Consumer Reports tests, confirms iPhone 4 antenna problem in weak signal areas

duct tape on an iPhone 4 to prevent antenna problems

Consumer Reports has run lab tests and confirmed what many real-world users likely already know -- in areas with weak signal, touching the iPhone 4 external antenna band at the bottom left side can cause a loss of voice and data connection.

We reached this conclusion after testing all three of our iPhone 4s (purchased at three separate retailers in the New York area) in the controlled environment of CU's radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber. In this room, which is impervious to outside radio signals, our test engineers connected the phones to our base-station emulator, a device that simulates carrier cell towers. We also tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

A piece of duct-tape placed over the offending area can prevent the problem, according to them, and they repeat that a case can likely prevent it as well (though they haven't tested any in the lab yet).

The signal problem is the reason that we did not cite the iPhone 4 as a "recommended" model, even though its score in our other tests placed it atop the latest Ratings of smart phones that were released today.

So their bottom line is iPhone 4 is terrific for its display, camera, battery life, gyroscope, FaceTime, and other features, but if you have the antenna issue, it's a show stopper and they believe Apple needs to come up with a free fix before they'll recommend it.

[Consumer Reports -- Thanks Phil!)

Rene Ritchie

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

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There are 84 comments. Add yours.

DeathGrip says:

All fanboys will now cancel their subscriptions to CR.

Dan says:

lol i must admit , pretty horrid.
either way i have a case on mine so doesnt bother me. but if i didnt id sure be pissed.

Boots says:

Lol mr jobs said no freebies yet it's HIS problem, he's an idiot for letting a problem like this even make it out of the R&D lab!

Kdm4lyf says:

It does suck, but I'm not left-handed, so it doesn't really affect me, but then again, it still no fair to those that are.

big bad hate-monger says:

this is a conspiracy. a cabalt. orchestrated by google and the fandroids to defame apple and Steve jobs personally. THERE IS NO ANTENNAE ISSUE! if you are too stupid to know how to operate a sophisticated piece of equipment please return it the Wal-Mart you got it from. losers.

iPhone user says:

Fair article from CR. Personally I don't have the "death grip" issue but then I'm in the Chicago suburbs where at&t's signals are very strong. I love my iPhone 4 and I loved my 3Gs as well. This whole "fanboy" business is plain childish, like a junior high schoolyard. If you like Android then you like Android, more power to you, if you like Apple you like Apple. Whatever one you choose they will both have issues, neither Apple or Google is perfect.
At any rate, CR did a good job on the article.

iphone4idiots says:

@Kdm4lyf hit the nail on head. I'm having no problems, but my wife who is a leftie is dropping about one out of every 10 calls. I told her to get a case, but Apple store only has bumpers so she's still shopping.

HungWell says:

I went into an Apple Store about a week ago. Talked to a manager (nicely for about 15 minutes) and walked out with a free bumper courtesy of Apple. The key things to mention are "call quality" and avoid talking about the number of bars on the display.

uphomer says:

Remember WWDC 2010...I recall one Steve Jobs losing reception during a key demonstration of the new iPhone 4. Antenna issue? Maybe so, or maybe Mr. Jobs doesn’t know how to hold his iPhone correctly?? Clearly there is an issue and Apple’s handling of it isn’t winning any friends.

impaler says:

Good. I'm glad I didn't buy it. Pretty but not functional. No thanks.

Jack says:

CR thinks it has a good camera? The iPhone 4 sucks with white balance in artificial lighting compared to the 3GS.

iPhone user says:

@uphomer: actually he lost wi-fi connectivity not 3G at the keynote of the iPhone 4.

Lequang242 says:

CR 

Agree!

Shrike says:

This is a PR nightmare for Apple. No doubt about it. Costly mistake.

Al says:

I've got two thin strips of scotch tape on mine. I used to be able to make the bars go down at will but now I cannot. I figure this is preferable to duct tape which would be visible and sometimes leaves that sticky goo if you leave it on too long. Seems to work well!

JD says:

It is a mistake by Apple and I hope it gets fixed. Nonetheless I'd still take an iPhone 4 over anything else on the market, and that has nothing to do with fanboyism.. I get any phone I want at work and can switch at a moments notice so believe me I've looked at the EVO etc. Maybe next year, Android is just not ready yet... sorry. As for consumer reports - its a good thing they are saying this.. if people actually listen to them maybe that will spark Apple to respond better.
As for my reception issues, had very few - honestly the drop I'd see brought the signal back down to better than what I had on the 3GS. I did get a bumper though and have had 0 signal drop. I actually like the bumper.

