iPhone 4 extinguishes Torch in web browsing [Updated]

Sorry for the cheesy headline. I’m allowed one every now and then.

Here’s a video produced by crackberry.com that compares the web browsing performance of a BlackBerry Torch 9800, an iPhone 4 and a Samsung Captivate. They guys load several sites, both mobile-optimized and not, on all three devices simultaneously. They test performance over Wi-Fi and cell networks. The iPhone wins every time.

As the video progresses, the testers get desperate for their horse to win. At one point, Dieter [2. Update: Rene Ritchie points out that Dieter was more for the iPhone and the Captivate. Thanks, Rene.] notes that enabling Wi-Fi on the iPhone 4 is “…a fiasco.” Granted, he did encounter two unnecessary taps since his Settings app had been left in the Safari settings. But honestly, four taps to turn something on is hardly a “fiasco.” Do you know what is a fiasco? When the entire European Commission and all of Saudi Arabia decide not to use BlackBerries. That’s a fiasco.

Later, when all three devices have loaded the full version of National Geographic, the Torch obviously struggles with pinch-and-zoom and scrolling. Its anemic Qualcomm MSM7600 CPU is almost certainly to blame.

Finally, the testers agree that the Torch would beat the iPhone 3GS. It seems odd to compare RIM’s latest and greatest to Apple’s model from last year, no?

Apple Bumper plus Gelaskin on iPhone 4

For the past week I’ve been using both a Gelaskin and an Apple Bumper case on my iPhone 4. I’m very happy with the result, as the phone looks great, is well protected and functions just as I’d like, with a couple of caveats. Here’s why I’m so pleased with this combination.

The Gelaskin

The durable Gelaskin was easier to apply than I imagined. With some patience you can line it up perfectly, though if you don’t, it’s simple to try again. I went with a simple white with a classic rainbow Apple logo. It looks good, has sealed the crack and already absorbed some abuse that would have been transmitted to the iPhone itself.

The Bumper

Honestly, I was worried about the Bumper’s quality before it arrived. When I read that people were using Live Strong bracelets in place of Apple’s case, I lowered my hopes. Surely it’s more than a piece of rubber.

I can report that it is. It’s a sturdy rectangle of rubber with a thin layer of plastic on the exterior. Holes for all of the major access points, like headphone jack, dock connector and silence button keep them accessible. Additionally, mini volume and on/off buttons sit just on top of their counterparts. Adjusting the volume and switching the phone on and off with the Bumper on is just as effective as with it off. There’s no need to press harder, etc.

It fits snugly and gives you the feeling that it’s “on there.”

A great combination

Here’s why I like the two together. Before the Bumper arrived, the piece of Gelaskin that goes over the home button was just starting to peel up in one corner. It’s my own fault; I caught it on a fingernail and bent it. However, the lip of the Bumper perfectly comes over the edges of the Gelaskin, keeping it firmly in place. Plus, the Bumper keeps the Gelaskin itself from touching most flat surfaces, preventing scratching.

Caveats

There are a couple of things to be aware of. First, the original dock connector-to-USB cable doesn’t fit properly with the Bumper in place. I’ve really got to jam it in there. The cable that ships with the iPhone 4 works perfectly, however, so I typically use that.

Also, the audio cable I’ve been using with my car stereo doesn’t sit all the way in the headphone jack with the Bumper in place. Again, I’ve got to push hard to get a connection. Here, the solution is simple: Just buy another cheap cable from Radio Shack.

All in all, I’m happy with the Gelaskin and Bumper, and I’m glad that the Bumper itself is more substantial than I initially thought it would be.

Of course, I did mooch the thing from Apple for free, so that could be the guilt talking.

You cracked your iPhone 4’s screen, now what?

I’ve owned three iPhones — the original, a 3GS and now an iPhone 4. I’ve dropped each one, and until now, the worst damage incurred was a dent in one corner (the 3GS). Last week, I dropped my iPhone 4 from my lap onto a wooden stair — a total distance of approximately 12 inches — and cracked the front screen.

Compared to other drops I’ve seen, my phone’s damage is minor. For example, the iPhone at right belongs to Nik Fletcher of Realmac Software. Sorry about that, Nik.

My iPhone suffered a hairline crack which runs from the upper left-hand corner to the edge of the earpiece. It’s about 1.5 inches long. Fortunately, it missed the font-facing camera and hasn’t affected the phone’s functioning in anyway. Still, every time I wipe off a smudge I worry that the pressure will cause the crack to grow, and when I take a call I’m afraid it’s going to gash my ear like Mike Tyson.

