iphone_4_web.jpgSAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple CEO Steve Jobs has once again pulled a new iPhone model out of his proverbial magician's hat, leading hordes of gadget-happy consumers to wait in line for hours to snag one.

It may seem like a lot of hullabaloo for a smart phone upgrade that is practically routine in the phone's fourth iteration.

This time is different, though. Apple's iPhone 4, which went on sale Thursday, June 24, isn't simply an upgrade over the previous 3GS model. It has been significantly redesigned as a skinnier, classier and more covetous smart phone with a slew of new features.

And while owners of the older model can get the new iOS4 software for free without emptying their wallets, a new iPhone 4 will also give you a higher-resolution screen, speedier processor and a second, front-facing camera for video calls.

It costs $199 for a 16-gigabyte model or $299 for 32 gigabytes; both require a two-year contract with AT&T Inc., the phone's exclusive wireless provider in the U.S.

Out of the box, the iPhone 4 practically shrieks “swanky.” The previous iPhone had a rounded, plastic back that eliminated most corners; the iPhone 4 sports a flat, glass-covered back, and its sides are rimmed with a stainless steel band that serves as part of its antenna. While the 3GS’ design seemed friendly and approachable, the iPhone 4 appears more serious and businesslike.

If you find the display on the iPhone 3GS awesome, you'll find the iPhone 4's display doubly awesome — literally, because twice as many pixels are packed onto each inch of its shiny 3.5-inch screen. Websites, images and videos look crisper and brighter on the iPhone 4. I queued up an episode of “Glee” on both models and was impressed to see sharper images and more radiant colors on the new phone.

The display is also a good canvas for Apple's new video-calling function, FaceTime, which takes advantage of the iPhone 4's front-facing camera. With FaceTime, you can make video calls to other iPhone 4 users over Wi-Fi. Once you've connected with the other caller, you can switch between the front and back cameras — the latter if you want to show your surroundings or other people who want to say hello.

I can imagine using FaceTime to keep in touch with distant friends and family, since it's built right in to the phone and is super simple to use. You'll need to make sure both of you have a great Wi-Fi connection, though, or it will look more like PixelTime.

When introducing the function, Jobs indicated that it will eventually work over cellular networks (He said Apple needs to “work a little bit” with wireless providers to make it “ready for the future.”). I really hope this happens — and works well — soon.

Besides adding a lens on the front, Apple has really beefed up the iPhone's main camera.

I was a fan of the relatively no-frills 3-megapixel camera on the iPhone 3GS; it was easy to use and focus shots, and what you saw on the screen was generally what you got in photos. The iPhone 4 bumps things up several notches. The camera now has five megapixels, which means you'll get sharper photos. It has a pretty bright flash and the ability to record high-definition videos, too.

The iPhone 4 is a superb smart phone that makes most competing devices look old and boring. Whether you've been longing for an iPhone but haven't taken the plunge, or you already own an older model, you may not be able to resist the pull of Apple's latest — and greatest — iPhone hat trick.