Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gordon’s idiosyncratic revenue-free iPhone 4 and iOS 4 review

For geeks like you and I, the iPhone 4 is annoying. We’d have been much happier with an enhanced 3GS with more memory, more processing efficiency, a better display, iOS4, better antenna design, less case cracking and built-in bumpers.

Alas, Apple gave us a pretty phone.

The antenna problem is an annoyance, but even without a case it’s not bad if I minimize skin contact and hold the top of the phone. If I’m ever able to find a case, I doubt I’ll give it another thought. I haven’t yet run into problems with the facial sensor – I guess my face and the way I hold the phone fits Apple’s design.

The real problem is the damned phone is too fragile. It feels fragile, it looks fragile, and half the geeks I read are showing broken screens. It doesn’t need a case, it needs a nursing home. If it were possible to find a case I’d have one now. Do not buy an iPhone until you can buy it with a case.

In fact, if you don't need an iPhone right now, wait until October. By then iOS 4.1 will be out and many of the worst bugs will be resolved.

In fast-to-read-and-write bullet form, here are the rest of my impressions.


I took the very conservative root of treating my iPhone 4 as a completely new device and gradually moving things over. This minimizes bug problems, but at a minimum you will lose:
  • all application specific data and configuration
  • all saved account credentials
  • all phone Favorites
  • SMS/MMS messages
  • Notes (may be available on desktop if sync)
  • 1Password and like files
If I were to do it again I'd probably do the standard update from the existing phone.

I ran into some glitches with
  • 3G data service access was initially missing. I had to shutdown, restart and wait a while.
  • Voice mail wanted my voicemail password (PIN really).
Phone (hardware)
  • The SIM card removal tool is not included in the US (it is in the UK)
  • Facetime: I don’t have time to play with it. It will only be interesting when/if there’s a desktop client.
  • Battery: I’m not big changes over my old 3G. I suspect Push sync is a huge battery killer, and I’m currently synchronizing Calendar and Contacts with a corporate ActiveSync server, Google’s ActiveSync server, and Apple’s MobileMe services.
  • Face sensor: It works for me but I usually use the headphones so I might not notice a big problem.
  • Antenna: If I touch the "dead zone" I drop the call. Elsewhere it's ok. Apple should stop pretending other phones have this problem. It's a genuine design flaw. I'm going to duct tape my phone until I get a case.
  • Retina display: It hasn’t changed my life. Text is easier to read, which is good news for geezer geeks like me but it's not a big deal.
  • Camera/video: Nice. Good improvement. I love being able to take a low light snapshot of printed text from a few inches away and get a very readable image. For example (click for full image, the image is from a pending post on AT&T’s latest scam):
  • image
  • Performance: I was using a 3G. I’m seeing performance comparable to my wife’s 3GS. For me, this is a huge improvement but a 3GS users wouldn’t notice much.
  • I think Apple did some keyboard layout consolidation. That’s a relief! I don’t see as much context-specific keyboard reconfiguration. That was a good idea in theory, but in practice it was a pain in the buttocks.
  • I’ve been waiting for multiple ActiveSync servers for ages. I do wonder if the battery drain is worse than CalDAV but this is a meaningful improvement.
  • Calendar is still very weak. The options for scheduling alerts still max out at 2 days ahead -- I need 3-4 weeks. You can only have one alert per item. Recurrence is very weak; you still can't schedule 2nd Tuesday of each month or the 2nd Tuesday of August each year. People over 77 don't exist and color assignments are per server, not per phone. All old bugs and design mistakes, none fixed.
  • Contacts can now be "linked". In the UI this shows as "Linked Cards" and "Link Contact", and in the documentation it's "Unfiied Contacts". This nomenclature confusion is a strong indicator that this feature was released prematurely. Do not use it. The iPhone manual says it's intended to support "contact unification". Contact unification sounds insane -- people with the same first and last names are grouped together in the iPhone UI. You can force this "linking" or break it. This sounds awful.
  • You still can't change group membership in the iPhone. If you select a group when you create a contact it will be assigned to that (single) group.
  • I'm not getting anything out of the multitasking. The apps I use haven't been updated to use it yet. I miss the ability to get to phone Favorites by clicking the Home button twice (now goes to multi-task).
  • The unified email boxes are a nice convenience, but I'd much rather Apple had fixed the damned calendar.
  • You still can't easily delete all images and videos from the iPhone camera roll. You need to use Image Capture on OS X to delete them. Image importing on OS X is as kludgy as ever (it's better on Windows).
  • I think Apple has fixed the bug with deleting a single instance of an Exchange server recurring meeting. It no longer deletes every instance. Wrong. They just changed it to a different bug.
  • The biggest iOS advantage for me is the ability to use ActiveSync with both Google and with my corporate Exchange server.
  • The OS has been stable for me. No crashes.
  • I like that I can turn off Cellular data from the Network setting.
  • Pairing with an external keyboard can be tricky.
  • The ancient text truncation bug in calendar memos has not been fixed.
  • iPhone 4 is an improvement over my iPhone 3, but it's only a mild improvement over the iPhone 3GS (better display, better camera, but more fragile). Certainly nobody with a working 3GS should spend a lot for an iPhone 4. If you have an iPhone 3, and are not in love with AT&T, you might want to buy a used 3GS out of contract and wait and see how the market evolves.
  • The biggest plus is the camera and support for multiple Exchange servers.
  • The biggest minus is that an already fragile phone is now more fragile and the Calendar remains pathetic.
See also
Update 7/31/10: I've had no reception on my phone while my wife's 3GS had "four bars" (More bars in more places, fake of course since she's on OS 3.) I restarted my phone and had "three bars". I bet that problem is software related and fixable.


