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First impressions of iPhone 4

Sang Tang

For those of you whose preordered iPhone 4 arrived early, just realize that the rest of us were jealous ... incredibly, incredibly jealous. It's one thing to hear it from Walt Mossberg and David Pogue, but seeing countless others rave about the iPhone at about the same time made me that much more anxious to get my hands on the iPhone 4.

Was it worth it to get in line at the Apple store at 3:45am with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning? In a word, yes.

You can count me in the boat of iPhone owners who eschewed the iPhone 3GS, opting instead to stretch the life of the iPhone 3G for one more year in order to get the subsidized price of the next iteration. Little did we know that AT&T would be a lot more generous and flexible with subsidies.

Three things in particular stand out to me with the iPhone 4. The first is its industrial design. iPhone 4 is stunningly beautiful. It's as if a sculptor chiseled away at a slab of steel and glass to create it. When viewed at certain angles, iPhone 4 is reminiscent of the first generation iPhone, which I thought was more aesthetically pleasing than the 3G and 3G S.

While the iPhone 4 is thinner and less wide than its predecessor, this change presents new challenges. Holding it doesn't "feel as good" and natural as the 3G and 3G S, whose rounded edges melded nicely into my hands. In addition, the dual flat surfaces on the front and back of the iPhone 4 make it much more difficult to "feel your way" to the front when reaching into your pocket. You have to look now.

Looking is a good thing, though, as it requires you to be more cautious when handling the iPhone 4. Since both the front and back of the iPhone are now made of glass, it's made me more careful when handling it. I'm sure this will go away in a month or two when third party service providers and Apple have ample iPhone 4 glass to facilitate repairs.

However, it's what's inside, or underneath the glass, that counts; this was the second thing that stood out the most with iPhone 4. The iPhone's "Retina Display" is very good. Spending a full day with the Retina Display has seemingly aged the display on my iPhone 3G. This is especially evident when looking at text.

Last, but not least, are the cameras on the iPhone. Let's start with the front-facing camera.

FaceTime was the feature that I most looked forward to on the iPhone 4, and I'd spent all day IMing people to test it out. Unfortunately, they were IMing me back from the line at the Apple store, and I couldn't test this out until late afternoon.

What stands out about FaceTime isn't so much the feature itself but how it's implemented. Calling others is simple and thought-free, and so are the interactions within the call (e.g., changing from landscape to portrait view and changing from the front camera to the back). However, two annoyances stuck out. First, FaceTime, like iChat and the camera icon accompanying your buddy's name, should have an auto-sensing feature to indicate whether or not the person on the other end of the call can take a FaceTime call. If not, the FaceTime button should be grayed out. Second, being able to use FaceTime via cell data, which is in the works, would certainly be welcome.

On the flip side of things, I was pleasantly surprised at the image and video quality of the camera on the back of the iPhone 4. It was good enough that it made me second guess my purchase of the 16 GB model; I feel I'll need the extra storage space to support the extra pictures and videos I'll be shooting.

So, 32 GB here I come. I've reserved a 32 GB iPhone 4, and I will be exchanging my 16 GB model as soon as Apple gives me a call on availability. For those who are considering doing the same thing, just give your local Apple store a call. You'll receive a confirmation email followed by an appointment time (mine hasn't arrived yet). You'll have 24 hours to complete the transaction at that point.

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