Kenneth says:

This is the first time I've ever been very disappointed with Apple. With the thousands of tests they run prior to the phone's release, they have no excuse for this. I'll disagree with others who say that other phones have exhibited this problem, as someone who used the Android Incredible for 30 days, I never had this problem.
All in all, I'd never return the phone, but I gotta say Apple really droped the ball on this one.

firesign3000 says:

@uphomer - That was a wifi problem, not 3g. Try again, troll. Anyway, AT&T service here in Cincinnati is good, and I love my iPhone 4. Trolls and fandroids can suck it.

firesign3000 says:

@kenneth - As a matter of fact, I could get both my V3 Razr and V3xx Razr to drop bars by holding them a certain way.

Da3LyNx says:

Apple needs to give away free cases with iPhone 4 purchases, it's disgusting that they refuse to admit it's their fault.

Joe McG says:

This is fear mongering. Buy a bumper or case and stop crying.
Funny story: this weekend, I was at a bachelor party. Some friends saw that I had the iPhone 4 and said "Oh, you have to hold it a certain way to make calls, right?". Now, these friends are not tech geeks. One of them has the iPhone 3G and the other has a cheap Nokia flip phone. However, I found it funny how badly this issue has proliferated the general public. It's really a PR nightmare and Apple really is making a mistake by not acting. A free bumper with every phone is the remedy...

Tom Stephens says:

Wait two weeks for their next report. They will probably change their minds again. Let's not forget that two weeks ago CR told us the signal reception was not a problem as far as they were concerned.

SheiknetChris says:

I don't know why they don't add an extra step in manufacturing to add just a coating to the outside bands of the antennas.
Then again, that would probably be environmentally unfriendly.

Shrike says:

They'll come up with a fix with a Rev 2 iPhone 4 and possibly do something with all the existing iPhone 4 sold, but they should know that any little thing will blow up in their face as they are the number 1 everything right now. Huge brand image, huge media attention, huge profits, huge market cap, a large number of enemies. Any little thing like this will get played and will last a long time. Even if they came up with a fix.
Really, it's not a huge issue, but the PR and brand hit is bad. They have to use some invisible insulating vapor deposited chemical on the steel band to eliminate this specific shorting of the 2 antennas issue.

cardfan says:

No problems here recommending.
That said, this issue isn't doing Apple any favors.
But like i said before, i'd favor a return to the 3GS design with better grip.

Paul says:

"So their bottom line is iPhone 4 is terrific for its display, camera, battery life, gyroscope, FaceTime, and other features..."-Lol the "bottom line" is that the iPhone 4 is "terrific" at everything except functioning as a cell phone.

ABooth says:

I just got an Android incredible and it really is incredible. Huge screen, super thin, lightning fast, multi-tasking and rock solid.
It makes the iPhone 4 look outdated. Actually, it makes the Nexus One look outdated too. Android OS with Snapdragon processor, HTC sense UI, voice guided mapping and great voice to text make it far more useful than my PC, or any phone I've had before (inc a 3Gs). It came with a bunch of standard apps too, like an Office suite and the usual smart phone tools (browser, mail client, app store etc)
Why would anyone even look at an iPhone, when the Android equivalent (Like the 4g Evo) are just so much better. There's so much more choice too, along with almost all iPhone developers developing Android stuff too, where most new mobile developers are choosing Android first.
That new App Inventor for Android will be a big hit too, when consumers can create their own apps without coding.
The future is Android and that's partly Apples own fault for having a proprietary OS for it's own line of phones. Android can be used by anyone, so the phone range will be massive, bringing the number of apps available, with it. The best part, is Google wanting to utilize the OS on other electronic devices, so integration and application crossover will be big, such as launching an app on your phone and viewing it on your TV, whilst using your phones camera for a wireless conference call.
iPhones are the stone age (last week)

JD says:

Anyone who thinks a current Android phone stacks up to the iPhone 4 even with its faults is nuts. I've used them plenty and while interesting, the UI is so crappy and the apps are so second rate it makes think people who like them must have no clue what good really is.
As for that new app inventor - more crap apps on top of what they already have. ABooth, you obviously know nothing about technology. THink before you post.

