Consumer Report: iPhone 4 not recommended

After selling more than 1.7 million iPhone 4s in its first 3 days, Apple’s latest mobile wonder has certainly not been getting much love after the widely publicized reports of dropped calls and reception issues when the antenna is covered by the hand. Apple countered by saying that it’s not a hardware (design) issue and that a software fix will be coming in a few weeks. Now Consumer Reports is giving the dreaded “Not Recommended” to the iPhone 4 after testing 3 different handsets in a controlled environment and finding signal-loss whenever a hand or finger touches the bottom left side of the device.

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.

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. We also tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

Rather than a software remedy, CR offers an easy and cheap, albeit ugly solution:

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. We also expect that using a case would remedy the problem. We’ll test a few cases this week and report back.

Fortunately for Apple and those who still plan on buying one in the foreseeable future, CR did give high scores to the phone’s main selling features:

The iPhone scored high, in part because it sports the sharpest display and best video camera we’ve seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller. But Apple needs to come up with a permanent—and free—fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4.

One has to wonder just what kind of impact the reception issues will have on future sales of the iPhone 4. My guess is that consumers who’ve already made up their minds and can’t wait to replace their old iPhone 3G will likely overlook the defect and simply use some kind of case to prevent the naked skin from coming in contact with the antenna. Those, however, who’ve been sitting on the fence could very well hold off until Apple can prove in a few weeks time that the promised software update will indeed eliminate any lingering reception concerns.

[via Consumer Report]

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