Most of what works on the iPhone 4 does so unbelievably well. The user experience is amazing, from the quality of the screen and the speed and responsiveness of the handset performance, to the camera features and outstanding battery life. I am one of the lucky users who hasn’t experienced a lot of software problems (except when I first got my phone, which was resolved when I restored it as a new handset. Since then, I’ve had no big software issues). Over the past three weeks, I found that re-learning a different hand grip was a small compromise to make in order to enjoy everything else that comes with this device.
But, and this is important, let me restate that I’m one of the lucky ones. I know a lot of people who are pulling their hair out over this phone. There have been proximity fails — with face presses hanging up on people or dialing other numbers mid-call — as well as other OS glitches, in addition to the reception problems. Some have suffered some or all of these issues, while others haven’t at all.
And that’s the big dilemma with this phone: It’s not even the fact that there are problems, but that no two users have the same list of glitches. So I can’t even tell would-be owners which issues to brace themselves for. The experiences are even varied among the professional reviewers — some of whom proclaim the iPhone 4 one of the best smartphones on the market, while others caution people to stay away. Several sites have covered the signal loss ad nauseum, even though others can’t even reproduce the glitch.
In the intro, I said I wouldn’t go into the merits of Apple’s behavior, but I'm changing my mind now for one particular point: Thanks to Apple’s PR flop these past three weeks, whatever confidence consumers had that the company would fix problems like these has been shaken. Steve Jobs never actually promised Apple would fix the antenna issue. He said other phones have this problem; he admitted that the iPhone 4 dropped slightly more calls than the 3GS; and then he announced free cases would be doled out.
As for the proximity issue, he promised that it would be addressed in the next software update. Thing is, so many people have had problems with the past two updates (iOS 4, then 4.0.1), it’s hard to put any faith into this being a seamless experience. The ability to successfully make calls, without hanging up or muting people, is a pretty essential function of any handset.
After all, you just can’t take the “phone” part out of “smartphone” and call it a winner.
If you’re considering the iPhone 4, then you may want to wait for more tests to surface showing the impact of cases on the antenna issue, as well as how the proximity and other software issues pan out first. Otherwise, cross your fingers that you're one of the lucky ones.
As great as I think this device is — and when it works, it is sublime — I cannot recommend it in its current state. There is way too much uncertainty here. And let’s face it: When it comes to the iPhone, most people choose it for its simplicity and ease of use, right? For too many people, that is precisely what’s been taken away.