Consumer Report has published an article detailing “why Consumer Reports can’t recommend the iPhone 4“. Consumer report has been testing the recent antenna woes of the iPhone and did add its weight to a problem that has been widely reported on: the “death grip”. If you have missed it, the Death Grip refers to an wireless reception issue of the iPhone 4, when the phone is held with the left hand. The user’s body generates electrical interferences and can degrades the signal. We have witnessed it and reported about it… While we did not get a dropped call, we did experience significant data download slowdowns or disconnections.
Consumer report’s scientific tests show that the iPhone 3GS and other AT&T cellphones do not experience similar problems, a fact that contradicts Apple’s earlier claim, I quote: “gripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance”. As recently as last week, consumer report published another article saying : “iPhone 4’s supposed signal woes aren’t unique, and may not be serious“. (video in the full post)
This reception issue has been particularly confusing for consumers as it is compounded by another problem: the iPhone’s method for displaying the “five bars” has been “completely wrong” since the original iPhone, Apple said last week. A software fix will be provided soon. However, the software fix does not change anything related to the antenna, it will just display the bars properly. A lot of people, including a good chunk of the media wrongly thought that the software fix would make the antenna problem go away: it won’t.
So, what does this means? Simply that despite ranking it among the highest smartphones in terms of overall quality, Consumer Report simply cannot “recommend” that device because of the antenna issue.
A definitive fix will involve shielding the antenna from the human body, maybe by using a case or some kind of thin layer/coating. Most likely, the latter won’t be applied on existing phones and I’m guessing that, Apple might provide some kind of discount for a free case or “bumper” if things turn really bad. It’s just a guess.
I’m going to publish our complete Uber-review of the iPhone 4 tomorrow, but despite this issue, the Phone has been completely usable. I did experience some data download drops in zones were the signal is weak, and while I’m holding the phone from the left hand. However, this is rare. It is clear that this issue needs to be fixed in an upcoming hardware upgrade, and I think that a coating applied during the assembly process might just do the trick without interfering too much with the new design. We’ll see.