The irony of the glass

The irony is that I was quite pleased when Apple announced that the phone’s front and back would be made of glass. I didn’t use a case with my original iPhone. By the time I sold it, the plastic back was scratched up (from normal wear, not damage) but the front was pristine.

I did put a case on my 3GS but left the front screen exposed. Again, it was beautiful when I sold it to the guys at SellYourMac. I was convinced that using the sturdy glass on the iPhone’s front and back was a great idea.

What I didn’t count on was just how slippery that glass can be. It offers much less friction than the old plastic case, and when paired with the new squared-off shape, the iPhone 4’s design just begs to slip out of your hand (my hand at least). In fact, I nearly dropped it on the day I brought it home, but managed to catch it before it hit the ground.

I understand that, with more than 3 million units sold, a certain number of users are bound to drop and crack their phones, statistically speaking. Unfortunately, I was one of them. I also believe that the current design is more likely to slip than others.

What to do

If you’re stuck with a iPhone with damage resulting from a drop, there are few things you can do.

1. Visit a Genius and cross your fingers

Here’s a story from Stewart Henshall at Mosoci. His daughter’s iPhone received a hairline crack straight across the front screen. He brought it to a Genius Bar and got it replaced. He doesn’t mention if he had AppleCare coverage, but Apple’s Limited Warranty for iPhone excludes coverage for damage resulting from “…accident, disassembly, unauthorized service and unauthorized modifications,” so that probably wouldn’t have helped in his situation. Still, Stewart got what he wanted so it’s worth a try. Remember, Apple is not obligated to replace phones that suffer accidental damage. So be nice.

2. Call your credit card company

Many credit card companies like AMEX and VISA offer a “Purchase Protection Program” that covers accidental damage or theft for up to 90 days. Give them a call and describe the damage. They’ll send a form for you to complete. Use it to record an estimate of the repair costs. There are monetary limits (per occurrence and annual), but we’re not talking about a mountain of money here. You should have good luck if your card company offers the program.

3. Swap with Apple

For $199, Apple will swap the damaged phone with a replacement. Dropping both your iPhone and $200 really stings, so gird your loins when selecting this option.

4. Fix it yourself

This is easier said than done, but not impossible. I spoke with Kyle Wiens at iFixit about the situation, and this is what he had to say:

“We’re still working hard on getting displays for the iPhone 4, but they’re not going to be cheap when it does happen thanks to Apple’s decision to glue the glass to the LCD. We still don’t have an ETA on parts. We’ve got tons of samples, but we run them through a battery of quality tests before we list the part and start selling it. We haven’t been able to get the quality high enough to sell parts just yet.”

iFixit has published a terrific, unofficial iPhone 4 repair manual that you’ll want to bookmark. Kyle makes me believe that the DIY route will be pricey and arduous, but a fun challenge for the right person.

What I did

My nearest Apple Store is 2-3 hours by car, depending on traffic, so I’m not driving out there. As I mentioned, the crack is minor so I’ve decided to do the eqivelant of putting black tape over your car’s Check Engine light. I bought a Gelaskins protector and applied it (at right). It looks nice and, I assume, will keep the crack from progressing. Plus it offers more friction than a naked iPhone 4. It works for me, but I do not recommend this Band-Aid approach.

In the end, I think the iPhone 4 is beautiful but slippery. If you crack yours as the result of a drop, there are some steps you can take to get it fixed. Good luck, and feel free to share your tale of woe.

What will happen at Apple’s press event

Tomorrow Apple will hold a press conference about the iPhone 4, presumably to discuss the antenna issue that has gained so much attention. Here’s what I think will happen.

  • Apple will offer a $30 Apple Store credit to all current iPhone 4 owners. That will allow those who want a Bumper case to get one for free.
  • Apple will continue to accept returns without charging customers a restocking fee.
  • The forthcoming software patch (iOS 4.01) will be explained again and released.[1. Strike one agains me]
  • Steve (I assume Steve will be the one talking) will insist that the iPhone 4’s design is the best Apple has ever made and that it offers a superior experience over its predecessors (In my experience, that’s been the case). He’ll describe the record-setting sales that Apple and AT&T experienced.
  • Steve will announce the availability of the white model.

