Consumer Reports: We Can’t Recommend the iPhone 4


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:


  • Newtown

    I hope this is enough to convince people not to purchase this phone till the problems are fixed. If we give in and buy anyway, we're basically telling Apple that they can get away with releasing flawed hardware and then ignoring those problems without any consequences.

    Look what we were able to do when we protested Rogers' data plans when the iPhone 3G came out. Keep your wallets closed and maybe Apple will begin to take notice.

  • Drewzki

    Would be nice but you know as well as I do that a TON of people will be buying that phone as soon as it hits the market here in canada. You are right about how we changed Roger's data plans. People just want the phone because of all it's enhanced functionality. I mean I do but I will most likely hold out to see how the launch goes here in canada. My 3G is slow as hell so the iQuattro seems fit for me right now.

  • Noahattic

    agreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed ! i've been thinking about this since the first day someone reported the issue.

    with the huge demand of iphone 4 and what apple did during the past 3 weeks, we can conclude that apple is doing nothing about the flaw but letting it go. people just ignore it because it's a iphone. they do not care or notice their fancy $700 phones sometimes do drop phone calls no matter which network they are on… long as they are holding the phones “wrong way”….

    i really hope apple will fix the flaw for the 2nd batch…. but i highly doubt it… we'll see.

  • montymon

    Since the issue only impacts those who don't have a case or “bumper”, I'll still buy the 4. I am a klutz and drop my phone frequently, so a case is an absolute must for me anyway. My only delay will be if Otterbox hasn't started selling the Defender series for the iPhone 4 by the time Robbers finally release the phone here.

  • Cygnus

    I'm not an Apple fanboy but I know i'm getting this phone. I've seen a lot of the reception problems, just like everyone, but A LOT of people in O2 and other places can't reproduce the problem… make's you wonder since 99% of those videos are AT&T phones. That's why I think the Canadian batch will be better.

    And something to get off my chest … like I said I'm not a 'fanboy' but in videos where people DON'T have the problem (such as O2) … those people against Apple still try and find a way to destroy it. (IE; “You're not gripping it tight enough!” when people have seen it done with a subtle touch.) They are equally as biased yet they think they are genius.

  • Happy

    I was getting it for sure to replace my 3G (slow as hell with the irreversible updates,) but now I'm looking for alternatives. Buying an iPhone now is like buying a PC 15 years ago: it's obsolete as soon as you buy it.
    I think I'm also tired of chipping in my two cents (or $750) to help prop up a company who's owner has such an obvious disrespect and disregard for his customers.
    Any ideas for a new phone to replace my year old peice-of-crap 3G?

  • mackman6151

    gahh! the only reason i'd buy it is because my 3g is sooo damn slow now, and i missed out on the $30/6gb plan which i want asap since i dont have data 😛

  • Piggles70

    Hmmmmmm…….is this just CBS stirring the pot? Or…..

  • Parent

    I find this video offensive and vulgar. Do your advertisers think this is appropriate content?

  • Matt

    A very simple solution that wouldn't cost must is Apple could started applying a very thin protective coating around the entire antenna during production. It's so simple and barely changes the phone aesthetics (if at at). And yet here were are…if anything they really should offer free bumpers to people that already have one.

  • David

    i don't buy new electronics the moment they come out, i wait until they have fully proofed it of any stupid problems it may have. such as this signal problem. until then, iPhone 5 is what i'll be looking for if it's not as broken as 4.

    pretty much it's like this. 3gs is XP and iPhone 4 is Vista. it's broken. i'm going to wait for Windows 7(iPhone 5)

  • Hyperextension

    You're a loser

  • Troll

    go away troll

  •  Xaroc

    I will be getting this phone. But I'm going to hold off a couple extra months to make sure issues (if they even are as bad as reported) are cleared up. 3GS had heat issues when it came out.
    I'm excited about it, want to get it asap, but I feel if I rush I may regret it.

  • 11thIndian

    I think as long as you understand what the problem is, it's up to the individual to make the call on whether the antenna issue is worth holding off purchase.

    I think of it like this- my experience with my 3G is that I need a case, to avoid scratches on the glass and damage to the body. Putting a case on the iPhone 4 mitigates the issue. And that's it.

    Some people don't use a case for their phone, those people they may want to wait. But I'm happy to buy it as is, knowing there's a problem that won't affect me.

