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Consumer Reports: We Can’t Recommend the iPhone 4

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Early iPhone 4 users in the USA reported reception issues immediately with their new phones. The issue was that touching the lower left part of the antenna resulted in dropped signals and eventually a full signal loss. People were getting frustrated and angry. Apple kept quiet, aside from a Steve Jobs email that told people “just don’t hold it that way”.

Eventually, Apple’s hand was forced to release a PR statement. Here’s is what Apple concluded plus their follow up action:

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area. We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

Ah ha! So it’s the formula that’s the issue, right? Well not so fast, as Consumer Reports (third party, non profit) yesterday did their own independent tests and concluded they cannot recommend the iPhone 4. Here’s what they had to say:

We reached this conclusion after testing all three of our iPhone 4s (purchased at three separate retailers in the New York area) in the controlled environment of CU’s radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber. In this room, which is impervious to outside radio signals, our test engineers connected the phones to our base-station emulator, a device that simulates carrier cell towers (see video: IPhone 4 Design Defect Confirmed). We also tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3G Sand the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

Hmm…so the issue appears to go beyond just software algorithms. With that being said, clearly there is an issue that Apple has to address immediately. Will the next batch of iPhone 4 units be “fixed” straight from the factory?

It looks like being Canadian and waiting for the iPhone 4 to arrive has allowed us to avoid these first batches. Could we possibly see a further Canadian iPhone 4 launch delay as Apple tries to address this reception issue? We’ve heard “whispers” that the launch could be pushed back to August. However, as of right now the July iPhone 4 launch still stands.

Poll: After Reading the Consumer Reports Story, Will You Still Buy an iPhone 4?


I leave you with the following video (NSFW audio)–iPhone 4 vs HTC Evo:

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