Read This Before You Buy an iPhone 4

iPhone 4By Andrew Eisner,‘s Director of Community and Content

Whether you have an iPhone or some other phone, now is a great time to move up to a new smartphone like the new Apple iPhone 4, new Android based smartphone like the HTC EVO 4G or HTC Incredible, or even a new BlackBerry, Samsung, LG, or Motorola smartphone. However, before we get into our iPhone 4 vs. Android and others evaluation, we can probably save you some time by offering this recommendation: if you have an AT&T phone then an iPhone 4 is the obvious choice especially if you already have an unlimited data plan. Otherwise, the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint or the HTC Incredible on Verizon is a very tempting alternative to the new Apple iPhone 4. Here’s our analysis based on what we feel are the most important considerations.

Screen Size, Pixel Density and Multitouch
Apple has squeezed 640 x 960 pixels into the iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch display which should make for finer details, smoother text, and amazing image quality. The HTC EVO has a larger, 4.3-inch screen with a respectable 480 x 800 resolution which makes for a great viewing experience whether you’re watching videos, browsing the web or looking at a list of tweets. The HTC Incredible offers 480 x 800 resolution in a 3.7-inch OLED display. The rumored BlackBerry Bold 9800 will be a very tempting alternative. It will help keep RIM the king of hill for messaging devices with both a slider QWERTY keyboard and touchsrceen 3-inch (480 x 320) display. Apple is still the king of the soft keyboards and early reviews of the iPhone 4 indicate that Apple will continue to do multitouch and soft keyboards better than Android however, some say the new Android 2.2 version offers some improvements in the touch department and for now, there are some good third-party Android keyboard alternatives like Swype.

Long Live Your Battery
Apple claims to have extended the iPhone 4’s battery life by 40% over the iPhone 3GS for talk time. We’ll reserve judgment until we get some real-world reports from users but if the claims turn out to be true the iPhone 4 could raise the bar on smartphone battery life especially in light of the criticisms HTC phones like the EVO have been getting for their less than stellar battery life. However, we can say from personal experience it’s possible to dramatically extend the EVO battery by judiciously turning off apps and “radios.”

You Can’t Beat a Replaceable Battery
Despite Apple’s work on longer lasting batteries, you still can’t swap out the battery with a fully charged spare. The EVO’s back cover is easy to open and you could be up and running on a fresh battery in minutes.

Camera and Camcorder
We are tempted to call the camera/camcorder duel a draw. Both the iPhone 4 and some new smartphones like the EVO offer lots of megapixels, tap to focus, a front facing camera, 720p video and a flash. The EVO has an HDMI port for watching the HD recordings on your HDTV but the iPhone will have some impressive on-board editing with a special $4.99 version of iMovie. We’ll be interested to see how the cameras’ image quality compares as the Apple ipPhone 4 might have an edge with a better sensor.

Cool New Smartphone Features
Apple has added some very cool new features that could have your friends and co-workers drooling over your new iPhone. The gyroscope adds one more sensor along with the current iPhone’s compass, accelerometer, proximity, and ambient light sensor. The gyroscope will literally add new dimensions to apps especially game apps, game controllers or other remote control application. FaceTime, Apple’s new video conferencing app could make social interactions (with other iPhone 4 owners only) more fun and intimate with Apple’s knack for making applications easy-to-use. On the other hand you’ll find cool features on other smartphones too. We like the kickstand on the EVO, the navigation buttons on Android phones and many of the useful interface features found on HTC’s Sense user interface like the pull-down notification page.

It’s All About the Apps
There’s no question, the sheer magnitude of the Apple Apps Store (225,000 apps) is imposing but when you get down to the quality of the apps and which apps are available on both Android and Apple platforms the difference isn’t quite so dramatic. Unfortunately, you can’t play Angry Birds on the EVO but you don’t get the power of many Google Apps like Google Voice on the iPhone. Keep in mind that the tables could turn as an army of Android phones start to create a more desirable market for developers to work with. Research firm, Gartner predicts the number of Android phones will surpass the number of iPhone over the next two to three years. This could be a game changer as developers find a lucrative and less restrictive environment over on the Android side of the fence.

Open vs. Closed and Android Intent
Something else to keep in mind when looking at the future of smartphones is the differences a closed platform like Apple’s verses the open source-based Android environment. Understandably, there is something to be said for a single point of control making sure everything plays together nicely but equally strong arguments can be made for an open environment. One Android feature we’re watching closely is Android’s “Intent,” which allows one app to share and incorporate functions or services of other apps. For example, a bar code reading function from one app could be used by another app.

Long-Running iPhone Complaints
The new version of the iPhone OS and the iPhone 4 will address some long-standing complaints from users while others still remain. Yes, we’ve heard the arguments from Steve Jobs about how flawed Flash is and howHTML5 is the new platform for video and other rich media but that still doesn’t mean users are going to get lots of empty screens instead of flash media. Meanwhile, multitasking finally arrived on the iPhone (with iOS 4) and we hear it’s very easy to manage. While tethering is supposedly now available from AT&T on the iPhone, we didn’t hear it mentioned in Steve’s keynote and we also hear you’ll have to pay extra for it and you won’t be able to tether an iPhone to an iPad.

Not only have all these features been available on other smartphones but in some cases like the EVO on Sprint, you can use your phone as a WiFi hotspot for an additional $29.99 a month, allowing up to 8 devices to use your 3G or 4G connections to access the net although you might be able to save the monthly fee with an Android app or with the new Android OS 2.2.

It All Comes Down to Coverage and Plans
AT&T just announced a change in their plans that some say could even save the average smartphone user money. We say users are going to want to put high definition video on those high resolution iPhone displays and that could go through lots of gigabytes pretty fast. That said, you can get by with the EVO on Sprint for about $80 which includes 450 voice minutes and unlimited texting and data. Apple’s equivalent plan will cost you a few bucks more.

What’s the Verdict?
After all is said and done, we still think the new iPhone 4 is an irresistible choice for AT&T customers. As far as Android goes, we’re personally having a very satisfying experience with our new HTC EVO despite some issues with battery life. We also hear many HTC Incredible owners are having a good experience on the Verizon network. For the diehard BlackBerry fans, we say check out the new BlackBerry 9800 which is due out soon and we assume will be available on T-Mobile and other carriers.

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