Consumer Reports says its own independent testing has confirmed that the iPhone 4’s antenna is flawed less than two weeks after Apple said the device’s “wireless performance was the best it had ever shipped,” prompting the leading consumer goods rating firm to decide against recommending the device for its readers.
Consumer Reports said its tests confirmed contact with a user’s finger or hand on the iPhone 4’s lower left side can cause the signal to degrade enough to lose the connection altogether in an area with a weak signal.
Apple had earlier dismissed the problem, saying “gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars.” The company claims the antenna problem is largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software that causes the device to overstate signal strength by two bars.
The tests were performed on three iPhone 4 models purchased at separate retailers in the New York area in a controlled laboratory environment owned by Consumers Union, the nonprofit group backing the publication of Consumer Reports. None of the other AT&T phones that were tested in the same way, including the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre, had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.
The iPhone 4’s antenna can be fixed by affixing duct tape or another thick, non-conductive material to the bottom left-hand area of the steel band where the problem occurs. Covers such as Apple’s $29 bumpers also appear to solve the problem.
Mike Gikas, a Consumer Reports writer who authored a blog on the test results, said the tests prompted the company to question Apple’s recent explanation for the problem and said AT&T’s network “might not be the primary suspect in the iPhone 4’s much-reported signal woes.”
Gikas said the iPhone 4 got high points for its display, video camera and improved battery life, but said Apple needs to come up with a permanent, no-cost fix for the antenna problem before Consumer Reports would recommend the iPhone 4.
“If you want an iPhone that works well without a masking-tape fix, we continue to recommend an older model, the 3G S,” he said.
Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.