  • RyleyLamarsh

    I'm looking for an alternative. Not just because of antenna issues since I wouldn't be going bareback anyways. This is the straw that broke the camels back. I have the 3GS with new bootrom and I've been chasing a jailbreak ever since. Honestly this phone is lame without a jailbreak. The notifications on this phone are horrible and it bewilders me that they haven't fixed it.

    I may hold out for a Droid X if I don't have to wait too long for it. Otherwise the hype might get the better of me and I'll break down and buy the iPhone.

  • Sf2792
  • Sf2792
  • Ryguy81

    I've downgraded my iphone 3g from iOS4. It's not irreversible.

  • djepsilon

    What drives me bananas is how people jump to conclusions:

    a) When only about 50% of people are reporting that this is ACTUALLY a problem (…) how can people call it a design flaw? Wouldn't a “design flaw” effect every single damn phone made? (and yes, I'll take the public's word over any “consumer report” any day)
    b) Why do people automatically think Apple ISN'T working on a solution. Apple is not out to screw you over. They are a billion dollar business. You really think they are so high and mighty and stupid enough that they'll just sit back and do absolutely nothing? Just because YOU don't hear about it doesn't mean they aren't doing anything. c) Public opinion matters A LOT. Do you really think Apple would EVER come out and admit they made a mistake if there WAS actually a design flaw? Would Darryl Sutter ever come out and say “Hey, I'm an idiot. I traded away Olli Jokinen when I really shouldn't have”?
    d) How can you judge a piece of hardware… or anything really unless you yourself have used it? Last I checked, the iPhone hasn't been released in Canada. Someone said that the iPhone is equivalent to Windows Vista… Have you even used the phone in an everyday situation yet? How can you make that conclusion?
    e) Do we even know if this “reception issue” actually prevents you from performing your everyday iPhone tasks? Yes, if you cover the corner it drops, but does anyone hold the phone that way on a call? I sure as hell don't!

    For me, I will buy the iPhone4 because it is the best smart phone on the market. Period. If I find that it doesn't meet my everyday cell phone needs, I will return it. End of story.

    Rant Fin.

  •  Xaroc

    50% of the people reported. And those who don't report?
    Playing it safe.

  • Ron

    i have a bad feeling about the date of the release for us in Canada….. I think it will get push to “until further notice” kind of news:( I don't care about the fact that it has signal issues. I want this dang phone period.

  •  Xaroc

    If that means a 2nd revision it may be good for us. Despite our raging
    excitement to grab one from the shelf.

  • G229t

    Was that Consumer Reports video real? After watching that and the Xtra Normal cartoon one, i don't which one I laughed louder at! Ha, ha.
    Red Green would be so happy to see duct tape go on the iPhone 4!!

  • I'm actually quite interested in how you don't trust consumer reports. Have you had a problem with their findings in the past? That video looks like they know what they are doing in their testing.

  • djepsilon

    I don't believe I said I don't trust consumer reports, I simply prefer actual people's reviews of consumer products. I'm not dismissing what consumerreports is reporting, but they tested 3 phones. Compare that to a survey of roughly 40,000 users who seem to be 50/50 on the subject.

  • Erik

    CR also calls it the best smartphone out there!

  • Guillaume

    My god, get over it !

    In my opinion, this whole story is exaggerated. The iPhone 4 is THE best phone on the market according to CONSUMER REPORTS. Better then the HTC Evo 4G, all the Android phones and all of the phones by RIM. It has the highest rank: 76 out of 100. Get a case or a bumper.

    I'm getting this phone whatever people say.

  • kimierin

    I think that video is hilarious! I have watched it 4 times. Happy with my 3GS.

  • Jerohans1972

    I agree 100%. Pathetic…

  • Jerohans1972

    If you can find a phone that does what the iPhone can do and isn't obsolete as soon as you buy it… buy it! But good luck with that…

  • Given the mainstream media attention that this issue is now receiving and the pressure being exerted on Apple (witness the stock price), I would not be at all surprised to see this slide the iPhone 4 launch in Canada into August.

    I think it's pretty clear now that Apple will have to make some move/statement about this within the next few days.

    As an aside, I notice that the discussions on Apples boards re the CR Report are no longer being deleted by Apple's Board Admins. (At least not so far.)

  • Noeyak

    Your obviously stuck in Steve Jobs reality distortion field!!!! Run away, save yourself and be strong!!!!!!