Shrike says:

@ABooth
If you are a proponent of "choice" you should be perfectly fine with a consumer choosing an iPhone over an Android phone.
The iPhone 4 is on aggregate the best cell phone available today based on all of the reviews of it. Now, if you want and value specific features such as a 4+ inch screen, voice-to-text, or other things, it behooves you to get the phone that has that. That's the right thing to do. There's no need to proselytize as everyone has their own set of things they like.

JD says:

P.S. what is so last week are Fandroids posting smack on an Apple site in an attempt to make themselves believe they made the right phone choice. If you really did you woudln't feel the need to write about it in comment areas like this.

Tre says:

a small piece of scotch tape works for me, as well. Once the screen films come out (with side strips as well) i'm hoping that will do the trick w/o bastardizing the look and feel.

Hookem99 says:

Do people still actually listen to what Consumer Reports say's anymore? I got smart on this issue YEARS ago. My iP4 works great, meets MY needs and I have NO issues, so I don't know what all the fuss is about!

desjones4ever says:

This device and it's reception issues is too mixed up right now. I have to admit it probably is the best looking device out arguably. But I will not buy it until the receptions issues are fixed. I really believe they knew this ahead of time. And oh yeah by the way where is the 100 new user features. That has been completely forgotten.

Lequang242 says:

Thus is not Areas.
This is not Bars.
This is  .

sfwrtr says:

Use clear nail polish... duh!

primo says:

Does anyone know if the invisishield/Zagg or the i-clear skins will work as a quick fix for the iPhone 4 reception problem? ?

xandermac says:

Actually they confirmed the problem in ALL areas but added that you might lose signal entirely in weak areas. Either way, regardless of the signal strength there is serious degredation that doesn't affect other phones. Sorry fanboys. I see a rather expensive recall in Apple's future.

Andy says:

I am the laughing stock of my friends. I am sporting the sleek new, $300 iPhone 4 with a piece of friggin duct tape on the side. So ghetto.
F U Apple!

Andrew Flores says:

How many people are honestly going to return the iPhone 4? Even if 600,000 people returned them Apple still had a record setting opening weekend. People arnt going to stop buying them. If you have the money to buy an iPhone I'm pretty sure you have the money to buy a case or even change the way you hold a phone. Geez.

JNGold says:

The phone is functional, period, EOS. If you are in a weak signal area, placing your hand over a certain place on the phone (in the juncture between the two antennas will cause your signal to drop or cause data to clog to a complete stop). That being said, putting a case on eliminates the issues totally and if you are in "good" signal signal areas, you will have better call quality and stability as reported by many and from my own experiences in NYC (which btw, has been problematic along with SF for quite some time now.)

Tino72 says:

I'm so tired of the trolls from apple and adrones. Let's get over it people they are very different devices for different people why can't all u twenty somethings understand that. Get it through your heads already. I own a i4 and yes I'm having rf issues. I also have a htc desire and have had nexus one and droid for a month. I like both but like each platform for different reasons. apple is well just more polished and stable than android currently. Any time I ever loaded alot of apps to a android phone I always deal with app freezes and force closes. With apple that never happens everything runs so fluid and yes it's a boring os compared to android and their widgets. Etc. So what? I will take stability over unstabity and poor battery life anyday. Now when froyo comes out who knows maybe that will finally be a solid os that truly contends. Until then the no so techie world has chosen iPhone as there os of choice. Get over forcing android down peoples throats on these sites and let people buy what works for them. Jesus , I think everyone is tired of this whole argument from u

jrl says:

I am one of the few that has significant problems with dropping calls, presumably because of the possible antenna issue in weak and attenuated signal areas.
Now that Apple has indicated that they have displayed the signal strength too optimistically, I wonder whether the radio power is also affected. If the signal was weaker yet still displayed 5 bars, does that mean the radio power was also too weak to sustain the connection resulting in dropped calls. If the radio changes power based on signal strength, will more accurate measurement in weak and attenuated signal situations cause the power to increase and improve? Is there hope that the touchy antenna design can be helped by software improvements?

apple2382 says:

Jobs: "And now I'd like to introduce the iPhone 4 signal enhancement kit. Once again we've outpaced the competition to market with this as well as demonstrated our innovative prowess." Big applause.
Jobs: "And I bet you're wondering what this kit contains? Well here's a picture."
Audience: "OOOOOOHHHHHH." Long applause.
Jobs: "Here we have the iTape and iScissors that make up the kit. I bet they'll try to copy
us but you know we are the orginal and best." Long applause.
Jobs: "Be sure to visit your local Apple store asap to grab one up. The're only $50.00."

