iPhone re-reviewed: what did journalists think of past Apple phones?


It’s mid-September, and that can only mean one thing in the world of tech: an imminent Apple device launch.

Call it the iPhone 7S, iPhone 8, or iPhone X — the new Apple smartphone is set to be the best iPhone ever made. Because, you know, that’s what Apple says every year.

But looking back at each notable iPhone from the first with lowly 2G connectivity to the 7 Plus with its dual cameras at its rear — what made each of them remarkable? And more importantly, what did journalists make of each device?

We take a look at some of the industry’s most respected voices, and their thoughts on one of the industry’s most respected device lines.

1st Generation iPhone (2007)

CNET originally gave the phone an 8/10, suggesting that its “stunning display, sleek design, and an innovative multitouch user interface” became the new benchmark for “an integrated cell phone”. But it wasn’t without its negatives.

Gizmodo bemoaned the lack of MMS, video recording, custom ringtones, mass storage and Bluetooth, among others. Overall, Briam Lam lamented spending “$600 on my iPhone and it can’t do some crucial functions that even $50 handsets can”.

Hilariously, that price has ballooned to R51 000 in some cases.

iPhone 3G and 3GS (2008-9)

Apple continued to play catch up against the likes of Nokia and BlackBerry two years before the turn of the decade. But the 3G was another step in the right direction, explains Engadget’s Ryan Block:

“There are always things that could be improved, features to be added, fixes that should be applied — but from first to second gen, from year one to year two, Apple has proven itself a relentless upstart in the mobile space, and is showing no signs of slowing down,” he writes.

But MacWorld’s Jason Snell called the 3G’s bluff pinpointing the phone’s speed “solely because of the access it has to a faster cellular network”.

As for the 3GS, it was the first Apple phone to feature that “S” nomenclature. It was one of the more critically acclaimed phones in Apple’s lineup, so much so that Trusted Reviews’ Riyad Emeran awarded it a 9/10.

“The iPhone 3GS is the fastest, most feature rich model so far, and if you don’t already have a iPhone 3G it’s well worth the money,” he remarked.

“For now though, the iPhone 3GS takes the crown as the best consumer handset available, but with the imminent Palm Pre and new Android based handsets on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how long it keeps it.”

iPhone 4 and 4S (2010-11)

One of the first iPhones that made a marked impact in South Africa, the 4 shipped with iOS 4 and featured FaceTime video calling, and a 5MP rear camera [and antennagate – ed]. iMore also commented on the phone’s display: “a ridiculously dense 960×640 screen resolution”.

The publication’s Rene Richie also noticed a “night and day” difference between this particular model and the older iPhones.

“An impressive new design, amazing new display, key features like multitasking, and an attempt to mainstream video calls, along with hundreds of other little improvements combine together to make this a substantial upgrade and clearly the best iPhone ever,” Richie concludes.

The 4S, debuting a few months after, was remarkable for a few reasons. For one, it was announced a day before Apple’s founder Steve Jobs died. It also debuted with 1080p video recording thanks to an 8MP rear camera, and of course, Siri.

But it was just an upgrade of the 4, and that was journalists’ real issue with the device.

Engadget’s Tim Stevens noted that “the iPhone 4S does everything better than the iPhone 4, but it simply doesn’t do anything substantially different“.

MacWorld lamented the “smaller display and the poor quality front-facing camera, as well as the fact that it still uses the older 30-pin connector that’s been replaced by the Lightning connector in newer models”.

With that said, it wasn’t without drama. A number of users reported battery drain issues with the phone, and this legacy of poor battery life will haunt the iPhone range well into its future.

iPhone 5 and 5S (2011-12)

The iPhone 5 continued the extensive use of glass and metal popularised in earlier devices, but it featured a certain degree of polish. And yes, I’m talking about the software.

Former Memeburn managing editor Michelle Atagana lauded the device. Even as a long-term Android user.

“Though many people called this phone boring when it first surfaced, I must politely disagree. As a confessed Android fan, I love this phone. Yes there are a few kinks here and there but no phone is perfect, but this one comes pretty darn close,” she wrote.

The iPhone 5S, like the 4S, broke ground with a bevy of new features. For one, it was the first to feature Touch ID and a 64-bit processor. It also marked the end of the smaller iPhone device, peaking at 4.0-inches in screen size.

But The Verge spied one of Apple’s more notable design tricks:

“The most remarkable thing Apple did with the iPhone 5S was to change everything while appearing to change almost nothing,” David Pierce remarked.

“The processor’s faster, the camera’s brighter, and the software’s a little smarter. But rather than club you to death with features to prove just how many things this phone can do, the iPhone 5S simply does everything it did before, better.”

iPhone 6 family (2014-15)

Read more:

Apple iPhone 6 Plus review: enter the iPhablet
iPhone 6 meta-review: brilliant design and performance but average battery life

“The iPhone 6 is the best smartphone available,” wrote TechCrunch’s Matthew Etherington.

” It offers improvements in almost every way that matters, and it delivers those in a striking new design that balances consumer demand for larger screens with a thin, light and durable case.”

More importantly, it was also Apple’s largest iPhone yet at 4.7-inches. The 6 Plus would best this by a further 0.8-inches.

As for the Plus, we gave the phone a 9/10 in our review.

“The Apple iPhone 6 Plus offers almost everything a modern user could want. It has a large, bright and vibrant screen, excellent camera, fast connectivity options, data security, and long-lasting battery life, though its design and build quality could have been better,” wrote Asif Iqbal Shaik.

iPhone 6s family (2015)

I reviewed the iPhone 6s for Gearburn and named it among the best devices of 2015, alongside the LG G4.

Debuting with 3D Touch, beefy hardware and a competent camera, it was a benchmark that many manufacturers struggled to match.

“If you want a phone that’s always going to be by your side, that will never argue with you and that will look as good as your smug little face while using it, then the iPhone 6s is for you,” I wrote, however, lamented the lack of a 32GB storage option.

Internationally, the phone’s biggest competition was seemingly its older brother.

TechRadar highlighted this in its review.

“It’s only because the iPhone 6 was so impressive that the iPhone 6S gets four stars – it needed a massive leap forward to eclipse that model, but it’s still a great phone in its own right,” Gareth Beavis wrote.

iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (2016-17)

Finally, we have the iPhone 7.

Water resistance. Dual cameras on the Plus. New taptic feedback engine. No headphone jack. These were just some of the features (and lack thereof) that made the 7 series a notable addition to the lineup.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel lauded the phones, calling them “legitimately among the most interesting, opinionated, powerful phones Apple has ever shipped, and the most confident expressions of the company’s vision in a long time.”

Digital Trends was less complimentary, awarding the device a 7/10.

“The iPhone 7 is still a gold standard, but you’re better off waiting for iPhone 8,” its byline read.

While MacWorld’s Susie Ochs was annoyed by “little annoyances that previous iPhones didn’t have”.

What’s next?

The latest iPhone is set to launch at Apple’s Cupertino campus later this evening. Follow Gearburn on Twitter for live updates, and catch up on all coverage here.

Andy Walker, former editor


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