iPhone 4 Review Part 2/5: Design

| July 21, 2010


First off, the typical Apple stuff comes in the box: earbuds, a USB sync/charge cable, an AC adapter, and an instruction manual. It would’ve been nice to have a dock, but the iPhone hasn’t come with one since the first model, so no surprise there. (And it turns out that the first-gen iPhone’s dock happens to fit this device, so that’s an incidental perk, if you have one of those lying around.)


To put it bluntly, it’s a pretty phone. Stainless steel and glass make for a high-end feel, and the slim, flat sides inject a lot of sleekness and sophistication. Noah and I disagree on one point: He likes the feel more than the looks; for me, it’s the opposite. (Though its thinness does make it easier to slide into pockets and skinny purses.)

Sized at 4.5 x 2.31 x 0.37 inches, it is 24 percent thinner and slightly narrower than the iPhone 3GS. So with its glass and steel fabrication, plus bigger battery, the i4 has a heft that belies its 4.8 ounces. Seriously, that’s it? It’s about the same weight as the last model, yet it seems heavier. I can only imagine that the weight is more noticeable because the smaller profile and slicker glass makes it feel more precarious in my hands. The new flatter, thinner shape also makes the edges stand out when holding it. I eventually got used to it, but it just doesn’t feel great in the palm. On the plus side, the slim form factor does make it easier to grasp between the fingers alone, which is a plus for playing games.

That's an iPhone 3GS on the far left, and an HTC Aria on the far right. The iPhone 4 is in the middle.

Unlike other phones, like the HTC Aria for example (whose grippy exterior makes me comfortable enough to just grab and toss into my bag), the iPhone 4 has me stopping and gingerly picking it up. So I guess I’m a little afraid of this phone (or rather, afraid of damaging it). That’s what happens when you make a phone from glass. Despite claims that it’s impact-resistant, stories abound on the web about breakage, so this has me nervous — even now, three weeks later. (So much for the sexy looks; a case is a must-have, and it’s going to cover this guy.)

The front-facing VGA camera on the phone is small and unobtrusive, and the 5MP camera on the back now boasts an LED flash. There is the requisite headphone jack (3.4mm) and sleep button at the top, and Apple’s proprietary charging port. Aesthetically, the little circular volume buttons, vibrate switch and sleep button look smart, as they’re all rendered in the same brushed metal as the exterior band. Speaking of which…

It also has a “Retina Display,” a 3.5-inch screen that may actually seem puny when compared to the likes of the Evo’s 4.3-inch mongo display. It’s tough to count this as a strike against the handset for one simple reason: More screen real estate also means a bigger phone, and not everyone wants to cart around a junior tablet. (I will say this, however: Once you get used to the surface area of a larger display, it’s hard going back. If you never experienced one to begin with, or you prefer carting a more petite phone, then the screen real estate won’t disappoint.) For now, I’m chalking this one up to individual preference.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the external banding/antenna — and the massive reports of signal failures. Yes, many phones may have some signal attenuation depending on the grip. But many users are reporting that signal loss with the iPhone 4 exceeds “normal” bounds. I'll go into this more under Usability & Performance.

Click here to go to Part 3 of our iPhone 4 Review: Features

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