iPhone 4S intelligently switching antenna hands on

We've already looked at new iPhone 4S features like the 8MP camera and 1080p video recording, but I've been taking it out to test the fancy new intelligently switching dual antenna array.

After all the backlash over antennagate last year, Apple claims they've rebuilt the technology to supposedly offer better voice quality and call handling. Until I got my hands on my iPhone 4S this past week I wasn't too sure how much of a difference it would make. Turns out the newly designed antenna really does function better.

Death grip and death touch

We all know about the iPhone 4 death touch issue. So is the iPhone 4S affected by it? In short, no.

It appears whatever Apple did to the antenna design fixed not only the single-point-of-failure death touch, but also made it more resilient agains the industry wide death grip issue. I've been trying to reproduce the issue since the day I picked up my iPhone 4S in various locations and haven't had any success. Sure a bar may fluctuate here and there but in my experience that's simply due to signal strength in general. I fluctuate between 4-5 bars in my office. As you can see from the video above, the iPhone 4 drops bars when the bottom is held. The iPhone 4S does not seem to drop bars. It fluctuates a bit towards the end but I'm almost certain this is just due to signal strength in my office.

When tested in other locations and even in downtown Chicago I was not able to reproduce the death grip issue on my iPhone 4S.

Signal strength

As stated above, I haven't noticed too much of a signal strength difference from what I experienced with my iPhone 4. This could be due to the fact that my area is heavily blanketed with AT&T HSPA+. I receive 5 full bars of service in most places.

To test this theory I made a note of my bars in the one area I typically have issues getting signal -- the lake. In this scenario I seemed to maintain a signal (2-3 bars) and was able to make and receive calls or use data services just fine. My iPhone 4 has a few issues holding connectivity on a call or using data services on the lakefront. So the newly designed antenna seems to be a bit more constant when it comes to holding onto a signal.

Overall call quality

So far call quality on my iPhone 4S has been exceptional. I've not had one dropped call so far. I never had too many on my iPhone 4 either as we have very good service with AT&T in my area. It also appears that the volume when you're on speakerphone has been enhanced and is quite a bit louder than my iPhone 4 ever was. (A volume increase would make sense given the addition of Siri.

I've had next to no issue with or without a headset either. It seems noise reduction is just as good if not better as well. Several times while on the phone I felt the need to ask if someone was still there since I could hear next to no background noise at all. I always noticed it a bit on my iPhone 4 but I can't notice it at all with iPhone 4S.


All in all, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are both great phones. When it comes to call quality, however, the iPhone 4S is clearly ahead. If you're in an area that has great service you probably won't notice a big difference . If you're in an area with somewhat spotty cellular service the iPhone 4S is a safer bet.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

iPhone 4S intelligently switching antenna hands on


Apple iphone4s has changed my life...I actually got a tattoo of the 4s on my neck I am so proud of. My daughter was born about 2 weeks ago and I had my boyfriend who is a tattoo artist give her a little tattoo of the iphone on the small of her back. I can't to show it off at our family reunion. !!! I love you apple you are my god now!!

Pretty obvious seeing as the wifi/bluetooth/gps antenna has been removed and both now do the same thing, just like crossing 2 tv aerial wires does nothing but a tv aerial and a speaker cable would effect both.

Not exactly a scientific study unless of course you had Rene pretend to watch the signal bouncing from one antenna to the other.

What antenna issue? Oh yeah, that overblown nonsense people didn't even notice until they read blogs about people wrapping their legs around their phones to purposely make it lose signal.

Of course he's an idiot. His posts are as useless to this blog as his work ethic is to his employer.
My HQ moved from a strong signal area to a weak signal area. The death touch is alive and well on iPhone 4.

i still have the iphone 3g and i have been experiencing horrible service for a long time now. the calls drop all the time and its so annoying. im upgrading to the 4S very soon so reading this post about the 4S's signal strength is good to hear!
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I may be in a unique circumstance in an area with "just right" poor coverage but I've found that if I am reading the screen and set the phone on my left thumb and use my left pointer finger to stabilize the phone that the signal strength will drop dramatically. That said, held by the sides or sides and bottom does not affect my signal at all and the 4S works much better than my previous phone (a Pre) in the same location.

it seems like hardly any wireless carriers offer a one year contract anymore. it's all two year and month-to-month

The death grip seems to work on my 4s.. I'm not an apple hater, or tryin to put negativity into the new iPhone, I actually just believe its mine.. Is there a way you can force it to switch between antennas? x

Go to the keypad option in the phone function and enter 3001#12345#
Note: There was a period where Apple disabled this function on some phones. It should work on the newer phones.
This puts you in the 'Field Test' mode. Now look at the number in the far upper left corner where the signal strength bars used to be and you will see a negative number which is the signal strength in decibels. The larger the negative number the lower/weaker the signal. The phone will still drop 10 to 20 db in some cases with the death grip - This is significant. They just reprogrammed how the signal bar graph reads. Unless the signal is less than about -90 db you will see 5 bars. The maximum signal measurement under a reading of 5 bars is about -50 db. So basically the 5 bar zone can have a huge signal change before it drops to 4 bars. The bottom one bar is something like -115 or -117 db. What that means is that from 4 bars to one bar there is only about a 20-25 db difference. In many places on my phone I get a signal of -67 to -75 but when I do the so called death grip the signal drops to -83 to -90. Still shows 5 bars but in reality has a much lower signal. The db scale is logarithmic.
This signal drop sometimes happens when I hold the phone normally. There is some drop of 5 0r so db if you have a case on the phone but this will greatly decrease the signal drop of the uncased death grip.

Hmmm...you need an asterisk "*" before and after the code I typed in above. For some reason it did not show when I submitted the above comment.

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