  • Aloombox

    You go boy! Well said, and I couldn't put it better if tried! Just to add, most people will find a fault with EVERYTHING, just read of the app reviewers and stupid “faults” they come up. I think I will make up my own mind when it comes to whether to purchase the iPhone 4 or not, consumer reports is NOT the word on whether you should buy something or not. Like they know anything.

  • Nick

    Agreed. I would much rather wait another month for a phone that works. Just think if you were to get one now and then shortly after another one was released where the reception issues were fixed and everyone else had that one you wouldn't be very happy.

  • Ralph

    I really don't know what to say anymore. Consumer Report is one of the most reliable source ever and if they couldn't recommend the iPhone 4, I really need to think deep about getting it. The phone is great, it has iOS4, HD video capture and the Retina display. There are not a lot other options out there that can match it. Yes Nexus one and the HTC Desire can sort of match it, but they have their flaws too. I waited for the iPhone 4 for more than half a year and I really don't know what to do anymore…lol maybe I am destined to use an Android phone!!

  • Meh!

    Wait… if I buy a case for my Iphone the problem is solved?

  • Clearly many of you aren't educated on the full scope of this problem. If you do some research you will understand that iOS (and earlier OS versions) have been displaying more reception than they should, making some signals seem to drop very easily at the touch of the finger while others remain at full bars.

  • een

    Apple responds to Consumer Reports recent “do not recommend” of the iPhone 4 by rebranding their flagship cellphone as the “iPad Mini.”â„¢


    I'm kidding. heh. 😀

  • een

    Samsung Galaxy S seems pretty sweet.
    Frankly, I'm torn.
    Love the iP4 but maybe, just maybe I'll spring for either a Samsung Galaxy S or perhaps an HTC Evo…if such a beast can be found to work in TGWN.


  • een

    Apparently. 🙂

  • een

    One of the places where Apple dropped the ball was explicitly stating in memos to staff NOT to offer bumper cases as a goodwill gesture.
    I doubt the damn things cost $.05 to make and it could have gone a looooong way to minimizing the blowback.

    “For the want of a rubber bumper, the signal was lost; for the want of a signal the reputation was lost; and for the want of a reputation the share price was lost, being overtaken and slain by the first adopters, all for the want of care about a rubber bumper.”*
    *with apologies to the late, great Benjamin Franklin.

  • excaliburca

    Since Droid X is a CDMA phone on Verizon I don't see it coming to Canada as Bell and Telus are going GSM now.

  • RyleyLamarsh

    We shouldn't feel bad for giving Apple a hard time. Steve Jobs should not only be giving out those phukin bumpers but buy us dinner at the Keg too. It's a 700 dollar phone for christs sakes……. I'll still end up buying the damn thing… Bastards know us geeks just can't keep our hands off this crap.

  •  Xaroc

    You know Steve would say something like “unhappy? Go buy an android” lol

  • mmmmm good point sample size wize

  • Meh!

    Well said my friend!

  • MR

    Apple's attitude about this whole mess is unacceptable. If I get an iPhone 4, I'd be getting a case anyway, but Apple's strategy of lying and not addressing the issue seriously impacts my opinion of the company. More than likely, I'll still end up buying an iPhone 4, but I'll be signing up for a class-action lawsuit against Apple.

  • Newtown

    You said this:

    “d) How can you judge a piece of hardware… or anything really unless you yourself have used it? Last I checked, the iPhone hasn't been released in Canada. Someone said that the iPhone is equivalent to Windows Vista… Have you even used the phone in an everyday situation yet? How can you make that conclusion?”

    Then followed up with this:

    “For me, I will buy the iPhone4 because it is the best smart phone on the market. Period.”

    So I will quote yourself and ask:

    “Have you even used the phone in an everyday situation yet? How can you make that conclusion?” I could also add the question of whether you have used every smart phone on the market to draw such a conclusion.

  • 1His_Nibs1

    Knowing Canada's luck…..we'll be shipped all the “defective reception” problem ones instead of Apple issuing a recall (in the countries they've already been launched), delaying it's release, or offer replacements for those who already have a defective one once a “fix” has been found. That's what Apple SHOULD do……..but then again we are talking about Steve Jobs and his whole APPLE IS THE HOLY GRAIL OF CONSUMER TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTS attitude. Style over substance wins out again!

  • MRsupacool

    LOL are you serious?? GET REAL buddy!!

