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Apple's iPhone 4: More than hype

 

Ignore the bears. The iPhone 4 is more than just hype.

Contrary to the contention of a popular online video showing two animated bears weighing the pros and, well, more pros of HTC's Evo 4G against the iPhone, Apple's newest smart phone, which hit stores a week ago, has its own technical and abstract advantages.

But, honey, a lot can get lost in the excitement.

Three years after the launch of Apple's first phone, the iPhone continues to build a tower of want among mainstream consumers.

The numbers are telling. Thousands of people lined up for hours outside of stores in hope of purchasing an iPhone 4 even days after launch. Apple sold 1.7 million in the first three days it was available in five countries. Some buyers are still waiting for Apple to deliver their phones to homes or nearby stores.

For the most part, the iPhone 4's technical numbers aren't in Apple's favor when compared with the stockpile of phones running Google's Android software.

The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel camera with a small flash for lower-light shots. Thanks to the light-interpretation software, a digital zoom and lens focus that can be tweaked with the touch of a finger, shots are on par with a standalone point-and-shoot camera. It can also shoot very attractive, high-def videos that can be edited on the phone.

But Sprint's Evo 4G (the bear's phone of choice) and Verizon's upcoming Droid X from Motorola both have 8-megapixel shooters. And like the iPhone 4's much-touted video conference capability, the Evo 4G also has a camera on the front.

But good luck setting up a video call on the Evo. Part of Apple's charm is that each piece of the hardware is exploited somewhere in the phone's software.

With that front-facing camera comes a new program called FaceTime. It lets you move seamlessly between phone calls to video chat -- as long as the person on the other end also has an iPhone 4 and is connected to Wi-Fi. Eventually, Apple plans for more devices, even those made by other companies, to support FaceTime, and next year Apple hopes you'll be able to initiate video calls from anywhere over the wireless data network.

The iPhone's processor is about as fast as the ones embedded in competitors. For wireless Internet access, the iPhone 4 relies on AT&T's 3G network while the Evo 4G has -- you guessed it -- 4G, the faster, fourth-generation wireless spectrum from Sprint.

While you might get faster downloads with the Evo, it won't last for long. One area where Apple has a clear advantage is battery life. Mileage will vary based on how often you use it and what you're doing on it, but I'm consistently getting 10 to 12 hours. As for the Evo? Don't ask.

Even with that bulkier battery inside, along with a gyroscope for game developers to take advantage of, the iPhone is thin -- thinner than any smart phone on the market here. It saves some space by wrapping the antennae around the phone, which was designed to improve reach to cellular towers.

But that seemingly clever implementation is turning out to be something of a liability. Widespread reports of cell reception dropping when users hold the phone a certain way prompted Apple to respond, essentially telling customers to buy a case or hold it differently. After becoming aware of it, I was able to replicate the problem with some effort. It hit me by surprise a couple of times during normal usage as well. Not a major hindrance, but an issue nonetheless.

Still, how could you stare into these eyes and not forget all about its shortcomings?

The iPhone 4 has what Apple calls a Retina Display. Four times as many pixels are densely packed into the same 3.5-inch screen, facilitating sharp typography and stunning photos to a degree unseen on any mobile device.

Meanwhile, Motorola and HTC have simply made the screens on their aforementioned phones larger. At 4.3 inches, the displays are cartoonishly big by cellphone standards. What's that bulge in your pocket?

With a growing army of competitors, the iPhone is no longer the strange visitor from the future it was three years ago. But it keeps pace with the competition and exceeds in some respects, sporting the full package of an elegantly made, easy-to-use smart phone that still bears a great deal of influence on the rest of the industry.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Video: Michelle Maltais and Mark Milian review the iPhone 4. Credit: Myung J. Chun and Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times. Photo credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

 
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