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Tuesday, June 22, 2010, 03:50 pm PT (06:50 pm ET)

First reviews of iPhone 4 hit big-name newspapers (u)

The first reviews of iPhone 4 are beginning to appear, including Walt Mossberg's in the Wall Street Journal, David Pogue's in the New York Times and Ed Baig's in USA Today.

Walt Mossberg - The Wall Street Journal

Mossberg's review noted iPhone 4's "dramatic redesign," writing, "physically, the iPhone 4 is attractive and feels great in the hand. Even the back is now clad in glass, which Apple claims is a superstrong variety 30 times tougher than plastic. I dropped it several times from a few feet onto a hard surface with no problem, and it acquired no scratches at all in my testing, even though I didn’t use a case or coddle it."

Mossberg called the new FaceTime video calling "one of this device’s best features," explaining, "there is no setup and nothing to learn. You just press a FaceTime button, and if the other person accepts the invitation to talk face to face, his or her image appears, with your own image showing in a small corner window. […] It worked great for me, except for a couple of brief freeze-ups."

The review briefly notes new iOS 4 features before saying, "the most important downside of the iPhone 4 is that, in the U.S., 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."

Mossberg writes that Apple is working to improve things by using the phone's frame as an antenna, adding "Apple said it also tuned the phone to try to grab whatever band on the network was less congested or less affected by interference—to stress the quality of a signal over its raw strength. AT&T said it, too, made some changes to its network with the new iPhone in mind."

Despite those improvements, Mossberg wrote that "network reception was a mixed bag," noting that he experienced fewer dropped calls but that the device sometimes registered no or fewer bars than an iPhone 3GS.

"Apple says that this is a bug it plans to fix," Mossberg wrote, "and that it has to do with the way the bars are presented, not the actual ability to make a call. And, in fact, in nearly all of these cases, the iPhone 4 was able to place calls despite the lack of bars."

The review concludes, "I can’t recommend this new iPhone for voice calling for people who experience poor AT&T reception, unless they are willing to carry a second phone on a network that works better for them. For everyone else, however, I’d say that Apple has built a beautiful smartphone that works well, adds impressive new features and is still, overall, the best device in its class."

David Pogue - The New York Times

Mossberg's review is followed by one from New York Times columnist David Pogue.
  • The new metal mute and volume buttons are much stiffer.
  • Apple's A4 chip "makes a difference every time you tap the touch screen."
  • Video call (FaceTime) "picture and audio are rock solid, with very little delay, and it works the first time and every time."
  • The new 5MP camera is "better, though it’s still no rival to a real camera."
  • Snapping a photo is now "instantaneous," losing the lag of last year's models.
  • The LED flash can remain on for video recordings.
  • Takes "great" 720p HD videos.
  • The noise-canceling microphone, improved audio chamber, and new antenna design of the iPhone 4 produce clearer audio calls and less dropped calls.

Edward C. Baig - USA Today

Ed Baig of the USA Today also had this to add:
  • Apple has "nailed" video calling;
  • To reinforce the claim that the iPhone 4's glass is 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic an "Apple executive dropped it in front of me. The phone was undamaged."
  • "You can seamlessly switch from front to rear camera and back during a call, allowing you to share your surroundings with a caller."
  • "It takes a few seconds once you tap the FaceTime button for AT&T to hand the call over to the FaceTime application."
  • To to downgrade a call from a FaceTime video call to an audio call, hang up and redial.
  • The 5MP camera took "several decent pictures in low light but had some grainy results, too. It's not a great camera for capturing fast-moving action. Close-ups taken with the 5x digital zoom, which is an iOS 4 addition, were so-so."
  • "The second, front-facing camera on the iPhone makes it a snap to capture self-portraits without flipping the device around."
  • "I found it a [iMovie] clumsy to use, however, and for some reason the app misidentified the location where certain footage was shot.
  • eBooks look "supercrisp and sharp" throughout the new Retina Display but fall short of the iPad experience.