  • skull

    Wake up. Read anandtech's review (which was written prior to Consumer Reports, with the same result). The bars, like apple admitted, are incorrect. From -51 to -91 it shows 5 bars, and -113 to -91 is 1 to 4 bars. Gripping the the left corner reduces signal by about 20db, and if your signal is less than -93db (4 bars on iphone 4) you will go down to less than -113, which is below the min (-113) and so you phone loses signal completely.

    The consequences:
    1. If you have anything less than 5 bars, you will end up with 1 bar or no signal.
    2. If you have a signal stronger than -71, then no matter how you grip it the signal wont drop more than 20 (i.e. never going below -91) and so you will not see your bars dropping from 5.

    From here it doesnt take a genius to understand why not all people report the problem. If your signal is good gripping the left corner wont change bars (even though signal strength is reduced – thats Apple trying to hide the problem).

    However, if your signal is not that strong, you lose it completely. Needless to say, other phones have no problem in such case; its only this iphone that would go from -95 to none; other phones work just fine at -95 no matter how you hold them, for exmaple the 3GS.

    Therefore, the iphone reception is worse than that of other phones. Case closed.

    As for whether you should buy a flawed product, that is up to you.

  • rorypiper

    What seems to be highly overlooked, is the fact that most people have their phone in some kind of case. This is the absolute easiest fix for this issue. If Apple simply gave out a free “Bumber” to each individual experiencing the problem, they would make a lot of people happy, while they fix this issue. They could easily avoid a recall, this way. Just my opinion.

  • djepsilon

    Well done.

    I guess I can't make that statement then… But I also did say “If I find that it doesn't meet my everyday cell phone needs, I will return it”. All I am trying to say is that for me, the iPhone 4 is innocent until proven guilty.

  • djepsilon

    Like I said, as long as it does what I need it to do then all is fine by me. I could care less how my reception is measured or if”Apple is trying to hide the problem”. If it does what I need it to do, then it's not flawed. If I get it and reception sucks, then I'll return it!

    I'm not denying that there is reception issues, there obviously IS something wrong. My issue is that people are making such a big deal about this when it is clearly not affecting 100% of all iPhone 4 users to the point of having an unusable phone.

  • djepsilon

    I also think that if it wasn't for Steve's “just don't hold it that way” people wouldn't be nearly as pissed. That was a terrible way for him to respond. If he had said something like “Working on it”, I think people would have been much more understanding about this whole debacle.

  • neurolite

    That would require them to admit there is a flaw in their antenna design, which they still have yet to do….

  • neurolite

    I don't think you can buy a phone KNOWING that there are problems with it now, and still sue, so good luck with that I guess.

  • Afanagain

    Well, it seems as though someone at this blog actually reads this comments. I believe it was only yesterday that I was saying this website only reports on positive stories.. And everyone yelled at me saying its a fan site! I truly appreciate you posting this. Your website is extremely influential and all sides must be heard in order for people to make an educated decision. Thank you Gary for showing menthat my thoughts of you being completely bias are unfounded. And to the people like Ex, RoryPiper, etc who make these discussions seem a little bit more rational than simply dismissing something based on hopes and dreams

  • Guestofson

    Djepilson can still kiss my a$$ though. He's a cocky sunbitch with no reason to be. The guy doesn't let people express their opinions when he thinks he's right. And then he adds the “lawyered” note at the bottom to feel like a bad a$$

  • DjEpslionIsAnIdiot

    You stupid retard. Untill you go to a lab with 5 iPhone 4's and test the RF signals with a proper machine… Shut up. Sit down. And don't speak unless spoken to.

    Boom rosted and shat on.

  •  Xaroc

    With all due respect, how do you think people are seeing you right now?

  •  Xaroc

    Now now kids. lets all be adults here yea?
    we can all exercise a little respect for our fellow men

  • jo blow

    Guess what batch the Canadians will get!
    apple will blame the crtc

  • Guest

    Sorry. Its just bothers me when people try to pass off beliefs as facts. Especially when there are scientific tests completed. I guess it's the whole religion vs. science debate. This guys religion is iPhone and whatever science says to disprove him, he'll just ignore it.

  • Sadguest

    Pretty awful, Xaroc. I guess I just got a little heated. I don't deal well with ignorance. I apologize to all of you. Including DJepslion. I was out of line 🙁

  •  Xaroc

    Its understandable to get a little hot under the collar. but a good trick to remember is the person with the coolest head controls the conversation ^_~.

