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Tests document iPhone 4 reception problems

updated 12:20 pm EDT, Wed June 30, 2010

Suggests odd criteria for iOS signal detection

Signal does indeed drop badly compared to other phones if an iPhone 4 is held in particular way, some more detailed tests suggest. Using modified iOS firmware, Anandtech says it was able to track a more precise signal rating than is possible with the bars an iPhone normally displays. When cupping an iPhone 4 with a tight grip reported to cause signal loss, the site says it noticed a 24.6dB drop in signal; this compared to 14.3dB for an iPhone 3GS, and 17.7dB for a Google Nexus One. More relaxed grips cut signals by 19.8, 1.9 and 10.7dB for each handset, respectively.

iOS is moreover said to show an uneven match between actual signal strength and the bars it displays. An iPhone will continue to display five bars between -51 and -99dB, or approximately 40 percent of the possible range. There is actually less distance in the gap between four bars and the bottom of the one-bar level, which is -113dB. This means that when close to the base of the five-bar level, a 24dB-plus drop can cause iOS to go from showing perfect signal to none at all. At four bars or fewer, only slight cupping is needed to cause an iPhone to apparently drop connection, since there is at most 14dB left in the scale.

Conversely, adding one of Apple's official bumper cases is said to eliminate the problem completely, and even result in smaller signal drop than when holding other phones. With this solved an iPhone 4 may actually get superior reception to the iPhone 3GS, holding onto calls and data in areas with weak or formerly non-existent connections.

"At the end of the day, Apple should add an insulative coating to the stainless steel band, or subsidize bumper cases," says Anandtech. Apple is so far refusing to offer free bumpers, though, and the expectation is that people will instead have to download an upcoming software fix. Given test results, the update could be meant to calibrate iOS 4 to more accurately reflect signal. Some iPhone 4 owners note that even when the device is showing absent reception, it may still be possible to make calls.

by MacNN Staff



  1. TomSawyer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Add an insulative coating?

    And cover up all that beautiful stainless steel? Never, I say!


  1. GatorsFan

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple squanders opportunity for goodwill

    Apple is being "penny wise and pound foolish" by not just providing disgruntled owners of the iPhone 4 with a free bumper. For the sake of the pennies it costs to produce them, the company would be wise to just provide them to those that can demonstrate, in person at perhaps the Genius Bar, signal degradation when the phone is held "normally." Yes, the company will lose the potential revenue of selling bumpers to some, but they're putting their entire product line at-risk by failing to be proactive as a responsible tech giant should.

    Apple spends hundreds of millions of dollars getting people into their stores. This seems like a perfect opportunity to do just that for pennies-per-unit.

  1. Zanziboy

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Inaccurate: Not enough information

    Hmm. So Iam to believe Anandtech has an iphone test harness?

    1.) Signal strength readings are part of the GSM standard and are not fudged by the manufacturer. Compliance is guaranteed by regulatory certification.
    2.) Comparing radio performance based on the number of bars reported is (as done here) will yield any result the tester desires. The only way to guage performance is to have a test handset and a protocol analyzer. Otherwise you are comparing handsets in different radio modes with each other. For example, was the Android in a fast transmit power management loop?

    Only the handset manufacturers and the regulatory agencies have the necessary equipment to even begin to compare radio GSM/UMTS/HSXPA performance between handsets!

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: Inaccurate

    Which is exactly what you said, I'm sure, when those test reports are announced showing the iPhone has great reception and ATT's drop-rate is superb compared to the others.

  1. Integr8d

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Class action...

    Is what it'll take to 'fix' this. We've all been through this before with Apple. The company makes great products. But where it fails, especially in hardware, it often has an eerily painful time at admitting fault. I'm not sure why this is. But it seems to be an acute issue with Apple, possibly stemming from overall corporate culture.

    Let's face it. The Apple of today is not the Apple of the 80's. To be honest, I miss the days when Apple was facing an uphill battle. They were lean and hungry. But today, as the saying goes, "You can't make a fat cat hunt."

    I give props to Anand. The guy is smart. And he's not afraid to call BS, when he sees it. He did it before, when SSD's were starting to take the market. He did it, in the face of corporate pressure. So I have no problem taking his word on this. And I don't have to. Both my 4 and my gf's 4 have this issue. I'm left-handed. So I'm particularly sensitive to this...

  1. B9bot

    Joined: Dec 1969


    For one thing you shouldn't choke your phone

    For one thing you shouldn't choke your phone. I have never held a phone that I would need to choke it like I was choking a chicken or something. The phone doesn't weigh that much to need a choke hold on it in the first place.

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