iPhone 4 Impressions and Observations

Apple had a demo area for the media after the keynote, so I got to spend some time hands-on with the iPhone 4. The resolution of the “retina display” is as impressive as Apple boasts. Text renders like high quality print. One thing that Apple didn’t mention in the keynote, though, is that the LCD pixels are much closer to the surface of the touchscreen. On existing iPhones (and iPods, and iPads), there is not a lot of distance between the glass surface and the LCD, but there is some. There’s also a very narrow amount of air between the touchscreen glass and the underlying LCD. If you’ve ever got a bit dust under your display, that dust is in the air between the glass and LCD.

It’s mentioned briefly in Apple’s promotional video about the design of the iPhone 4, but they’re using a new production process that effectively fuses the LCD and touchscreen — there is no longer any air between the two. One result of this is that the iPhone 4 should be impervious to this dust-under-the-glass issue. More importantly, though, is that it looks better. The effect is that the pixels appear to be painted on the surface of the phone; instead of looking at pixels under glass, it’s like looking at pixels on glass. Combined with the incredibly high pixel density, the overall effect is like “live print”.

It also improves the field of view for the display — you can view the display from an oblique angle and it looks great. Again, like print. It’s like a glossy magazine come to life.

A few other tidbits I noticed during my hands-on time with the phone today:

  • In addition to being thinner than the 3GS, the iPhone 4 is narrower. The display spans almost the entire width of the device, and it feels smaller in your hand.

  • The build quality is incredible. It feels dense and extremely rigid.

  • iMovie for iPhone is impressive as hell.

  • The flat metal edge makes it feel much more like a camera when you’re using it as a camera.

  • Speaking of the camera, the 4 has a wider angle lens than the 3GS camera. This is a good thing, in my book. It’s not a lot wider, but it’s noticeable.

  • After using so much aluminum in recent hardware designs, it’s interesting that they’re using stainless steel for the iPhone 4. Update: Stainless steel can be used as an antenna; aluminum can’t. That’s the explanation.

  • iBooks for iPhone adds Georgia as a font choice. I presume that will come to the iPad version, too.

  • Renaming the OS from iPhone OS to iOS is welcome.

  • Google remains the default search engine in iOS 4, but on all the demo phones in the hands-on area for the media, the search engine was set to Bing.