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Boffins authenticate Apple 'Antennagate'

Judas Phone 'death grip' proven fatal

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More evidence has surfaced that Apple's beleaguered Judas Phone does, indeed, have serious reception challenges — and today's facts and figures come from a sophisticated source.

"Tests ... have indicated that Apple's iPhone4 does indeed suffer from connectivity problems compared to other smartphones," begins a report by the PA Consulting Group, a global management, IT, and technology consulting firm headquartered in London.

PA ran the Judas Phone through a comprehensive battery of tests, both on Vodafone's network and on a test network in an anechoic chamber not unlike those used by Apple (video) in its product testing, as trumpeted by Steve Jobs during his "There is no Antennagate" presentation on July 16.

PA's testing was conducted at its corporate Technology Centre, "deep in the Cambridge countryside", as described in an admittedly somewhat silly video that the company produced to give an overview of its testing and that testing's results:

The iPhone 4 was tested in various orientations, being held in different grips, and with and without a rubber bumper that Apple now offers to any Judas Phoner who wants one. PA's test bumper, however, was a thick rubber band, since Apple's branded bumper, they note, is not yet available in the UK. By way of comparison, the same tests were performed on a Blackberry Bold 9700 and HTC HD2.

The PA Consulting Group's test results, simply put, make Steve Jobs and his favorite phone look rather shabby:

  • Uplink to Vodafone, not held: BlackBerry best, HTC second, and iPhone third — although the differences were minor and "the user may not notice much difference in practice."
  • Uplink to Vodafone, firm and light grip: Again, on average, BlackBerry best, HTC second, and iPhone third. Testing was done without the iPhone's antennas being bridged — the so-called Death Grip — because: "When the 'death grip' was used and the gap bridged, the signal level dropped to the point where it was not possible to conduct the test as the call could not be established to begin with."
  • Test network, not held, various orientations: As before, BlackBerry best, HTC second, and iPhone third, "but the Blackberry has a further lead over the other two, and the difference between the iPhone and the HD2 is negligible."
  • Test network, various grips, 0° and 90° orientations: Same order of results, although "the results are now closer than on the live network."

When PA added its rubber-band iPhone 4 Bumper equivalent to the Judas Phone, performance increased substantially in all cases: whether the phone was held in the right or left hand or in a 0° or 90° orientation.

PA's dry, objective overall conclusion: "The iPhone antenna performance is comparable with the performance of the other mobiles when handled or hands-free, though at the lower end of the range."

But PA's equally objective assessment of the Death Grip effect is damning: "The so called 'death grip' gives a substantial further drop in performance for the iPhone to the point where we could not quantify it using the same test method."

On Apple's "Smartphone antenna performance" web page, Jobs & Co state that "nearly every smartphone can lose signal strength if you hold it in a certain way." But PA Consulting Group's testing indicates that when a bumperless iPhone 4 is held in "a certain way" — the antenna-detuning Death Grip — that loss of signal can cause calls to be dropped or not connect in the first place.

As Steve Jobs put it during his "There is no Antennagate" press conference: "We haven't figured out a way around the laws of physics yet." ®

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