Wednesday, June 30, 2010

iPhone 4 Is it worthy of all the hype- and the wait? Part two

After spending nearly a week with the iPhone 4 and enjoying all its new features, I would be remiss if I did not talk about some problems I have had with the new device. Most of these are minor annoyances while there is one glaring problem that may require a trip to the Apple Store for a replacement.
The old saying Form follows function is usually true. In the case of Apple products, that isn't always the case. While it is undeniable that iPhone 4 may be one of the sexiest mobile phones around, it may not be the most durable. Starting with the first iPhone, Apple chose to use glass for its display cradled by a metal or plastic case. The reasoning is that glass can be just as durable as plastic and it makes for a higher quality display. True, the iPhone's display is beautiful but is still susceptible to shattering- as all glass can be. With the iPhone 4, Apple chose to use an aluminosilicate glass which was created by Apple and is supposed to be 20 to 30 times stiffer and harder than plastic. It is akin to the type of glass in high speed trains and helicopters. They also chose to use the new glass not only for the display, but also for the back of the phone. 
The problem with this is two-fold. Two pieces of glass held together with a single band of steel defies logic and although beautiful to look at, it seems to invite disaster. Indeed an unprotected iPhone 4 has been proven to shatter or crack when dropped on cement from waist high. What was Apple thinking? I have no idea but I am mortified of the thought of ruining my iPhone in a single drop. To compound the problem of having two sides of glass, Apple chose to let the glass extend beyond the metal band, making it vulnerable to chipping, scratching or breakage from almost any drop. 

Enter the Apple Bumper. Maybe sensing that their newest phone might get pretty dinged up or even break with a simple drop, they created this rubber gasket styled sleeve that slips around the edges of your iPhone 4. After seeing the iPhone in person I knew I could not leave the store without some sort of case to protect it from an accidental fall. The Bumper serves at least two purposes- it protects the metal band from dents and scratches and it also covers the edges of the glass display. With the Bumper installed, the glass will not likely hit the ground first, which is not the case with a bare iPhone 4. I highly recommend a Bumper case to start.  A case that covers the entire back of the iPhone 4 and some screen protecting film should give adequate protection for most. The fact that you almost have to buy a case to protect your new iPhone 4 is really annoying to me and I was disappointed that there were no cases for iPhone 4 available at launch!

I have not been plagued by the widely reported signal issue that some have complained about. The story goes that if you hold the bare iPhone 4 while covering the bottom half, the signal strength/reception is reduced. I have not experienced this yet, but I have experienced another issue that may require exchanging my iPhone. 

One of the iPhone's features is a proximity sensor that detects when you are holding the iPhone next to your face or not. When you bring the phone to your ear, the display turns off-eliminating the possibility of accidentally hitting an on-screen button with your face and potentially disconnecting your call. Well, this appears to be malfunctioning in some iPhone 4s - including mine. I lost three calls because the proximity sensor didn't not detect the iPhone as being next to my face. I hung up accidentally a couple times and hit numerous numbers as well. It could be a software issue or a hardware issue. I have already restored the software, but it did not fix the problem. For now, using the headset is the best way to avoid this unfortunate problem. I am sure it will be squared away soon- this is a brand new product so there will be some growing pains. (Update) I believe the proximity sensor problem may have more to do with the headphone jack than the sensor itself. The connection for the headset is very snug and it is possible the iPhone is not sensing that the plug has been removed from the jack and leaves the screen on by mistake. (Update 2) It appears that Apple has changed the distance from 2" to 1" from the iPhone before shutting off the screen. This could be addressed by a software update. The reception issues have been explained by Apple as another software issue and the actual reception of the iPhone 4 is better than its predecessor. Update 3, Apple has addressed this issue with the proximity sensor with a software update and it is no longer a problem.

As a phone and paired with AT&T, the iPhone 4 is not the greatest way to make a call. Using the included headset with microphone is the best way to make calls with the iPhone 4. Holding an iPhone 4 (or almost any smart phone) is like holding a deck of cards next to your ear. Not the ideal set-up for talking on the phone to be sure.  AT&T is very good or very bad, depending on where you live. I have good reception where I live but hit dead spots from time to time. Check coverage in your area before committing to AT&T. The 3G service is VERY fast. I downloaded an entire 3.5 meg song from iTunes in less than 20 seconds!

In conclusion, the iPhone 4 is a fast and sexy device that does many things very well. The HD video, high quality 5 megapixel camera with flash, hi res display and iPod music make this a compelling choice in the crowded smart phone market. The overall durability of the device is still in question. Apple could improve iPhone 4 durability by replacing the glass panel on the rear with a plastic or metal one and making the metal band wider. Worth a look. If you get one, buy a case!

Read my first impressions by clicking on Older Post.

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