Consumer Reports says no to iPhone 4

Your average techie probably hasn’t read Consumer Reports in years, but they’re still big in the heartland. And that’s why this is big news:

Lab tests: Why Consumer Reports can’t recommend the iPhone 4

It’s official. Consumer Reports’ engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception. When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side—an easy thing, especially for lefties—the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal. Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.

The report also suggests that Apple is being less than candid about the problem:

Our findings call into question the recent claim by Apple that the iPhone 4’s signal-strength issues were largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software that "mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength."

And my favorite part:

We did, however, find an affordable solution for suffering iPhone 4 users: Cover the antenna gap with a piece of duct tape or another thick, non-conductive material. It may not be pretty, but it works.


12 thoughts on “Consumer Reports says no to iPhone 4

  1. “an easy thing, especially for lefties”

    I don’t understand why write-ups of this issue keep focusing on left-handed users, as if it’s less of an issue for right-handed ones.

    Right-handed people are likely to hold the device with their left hands (while jabbing at it with their more dexterous right hands) and it seems natural for the left hand’s palm to push against the spot.

    Most left-handed people will probably hold the device with their right hands. To me it seems less likely (though still totally possible) that a left-hander will touch that point, low-down on the left of the device, with a finger than a right-hander with his palm.

    Maybe I’m missing something? Perhaps a finger touching it is more of an issue than a palm due to the amount of pressure or something.

    1. If you read the CR post, you’ll see they did identical testing with other AT&T phones, including the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre, and could not reproduce the issues.

  2. @Leo Davidson
    I agree the problem is not one of handedness but rather the hand gripping the phone. The reason the left-hand is worse than the right hand is because the cellular antenna is on the left side of the phone. Your left hand is thicker nearer the cellular antenna which attenuates the signal much more than holding it in the right hand.

  3. @Richard:
    Then shouldn’t it affect right-handed people more than left-handed people?

    Right-handed people will hold the device in their left hand, not their right.

    I’m assuming most people use their best hand for pointing and hold the device with their other hand. Just like a right-handed person would steady a piece of paper with their left hand while writing on it with their right.

    It seems like many of the write-ups have confused “holding the device with your left hand” with “being left-handed”, which is weird.

    Maybe I’ve missed something, maybe lots of write-ups are repeating facts seen in other write-ups without thinking about it. Maybe it’s done on purpose to try to downplay the issue? Seems weird, whatever’s behind it.

  4. Oh my gosh! This is huge news…

    I mean, man… is anyone else as shocked as I am?

    It boggles my mind.

    People still read Consumer Reports?

    All kidding aside, I do own an iPhone 4 (and upgraded from iPhone 3G) and although I can duplicate the signal degradation, I have never been able to actually lose signal or call quality (and I have tried in numerous places). I actually find it has better quality than the previous versions. Although it’s never been that great on the iPhone anyway, so I don’t know if that’s saying much 😉

  5. I love my old iPhone but I can’t deal with the dropped calls anymore so when I upgraded to the new iPhone 4 I was really expecting that Apple would’ve worked through the phone problems by this iteration but alas the iPhone 4 is the worst phone of the bunch. I finally returned mine this past weekend, I can’t deal with this anymore. Looks like I’m going to Android soon.

  6. I’m not AT&T’s fan boy but I pity them. For the past 3 or 4 years they were blamed for poor network, dropped calls due even though there were 2 or 3 bars, spotty coverage etc.

    They were banking on a product that was flawed and paid the price for promoting it.

    “mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.”

  7. Love it when elitist West/East coast folks think us in the “middle” are simpletons. CR is still a good source of info for most consumer products on the market…and yes I read it online…and yes I hold all the appropriate geek titles and own the necessary gadgets to be cool ..and I read CR

  8. For the record, Randy, I don’t live or work on either coast. And I saw NBC News last night covered the story in a way that had to make Apple PR cringe.

  9. CR is an excellent source of information for appliances, cars, and home & garden stuff, but I find their reviews on tech stuff lacking. There are so many other specialized companies and organizations that do a much better job that I feel CR is obsolete in the tech industry.

    I personally believe they used this as an opportunity to gain some publicity from the big names in news. How do you rate the phone as the ‘best smartphone out there’ and then not recommend it?

  10. I still think that Apple should include with the iPhone 4 their Bumper product. And give current owners this accessory free too.

    The phone really looks a lot better with this added on. Makes me wonder if it were actually supposed to be part of the phone to begin with. Hmmmm….

  11. As always it’s the less than honest responses from Apple that will bring the real long-term harm to their reputation. And maybe a few class action lawsuits or a consumer pressured product recall that costs hundreds of millions of dollars will neuter their arrogance.

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