Anonymous said...

>>>For geeks like you and I, the iPhone 4 is annoying. We’d have been much happier with an enhanced 3GS with more memory, more processing efficiency, a better display, iOS4, better antenna design, less case cracking and built-in bumpers.<<<

For a geek like me, that's all false. I love the iPhone 4, and have had zero problems with reception. I bought a bumper, but don't use it. At first, I thought it was more fragile, but the drop tests I've seen indicate it's no more fragile than the 3GS.

The highights for me are the radically improved camera and the LCD.

To me, the iPhone 4 criticism seems to have become a bit of an echo chamber. It's my favorite iPhone experience by a wide margin, and even the notorious antenna thing has not affected me at all.

Practically speaking, Apple needs to do something about the antenna for those who have issues, but given the fact that the external antenna band provides more room inside, it's a positive trade-off in my case- even in its present form.

Love the iPhone 4.

-a geek & software developer

JGF said...

I assume my readership is made up of grumpy old geeks like me.

I sure hope I'm wrong about the fragility. It seemed like a lot of the early adopters I read were featuring pictures of broken Gorilla Glass.

I love the camera. Oddly the LCD doesn't move me as much. Maybe when more of my apps are updated.

I don't dislike my iPhone 4. It's a nice improvement over the 3G and a modest improvement over the 3GS. The hardware is good enough, I'd like Apple to work more on the software I need.

Anonymous said...

There's a sampling problem with the breakage reports- you generally only hear from the people who had something break. The online tests I saw (just 2 or 3) indicated that the 4 was about as fragile as the 3GS.

I consider mine a big improvement over the 3G. I'm still impressed on a regular basis with the camera- first time I ever treated a cell phone like an actual camera.

Plus, the display. For me, the deep blacks as impt as the resolution. It's night & day.

I've bought each new iPhone model, and none has been a bigger increment for me than this one.

Curt Carmack said...

John, I hear you on the broken calendar. Just one note on that -- if you use CalDAV for Google calendars, you can set two reminders, though still limited to 2 days out. It's only the Exchange ActiveSync accounts that are limited to a single reminder. ActiveSync also limits the fields available for contact info. It's getting pretty long in the tooth at this point . . .

Unknown said...

Dr. Gordon

I've awaited your review of the i4 with greater anticipation than the phone itself.

As usual, you touched upon every bitch on this old geeks list of i4 gripes.

However, I find the screen stunning. I could not wait, and had to sink my geeky choppers into a Galaxy s, and the I4's LCD blows it away.

I must say it's nice to finally add that looooong awaited keyboard.

I am very disappointed in the performance boost over the 3GS.

Your friend from the DARKSIDE.

JGF said...

Hi Darkseid!

Funny, I forgot about trying out the bluetooth kb! I'll give that a try.