iPhone 4: First Impressions

Last modified on July 31st, 2010

I spent the majority of the day yesterday waiting in a huge line-up at Vancouver’s Pacific Centre Apple store. Doors opened at 7am, but thanks to a late night wine-filled game of Cranium, yours truly wasn’t quite up to snuff at 7am. I strolled down at around 9:15am or so, only to be greeted with a line that not only snaked all the way down the halls inside the mall, but had spilled out onto the streets, wrapping down Granville for about 3/4 of a block.

I ran into my friend Dave at the store. Despite a level 4 hangover, Dave managed to get there around 7am and secure a pretty nice spot in line. Thankfully Dave let me hang out next to him for the remainder of the day (also known as helping me budge in line), which saved me around 2 hours of waiting.

Waiting in line that long obviously makes everyone tired and frustrated. I have to give credit to the Apple store for keeping people informed about what was going on, and also supplying people with free snacks and bottles of water during the day. Tensions were high at a few points there, but for the most part everyone stayed pretty upbeat, occasionally cheering when someone came out of the store with their new phone.

All in all, I spent about five hours waiting in line. Once I got inside, I was debating getting one or two phones, since I was pretty sure I could easily sell the second one on Twitter that afternoon. I made a last minute decision to pick up the second one, and walked away with two unlocked phones for around $1,800. Unfortunately my TD Travel Visa threw some error about having to verify the transaction by phone (I understand fraud protection is important, but TD lost that transaction by trying to make me call in and authorize it). So instead, I put everything on my Capital One Mastercard, which pays 1.5% in cash back (so basically I made $27 in cash on that purchase).

I called my friend Tony back home to see if he’d want the second one at face value, which he did (aren’t I a nice guy)? Tony works weekends, so wasn’t able to head in and grab one himself. Had that not been the case, I saw many examples of people on Twitter looking to buy one, so I’m sure I could have sold the second one for a reasonable markup to compensate myself for my time. One Tweet in particular was from the secretary of some executive who wanted an iPhone ASAP without having to wait in line. So, money to be had for sure if you had one to sell.

Rogers Activations

As most people know, the main hold up in the line was (according to the Apple store employees) Rogers activations. For the third iPhone launch in a row, Rogers activation servers couldn’t keep up with the load, causing massive delays that impacted everyone in line yesterday. As a Rogers customer, I find the whole thing disappointing. To have it happen once is understandable – the iPhone is a revolutionary device that was introduced into a market that had never seen the likes of something like it before. But after the first and second debacles, Rogers really should have learned and spent time upgrading its systems to handle the load.

Without a doubt, Rogers performance over the past three launches influenced my decision to get an unlocked phone. While I absolutely love the My5 option that Rogers offers, I find them extremely expensive and inflexible in a lot of different ways. Many of the features that should be standard in todays phones are add-ons with Rogers, forcing the consumer to turn an attractive $25/mo plan into a $60/mo plan just to get what I consider fairly basic features nowadays (text messaging, more than 50 minutes per month, caller ID). With my data plan, most of my bills from Rogers are around $130/month, which is a lot of money to spend every month on a phone.

Going Unlocked

So this time I made the choice to get an unlocked phone, even though I still have two years left on my Rogers contract. Why, you might ask? Several reasons. First, it’s a liberating feeling to have an unlocked phone you can take anywhere. Next time I cross the border, I can simply pick up a SIM at Best Buy and have a US number for whenever I travel south. Likewise, next time I’m in the Caribbean I can do the same. My friend Jason travels so much that he has a little SIM holder in his wallet representing local pay-as-you-go numbers in about six different countries. Second, I’m basically tired of the monopoly Canadian cell phone providers have mostly due to contracts, and I’m effectively voting with my wallet to hopefully cause that to end someday. So my current plan is to ride out my contract, possibly breaking it once I’m in the sub-one-year, and hopefully have a bit of leverage to get a better deal on my cell rates in the future.

Once you got near the front of the line, Apple started splitting people off into two groups: those that were buying phones on contract (i.e. locked phones), and those that were buying the phones outright (i.e. unlocked phones). I’d say the number of people buying unlocked phones was probably about 40% when we hit that spot. That’s a pretty big number in my opinion, given that this is the first time people have really been exposed to a $779 phone before on a massive scale. I think a lot of people probably share my frustration with the Canadian wireless industry, and are also making a vote towards a brighter future with more options and less price gouging.