Dan says:

sorry aboth,
but until the android os has the 10 hz refresh rate look to it fixed , there is no comparison.
carry on

Björn says:

This is EXACTLY why I don't do product/service launches! I was waiting to see what kind of bugs the new iPhone would be plagued with; and sure enough, they are massive. I think I'm gonna skip this update and wait for iPhone 5.

Gavin says:

I wish every new phone was as bug free as the iPhone 4. I have used Android and windows mobile and like them a lot but prefer my new iPhone.

darktanone says:

What's the alternative to the iPhone? What would I get in place of it? What other phone could take its place? For me the answer is none. Sure the problem is real, there's no denying it. But which company is better equipped to handle this problem than Apple? Again I think Apple will rectify the problem to the customers satisfaction. I remember how poorly Google handled the 3G issue with the Nexus 1 shortly after it hit the market. Those users had no recourse and Google had nothing in place to handle customer complaints. Apple DOES! My phone works fine for calling and data here in the Phoenix area. I'm sure there are many like me who acknowledge the problem, but will stick it out. 

TonyJohns says:

I wonder if Apple will provide apple branded duct tape!
I can't help but laugh at all of this. The almighty iphone needs duct tape for it to work properly. That is a true laugh!
I find it even more mind boggling how people are justifying putting duct tape on a $700 device to make it work. The kool-aid must be really good!
Well I guess as long as you look good pulling an iphone out of your pocket, that's all that matters right? Even if it doesn't function as an actual cell phone.

Dantv says:

I returned my iPhone 4 for a full refund before the 30 days were up. I will not pay for an inherently defective device. No way.
I am back to my old 3G...Do I wait for the iPhone 5, where you know that this problem will be fixed, or do I go over to Android. That is my question today?

Glenn says:

Weak areas may cause weak signal by touching the antenna. Ok so any phone will have problems in weak signal areas. Some more than others. To me the problem would be to improve the signal it the weak areas.

JNGold says:

@TonyJohns,
And what was the excuse for the Nexus 1 when both HTC and TMob has no explanation or remediation to what was causing 3G reception issues?

ThisBrian says:

@Andy it does sound like your ghetto. Scotch tape, case, bumber, Zagg Invisishield, hold different > Duck Tape.

icebike says:

@Watcher:
Old news, and it STILL does not explain why iPhone 3G has no such problem.

brian1269 says:

I just got an e-mail from Apple saying my credit card will be credited $326.66 for my returned iPhone. I will not own a phone with such a major design flaw. Next time how about test the damn thing, Apple. And that means real world testing by real world consumers. I will buy it again if Apple ever fixes the design (and I don't mean just putting a damn case on it). Major F*** up, Apple.

cardfan says:

And yet there isn't a smartphone i'd recommend over the iphone 4.

nulldog says:

This is nothing new. Companies are always selling flawed products and using the consumer as the final "test bed".
This reminds me of Intel's attempt to ignore a known flaw, and act like no one knows what they are talking about when they put out the P2 processor with its floating point calculation flaws.
Look at the car industry right now.
Its not right, but we have to be realistic here. Any company the is so stupid that they think they can dupe the general public by ignoring their own design flaws, really does not have the ability to do any better than they have already.
All we really can do is be thankful there are independant testing labs that can make these companies eat crow in the public eye.
It will be interesting to see what the Apple response to this will be... bet it will be within the next 48 hours.

junuh says:

I have 1 basic question. Has this extreme test on signal test be done with each smart phone or has the buzz around the internet caused everyone to blow this out of the water.

TheThruth says:

Since apple doesn't want to give away a free bumper they should give away a free roll of scotch tape lol!

Hammer says:

Unless enough people actually do return them for credit. I will sign up for the class action suit simply because I detest the arrogance from a lying CEO. If he would come clean and admit the problem I would give Apple time to make it right but no more. Screw them...bring on the lawyers.

Walky Chalky says:

My iPhone 4 just arrived today. Holding off on activation until i get a case or body shield. Hoping for a free Apple bumper (I agree it is deserved), but will likely buy a case either way. Even with the antenna issue it's still better than Android :)
P.S. If a case fails to fix the issue I will be forced to return it. Otherwise, I'm happy being as I would have used a case anyway. Do any of the body shields cover the side and fix the reception issue? Please advise...

