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Review of Apple’s new free iPhone 4 feature: FaceTime

Phone calls are so impersonal, aren’t they? Well not any more. The iPhone 4 introduced FaceTime, an integrated video calling tool that uses a new front-mounted camera to initiate video and voice calls between iPhone users. At the present time it will not work with other mobile phones and obviously won’t work on earlier iPhones due to the lack of a front-facing video camera.

FaceTime only works over the iPhone ‘s wifi network connection, so you can’t make video calls on the 3G network at this time, most likely on account of the high level of data transfer that would be necessary to maintain a smooth, skip-free signal and the speed it would have to maintain.

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Despite this, you can initiate free iPhone FaceTime calls while in the middle of a regular phone call. The menu screen that is displayed during a call has had a new button added to the bottom ioy% marked FaceTime. Tapping this pops up a message on your  iPhone asking if they would like to switch to video calling. You don’t need to setup a new account to use FaceTime – it’s not like an instant messaging application  – and if you are not already on a call you need only tap the FaceTime button beside a contact’s entry in your address book and, assuming they also have an iPhone 4, your handset places the call over your network for free.

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During the FaceTime chat, a toolbar at the bottom of the screen lets you mute the conversation, end the call or switch cameras. This lets you show your contact what you can see going on from your point of view, rather than showing them the view from the front-facing camera mounted beside the iPhone’s earpiece.

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Apple isn’t the first company to introduce video calling, but FaceTime looks like one of the easiest to use implementations to date, and one of the best to appear on a mobile handset. Whether it will be enough to encourage your friends to upgrade to iPhones so you can video chat together remains to be seen.

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