I actually went out to the Rogers store a few days prior and purchased a microSIM for my phone and had it activated. So when I walked out of the Apple store, I found a little table in the Pacific Centre food fair and quickly swapped the SIM into my new phone. Unfortunately I had forgotten about the pesky little iTunes activation that is required, so I couldn’t use it right away. But I simply went back upstairs to the Apple store, and had an employee there do it for me real quick.

If you tried doing a SIM swap over the phone, I heard it was about a 90 minute wait or so to talk to someone. When I gave Tony his phone, we actually found a spot on the Rogers site where you could so a manual SIM swap, so he used that and saved himself a pile of time.


I’ve had a working iPhone now for almost 24 hours. Without a doubt, this is the most advanced phone I’ve ever touched. The build quality is pretty astounding, and I find that the new form factor is pleasantly appealing. Battery life seems to be improved, but I can’t really tell if that’s because of the new design or because it’s simply a new phone with a brand new battery.

FaceTime didn’t work out of the box for me, but that’s because I had to do a carrier update (which isn’t obvious at all) to make it work. If you find yourself in the same scenario, visit the General/About page and update your carrier settings when the prompt comes up. After cycling your phone, you should be good to go.


Cell phone audio has taken a bit of a hit in my opinion, most likely due to the added Noise Cancellation (NC) algorithm. Dale and I were talking about this earlier, and while NC helps in crowded areas, it does cause a noticeable amount of distortion in normal usage, similar to using a higher compression ratio on a CODEC.

In fact, I’m guessing their new NC algorithm is based on a DCT, which ultimately results in sinusoidal residual errors. If you listen closely, you can almost hear pure sinusoids in the background noise, which is characteristic of algorithms in that class. I haven’t tried it yet, but these types of NC algorithms usually convert random white noise into pure sinusoids, which would convert the noise from a rotating fan or traffic into very faint musical tones on the receiver. If you test this out, let me know the results.

Retina Display

Most humans can’t resolve any resolution past about 300 DPI at about a foot away. So, 300 DPI is the point where most people wouldn’t be able to see any further gains in resolution increases. The iPhone 4 is the first phone to cross this point, ringing in at 326 DPI. Without a doubt this screen is gorgeous. In fact, it’s so nice that text almost looks wrong somehow because it’s so smooth (sort of like the first few times I saw a HD broadcast). It will definitely take a bit of time to get used to, but it’s a very nice change.

Antennae/Reception Issue

I spent quite a bit of time in Vancouver trying to replicate the antennae issue, with no real results. For the most part, despite my grip, the iPhone 4 showed between 4 and 5 bars in downtown Vancouver. I was however able to replicate it last night in my bedroom here in Chilliwack. By bridging the gap in the lower left-hand corner of the phone, I was able to get my iPhone to consistently drop from 4 bars down to 3 (after about a ten second wait, which is due to their filtering algorithms). Moving my fingers slightly so that gap wasn’t bridge resulted in the bar strength returning back to 4.

Will it make an impact in normal call scenarios? I doubt it.


This phone kicks ass! I’m very happy with my decision to get one, and am looking forward to popping in my first international SIM when I go traveling. Obviously everyone has to do what’s right for them financially, but I’m hoping more and more people go with unlocked versions to help show the industry that many of us are tired of contracts. But my decision was the right one for me, and I’m quite enjoying the new phone.

27 responses to “iPhone 4: First Impressions”

  1. Tracy says:

    Great entry!! I haven’t got my hands on the new phone yet (to see if I do like it or not), but I remember how much I loved my 3G the moment it was mine. Then of course a few months later I hated it and bought a Blackberry. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll go back to the iPhone- I will admit it was more fun.

  2. ob1bo says:

    Great. I have a 3G too. It works fine, except the video-out problem.
    And if there is a Way to get the New White iPhone 4, I will buy it. Oliver He

  3. Austin Paul says:

    Great post. I was going to buy the iPhone 4 but went for the unlocked 3GS and will eventually upgrade to the iPhone 4 when the white one is out next year.
    I’m really happy that the antenna issues aren’t really a problem which was the main reason I was hesitant buying it after to having issues with the 3G. But when I make the upgrade to the iPhone 4, unlocked will defiantly be the way to go.

  4. Duncan says:

    I’m upgrading over the phone once available for $159 and a 1 yr extension on my Rogers term. I plan to JB and unlock the phone once the software becomes available.

