My new iPhone 4 arrived yesterday. It's like my two-year-old iPhone 3G went to fat camp, and came back all fast and powerful and beautiful.
The most important difference between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3G is speed. This thing just blazes along.
The iPhone 3G is simply old. It's the equivalent of a seven-year-old computer. It can run modern software but it does it sloooooooowly. A couple of my favorite iPhone apps are big and complicated, and they run very slowly on the iPhone 3G. I've built up an extensive food journal on the LoseIt fitness app, and that big database was slow to load and use on the 3G. Likewise, another one of my favorite iPhone apps is MotionX-GPS Drive; a driving-directions app is a big, complicated thing and the iPhone 3G was huffing and puffing to keep up with it. Those apps run with brio on my iPhone 4.
Even the everyday basics of using the iPhone 4 are strikingly faster than the 3G, like opening folders, and flicking from screen to screen. Likewise, the iPhone 4 is much peppier than the 3G when scrolling up and down in apps, such as a column of tweets or a browser page.
Loading Web pages seems faster too. I believe the bandwidth is the same for the 3G and 4, but the processor on the 4 is faster, meaning the pages draw faster. This is especially useful for me because I use the Gmail Web app as my primary Web application.
The Retina display looks great. Graphics are more crisp and detailed. On LoseIt on the 4, an icon for a little cartoon wedge of cheese had a shadow on the plate underneath, which I'd never noticed before. Text is clearer and brighter. The display also looked great when showing satellite views in a mapping application, where I felt like I could pick out individual blades of grass on neighbors' lawns (OK, I'm exaggerating -- but it was very clear). And a friend's Cape Cod vacation photos in the Facebook app looked brilliant.
The iPhone 4 gives me, personally, access to a couple of features that were available on the iPhone 3GS, which Apple shipped last year, but which I didn't buy. One of those features is an onboard compass. The compass tells your iPhone which direction it's pointed in, which lets you use augmented reality applications. I downloaded and played a bit with the Layar augmented reality application, which uses the iPhone camera as a viewfinder that you can look through and see informational images overlaid over your surroundings. Some of the Layar add-ons display nearby points of interest, photos from MobyPicture, or icons representing the locations of people using Twitter. I'm not sure how useful it is, but it's fun.
One of the marquee features of the iPhone 4 is support for background running of third-party apps. I tried that out using MotionX-GPS, which keeps track of your path while out and about -- "walking, hiking, running, cycling, sailing, skiing, flying, racing, geocaching," according to the Web site. I've had that app for more than a year but rarely used it because of my previous iPhone's lack of support for multitasking. But this morning, I started MotionX-GPS and ran it in the background while I was taking my morning constitutional in the park. When I got home, I found that MotionX-GPS had accurately tracked my path to the park, around the lake, and back again. Unfortunately, it also accurately tracked my time walking around the house getting breakfast and sitting and eating it; I forgot to turn the app off when I got home.
While at the park, I shot some video using the iPhone video camera. The video camera is the other feature from the 3GS that I didn't have because I had the older 3G. The video camera on the 4 is improved over the 3GS. I can't tell you from personal experience how good the camera is because I haven't watched the video yet. I can tell you that it's easy enough to use that I was able to take shots walking backwards without tripping over a picnic table.
Upgrading from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4 was mostly easy. It was up and running fast. I plugged it into my Mac, and entered my phone number and the last four digits of my Social Security number when iTunes asked for that information. Then I left the iPhone 4 plugged in and left it alone about an hour while it synched. After it synched, I was able to play with it right away, because Apple ships the iPhone almost completely charged.
I did have problems upgrading a couple of apps. I still haven't got my calendars fully synched; I have them set to synch with Google Calendar using Exchange, and I just can't get it to work right. One of my recurring appointments syncs for every Monday, but that's the only thing that will sync.
Also, I rely on Things, a to-do list manager, to get me through every day. I struggled getting that to sync with my Mac for a while. Eventually I deleted the app from my iPhone, then downloaded and reinstalled it and synced it with the Mac desktop. The first sync took an hour, but since then it's been fine. I'll keep an eye on it to see if there are recurring problems.
I have not been able to reproduce the death-grip problem, which has created bandwidth bottlenecks for some iPhone 4 users.
Overall, I'm very glad I got the iPhone 4. It's just like my iPhone 3G, which I was very happy with, but better.
Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.