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.