  5. Duane Storey says:


  6. Tyler says:

    I noticed that when I dropped over, that I could have easily slide into line without anyone saying anything.

    I would definitely go the unlocked root. No need to worry about updates that kill the unlock. No need to worry about travelling outside of Canada with it either. Though it’s a bit of a large amount of money for such a small device. Though it definitely would be worth it.

  7. Dale Mugford says:

    You’re right about the display- it’s almost too good. Using my Mac now I want the 326 dpi on it, too.

  8. Duncan says:

    What’s wrong with Jailbreaking and unlocking? I love using my Jailbroken 3GS to tether my iPad over the 3G. Why pay Rogers $20/mo plus an extra $130 for a 3G iPad? I guess I’m just a DIY type of guy than a true Apple purist? 😉

  9. Duane Storey says:

    Fair enough I guess. I’m not really an Apple purist, I’ve just had bad experiences with Jailbroken phones. Having to keep your phone out of date simply so the Jailbreaking works seems kind of like a pain. For the $500 difference I’d rather never have to worry about that again.

  10. Duncan says:

    I recently downgraded my 3GS from OS 4.0 because of the lack of a JB. Interestingly though, I prefer the backgrounder multitasking over OS 4’s multitasking. I also get about 20% better battery life (OS 4 drained the phone quickly for some reason)

    Truthfully, my iPhone is more of a modem for my iPad for almost all tasks other than phone calls and music so I am forced to JB or lose this capability.

    In my situation, I’m staying put for a few years, so I figure paying less up front for the phone makes sense. I figure the lifespan on the iPhone is about 12-18 months before a new version comes out and I’ll be ready to upgrade(& extend the contract) again.

    If I can sell the previous model of the iPhone each time for about the same price of the contract upgrade price, I get to have the latest technology essentially for free for being a loyal Rogers customer.

  11. Duncan says:

    I should also disclose that the monthly cost of the phone plan is less of a concern for me as my company pays the first $50 and I can deduct some of remainder used for business purposes.

  12. I’m with Duncan on this one. Paying an extra $500 for the phone makes zero sense to me. I don’t do any significant travelling outside of Canada, and having the ability to switch carriers inside Canada is useless – they all offer the same shitty plans that cost too much, so that sort of negates the desire to have an unlocked phone for me. Having an unlocked phone isn’t going make my monthly bills any cheaper so why bother?

    That being said, if Rogers (or Bell, Telus, etc) offered the option to get an unlocked phone from them for a subsidized price (by still signing a contract), I’d definitely go that route for those times when I do travel outside of Canada. That’ll never happen though…

  13. Duane Storey says:

    Well Kevin, do you think carriers are ever going to start reducing rates as long as people are willing to lock into existing ones for three years? Breaking the cycle has to start somewhere, and one thing I know for certain, I doubt it’ll start at the carriers. So if you want better rates and more competition, the only choice is to vote with your wallet as far as I’m concerned. Even when your contract is done or you buy it out, you still have a phone locked to your carrier, so you can’t go anywhere without Jailbreaking (assuming it works at the time you are done).

    I am going to do international travel, so it is worth it to me. But here are a few other points:

    1) The iPhone 4G unlocked will fetch more after market. I really don’t see how this wouldn’t be the case, given the limited number of countries that have real unlocked phones this release.
    2) What is your time worth? Spending time fumbling around updating Jailbreaking software and possibly restoring to old versions isn’t worth the hassle to me

    You don’t think when your contract is finally up and you’re standing there with an unlocked phone and two or three other carriers to go to that your current carrier isn’t going to do whatever they can to keep you? I’m looking forward to that day myself.

  14. Unfortunately a lot of us haven’t got the disposable income that you do Duane (I suspect my kids have a lot to do with that), and even if I did have an extra $500 lying around, I can think of many other things I’d rather spend it on than trying to get a message across to the carriers in Canada – who aren’t going to listen anyway IMO – with no other added benefit for my money.

    Don’t get me wrong – if you feel it’s worth it, I have no problem with that. I personally just don’t see the benefit.

    To speak to your points:
    1) I agree that an unlocked phone should fetch more on eBay. That being said, I don’t think you’d have a hard time selling a phone that is locked to one carrier – people are after a phone that comes without a contract, not necessarily an unlocked one – unless they travel internationally a lot. Just my opinion.

