My iPhone 4 is awesome


— 7:58 PM on August 12, 2010

Well, I finally did it. After misguidedly buying what turned out to be a sub-par iPhone clone in 2008, then waiting almost five months after my arrival in Canada for the iPhone 4 to come out, I have, at long last, become the proud owner of Apple's newest and finest cellular telephone.

I must admit I was a little wary, first because of the antennagate fiasco, then after hearing Scott complain about his iPhone 4's flaky proximity sensor. I considered picking up an Android handset, but playing with the emulator in the latest Android dev kit left me unimpressed with the interface. I almost followed in Geoff's footsteps by getting a free Palm Pre, but that device already seemed a little too last-gen to stay fresh throughout a two- or three-year carrier contract. Using an underdog platform has its caveats, as well. Besides, that 720p video camera on the iPhone 4 was awfully tempting.

So, on the afternoon of July 30, I headed to the local Apple Store to decide whether I'd take the plunge—or perhaps settle for a freshly discounted iPhone 3GS. I walked past the huge line to the entrance and waited in a second, smaller queue just so I could get in and play with the new iPhone. (I wasn't ready to buy just yet.) The Apple Store clerk directed me to one of the free display units, and after, oh, about 30 seconds of rubbing my greasy fingers on it, I became a convert. Even the 3GS felt sort of like a cheap plastic toy in comparison.

I managed to convince myself that buying the newer device made more financial sense, too. Either phone would have tied me to a three-year contract, but the iPhone 4 was selling for just $159—and the Apple Case Program guaranteed me a free bumper. The 3GS was still selling for $99 when I made my purchase, meanwhile, which meant it'd only save me about 30-40 bucks before tax if I factored in the cost of a decent, after-market case. Not really worth it, right?

I had no intention of spending my Friday afternoon standing in line, so I walked down to the nearest Telus store, inquired about when they'd have iPhone 4s in stock (it would be a week), and promptly put down a deposit. After waiting almost five months, spending another week with my unlocked Nokia 6280 didn't seem like such an ordeal. In case you're Canadian and wondering about my choice of carrier, I picked Telus because of my less-than-stellar experiences with both Rogers and Fido, not to mention the fact that Telus' $50-a-month iPhone plan is one of the cheapest around.

I've now had the iPhone 4 almost a week. How do I feel about my purchase?

Arthur C. Clarke once famously wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Steve Jobs then totally ruined that quotation for the rest of us by adding "magical" to his roster of keynote adjectives. Mr. Clarke's words keep going through my head when I'm using the iPhone 4, however, so maybe Steve's on to something here. I think there's just something about those two smooth glass panes, the spartan hardware controls, the near-invisibility of the pixels, and the smoothness and responsiveness of the UI. It all just comes together in a way that almost makes me forget I'm using a little computer... and that I'm not in a sci-fi movie.

Yes, yes, I don't have much of a frame of reference, this being my first real smart phone and all. While I was gushing about the device last Friday evening, a friend of mine pointed out that his Motorola Droid also has a pretty high-res display and lets him do most of the same things. He's right, of course, and I haven't deluded myself into thinking Apple has somehow completely leapfrogged the competition. The smart phone market has become far too competitive for that. Still, I do think the iPhone 4 is the quintessential Apple product: an expertly crafted blend of proprietary hardware and software that just feels absolutely fantastic to use. It's not that I couldn't do the same things on another device; it's that the iPhone 4 feels so right I wouldn't want to.

Aside from the obviously fantastic display, my favorite part of this phone is its delightfully compact form factor. Even in the free pouch the guy at the Telus store gave me, I can barely feel the phone in my pocket. Yet it's large enough not to be awkward to hold, and reading text on the big, impossibly sharp display is a joy, whether I'm checking something on Wikipedia, catching up on e-mail, or keeping track of my RSS feeds in Reeder or MobileRSS (I really need to pick a favorite). It didn't take me long to become comfortable with the on-screen keyboard, either, and I like the little shortcuts, like how you can hold the _123 key to enter a symbol or digit quickly. The iPhone 4 just feels so nice in my hand I've caught myself taking it out of the pouch just to hold it. If that's not a testament to Apple's industrial design chops, I don't know what is.

Since some of you must be dying to know at this point: yes, I can make the bars drop by gripping the device a certain way, and no, I haven't run into the same issue as Scott with the proximity sensor. The display goes black and ignores input when I hold the phone up to my face, as it should. Frankly, I think that whole antennagate thing has been overblown. As unfortunate as its placement is, the antenna is well out of the way of my fingers when I make a call, and I don't grip the phone tightly enough when using my 3G data connection for it to be an issue. I'll take the free bumper, though, thanks.

Some things do bother me, of course. My biggest disappointment is probably the iTunes application, which alternates between sort-of-okay and clumsy. Why do I need to dig through the options and disable sync to copy music to the iPhone manually? Why doesn't the App Store display star ratings in lists or let me sort apps by popularity? Why do I need to enter my password to "buy" free apps? And why aren't apps automatically added to the program's app list when I buy them from the phone? I know iTunes backs up application settings and everything, but the software's weird, almost schizophrenic separation between computers, devices, and purchases seems very un-Apple. My only other gripe is with the default alarm clock app; I'd like to key in a number instead of using those little wheels. But I'm sure there's a better, free alternative out there.

The iPhone 4 stops just short of perfection, in other words, but it comes awfully close. I've only scratched the surface of the huge app catalog, but I'm already overjoyed with what this device lets me do—and how quickly and easily it lets me do it. Honestly, I haven't been this giddy about a new tech purchase in a long, long time.

   
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