Hands-on with the iPhone 4's new features
So what does iOS 4 feel like to use on the new iPhone 4 and its A4 chip?
Well, it feels really snappy. The OS is definitely brisk in most of its tasks, and when it comes to something like the camera app, it's a whole new ballgame. We were actually really surprised at how fast the iPhone 4 can snap pictures, especially considering the higher resolution of the camera. If you're an impatient photographer, you'll love the iPhone 4. The same was true for HD video capture -- there wasn't any lag in getting things done. Apps, folders, and task switching also went off without a hitch. If you think your 3GS feels tight, the iPhone 4 is like a vise grip.
The big iPhone 4 software exclusives -- and likely your big questions -- concern FaceTime and the new cameras, which are untested ground for Apple. We were confused at first because we expected FaceTime to be its own app, but instead it's baked into the phone app. Here's how it works: if you place a call to someone else with an iPhone 4, it's able to autodetect that they're FaceTime-compatible and you're given the option of requesting a video call. Otherwise, you can go into the contact card and initiate a FaceTime call right from there (like sending a text message). We experienced varying levels of smoothness when we tested things out -- we experienced some stuttery video and freezes when there were a lot of people crowding the demo booth and trying to make calls, but things were much, much better when the crowds died out a little. Our impression is that if you're on your home network, this will be a really great experience, but you need to have some bandwidth -- hence FaceTime's current WiFi-only status. Of course, the real question is whether or not anyone will actually want
to make video calls at all, and we'll have to wait and see on that. There was something oddly sci-fi about using FaceTime -- even though we know there are other video calling options out there, Apple's presentation makes it all seem a little more futuristic. Apple says the FaceTime standard will be open and people will be able to create apps around it, but we haven't heard much in detail on that front -- it sounds promising, however.
At the end of the day, iOS 4 on the iPhone 4 is still fundamentally the iPhone OS you know and love (or hate with a passion). There's little here you don't know, and there aren't any game-changing features. We love the multitasking, and we love the music-player controls (hopefully there's more of this to come), but Apple is sticking to what it knows with iOS 4. That said, iOS 4 and the iPhone 4 are definitely a match made in gadget geek heaven.
How to get one
Buying a new iPhone -- or any
phone on contract, for that matter -- can be a harrowing experience filled with legalese, unexpected expenses, nail-biting, and signatures that commit you to a solid 24 months of loyalty. Both AT&T and Apple have released all the particulars on getting a brand-spanking-new iPhone 4, whether you're a new AT&T customer or you're coming in for an upgrade -- but in an effort to prevent any last-minute drama on the 24th, let's break it down in one spot, shall we?
If you're new to AT&T or you're adding an additional line
, you'll pay $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB one, assuming you're comfortable with signing a two-year contract. If you'd like to keep yourself out of contract so you can leave at any time you like, you're looking at $599 for 16GB or $699 for 32GB.
What if you sign the contract and decide to ditch out in the middle of it? You'll pay $325 minus $10 times the number of months you've been in the contract in penalty fees. For example, if you're ten months into your iPhone 4 contract and you decide to jump ship, you'll pay $225 to leave. If you bought a 32GB iPhone 4 for the subsidized price of $299, that means you will have effectively paid $524 for it (not including the cost of your monthly plan over the course of those ten months, of course).
Interestingly, this means that you could theoretically save $75 on the no-commitment price of the 16GB model by buying it subsidized and breaking your contract immediately (excluding fees), but unless you're insistent on unlocking the phone immediately (assuming there's a reliable unlock available) and taking it to T-Mobile to use with 2G service alone, there probably isn't much logic in doing that.
If you're upgrading a line of AT&T service that you already have
, the situation is a little bit more complicated, but AT&T has made it about as painless as possible. The first thing you need to do is confirm whether you're eligible for what AT&T refers to as the "new activation" price -- this is the same price you'd pay as though you were a new customer coming in off the street, and it's usually the best price a carrier offers on a phone. AT&T's extended eligibility by six months to many of its current customers, so make sure you check! You've got three options:
- Visit AT&T's website. From there, you'll log into your account and click on the "Check Upgrade Options" link.
- Dial *639# on your current AT&T phone. In a few seconds, you'll get a reply text message telling you what's up -- whether you're eligible, or if not, the date on which you will be.
- Call customer service. No offense to AT&T's call center reps, but we'd use this as a last resort.
It's important to note that your upgrade eligibility date is not
necessarily your contract expiration date -- in fact, the two are only tangentially related -- so you can't assume that buying a phone from AT&T since June 24, 2008 takes you out of the game. The way AT&T calculates upgrade eligibility dates is a closely-guarded secret that involves your monthly spending, the length of time you've been with the carrier and other mysterious factors, but we've been told by an AT&T spokesman that iPhone customers who spend at least $99 a month can generally expect upgrade eligibility to come every 12 to 18 months. In this case, though, the company has pulled ahead any existing iPhone customer who'd previously had an upgrade date in 2010
so that they can get the best $199 / $299 pricing on the iPhone 4.
You may also be required to pay what AT&T calls an "upgrade fee" of $18. Like the upgrade eligibility date, the way AT&T determines whether you've got to shell it out isn't publicly divulged; we're just told that it involves the length of the contract, the customer's payment history, monthly spend, and so on.
If you're not eligible for an upgrade, not all hope is lost; you could either add another line of service (assuming you pass the credit check) or pay what AT&T calls the "early upgrade" price. It's more than the new activation price, but it's still better than the full price of $599 / $699 -- the only downside is that your current contract is extended to a full two years again from the date of your purchase. This early upgrade pricing comes in at $200 more than the $199 / $299, which means you'll pay $399 for the 16GB iPhone 4 or $499 for the 32GB version.
Regardless of how you get the new phone, you might be wondering whether you're able to take your $30 unlimited data with you when you go in light of AT&T's recent data pricing changes
. The short answer is yes, you can -- unless you want to add the $20 tethering option, which requires that you switch to the new $25 DataPro plan that includes 2GB with overage of $10 per additional gigabyte. Be warned: if you do decide to switch to DataPlus or DataPro, you'll never be able to go back to the $30 option, so think long and hard before you take the leap.
So what's the verdict? Well, we're obviously holding final judgments until we have a chance to give the iPhone 4 an official Engadget review, but from the short time we spent with the device and OS, we're definitely impressed. Apple has answered quite a few of the minor questions and issues we've had with the current model, and even seems to be tackling some of the bigger problems like connectivity with those new antennas. When it comes to the competition -- judging by specs and OS capabilities -- the new phone puts Apple ahead of the curve. It's still got some very stiff competition in devices like the EVO 4G and Nexus One, but a gulf has been created by the combination of the iPhone 4's look and feel, an increasingly polished OS, that insane display, superfast CPU, and solid new camera additions. It might not be a revolution tantamount to the introduction of the original iPhone (as Steve and company would like you to believe), but in terms of evolution
, Apple just took a giant step forward.
With contributions by Paul Miller, Chris Ziegler, and Nilay Patel.