    2) My time is quite precious these days – but since I’ve never bothered with unlocking my phone in the past, I don’t suspect I’ll bother with it in the future. 🙂

    Again – I have no problem with you spending an extra $500 for the phone, it just doesn’t make any sense at all for *me*.

  15. Duane Storey says:

    Yup, I totally appreciate that, which is why I said in the post that obviously it’s financial decision everyone has to make. But I disagree with your point about wireless carriers not changing — wireless rates in Canada are amongst the most expensive in the world, primarily because of lack of competition and everyone simply being forced to perpetually lock in with their current carriers. I suspect this will change going forward now that we have access to legit unlocked phones.

  16. I think people buying unsubsidized unlocked phones will be a minority – call me cynical, but I don’t see a small percentage of people with unlocked phones changing anything…

    I hope I’m wrong though.

  17. Duane Storey says:

    About 40% of the people at the iPhone store were buying unlocked versions (rough guess based on the number of people splitting into the second line, but Dave also thought it was pretty substantial).

    If that’s not enough, iPhoneInCanada did a survey on their site: 49% of the people who responded said they were buying it unlocked from Apple (1,210 people).


    So yes, you’re a bit cynical I think 🙂

  18. Yes, but that’s 40% of people who were willing to camp out on launch day – I’m not sure that’s a fair sample of ‘normal’ iPhone users. 🙂

    Survey’s are great aren’t they? Too bad their results aren’t very reliable.

    I’ve already said that I hope I’m wrong, and things do change so at this point – it feels like we’re just fighting for the last word. 😉

  19. Wow, there’s a bit of emotion going on with this discussion! It’s just phone’s folks 🙂
    I should state that I don’t think there’s a wrong or right answer to the locked/unlocked/contract issue when morals and sticking it to the man are concerned. Fiscally though, locked and contract would make the most logical sense.

    I’d like to state that Canada actually has some of the best data plans in the developed world since the US has eliminated the “unlimited data” option for new subscribers FTW?!

    I totally agree that our voice plans suck a$$ and the fact we can’t roll over our unused minutes is just pillaging plain and simple! I personally use Skype over 3G for all long distance on calls where I’m getting close to my overage so I can stick it to the man (Rogers)

    I pay $97.00/mo for 6 GB data (I’ve never even used 2GB data total/mo even streaming internet radio for hours) and 450 anytime minutes, unlimited incoming calls, unlimited evenings and weekends, 100 free LD minutes, Voice mail and call display.

    Canada’s cell phone industry is becoming more competitive. More carriers are opening shop in the great white north. As a result, we’re already seeing the big boys budging and offering more. For instance, Rogers is offering family voice/data sharing plans as of Aug. 5. Awesome!

    In the end, unlocked/locked phones are not going to change the status quo. Increased competition and broader consumer choices will force competition.

    Locked on a 3 yr contract or unlocked is really a non issue financially. If one does the math, paying less up front makes the most sense. For example:
    A) (assuming you’re already under contract) Pay full price for an iPhone 4, unlocked. Let your contract lapse (1-2 years from now). Switch carriers with no penalty. Out of pocket $738 – $872.00 (here in BC with HST)
    B) Pay heavily subsidized price, lock into 3 yr contract. If one terminates early, max penalty is $400.00 for voice plans. Out of pocket $626 – $749.00 (subsidized price plus penalty [includes HST])

    The advantage to option B is that you’ve less money out of pocket way (even with the penalty).

    But wait, there’s more!! Do you want to “invest” precious capital up front in a product that depreciates faster than the emotional value of a $5 hooker? No! In 12-18 months, a new, better, sleeker, sexier phone will be available. Pay another $200+/- and extend the contract 1 more year to have the latest and greatest! Or pay full retail and deal with the hassle of selling the old model on eBay/craigslist.

    In the end, logic, time, and facts over emotion will dictate the right call for anyone. If you want to stick it to the man, then good for you! Most carriers however are sooo close in there offerings that your time and the opportunity cost isn’t worth while.

    The one rule I go by in life is that everything is negotiable. Most folks choose the status quo as fact. If you put up resistance and negotiate however, the sky’s the limit. I’ve waived early termination penalties and even parking tickets by appealing to the emotional and human factor present in everyone. A little rapport goes a long way in life! Perception is reality (kinda like the matrix!) and everything is negotiable.

  20. To add to the above, think of buying or leasing a car. If you plan to keep the product for 5-7 years, buy up front! If you plan to upgrade every 12-18 months, LEASE!

