My tests of the iPhone 4 antenna

After nearly a week with my iPhone 4, I can say that it is a great device. It’s very fast, the display is great, and the camera is very nice. It does virtually anything I want to do while on-the-go.

But much has been said about the antenna design flaw. And it is a real problem. But I want to set the record straight. It isn’t an issue of gripping the iPhone too tight. It isn’t an issue of the signal meter. It is a problem where bridging one external antenna to the next causes interference. And it is an issue in areas where the signal is weaker.

Although I don’t have access to test equipment like Consumer Reports used, I did some simple and informal testing using the signal strength indicator on the iPhone. I realize that this is not an accurate gauge, but it does give a rough indication of the signal strength.

If I put my iPhone on the table, it reports “5 bars” of signal strength. Next, I put my metal Leatherman Micra pocketknife next to the iPhone, touching the gap between the antennas in the lower left area. If I wait about a minute, the signal strength drops by 1-3 bars. And if I pull the pocketknife away from the iPhone just slightly so that it is close but not touching the iPhone, the signal strength returns to 5 bars. No sweaty fingers required. No “strong grip” needed. I don’t have a video camera handy, or else I would record a demonstration.

But what does this mean in the real world? For me, it simply means that I need to touch the phone in such a way that I don’t bridge this gap between the two antennas. This is only a minor issue for me, and I’m considering a small hack – like applying a small amount of clear material like nail polish to prevent this problem.

While I’m willing to live with this inconvenience, I must say that I do not like how Apple is handling the problem. According to reports, they have passed the buck, saying:

  • hold it differently
  • all phones have issues with signal attenuation
  • get a case
  • it’s simply an issue of how it reports signal strength

Hogwash! This was disproven by the rigorous testing by Consumer Reports.

I agree with Consumer Reports and MG Siegler of TechCrunch: Apple needs to fix this. Granted, this isn’t life-or-death like a design flaw in a major appliance or automobile, but an iPhone is an expensive device when you consider the pricey long-term service agreement. There are many things Apple can do to make this problem go away. They could give away the so-called bumpers. Even a recall would be relatively simple – they could do a retrofit at the Apple stores. But shame on Apple for failing to acknowledge the problem or promising to fix it.

iPhone customers shouldn’t need to use a workaround, even if I personally am willing to do so.

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