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printed October 24, 2014
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Review: iPhone 4

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Apple is in trouble. When the original iPhone was launched, Steve Jobs said it was five years ahead of the competition. Now, while the competition is eagerly catching up to Apple in all of the iPhone’s best features, Apple seems unwilling or unable to move quickly to catch up to the social networking features on Android, WebOS and even BlackBerry devices.

The iPhone 4 is still great, and Apple excels at proving that unexpected features can make a dramatic difference. The screen is the best I’ve ever seen on a phone, and the camera is as good as a standalone point and shoot. The iPhone has always been the best at music and video playback, with strong backing from the iTunes desktop application. For gaming, the iPhone is in a class by itself, and finds more competition in the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS than any other smartphone.

Still, for the first time with this generation of iPhones, Apple is seriously behind the curve. Features like widgets, deep social networking integration and even advanced messaging options are common on other platforms, but unheard of on the iPhone. Third party apps fill in many of the gaps, and Apple’s curated App Store offers the best selection and the easiest way to find new apps, but many other phones do a better job integrating contacts, events and photos from social networks, and that’s important to smartphone users these days.

There may also be significant hardware problems. Reception can dip dramatically when the antenna is blocked the wrong way. The earpiece was not loud enough to overcome a noisy environment. I’m also not comfortable with the all glass front and back. The overall design doesn’t impress me much, though my fellow editors disagree, so this is just a matter of taste.

The iPhone is still one of the best smartphones on the market, but it’s no longer safe to simply call this The One and go home. Depending on your needs, there may be better options out there for you. But if you want great multimedia, superior gaming and app options, and a screen that looks picture perfect, the iPhone 4 is the one to choose.

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