iPhone 4: Best Smartphone With Fatal Flaw

Consumer Reports on the iPhone 4:

… 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.

Consumer Reports says it cannot recommend Apple’s iPhone 4 because of an antenna design flaw. On July 12th, the publication announced its judgement on the iPhone 4’s antenna issue. Mike Gikas, a Consumer Reports writer:

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.

This is the first time Consumer Reports has not endorsed an iPhone since the original model was released in 2007. The magazine conducted internal testings of three iPhone 4s purchased at three separate retail locations in the New York area. The tests were completed in a controlled environment (radio frequency isolation chamber) using a base-station emulator with other AT&T phones including the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre. The iPhone 4 exhibited the well publicized antenna issue, but the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre didn’t:

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.

Apple has sold 1.7 million iPhone 4’s in the first three days of its release. Almost immediately there were reports of reception issues and a bit later the issue focused on a certain spot toward the lower left portion of the stainless steel mid-section that was designed as an external antenna for better signal reception.

Apple has been less-than forward with this issue. Apple issued an initial press release stating that signal attenuation occurs on all mobile phones when held and suggested holding the iPhone 4 a different way. Read Apple: You’re Holding The iPhone 4 The Wrong Way. Obviously the tests conducted by Consumer Reports suggest not all mobile phones experience iPhone 4-like signal degradation when held. One of Apple’s suggestion is to purchase an iPhone 4 case. A quick aside: I do like the Vapor case from ElementCase. Read ElementCase Vapor iPhone 4 Aluminum Case: Helps Maintain iPhone Antenna Signal Strength. Gikas on Apple’s response:

You can’t just suggest people use their right hands or buy an aftermarket product. You have to fix it yourself.

Yes Apple, get with it.

The company then issued a statement pointing to a software bug, which was inaccurate and exaggerated signal strength. Read iPhone 4 Reception Issue: Signal Formula Error? This doesn’t fix the antenna issue but it does reset expectations. For example, the four or five bars you’ve been experiencing were actually one or two. So when calls fail you won’t be as disgruntled as before. This is a nice marketing trick: set low expectations or in this case reset to lower expectations. But the reality is still this: there is an antenna design problem. Wired.com’s Dylan Tweney:

Lab tests by Consumer Reports have confirmed what Wired and its readers have been telling you all along: The problem with the iPhone 4’s reception has nothing to do with how the signal-strength bars are represented, and everything to do with the phone’s faulty antenna design.

Consumer Reports recommend using duct tape, but I wouldn’t do that. I would instead get the Bumpers, a nice case (Vapor), or try… Colorware. If you look carefully the mid-section stainless steel is covered with beautiful paint. That might do the trick and solve the antenna issue. I would also choose the “Softouch” option just to make sure there’s enough between your fingers and the stainless steel antenna. It would also make it less slippery, a feature that feels good in your pocket but is the real culprit behind all cement face plants. The Colorware option is a terribly expensive one at US$250. And it’ll take three weeks to ship, once they get yours. You see, Coloware doesn’t have any iPhone 4 units to sell you so you’ll have to send in yours. If you can stomach not having your iPhone 4 for about a month and spending $250 to make it ultra-cool but without guarantees that it will solve your antenna problems, then, well… check this out: My OR3O concept.

The conclusion is this: It isn’t AT&T. It isn’t you. It’s Apple. But don’t all the best in the world have at least one fatal flaw? I’m Not Getting An iPhone 4, Yet.