As Apple's chosen reviewers sounded off first on the iPhone 4 Tuesday night, they all agreed that it was a major improvement over its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS, and a champion when compared to challengers from other phone makers. Still, many pointed out that call reception was no better.
Early review units went out to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the popular blogs BoingBoing and Engadget, and several other publications. The most concentrated praise was on the new design, its high-resolution screen and the FaceTime videochatting.
"The iPhone 4 outclasses pretty much every smartphone on the market in terms of industrial design," wrote Engadget's Josh Topolsky. "It just comes off like a far more expensive device."
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As for the screen, with four times as many pixels as the earlier models, the New York Times' David Pogue wrote, "It’s easy to see, and appreciate, the improvement in clarity of text, pictures and videos."
FaceTime, the video calling feature, received praise despite the caveat that it currently only works when two iPhone 4s connect to one another via Wi-Fi — you can't use FaceTime over the cellular 3G network, and you can't use an iPhone 4 to video chat with a computer. "The picture and audio are rock solid, with very little delay, and it works the first time and every time," wrote Pogue. "FaceTime will open up 'video phone calls' to many more users," wrote BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin.
As for the new camera, USA Today's Ed Baig wrote , "I've never been wild about the camera on the early iPhones, but the main camera on the new iPhone has come far." Pogue said the camera wasn't yet capable of replacing a standalone camera, but he did say the 720p high-definition video was as good as a Flip video camera's.
But though many had hoped that a new antenna position and hardware layout would give the iPhone 4 improved cellular reception, the non-scientific comparisons of the reviewers revealed no dramatic increases in the quality of their connection. "AT&T still sucks, and the best engineering out of Cupertino won't change that," wrote Jardin. The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg was blunt: "Apple needs a second network."
As for the off-the-charts demand for the fourth-generation iPhone, starting well before this spate of reviews, Pogue summed it up best: "The public seems to be perfectly capable of sniffing out a winner without the help of tech critics. On the other hand, the new model won’t do anything for people who detest the iPhone."