Consumer Reports has confirmed what we already knew about iPhone 4 -- touching its external antenna produces noticeable reception problems -- but with that finding offered a damning conclusion: This phone is not recommended.
The verdict is a slap in the face to Apple, which earlier this month tried casting the iPhone 4 problem as an optical illusion, caused by the way the phone displays signal bars. Previously, Apple said that holding the iPhone 4 in certain ways can affect signal strength, but has also insisted that overall the phone gets better reception than any previous model. For unsatisfied customers, Apple recommends holding the phone differently or buying a bumper case.
That's not good enough for Consumer Reports, which tested three iPhone 4s in its radio frequency isolation room. Using a base-station emulator to simulate cell tower signals, lab testers found significant reception problems when holding the phone over its lower-left corner, especially when the signal was weak to begin with.
Phones with internal antennas, such as the Palm Pre and iPhone 3GS, didn't have the same reception issues. That's important, because Apple has claimed that signal loss when covering the antenna is "a fact of life for every wireless phone."
Consumer Reports confirmed that covering the iPhone 4's antenna with thick, non-conductive material, such as duct tape, fies the problem, and the group believes bumper cases will do the same. But despite loving everything else about the phone, including its sharp display and 720p video camera, Consumer Reports recommended downgrading to an iPhone 3GS or another brand.
If you've been following the iPhone 4 antenna debacle, there should be nothing shocking about Consumer Reports' findings. Experts and journalists have learned basically the same things in their field testing. Specifically, the phone gets better service most of the time, but when held over its lower-left corner, it risks dropped calls or lost reception in areas with low signal strength.
Still, the lab testing by Consumer Reports was conducted in a controlled environment, lending more credibility to the real-world evidence we've already seen. It's an embarrassment for Apple after the company's attempts to downplay the issue. I'm sure this report will come up in the class action lawsuits Apple faces, especially when the authority on what consumer products to buy says the iPhone 4 doesn't deserve your money.