A review of the Apple iPhone 4, 2 years after it was released. The review reasons whether it is still worth it to purchase an iPhone 4 today, or should buyers just head straight to the iPhone 4S or another alternative. At the end, it is hoped that the reader will be able to make a well-informed choice when making his purchasing decision.
Slightly more than two years ago, when Steve Jobs was still alive and kicking, the iPhone 4 was announced. Revolutionary for its time, it incorporated an industry-leading 960x640 display with a 5-megapixel camera that could take videos at HD 720p resolution.
Of course, many things have changed since, however, the iPhone 4 8GB is still on sale, sometimes as low as US$50 on contract. I have with me an iPhone 4 which I have been using for over a year now, and today I will be reviewing it in today's context.
iPhone 4 vs the iPhone 4S
The iPhone 4S, introduced in October last year, looks almost identical to its predecessor, the iPhone 4, but under-the-hood, it packs a dual-core processor, a beefier graphics processor, an eight-megapixel camera with full HD video recording and support for Siri. The iPhone 4, however, chugs along with a single-core Apple A4 processor, rather pedestrian by today's standards. This is important to note as moving on, apps will tend to take advantage of the added horsepower, which may mean that older devices, like the iPhone 4, will run these apps at a slower speed. On this page, you can see a rather comprehensive list of differences between the two models.
iPhone 4 vs Android
iOS hasn't changed much in years, if you're looking for a software comparison, you may want to take a look at this article which I published earlier, which weighs the pros and cons of iPhone vs Android phones.
Hardware-wise, Android phones are generally beefier than iPhones, partly due to the fact that Android OS needs more juice to run smoothly. Anyway, the single-core processor seen in the iPhone 4 is now considered severely outdated by Android standards, whose devices boast next-generation dual-core and quad-core processors running at blistering gigahertz speeds. Devices that have a processor similar to the iPhone 4 are still being sold today, but are marketed as very entry-level Android devices. In addition, it's small 3.5-inch screen size may be tiny by today's standards--the top-of-the-line Samsung Galaxy S III has a 4.8-inch widescreen HD display.
Apart from these shortcomings, the iPhone 4 is still a very capable phone. It supports 3.5G, which is probably more than sufficient for now, 802.11n support (basically the latest version of Wi-Fi in layman terms), and has a screen that still puts many Android devices to shame. Only recently have Android phone makers caught up to its screen resolution.
iPhone 4 vs Windows Phone and Symbian
Both Windows Phone and Symbian seem to have some arbitrary limits placed on them--none of them boast screen resolutions higher than the iPhone 4 and all of them still use a single-core processor, even the respective flagships, the Lumia 900 and the Pureview 808 from Nokia. As such, the iPhone 4 is still pretty competitive in that respect.
At this stage, it is pointless to look at benchmarks, because firstly, they don't paint the whole picture, and secondly, it's needless to say that two years on, it probably lags behind in everything.
However, on a day-to-day basis, the iPhone 4 is still pretty competitive. I haven't found an application that refuses to work with the iPhone 4 yet; whatever is on the App Store that works for iPhone 4S will probably work for the iPhone 4 too. Swiping between screens is still very responsive, and credit must be given for Apple's heavy optimisations.
However, its age shows when trying certain apps; popular apps such as Scramble with Friends occasionally stutters for a while, though it doesn't happen often enough to be a dealbreaker. However, what is apparent is that when loading most apps, it gets stuck on the loading screen for 5 seconds on average, which may get annoying if you're impatient! Scrolling through long messages in WhatsApp! may be somewhat frustrating as well, due to the occasional lag.
Web browsing, too, may be a painful experience sometimes, especially if you have many tabs open. As the iPhone 4 doesn't have much RAM, if you have three or more tabs open at one time, only the current tab and the previous-used tab will be cached--if you attempt to switch to another tab, it will reload the entire page, which is definitely frustrating especially if you have a spotty wireless connection or are running low on data. Swiping through image-heavy pages is also a little slow sometimes. However, if there's one thing worth commending, it would be that the Retina Display makes webpages look very crisp; even when zoomed out completely, it is often still possible to read the text.
I have no complaints regarding the other stock apps though; the Music, Video, Mail and Calendar apps all work flawlessly, smooth as silk.
Is 8GB enough?
If you're buying new, one of the reasons you may be considering the iPhone 4 instead of the 4S is that you feel that 8GB is more-than-sufficient space for you. Depending on your usage, your mileage may vary. You may want to note iPhone apps nowadays are getting larger and larger in size. I have 77 apps installed on my iPhone 4 which already takes up 3.5GB of space. Hence, taking away the overheads for the operating system and other data like messages and mail, you probably have another 3.5GB to work with. This should be enough for about 500 songs encoded in decent quality, or a handful of videos. Therefore, if you're thinking of bringing your entire music or video collection on-the-go with your phone, you may want to consider the iPhone 4S models with larger capacity instead.
You may find an iPhone 4S too expensive and may opt for a second-hand iPhone 4 instead. Indeed, iPhone 4 still have a decent amount of shelf-life left in them and a 32GB iPhone 4 may last you for another year or so. If properly maintained, an iPhone 4 should be able to last the distance. However, it is best that you physically inspect the phone before buying. From experience, the Home button tends to become a little unresponsive over time, so that is one area to take note of.
As mentioned above, buying a second-hand iPhone 4 is still quite viable, considering the phone is still being supported by Apple (and should still be in their upcoming iOS6) and still handles day-to-day tasks pretty well.
However, if you're planning to buy a brand new iPhone 4, there are more factors to consider. If you're upgrading from a normal phone or an old Symbian phone, the iPhone 4 will definitely be an upgrade and will be a good and cost-effective introduction to the Apple ecosystem, especially if you can get it on the cheap. However, if the Apple branding is not that important to you, there are actually other contenders worth considering, such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, which should be dropping in price soon with the introduction of its sucessor.
It must be noted that if you buy a new iPhone 4 on contract now, chances are that it will be unsupported by Apple at the end of your 24-month contract. While the iPhone 4 will most-definitely be supported in the upcoming iOS6, it is rather uncertain what happens after that. Generally, iPhones have had a life cycle of about three years before being completely unsupported by Apple. Thus, unless you are short on cash, I would recommend that you go for the iPhone 4S on contract instead, or wait for the next iPhone to come out.