In other words, they’ll appease those who are having trouble and stand by their conviction that the iPhone 4 is the best yet. The short event will conclude with Steve (and maybe Scott Forstall) taking questions.

iPhone 4’s reception

Hours after receiving their iPhone 4s, many users noticed that holding it in a way that covers the lower left-hand corner can significantly degrade or even kill its 3G connection. Initially considered an isolated incident, the issue was soon replicated by several users and nicknamed the Death Grip (I think David Pogue started that).

It’s a sensational story. The seemingly invincible Apple has sold a fatally-flawed iPhone, spawning frustration and disappointment. In many cases the frustration is warranted. These customers have purchased a product that can’t reliably perform its primary function. It’s like owning a car whose engine stalls whenever the steering wheel is touched.

Actually, there are two stories here, each hinging on a definition of “reception.” The first is about the iPhone’s ability to send and receive broadcast signals.  The second is about the way the public has reacted to the iPhone 4. In many ways these stories are completely different, though you’d never know it.

Reception: the receiving of broadcast signals [1. The funny part is that Gizmodo paid $5,000 for the scoop of the year yet still managed to miss the biggest part of the story, all because their iPhone wouldn’t turn on. Well, funny to me at least.]

From what I’ve gathered, the drop is most detrimental to users in low-signal areas. A drop from 5 bars to 3 is tolerable; a drop from 3 to 0 isn’t. For those affected to such a degree, it’s extremely and understandably frustrating. In a great article for AntennaSys, Spencer Webb described the science behind the antennas on mobile devices. Essentially, he says that as “bags of water,” human beings can affect this type of reception with a touch. Others have said the same thing, leading to the conclusion that the iPhone 4 has a fundamental, hardware flaw. In other words, it’s doomed.

Reception: the way in which a person or group of people reacts to someone or something

As word spread, the iPhone’s reputation suffered. While purchasing my iPhone 4 at the AT&T Store on the 29th … a week after the US release … I heard many disparaging remarks from passers-by. I wasn’t the only one.

Meanwhile, pundits like Julio Ojeda-Zapata are advising people not to buy an iPhone 4 until the antenna issue gets sorted. Earlier this week, Consumer Reports failed to recommend that their readers buy the iPhone 4, despite giving it the highest rating of all smartphones tested with 77 out of a possible 100 points (their #2 phone was the iPhone 3GS).

Earlier today I saw this clip from CNN suggesting that customers buy a roll of duct tape as an iPhone accessory. Tongue-in-cheek, yes, but also quite damaging. The tacit implication is that the iPhone is damaged, needs to be bandaged and only something as ugly an inelegant as a piece of duct tape will do the job.

Real world use

How does the public’s perception of the problem match up with the experience of users? Apple has sold over 2 million of these things. If the problem is as serious and common as reports would have us believe, the US should be full of frustrated owners of useless iPhones. Engadget has compiled the anecdotal experiences of several notable techies, including Joshua Topolsky, John Gruber, Jacqui Cheng and more. While there’s no clear consensus among the 24 notables polled, they all said that, while they have dropped calls (and many can reproduce the “Death Grip” drop), it hasn’t affected their day-to-day use of the iPhone. My experience has been much the same.

My kitchen

My kitchen is the Bermuda Triangle of domestic carpentry. I first noticed its powers when I brought my original iPhone home. If I was on a call and wandered into the kitchen, it dropped almost immediately. When I left the kitchen for any other room in the house, the signal came right back.

The same thing happened with my 3GS and sisters’ Verizon and Sprint phones. Something in that kitchen loathes cell phones, and lashes out swiftly and violently whenever they enter.

Here’s the thing: my iPhone 4 works perfectly in the kitchen. Not only that, it also works on that peculiar 3-mile stretch of road that always befuddled my 3GS. Also, it consistently out-performs my 3GS and my original iPhone when it’s down to one bar. Previously, 1 bar meant that I was moments away from losing a signal entirely. Today, I’ve maintained phone calls on 1 bar that would have dropped within minutes on my old iPhones.

Yes, I can reproduce the Death Grip drop. But that’s the thing: if I sit and try to get the signal to drop, my hand wrapped tightly around that infamous corner, the signal degrades and sometimes drops. However, my day-t0-day use of the iPhone has been unaffected. I use data-intensive apps and place and receive calls without a problem. Note that I do not use a case.