  •  Xaroc

    Its all good. I just offer a couple words in hopes people will take a breathe, can keep things enjoyable for everyone ^_^

  • djepsilon

    If you read my other posts you'll see that I'm not just ignoring it. Yes, I'll be buying the phone despite the reception reports… And yes, if it ends up being a problem for me, I'll return it (I'll even let you say I told you so to me).

    My religion? Let's not be ridiculous… Yes, I am an Apple fan. A fanboy even… But it's no different then being a fan of, say the Calgary Flames. I support the Flames even when they don't make the playoffs, or make stupid player signing… Because that's what it means to be a fan. I'm not saying you have to agree with me, I'm just voicing an opinion. I'm sorry it upsets you.

  • djepsilon

    I'm sorry for lawyering you the other day, I was trying to be funny.

    If you didn't get the reference, you really should start watching How I Met Your Mother. It's awesome.

  • People should be able to make educated decisions on their own by doing their own research. We report what we find is interesting and relevant to Canadian iPhone users. Thanks for reading.

  • YouAreASheep

    Thanks. Because of people like you, we are confined to pay 700$ for a non-working phone.

  • 1His_Nibs1

    Rory, while it's probably true that most people have their phones in a case the solution you pose is just a bandaid solution and the problem should be fixed properly. People shouldn't have to settle for an inferior design flaw with a simple bumper solution. The phones should be fixed/replaced especially considering the astronomical price Apple is asking for the iPhone 4. Not to mention Apple shouldn't get off so easy with such a simple solution for a PR blunder that was self-inflicted. I think it's good for Apple to be brought down a peg or two. Maybe Steve Jobs eating a bit of crow may have diminished some of his smugness……but I doubt it.

  • MR

    Well, I don't KNOW there's a problem; the manufacturer claims there isn't one, so what am I to believe?

  • MR

    I am. Totally keeping it real, bud.

  • I imagine Consumer Reports is loving all the free attention and exposure they are getting with this story.

    I find the suggested “piece of duct tape” solution by CR to be a bit dramatic and for me, at least, underscores the cynical way that this story has been played out in the mainstream media. (Witness the CNN report about fixing the iPhone4 with a small strip of duct-tape).

  • Alcanada

    Isn't it interesting that this is the first time ever that Apple has created an iPhone case, and it just so happens that the case only covers the antenna area? Why didn't they release colourful bumpers for any iPhone in the past?
    Putting the antenna outside the phone is very cool and I find it hard to believe that this new idea wasn't tested to death to make sure that it would work.
    Perhaps their bumper plan didn't play out as anticipated, but they'll fix the problem in some fashion.
    Here's to hoping for a July 23rd release date in Canada to be annouced on Friday!

  • Guest

    Absolutely, but you have to understand that your site is extremely influential and a source for news by other media outlets including the Gazette.. Etc. If you didn't put the good and the bad.. You would only be helpin apple. You are now a super hero, and with great power comes great responsibility! Go go gadget Gary!

  • Jabull2010

    I thk the Samsung Galaxy S or HTC Evo both are awesome. Way better than the Iphone. People bought the iphone when it was running in the Pre Dos era of couldn't even cut copy paste, no voice dialing and still thought it to be the coolest thing. So you can totally understand how useless it is.
    Like the Mac's the iphone and Ipad all useless stuff. Why anyone would buy that tablet is beyond me when it doesn't even have a camera or USB port on it. All Apple fan boys who have no understanding of technology, but just are sheep.

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  •  Xaroc

    I wouldn't go as far to call people sheep. It all comes down to
    personal choice. Some people like SUVs some like sports cars. Can't
    really knock the other groups because it doesn't fit your own style.

  • Guillaume_b

    I live in Montreal and the chance i get reception problems in the area is i think really low… so i'm buying the iphone 4!
    Maybe i would reconsider if i was living on a farm tough… xD

  • designer18

    Actually Consumer Reports has said they cannot recommend the iphone 4 because of the current reception problems….watch the video above. I'll hold off until the issues are fixed. My 3G had reception issues when I first got it, I had constant dropped calls which was not only annoying but embarrassing and unproffessional when talking to clients. Apple obviously reviews their sales reports so it is definitely worth trying to stick together to send apple a message.

  • guest

    Have fun trying to return it. It took me over 3 months of run around from Apple blaming Rogers and Rogers blaming the phone for reception issues that I had with my 3G.

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