Is Consumer Reports iPhone 4 antenna problem study flawed?

Was Consumer Reports iPhone 4 antenna problem study, the one picked up by mainstream media and used to hammer Apple and iPhone 4, flawed from the get go? If you're just joining us, after first telling users not to worry about iPhone 4 antenna problems, Consumer Reports came back and said they couldn't recommend it based on the antenna issues -- even though they still listed it as the best smartphone on the planet.

Back to the question. Electromagnetic engineer Bob Egan thinks Consumer Reports tests were, in fact, flawed:

Consumer reports “RF” engineers should know better than to think they can run an engineering grade test for an issue like this in a shielded room. And certainly not one with people in it.

He goes on to describe why -- hit the read link below for the details -- but he also bottom-lines it:

I’m not saying that Apple has no [hardware] problem and they surely have a [software] issue. But I’m still wondering that if the software signal algorithm was not AFU’d in the first place how many, if anyone would talking about this “problem”

What's more:

We also don’t know if placing a finger on the antenna bridge is detuning the antenna or detuning the receiver itself. And neither does Consumer Reports.

So Apple remains silent, experts argue, consumers have or don't have problems, and the mainstream media snowballs the story. In other words, the saga continues.

[Viewpoints]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Is Consumer Reports iPhone 4 antenna problem study flawed?

70 Comments

Consumers HAVE problems. If all 25 display phones in every Apple store have the issue. It IS a problem. It varies depending on people, skin, moisture... NOT the phone itself.

Hey, @Steve Woz
Consumer Reports: By the Way, the iPhone 4 is Also the Best Smartphone on the Markethttp://digitaldaily.allthingsd.com/20100712/consumer-reports-by-the-way-...
Business Insider get it right:
Sorry, But This Whole iPhone 4 Antenna Thing Is A Non-Issue And Will Blow Overhttp://www.businessinsider.com/iphone-4-non-issue-2010-7
Here's the Nokia E71 having the same problem:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amPG52DVQuk&feature=player_embedded
HTC Droid having the same problem:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaDE941PzQk&feature=player_embedded#!
Nexus 1 having the same problem:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2g5J4qPp54&feature=player_embedded#!
Nokia states point blank:
"Antenna
Your device may have internal and external antennas. Avoid touching the antenna area unnecessarily while the antenna is transmitting or receiving. Contact with the antennas affects the communication quality and may cause the device to operate at a higher power level than otherwise needed and may reduce the battery life."
NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE is pointing out that the fuel behind this bull is Gizmodo.com, i.e. Gawker Media the people who screwed up and bought a stolen iPhone prototype for $5000 and then tried to blackmail Apple with it. After the police got involved and criminal charges were brought against them, they've been on a steady smear campaign against Apple.

I don't know if it's my skin type or moisture content or what, but I cannot lose a bar no matter how I hold it.

I can back up Steve Woz's testimony. I was able to get bars dropping on 12 of the 14 iPhone 4's I tested at the West County Apple Store in St. Louis. I may have underestimated the severity of this problem. Let us take the fanboy blinders off and be real here. There's a definite problem. Instead of denying the problem, Apple should determine what can be dine to minimize the problem. I personally may be waiting for the inevitable Rev. B. Frankly, I could make the argument it is needed even without the antenna issue. Dual Core A4, 14.4 HSPA, Ev-Do Rev. B (Verizon), better Qualcomm baseband, dual antenna (internal and external), and other goodies. The sooner that we, as Apple fanboys accept and push for a Rev. B, the better off we are.

Why isn't anyone else noticing this aside from me. Normally, when connected to 3G and you loose that connection, you're brought into EDGE. How come this isn't happening with this reception issue? Cover up the band, you loose 3G. What about EDGE??

if i search in google for "antenna problem" almost all top10-listings are related to "iphone 4".
Hold different! hrhrhr

"And certainly not one with people in it."
Silly consumer reports for thinking the iphones should work with if there are other people around.

