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iPhone 4 review roundup: highlights and one big downside

Enthusiastic fans have been queuing at Apple stores nationwide. Good thing the new smart phone seems to be worth the wait.

Even before the first iPhone 4 review went online, enthusiastic fans were queuing up in front of Apple stores nationwide. Good thing the new smart phone seems to be worth the wait.

Early reviews of the iPhone 4 say the new model really is a leap forward for Apple — except for one persistent flaw that may have actually gotten worse. Here’s the roundup:

The shape
“Thanks to a boy and a bar and a blog, we’ve already known for some time what the iPhone 4 would look like,” jokes BoingBoing’s positive but not glowing review. “The squared-off, thinner, steel-and glass form is more masculine, more substantial. Like a really hot designer watch. … It feels really nice to hold. Once my hand got used to it, the 3GS body felt more like a toy, and I didn’t much feel like holding it anymore. … The display is a huge leap forward. It’s really crisp, and hues are more true.”

The battery
“In fact, we managed to squeeze more than 38 hours — yes, 38 hours — of life out of a single charge using the phone as we normally would,” writes Engadget. “We’re talking calls, some gaming, lots of push email and calendar invites, playing music over Bluetooth in the car, and just general testing (like downloading new apps, rearranging icons, tweaking settings). We went from 10:30AM on a Saturday morning till 1:00AM on Monday without needing to charge the phone.”

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The video calling
“Video calling is as simple as tapping a FaceTime button next to a Contacts entry when you initiate a call or tapping a button once you’re on a regular voice call,” explains USA Today, which felt FaceTime was one of the best new features. “You can seamlessly switch from front to rear camera and back during a call, allowing you to share your surroundings with a caller. Now the caveats: Both you and the person you’re talking to need an iPhone 4, though Apple hopes to make FaceTime a standard that would permit video calling across numerous devices. Both parties need to be connected to Wi-Fi.”

The competition
“Now, the iPhone is no longer the undisputed king of app phones,” writes The New York Times. “In particular, the technically inclined may find greater flexibility and choice among its Android rivals, like the HTC Incredible and Evo. They’re more complicated, and their app store not as good, but they’re loaded with droolworthy features like turn-by-turn GPS instructions, speech recognition that saves you typing, removable batteries and a choice of cell networks. If what you care about, however, is size and shape, beauty and battery life, polish and pleasure, then the iPhone 4 is calling your name.”

The problem
The most important downside of the iPhone 4 is that, in the United States, it’s shackled to AT&T, which not only still operates a network that has trouble connecting and maintaining calls in many cities, but now has abandoned unlimited, flat-rate data plans. Apple needs a second network,” says The Wall Street Journal. “[O]n at least six occasions during my tests, the new iPhone was either reporting “no service” or searching for a network while the old one, held in my other hand, was showing at least a couple of bars. Neither Apple nor AT&T could explain this.”

The final word
“The fourth incarnation of Apple’s iPhone is an incrementally improved, familiar device — not a new kind of device, as was the case with the recent introduction of iPad. Yes, the notable features with iPhone 4 — both the device and the iOS4, which came out yesterday in advance of the iPhone itself — are mostly tweaks,” concludes BoingBoing. “But what tweaks they are: Apple’s focus on improvement is as much key to the quality of its products as innovation.”