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Antennagate Redux: Consumer Reports condemns Verizon iPhone 4

The Return of Death Grip

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The Verizon CDMA incarnation of Apple's iPhone 4 suffers from the same dropped-call syndrome as the existing GSM incarnation, according to the venerable American product tester Consumer Reports.

As a consequence, Consumer Reports is not putting the Verizon iPhone 4 on its list of recommended smartphones – something that's sure to annoy Steve Jobs and cult. "The Verizon iPhone 4 closely resembles the original AT&T iPhone 4 in many positive respects, including offering great multimedia functionality, a sharp screen, and the best MP3 player we've seen on a phone," reads a blog post from Consumer Reports.

"Unfortunately, it also shares with its sibling the possibility of compromised performance in low-signal conditions when used without a bumper or case."

Last summer, after the release of the original iPhone 4, countless buyers complained of reception problems when holding the lower left-hand corner of the handset. Apple responded with an open letter claiming that the reception problems were merely an illusion, that the phone's "signal bar" interface was off-kilter. The company offered an iOS update that tweaked the formula used to calculate signal bars, but as users continued to complain, Steve Jobs held a press conference where he succeeded in creating a new version of reality.

He also offered buyers free bumper cases. But that offer has expired, as Consumer Reports points out.

According to tests from both Consumer Reports and Anandtech, receptions problems with the original iPhone 4 occured when fanbois gripped the device in a way that bridged the gap between the Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS and UMTS/GSM antennas. The Judas Phone uses antennas that wrap around the outside of its metal bezel. The Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS antenna snakes around part of the bezel, before giving way to the cellular antenna.

When the phone was in development, according to a report from Bloomberg, Apple antenna man Ruben Caballero warned – during planning meetings – that the design might cause dropped calls and "presented a serious engineering challenge".

And now Consumer Reports says that much the same thing happens with the antennas on the Verizon iPhone 4, which uses CDMA rather than GSM. "The problem is similar to the one we confirmed in July with the AT&T version of Apple's newest smart phone," Consumer Reports says.

"It can occur when you hold either version of the phone in a specific but quite natural way in which a gap in the phone's external casing is covered. The phone performs superbly in most other respects, and using the iPhone 4 with a case can alleviate the problem."

But the post points out there there have not been widespread reports of reception issues with the Verizon iPhone 4. The assumption is that the antenna problem was exacerbated by AT&T over crowded network.

When the original GSM iPhone 4 originally debuted, Consumer Reports gave it the thumbs up. It wasn't until it actually performed its own tests on the device that it retracted the recommendation. But Steve Jobs simply ignored the retraction. "It's been judged the number one smartphone in a variety of publications. These are just a few: Wired, enGadget, PC World, Consumer Reports," he said, standing in front of a sign that said the same thing. "So people seem to like it."

Well, people do like it – despite its flaws. Fanbois are fanbois.®

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