It's funny. I'm on my iPhone 4 right now, in the middle of a phone call with a woman that I really wish it would disconnect. So not paying attention. It's been 45 fricking minutes of whining.

The Solution for the antenna problem :
As soon the signal bar lowers to 2 bars, a big message appears
"This antenna is so incredible, the best we have seen on a phone so far, but please HOLD DIFFERENT!"
:)

@fraydog....read my message above...this is my help for apple fanboys...ähh...or is it now "hold-different"-fanboys :)

Problem is there!!! Everyone I know with an iphone 4 can easily recreate the problem....

Despite possible limitations of their iPhone 4 study, Consumer Reports is a trusted purveyor of analysis of product quality and reliability. At the same time, even with CR's reputation to back it up, I still don't think their recent blog post will negatively impact iPhone 4 sales. People still really want this device and are willing to vote "yes" with their wallets -- even with all the negative buzz surrounding AntennaGate.

@Orangesaft:
"... Consumer Reports is a trusted purveyor of analysis of product quality and reliability...."
Not in the technology sector for what, the last 15 years?
Besides, how can you trust a company that says out of one side of its mouth that the iPhone is the best on the market, then out of the other side of its mouth claim to not be able to recommend it.

Good thing it's not on verizon! I would fell funny walking around all day saying "can you here me now"

The antenna issue is real but is it really a problem? Also, this is the typical response Apple has had after the launch of any product with problems. Get over it. The problem is that the iPhone is so mainstream any fault is magnified and blown out of proportion. People focus so much on the negative. The iPhone is such an amazing piece of tech. When Steve Jobs revealed the ugly steel bands were antenna's everyone was blown away at how futuristic and savvy it was. Now everybody is hating. If you are a true Apple fan you'd stick by Apple as they try to push technology. When taken in context the problem is so trivial.

I like my 3GS ... But to buy the new iphone 4 you really got to be a sucka... Come on people wake up and look at all the problems!!! Is bad enough we deal with att !! Ha ha fanboys

@blindmedia
you can only recommend something that works flawless, especially with something so important like signal-strength for a phone.
It's an "iPhone" and not an iPod.
My rating from 0 to 100.
Iphone 3gs : 85%
Iphone 4 : 50%
Iphone 4 (hold different) : 75%
Apple 2008 : 75%
Apple 2010 : 25%
sucky suck :)

Yes, of course it is flawed. They just provided another data point that for some people, shorting the two antennas on the lower left can attenuate the signal a lot and possibly drop a call in an area of weak signal. There's no debating that.
But the problem is how does it affect performance in usage. It's really a vexing issue as it appears to be only a problem in weak signal areas, it's dependent on the way you hold it, and it's dependent on one's physical characteristics. There's really no data on that. Think about it for a second. The problem seems only prevalent in areas of weak signal. Well, yeah, in areas of weak signal your cell phone performance is going to be crappy. Is it crappier than other phones? How do you separate weak signal conditions from poor phone performance? What CR didn't do was say how well the iPhone 4 performed.
The blog post is flawed because they found a potential problem, and say it's a real generalized problem.
It doesn't excuse Apple though. They left themselves vulnerable to this nightmare. They know the sand box they play in. Sometimes mistakes like this happen, and they have to pay. Comes with the territory. That's why big companies are slow and evil, and small companies are fast and good. Apple has long since graduated into top dog, big company territory.

One theory is that it detunes the antenna when its shorted by moist skin contact.
Another is that it re-routes (short circuits) substantial portions of the radiated emission thru the skin of your palm.
This later possibility could be a BIG issue for Apple.
An exposed metal antenna DESIGNED to come into contact with human skin is a huge NO NO in the radio world, and could invalidate the specific absorption tests on the iPhone4, requiring FCC recertification.
No tests were done with someone holding the phone, or at least these were not submitted to the FCC an don't appear in the iPhone4 SAR tests: https://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/prod/oet/forms/blobs/retrieve.cgi?attachmentid=1291728&nativeor_pdf=pdf

@johnsen
According to what I'm reading.... The device [ iPhone 4 ] scored 76 out of 100 points–two points ahead of its closest rivals, the iPhone 3Gs and the HTC Evo 4G.
In addition, you seem to ignore the fact that I've provided you with video of at least 2 droids having attenuation problems.