    Lease depreciating assets, invest in appreciating assets.

  21. Duane Storey says:

    I’d like to state that Canada actually has some of the best data plans in the developed world since the US has eliminated the “unlimited data” option for new subscribers FTW?!

    Not sure I agree. Possibly for the 6GB plans, but as everyone seems to know now, 6GB is way too much data for most people. I was pricing out the same plan I have now in Buenos Aires, and it’s about $199 AR pesos, which is about $60 CAD/month and the data is unlimited.

    In the end, unlocked/locked phones are not going to change the status quo. Increased competition and broader consumer choices will force competition.

    I also don’t really agree with this. Due to the CRTC, we have limited competition in Canada. With everyone on contracts, there’s no need to even really try to compete for existing customers, just new ones. Lack of contracts will force these companies to further compete against each other IMO, which is part of Wind Mobile’s strategy.

    Pay heavily subsidized price, lock into 3 yr contract. If one terminates early, max penalty is $400.00 for voice plans. Out of pocket $626 – $749.00 (subsidized price plus penalty [includes HST])

    Since I don’t know a single iPhone user without a data plan, you really should include that. Data will cost an extra $100 to break the contract, for a total cost of $500, bringing it to $726 – $849, almost in line with the no contract version. And wait! You also end up with an unlocked phone in the previous example.

    Or pay full retail and deal with the hassle of selling the old model on eBay/craigslist.

    That is a bit of a hassle, but not too bad. I would argue it’s less of a hassle than needing to Jailbreak/unlock more than once a year.

  22. One thing to note in your calculations is that Rogers don’t ever extend the data plans, only the voice plans when you extend your contract to get the the subsidized price. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they want to eliminate the 6GB plan down the road. All I know is they only extend the Voice plan.

    I hate to say it, but I don’t live in Buenos Aires. I only consider Canada and the US in my value calculations.

    Considering Canada has such a small population, concentrated to a few Provinces at best, we’re pretty lucky to piggyback onto anything close to the US given the $$ involved for the investors(cell co’s) no?

  23. To add to the above, the JB option is risk free. I can always restore an downgrade if I don’t like being JB.
    Granted I may miss out on some of the latest and greatest upgrades from Apple as I’m forced to wait until a new JB version arrives, but who cares? I can wait. When version 1.0 came out I was blown away! Due to the hype and marketing from Apple, I’m led to believe that version 2.0 is the Alpha and Omega and will turn my phone into a magic wand capable of turning lead to gold. Reality is though that it’s just a buggy and overrated minor upgrade that I’m better off waiting for until it clears Beta status…

  24. Duane Storey says:

    I didn’t know that about the data plans. I’m actually surprised if that’s the case, but I’ll take your word for it.

    The Buenos Aires data was in response to your statement:

    I’d like to state that Canada actually has some of the best data plans in the developed world since the US has eliminated the “unlimited data” option for new subscribers FTW?!

    I was refuting your statement about data plans, since I’ve seen various developed countries with cheaper data, and pointed one out.

    Considering Canada has such a small population, concentrated to a few Provinces at best, we’re pretty lucky to piggyback onto anything close to the US given the $$ involved for the investors(cell co’s) no?

    That’s true, although 90% of Canada’s population is within 100km of the border I believe. Compared to the states, where coverage essentially has to be almost everywhere, the needed coverage is smaller (which is why there are dead zones all over Canada whenever you go outside of a major city). But undoubtedly it’s harder to install the infrastructure in Canada than the United States.

  25. Duane Storey says:

    At this point it’s a religious debate – I honestly don’t really care 🙂 The unlocked option was the one for me, and I totally respect other people who choose to go contract only.

  26. While drunk at the present time (I hope I’m still coherent? 🙂 ) Religion (as I experienced as a teen and then challenged to the point where there where no answers made logical sense other than it ‘felt right”) is a dangerous ground.

    1) Rogers/Bell/Telus are paid up front regardless of your beliefs.
    2) Apple are paid in FULL regardless of your beliefs.
    3) We all want to be Apple, regardless of our beliefs.

    3. a) I think anyone can with anough conviction and ego!

    Ego = power – Is Steve Jobs evidence of this? Bill G. sold out and focussed on the greater good already due to understanding no?

  27. Wow, just re-read my comments above. Feeling pretty buzzed and signing out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *