with AT&T. Almost every iPhone user I have met has had one problem or another with the service, and it’s not entirely because of the new iPhone’s well-publicized faulty antenna design. Tests have shown that even a light finger touch between the two antennas on the lower left-hand side of the phone can be enough to drop a call. Apple is offering iPhone users free cases to reduce the problem, and there are some home remedies that work, but there’s still that AT&T contract.

In every phone review I have done, I have experienced service problems with AT&T, especially in rural areas.

More smart phone reviews

Read the GCN Lab's reviews of the Palm Pre Plus, the Blackberry Bold, Sprint HTC Evo and the Samsung Captivate.

For example, in places near the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Ga., AT&T has a much lower signal strength than Verizon does, particularly with 3G applications, which are crucial to the proper operation of the iPhone. Unchaining the iPhone from AT&T would be a godsend to iPhone fans. A phone this good does not deserve to be tethered to a second-tier — or sometimes third-tier — service provider.

Despite those problems, the iPhone’s easy-to-use navigation and sleek construction makes it easy to overlook the antenna nightmares. I reviewed a $199, 16G unit running Version 4.0.1 of Apple's iPhone operating system and found it hard to criticize anything else about the phone. It’s easier to appreciate the simple point, flick and zoom features of the iPhone operating system, especially after you have spent as much time as I have perfecting my stylus skills and learning the Palm shorthand to type into those old mobile devices. The iPhone is so much better and requires almost no training.

The gyroscope feature lets you move from a portrait to a landscape mode on that beautiful 960 x 640, 3.5-inch screen, and the device delivers by far the best image quality and resolution in the roundup. The quality of the screen not only adds vibrancy to colors and pictures but also makes reading text easier on the eyes.

I was also impressed with the sensitivity of the touch screen. Other competitors, such as the Palm Pre, require two or three attempts when selecting an app located in a corner or along the edge of the screen, but the iPhone seemed to respond equally well regardless of location. The iPhone 4 also blew the doors off the Pre in battery life. I could go about two days without a charge on the iPhone, compared with needing to recharge the Pre every day with the same level of activity.

One feature that stood out above all else on the iPhone 4 was the dual-camera videoconferencing function. I cannot wait until this feature becomes more common in mobile devices because the bandwidth and speed are already there to support it. The image quality and sound are impeccable and easy to use. And the ability to switch images from one camera to another is a powerful feature because it lets you, with a tap of a button, show your partner a first-person view of what you’re seeing. The only thing missing is interaction between videoconferencing and other collaboration tools, such as e-mail or IM.

I was torn when grading the iPhone because features such as the impressive videoconferencing capabilities and the Section 508-compliant tools, such as the text-to-speech functions, merit a Reviewer’s Choice designation. However, ultimately, the antenna problems and exclusive AT&T service are enough to keep it from earning full GCN honors. Get us an iPhone without the AT&T anchor and with the antenna problems fixed, and the Reviewer’s Choice would practically be a forgone conclusion.

Apple, www.apple.com

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