If Consumer Reports was publishing this in a peer reviewed engineering journal, then yes, their methodology would be flawed. However, they were not attempting to ascertain the exact problem, so questions as to whether the antenna or the receiver was detuned are irrelevant. CR merely tried to reproduce the problem in a controlled manner simulating common use cases to inform consumer decisions, and they could.
If engineers like Egan want to take it a step further, they certainly can (and should). But this is yet another data point that directly contradicts Apple's denials. Thus far, I have yet to see a single source that published a video or a description of their methodology that could not reproduce the problem, and in the face of that evidence, the ball is clearly in Apple's court to prove their case and/or repair the damage.

Its never Apple's fault, theres nothing wrong with the Iphone, its everyone else, they're using the phone wrong! apple can do no wrong. Geez!!!

Further to my last, here are the photos showing SAR test setuphttp://tinyurl.com/2bb4wcq
These show head contact only and no contact in the bottom antenna locations that come in contact with hands. No tests were done with human contact over the antenna gap.

My ip4 drops data conection at home if I hold it "wrong". Had the display bars been correct I would still notice this as I've never suffered signal or data connection problems on my 3GS.
All I need to is let a finger or small part of my hand touch the bottom left and there goes my signal. My 3GS never did that, in fact the only way to make my 3GS get a lower number of bats was to completely cup it in my hands and even then it never completely lost signal.
Seems to fix this apple need to replace the bottom section of the side with either a fake metal band or black/white plastic band

Apple has no choice but to issue a recall...the iPhone brand is being damaged. As an example, my wife has NO interest in tech and has never mentioned the iPhone before told me today that she heard that Consumer Reports said that my phone was flawed. That's brand damage right there!

@Icebike
The external antenna design is fine. Whenever someone holds the iPhone 4 they are bridging the 2 antennas with there hands. It's basically impossible to hold the phone without bridging the 2 antenna systems.
There's something about the millimeter gap in the lower left. Without bridging the gap, the hand and fingers which bridge the antenna appear to not detune or effect the radio performance. When bridged at the gap, the distance is short enough such that it can detune or really attenuate the antenna.
Another possible theory is that the two antennas are not grounded properly at that location, and a little push can cause a problem.
Overall, the idea is great, but their placement of the slots could be better, such as top left and in the bottom. And of course there is the insulation, coating thing.

@Shrike:
Yes, clearly it is the bridging that is the problem. Touching one antenna (similar to Iphone 3G metal bezel) is not a problem.
But they never tested SAR when bridging between two different antenna systems.
(Actually its NOT clear that the upper portion of the metal band actually IS and antenna, but the bottom portion clearly is.) The phone might not even need anything more than a boot on the bottom or the Barely There skin featured here on TiPb the other day.

While the title of this post may be the biggest fanboy stroking I've seen in months, the bottom line is that yes, touching an antenna will cause it to drop in "bars", it will not necessarily drop your call quality (I'm sure it happens, but can a low signal be ruled out as the cause?). Where are the videos showing dropped calls corresponding with the finger on the antenna? As someone who experiences this issue firsthand, I'll admit that it's tough not to become obsessed when you see the bars drop so dramatically. However, besides the mind-screwing, can I say it has affected the quality of my calls? I cannot.
Now the proximity issue... That's a problem.