Part of that might be that I’m right-handed. It’s certainly not due to where I live, as 4 bars is about as good as it ever gets for me. Part of it could just be that it’s not that big of a deal.

But let’s talk about you. I’m not interested in your ability to reproduce the Death Grip drop. It’s been established that nearly everyone can. What I want to know is this:

If you’ve upgraded to the iPhone 4 from a previous model, has your experience with placing and receiving calls and using data-intensive apps (mail, Internet) over 3G been better, worse or about the same? If you feel like sharing, send a brief narrative to comments [at] 52tiger [dot] net. [2. Yes, I realize that I’m asking for self-reported, anecdotal evidence, so don’t write lecturing me about the scientific method.] I’ll compile the more interesting responses for a future post.

Thanks for participating.

Consumer Reports “Can’t recommend” iPhone 4 [Updated]

Consumer Reports:

“Apple needs to come up with a permanent—and free—fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4. If you want an iPhone that works well without a masking-tape fix, we continue to recommend an older model, the 3G S.”

Consumer Reports is read by the shopper who feels that s/he lacks enough information to make a purchasing decision. For many, it’s the definitive word on a product’s quality and desirability.

Many of  you scoffed last week when I suggested that Apple has a serious PR problem on its hands with the iPhone 4. If you still doubt it, consider this tweet from Ged Maheux. It sums up the problem perfectly.

Incidentally, I dislike this image of someone applying duct tape to the iPhone. It suggests that it’s ill and needs bandaging, and that the only solution is ugly and inelegant. Couldn’t they have suggested using a case?

Update: Jim Dalrymple points out that the iPhone 4 scored highest on the magazine’s list of smartphones, earning 76 out of a possible 100 points, despite the “Can’t recommend” rating.

iPhone 4 photos

I took some pictures with the iPhone 4 today. In my limited testing, I noticed that the Camera app launches much faster than it did on my 3GS. The auto-focus also seems more responsive. Overall, the picture quality is impressive, especially for a camera on a phone.

One issue stood out today. While shooting the general store in the gallery below, I had trouble with exposure. The store is white and on a cloudless day it really washed out. Once I got some dark leaves from a nearby tree in the frame, it looked better.

I shot outdoors (a bright, largely cloudless day) and indoors under fluorescent and natural light. I also shot up close and far away. I’ve still got to test low light conditions, digital zoom and video, so another post is forthcoming.

[nggallery id=3]

Places

The Photos app has some nice new features under iOS 4. Places works much like it does in iPhoto ’09. The iPhone will geotag photos it shoots and place them on a Google map. A pin appears on a location with associated images. Tap the pin and a thumbnail appears representing those images; tap it to open a gallery of just those shots. Photos tagged with a different camera and synced to the iPhone will also appear on the map.

Faces

If you’ve synced photos with Faces data, the Faces icon will appear at the bottom of the main Photos screen. Tap any face to open an album of related images.

You can re-size images shared via email or SMS. For example, when emailing the photo below, I could select between four sizes, including the original. It’s quite nice when you’re on a slow network, have a limited data plan or want to send a shot to someone who can’t accept (or doesn’t require) large files.

The available sizes depend on the size of the original file as well how many images you’re trying to send.

Finally, you can set an image to serve as wallpaper for the home screen, lock screen or both. One disappointment is that  you can’t create new events, tag faces or move photos between albums with the iPhone. I was hoping this would be a part of iOS 4.

In short, the new camera is a nice update, though I’ve got to do more thorough testing. I like the updated Photos app too, even though I didn’t get some features I wanted. I’ll shoot and report more soon.

iPhone 4 PR [Updated]

Yesterday I picked up my iPhone 4 from the AT&T store. The line was about 20 people deep when I arrived. As we stood there, shoppers passed by and watched us wait. Many of them had something to say. None of it was good.

“They’re returning their iPhones,” one woman said. “They get no reception.”

“When you hold it,” said another, “it breaks.”

“I’m going to keep my Blackberry since the iPhones don’t work.”

“Apple forces you to buy an expensive case. I bet that’s what they’re waiting for.”

If these sentiments represent public opinion, [1. Eavesdropping on random shoppers in a rural mall — specifically, only those motivated enough to disparage Apple —  is hardly scientific evidence, so keep that in mind.] Apple has a real PR problem on its hands. Geeks like you and me are more informed, but we’re the minority of consumers.

_______

Update: Response from Mr. D.