Posted 14 July 2010 - 01:22 PM
I've got an iPhone 4 now, having upgraded from a 3GS, and Consumer Reports is wrong. Well, they aren't wrong, they're simply making the same mistake that everyone else is, and aren't seeing the forest for the trees. Everyone is focused on the fact that if you hold it left handed the signal strength drops, and yes it does, sometimes even dramatically (probably due to the bogus skewing of the scale toward 5 bars - that sure came back to bite them in the ass). The thing is, in practice, even with only 1 bar, it performs far more reliably then my iPhone 3GS did.
Yesterday and today this was most noticeably demonstrated to me at the train station I spend time waiting at every day when I commute via train/bus. With the 3GS, while in that waiting area, the signal would jump from 5 bars to 0 to 4 bars to 0, etc, changing every minute or more, and even when it was 5 bars it was dog slow. With the iPhone 4, for the first time ever, I had a 100% reliable connection, had streaming audio in the background that ran uninterrupted, and I was browsing the web at the same time and it was fast. And, yes, this was with the phone in my left hand, and yes, when I put it in my left hand I saw the signal drop from 4 bars to 1 over 10 to 20 seconds or so, but it still performed superbly and far, far better then my 3GS ever did in over a year of use in this waiting area. Not one single time did the 3GS have an even remotely reliable connection there. Today and yesterday it's been flawless on the iPhone 4. And this isn't an isolated case. In general I've seen a much more reliable connection everywhere. This is just the most pronounced case of it.
If people would just give the thing a chance they would see this. Unfortunately everyone is stuck looking at the bars, especially media like Consumers Reports. So, it's a public relations disaster, yes, but it is a better antenna design if you actually try the thing out and don't just stare at the signal strength gauge. I'm not saying that it will never drop to zero by holding it left handed. It will, just as I noted, when the signal is weaker (which due to the way the scale is weighted, could even be 4 bars). I do wonder, if you are actually going to have seen a reliable connection in that location with another phone, though. As you can see above, it's not all about signal strength. According to the anandtech review (which is a worthwhile read, and is not all positive, FYI, the more important factor is probably signal to noise, and that's where the iPhone 4 excels in the testing they did, and in practice it's seen as a more reliable connection.
Putting it in a case, though, does reduce the strength drop when held left handed, so I do recommend getting a case and truthfully it's not a bad idea anyway given that the phone will cost your thousands of dollars over the life of your 2 year contract - protecting it with a case is a good investment. I have a $20 Case-Mate Gelli case and I like it a lot, so it doesn't have to be a big expense. I agree that, if it is possible to coat the antenna and reduce the attenuation, though I'm not qualified to know if that would really do anything, then Apple should have done that. It would have saved them a lot of grief. However, the problem is blown out of proportion and overall the phone is much better then previous iPhones, including in 3G reliability and performance.