Take reports and media attention. With a grai. Of salt. Liket
The last poster. My performance has not been affected. I get screaming fast 3G signal to browse the web in areas that I have never had it before. Is this due to the better antenna? I would think so. How many of you ever held your phone up high In the air to get a better signal. I believe apple exposed the antenna to get a better signal. But an exposed antenna is, of course more sensitive to human touch. So if you want a better signal with this phone. Do not touch that area. But with all the media attention people are smelling blood and want in on a discount phone. For all of you that are unhappy please return the phone. That will send a stronger message than crying here. I for one am willing to adjust my habits a little just to have the better or more sensitive antenna. And with a case, which was always the plan to get one, makes the issue even less of an issue. So why the complaints. Most of you were going to get a case anyway. You smell discount and are on a mission to get yourself a free case that's all

Seeing all these articles about the antenna problem and how Apple is handling (or not handling) it keeps bringing this to mind, "The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system."
Just GIVE your customers a cheap, decent looking, physical barrier to fix the problem.

It's not a flaw. It's a feature, called "soft disconnect". If you just hang up people will think of you as rude. In skilled wet hands "soft disconnect" is a very powerful feature.
Hey, Apple may have even patented this "bridging" technique and all this media fuss guarantees that nobody will infringe on the patent ;)

I love it!! All the fanboyz cryin about their beloved icrap. I hope Apple learns from this and realize that they're not invincible. Can't wait for the 18th to pick up the Samsung Captivate and get rid of my iPhone.

either consumer reports ran a flawed test (lol) or apple f*cked up, and since I can kill my reception with my left hand on my iPhone 4, I know which side I'm on

I think a huge part of the problem is that the iphone does not switch from 3G to edge fast enough when the signal drops.
I have been testing this out by manually turning 3G on and off and comparing signal strength and call quality. On edge at my house, I get significantly stronger signals and have yet to drop a call. On 3G at my house I get 1-2 bars, and it never switches to edge, even when the signal drops to zero bars. The calls have dropped 6 or 7 times, and not once did it switch to the edge network.
On my old iPhone 3G, the signal would routinely switch to edge whenever the signal dropped down to about 1 bar.
AT&T says the 3G network is everywhere edge is in my neighborhood, but the fact remains that the edge only setting gets better reception & fewer dropped calls. Perhaps that's because the edge network is less congested.
I suggest Apple looks into a firmware update that switches voice calls to edge faster when the signal degrades.

They need to fix that antenna issues n everybody needs to stop making excuses for apple there's IS A PROBLEM!!! N I'm not trash talking cause the iphone4 is sexy n nice but out of all the phones that I had I never had an issues making calls by the way I hold it, is unacceptable weather CR said it or not they have antenna issue APPLE FIX IT!!!

Solution- Electrical Tape! Tape your left hand with electrical tape when using the i4. No? No good?
I think I'm gonna keep going back to apple store and exchange it. This will be my second exchange. Wish me luck.

Obviously this other guy is a stupid fanboy......CR is unbiased and they do the same tests on every phone....so even if the test is flawed in some way, they are performing the same test on multiple phones and should have similar results......I hate all the fanboy's, but I love my iphone.

Even if they're unbiased, there could still have been a problem with the test methodology... but then the iPhone 4 wouldn't have fared so much worse than other phones. I think we can safely discount the "the CR test was bad" theory.

Yeah well any idiot with a finger can see there's a problem. That's why I returned mine. I don't really care what is causing it, hardware/software, whatever, I wasn't going to take a change and be stuck with a flawed phone. Hopefully Apple will fix it so I can get another one. If not, I guess Android here I come, because I don't think I can live with my 3G until iPhone 5 comes out.

What if the reason the white iPhone 4s have yet to be released are because apple realized the hardware flaw and are trying to solve the problem with the white iPhone 4?!

I just got my iphone4, this attenuation issue is blown out of puportion...
My friend had the signal loss issue, replaced the unit and all is good.
Signal is better with the iphone4

I've had iPhone 4 since Sunday. I had the 3GS before. The reception problem is REAL and apparent. Although I looked forward to the upgrade, I'm holding onto the 3GS in case I need to go back to it.