Jimbo says:

Apple deserves all the negative PR they get. Perhaps the new slogan can be:
"It just works..with a little duct tape"

CJ says:

OMG CR has pulled their "coveted" seal of approval from the iPhone 4. What will the world do?
/sarcasm

2PhoneUser says:

I for one am glad that someone is looking out for the consumer. If you like the phone and want to keep it with the signal issue great. But allot of people don't spend the time researching a smart phone and just buy it. The primary reason you are getting this thing is to make calls right. So why not get it right and just fix the freaking thing. Stop the BS about if you hold it the other way. Apple has burned allot of their good will with people.

Edie says:

@Dantv, I would actually wait it out if Apple fixes it or something. Android is still lagging their OS, every phone doesn't get updated at the same time, and they come out with new phones like every other week(exageration). But seriously, you're gonna be carrying a PC in your hand if you don't have an iPhone. Pretty much.

Xultar says:

I'd give a million dollars to be a fly on Steve jobs' shoulder right now.

Ted says:

@Walky Chalky
Typical apple zombie. Your saying your dumb enough to buy a toyota with brake problems because its a toyota. Enjoy your lousy hardware with obvious problems.

Walky Chalky says:

Thanks for the insight, Ted.
However, you didn't answer my question. Ergo, you're comment is worthless to me
So now you're equating my use of a subpar antenna to putting my life at risk by buying a car with brake problems? Makes sense...
P.S. I think you're a sweetheart <3

Colonel Angus says:

HAHA! Have fun with your iPhone4 you iSheep! Maybe you should buy an Android phone?http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/12/consumer-reports-confirms-iphone-4-an...

Dragonfly says:

Too be honest the problem only has an effect in areas of low reception and coverage. At home I have perfect coverage and find it damn near impossible to get my bars to drop. At work on the other hand, I get good coverage but I can get my reception to drop. The issue is exasperated by sweaty palms, on the whole though I'm happy with my iPhone 4 .

Ted says:

@Walky Chalky
I am saying you are willing to buy a product with a rather large flaw which affects the main funcationality. Similar to brakes on a toyota. That doesnt seem to bright does it.

McNooberson says:

all this tells me is that in a few days ill be buying a few shares of there stock >:)
It's down $8.51 so far this morning, with a bigger drop sure to come.

WaLky ChaLky says:

@Ted
Your outlandish analogy fails. Please, try again. I love it when u talk down to my iPhone 4 ;)

jzajzz says:

Engadget confirms.. that all the Iphones have antenna issues.. The signal bar is inaccurate... so people might think they dont have an issue .. but they 're still losing signal if it says they have 4 bars

Dantv says:

@Edie
A day later after my return and I feel good about it. I don't want the iPhone 4 anymore and whatever band aid fix comes for it. I decided to wait it out for the iPhone 2011 version at this point. You know that this issue will be at the top of the list for that version.
BTW, I am not going to Android...I tried some and I just don't like them Period! Plus I have invested too much money in iPhone apps. So I am sticking with my 3G for another year.

Aimee says:

I got my iP4 a month and some days, and the issue regarding the signal being blocked hasn't effected me. I have held it in the way which is supposed to drop the signal several times and only notice the signal drop once, the reception problem not so seriously just bcz someone specially enlarged to do laundry out information.
I love my iP4 and very enjoyable with it, maybe you can call me fanboi, yup, that is, thanks apple give such a fantastic Phone. Now With the iP4 and iPhone 4 Video Converter from iFunia, Im sucking in movies and videos watching, of course happy with the Facetime with my girfriend!

Dexter Methorphan says:

Had my Iphone 1 week now. Took it to the Apple store for an exchange, and nearly returned it for a full refund.
I have terrible signal here at my house, although AT&T shows its in a "good" area.
After learning the 3001#12345# trick, I found I had -116 dBm in most of my house. That's without my holding the phone. However, if I turn off 3G, that improves to -97. At that point, the phone works fine.
I hate keeping a defective product, but the features outweigh all other phones, so I'm going to keep it, and leave the 3G off at my house.

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Felicia Solie says:

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Designer kids clothes says:

Over here you have introduced several features of iPhone. I thinks these all points are enough to know about iPhne 4 but many consumer had complains about it's battery life but apple gives solution for that problem so it is really good mobile for business application.