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Getting some FaceTime -- hints and tips about iPhone 4 video calls

When I ordered my iPhone 4 on June 16th for delivery in July, one of the features that I was intrigued about was FaceTime, Apple's Wi-Fi video calling application. Sure, other phones have had this feature for a while, but for me this was going to be something new.

After an abortive attempt at my first FaceTime connection with Kelly Guimont on Wednesday, I finally connected with one of my fellow bloggers (Dave Caolo) yesterday morning. Later in the day, Erica Sadun and I tried out a few tricks with FaceTime. We agreed that some of things we discovered while playing with Apple's newest software toy were postable, so click the Read More link to check them out.
FaceTime calls over Wi-Fi work with Airplane mode enabled -- this is rather interesting, since you need to have the phone number of the receiving iPhone 4 and connect at least once via voice call in order to establish that the devices on both ends are indeed iPhone 4s. After that point, you can hit Airplane mode, then turn on Wi-Fi only and still make FaceTime calls. Hmmm... Have any of our readers made a FaceTime call from an airplane with Wi-Fi service (for instance, on Virgin America)?

You can FaceTime over 3G using a MyFi or Overdrive -- do you have a Verizon or Sprint MyFi or Overdrive mobile broadband router? If you do, you can FaceTime using that device as your Wi-Fi hotspot. When Erica and I were doing our testing yesterday, I was able to send and receive pretty decent video calls over a Sprint MyFi. One oddity that we noticed was that twice the connection was dropped when there was a lot of motion on one end or the other. Could it be that changing all of the pixels on the screen took up more bandwidth than changing just a moving mouth on a static face?

Hold the phone up to avoid nostril video -- here's a hint from a guy with a lot of hair in the wrong places. Make sure that you hold the iPhone so that it's not looking up your nostrils. That, unfortunately, usually means that you need to hold the phone up a bit so that the camera is level with your nose, not below it. Of course, people with nasal fetishes might like looking up other people's noses, and will ask you to lower the phone during FaceTime sessions. Ewwww.

Going to be talking for a while? -- on occasion, you may want to have a long video chat with someone. Let's face it, your arm might get tired after holding an iPhone 4 at arm's length for an hour. Consider getting a stand to put your iPhone on top of so that you don' t have to hold it. Erica had a great little stand that she showed off; it's a 99¢ Rubbermaid business card holder that you can pick up at most office supply stores (see below). Pop the iPhone onto it and you're ready for hours of FaceTime ... at least until your battery runs down.
Don't forget to use the back-facing camera -- the front-facing camera is such a novelty on the iPhone 4 that it's easy to forget that you can also show the person you're calling on FaceTime what you're looking at. On the FaceTime screen you'll see a little icon (below) that lets you switch between the two cameras. Use it on occasion to keep from boring each other to death during your call.

Watch out for bright backgrounds -- the iPhone 4 camera is probably the best that Apple has ever delivered, but like most cameras it can be overwhelmed by bright backgrounds and underexpose the foreground object, your face. The photos below show what I'm talking about. On the left is a picture of me with a bright background, with my face being almost impossible to see (maybe that's not a bad thing...). On the right, I've moved the camera viewpoint just a little to the right and have less of a bright background, making my face totally visible.
These are just a few of the things that we came up with during our FaceTime sessions. Remember, if you haven't had an opportunity to try out FaceTime from your iPhone 4, you can call 1-888-FACETIME from your phone to have an instructive session with an Apple employee.

Do you have some interesting tidbits to share about your FaceTime experiences? Leave a comment below.

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