Consumer Reports this week said it can’t recommend the iPhone 4because of its lower left signaling problem, otherwise referred to as the “death grip.” That said, the iPhone 4 was its top-rated smartphone, with a score of 76, two points higher than the HTC Evo 4G and three points higher than the Motorola Droid. Still, it couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 because of those reception problems.
Consumer Reports also notes that it tested several other AT&T phones the same way it tested iPhone 4, including the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the significant signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4, according to the publication.
The most recent public explanation for the reception issue that I’ve seen from Apple dates back to its July 2 open letter to iPhone 4 owners. Unfortunately, that didn’t provide much of an explanation.
The letter starts by giving props to the “most successful product launch” in Apple’s history, judged by reviewers to be the “best smartphone ever,” and users love it. But then it goes on to say that “gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars.”
Now I will concede that human interaction affects how a phone performs, but I have never heard of serious degradation problems with any other phone based on how you hold it. I could have missed one or two along the way, and slight variations might be detected, but this hardly seems like a plausible explanation for the iPhone 4’s problems. Blame the user?
More questions remain. Why is Apple suggesting a rubber bumper attached to the device will remedy the problem if it’s (supposedly) somehow connected to the way bars are calculated? Why is Apple not shipping said bumper free with every new iPhone 4? Why did Apple not identify this problem when its own employees were testing the device?
Apparently, there is no “problem,” according to Apple. Hundreds of e-mails from users attest to the great reception of the iPhone 4, which they insist is better than the iPhone 3GS.
Apple explains it as such, and it goes back to those bars, which I personally don’t pay much attention to on any of my phones, but apparently a lot of people do. Some users reported that iPhone 4 can drop four or five bars when tightly held in a way that covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. Then it goes on to admit the formula Apple used to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is “totally wrong” and it’s going to adopt a formula “recently recommended” by AT&T for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength.
I don’t know. It seems to me either there’s a problem with the antenna reception in the lower left section of the phone or there’s not, and the cheap fix, duct-tape approach that Consumer Reports used will remedy it (although the publication encourages Apple to step up with a real fix soon). The bar-calculating formula doesn’t matter that much, unless the people who are complaining are only looking at the bars and not basing their reception problems on actual dropped calls or dropped data connections.
We’ll see if the software update that Apple sends out fixes the problem or if it ends up being a hardware flaw. I admire much of what Apple has done for the smartphone and firmly believe the Android camp has some serious improvements in UI to do before matching the iPhone. But Apple’s explanation so far doesn’t make sense. And the ironies never end. What does this all say about AT&T’s “more bars in more places” mantra?
Do the handset folks ever talk to the network folks? I know there was a wide divide between the two years ago and improvements have been made or the industry has tried to make improvements with 4G, starting with WiMAX and now with LTE. I think the chasm is more narrow these days, but you still have to wonder why the horse isn’t closer to the cart.
The drama continues. Consumer Reports points out that its tests indicate that AT&T’s network might not be the primary suspect in the iPhone 4’s much-reported signal woes. Obviously, for a long time now, people have debated whether there’s something about the iPhone’s composition or singularly AT&T’s network that has caused the types of signaling problems that iPhone users experience – dropped calls, no coverage, etc.
AT&T has never pointed the finger at Apple, as far as I know, and it’s been very public about the network upgrades it has made and will continue to make. To my knowledge, Apple hasn’t accepted any blame in the connection department. But there’s at least a little bit of an acceptance of responsibility in its latest letter: “We have gone back to our labs and retested everything, and the results are the same – the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped.” Meaning earlier iterations were less than stellar?