But CR telling people the problem can be solved with duct tape is about professional as Jobs allegedly saying "You're not holding it right."

@CJ
They are providing a work around....tape.....or a case (some people don't want to spend their $ to fix a design flaw)....comment seems perfectly reasonable.

Well I live in Modesto and there is three iPhone 4's in my house. My mom, sister, and I all own one and we have yet to face this problem. No matter how hard I try I can't lose bars. The only place I have lost bars when doing the "death Grip" was at my friends house and he gets poor reception as it is with just 3 bars and I can drop it too 1.

Im glad there's a few intelligent posts on this one. So I have an iphone4. I dnt have this problem with or without the case. So according to the anti-apple crowd I must be a fluke right? Haha some people need to calm down their emotional wuss bag side and relax. Wussies complain about little things like loss of signal, to a phone that is like every other phone that loses signal when held. Actually it would be nice if all the wussbag comments could get deleted. Too bad that never happens.

@warlord
yours certainly isn't intelligent. "I don't have a problem so it doesn't exist ?" I don't give a f*ck about loss of signal, i do care when i can't use a phone to connect to the internet or make calls. judging by the words you use you can't have in IQ much about a 15 year old.

Ok, so let me get something straight. Accroding to the presentation the GSM antenna runs from the bottom left corner, around the bottom, all the way up the rhs, and across the top and stops just to the right of the noise cancelling mic where there's another black band.
The WiFi antenna starts there and then goes around the top lh corner, down the lhs, and meets the GSM antenna at the bottom left corner.
So:
a) Why does holding the phone normally not cause the issue? The minute you touch both the lhs (WiFi) and rhs (GSM) it should in theory short the antennas but this doesn't happen.
b) Why doesn't touching the black band on the top near the noise cancelling mic exhibit the same behaviour as the bottom left black band. As far as I know this should be indentical as it's where the two antennas meet also.
So I call bull on the fact that shorting the antennas is the problem as it doesn't happen on other places on the phone where you should be able to.

This is a real issue and Apple needs to wake up and face it. I bought my wife an iPhone 4 to replace an iPhone 3g (not s) the phone has dropped 4 calls to me in the last week in places the old 3g is fine.

@Icebike - "Yes, clearly it is the bridging that is the problem. Touching one antenna (similar to Iphone 3G metal bezel) is not a problem.
But they never tested SAR when bridging between two different antenna systems.
(Actually its NOT clear that the upper portion of the metal band actually IS and antenna, but the bottom portion clearly is.) The phone might not even need anything more than a boot on the bottom or the Barely There skin featured here on TiPb the other day."
The steel band on the left side of the phone (from the lower left slot to the upper left slot by the headphone/microphone ports) is the WiFi-Bluetooth antenna. The longer steel band on the right side from the upper left slot to lower left slot (going down the right side) is the GSM-UMTS antenna. The slot on the lower right is just for appearances.
Thus, whether you are covering the money slot in the lower left with a finger or holding the two sides of the iPhone 4 with your fingers, you are bridging the two antennas. The only difference is several inches of skin.
So pet theory would be that a few millimeters of skins isn't resistant enough, bridges the antenna, and really detunes the GSM antenna, while does nothing to the WiFi antenna. It doing nothing to the WiFi antenna is kind of curious.

Doesn't matter what the cause is, it's to big of a problem. My wife is a hairdresser and hasn't been able to have one call with a customer yet without hanging up on them. And that's after her first was DOA with a speaker that wouldn't work. We returned it yesterday and waiting till Monday when we can check out the samsung captivate to decide what to get next.

Yeah...Consumer reports study is flawed, just like all their reports are. Geez, we need a TiPb Defense badge an apply it to the posts that tries to defend apple. I don't get why all previous Consumer reports, when they applause apple and give recommendation for the iPhone, they all cheer, but when they give the poopoo to apple, the study is flawed. Arrghh o.O