Consumer Reports Won’t Recommend iPhone 4

The Apple iPhone 4’s antenna problems are keeping Consumer Reports from being able to recommend the smartphone.

Almost immediately after the much-anticipated iPhone 4 went on sale on 24 June, buyers complained about poor reception when touching the device’s metal antenna band, which runs along the outer rim. Apple was hit with additional criticism after officials were said to have told users they could avoid the reception problems by holding the smartphone a certain way, and also noted a software glitch and pointed a finger at partner AT&T.

However, the engineers at Consumer Reports came back to the antenna  problem. “When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side — an easy thing, especially for lefties — the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal,” Consumer Reports’ Mike Gikas blogged on 12 July. “Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.

Signal-loss Problems

Engineers in Consumers Reports’ labs tested three iPhone 4 handsets — as well as an iPhone 3GS and a Palm Pre — in a radio frequency isolation chamber with a base station emulator, a device that  simulates a cell phone tower. The iPhone 4 was the only phone to show signal-loss problems, which Consumer Reports said averted some blame from the often-blamed AT&T.

It added, “Our findings call into question the recent claim by Apple that the iPhone 4’s signal-strength issues were largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software that ‘mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.’”

Apple made the above claim in a 2 July public note on its Web site. After consumers began complaining of signal bars dropping, and reception loss, Apple said it tested the iPhone 4 in its own labs and found that signal strength wasn’t actually dropping, but that the formula it uses to calculate the number of bars to display is wrong — and was wrong on previous models as well.

“Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place,” Apple said in its note. It added that it planned to issue a free software update “within a few weeks.”

The antenna issue has led to at least two class-action lawsuits, with iPhone 4 owners accusing Apple, in one case, and both Apple and AT&T in another of knowingly selling a faulty product.

Already an iPhone 4 owner? Consumer Reports added that the antenna issue can be addressed by covering the antenna gap, on the bottom left corner of the phone, with a piece of duct tape or other thick, non-conductive material. “It may not be pretty,” said Gikas, “but it works.”

A case, or bumper, as Apple calls them (and charges $29 for), may also work, though Consumer Reports has not yet officially tested one.


Despite not being able to heartily recommend the iPhone 4, Gikas wrote that, antenna issues aside, the iPhone 4 scored higher in other tests than a number of competing smartphones.

“The iPhone scored high, in part because it sports the sharpest display and best video camera we’ve seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller,” he wrote.

But, he continued, “Apple needs to come up with a permanent — and free — fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4.”

Presumably, one not involving duct tape.

Michelle Maisto

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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