Consumer Reports: We cannot recommend Apple iPhone 4

iphone 4 cases“It’s official. Consumer Reports’ engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception. When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone’s lower left side—an easy thing, especially for lefties—the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal,” Mike Gikas reports for Consumer reports. “Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.”

Gikas continues, “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 (see video: IPhone 4 Design Defect Confirmed). 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. Our findings call into question the recent claim by Apple that the iPhone 4’s signal-strength issues were largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software that “mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.”

“We did, however, find an affordable solution for suffering iPhone 4 users: Cover the antenna gap with a piece of duct tape or another thick, non-conductive material. It may not be pretty, but it works,” Gikas reports. “We also expect that using a case would remedy the problem. We’ll test a few cases this week and report back.”

MacDailyNews Take: “We’ll test a few cases this week and report back,” but not until we milk this for all it’s worth. They already had iPhone 4 test units in their big bad “controlled environment radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber,” but they couldn’t test iPhone 4 in a few cases while they were at it? Puleeze.

Gikas continues, “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. The iPhone scored high, in part because it sports the sharpest display and best video camera we’ve seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller. But Apple needs to come up with a permanent—and free—fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4.”

Full article here.

AppleInsider reports, “The latest update from Consumer Reports is a 180-degree change from what it advised users earlier this month. In that report, the company noted that there was “no reason” to not buy an iPhone 4. The company said, at the time, that they were unable to recreate the signal loss issue.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Whatever. So, Apple will sell approximately eleven less iPhone 4 units to Consumer Reports’ geriatric subscribers (CR ought to be testing Jitterbugs, not smartphones). Using Consumer Reports as a basis for tech buying is like using Windows for color-sensitive print work. It’s something only attempted by the ignorant.

So, bottom line: Consumer Reports finds iPhone 4 superior to all other smartphones in most respects, but because you need a case for it if you’re going to cover the antenna while holding it a certain way — a case, by the way, that’s something most people add to their phones regardless — Consumer Reports won’t recommend it, at least until they milk as much free pub out of their “non-recommendation recommendation” as possible. For more, please read: Consumer Reports: Oh yeah, almost forgot, Apple iPhone 4 is also the best smartphone on the market – July 12, 2010.

Why do we get the feeling that Consumer Reports PR employees’ day jobs are at Greenpeace? They both seem to have the same modus operandi: Use Apple to gin up free publicity.

All that said, as we’ve stated consistently: If the iPhone 4 requires a case or a hardware “fix” of some sort, then Apple should provide one free of charge to every iPhone 4 owner.


  1. I love my iPhone 4. I don’t use a case with it, and I don’t have any reception issues at all. In fact, I get better reception then I did with my old iPhone.

    Yes, I sometimes hold it with my left hand covering the bottom left corner. It doesn’t cause any reception issues for me.

  2. @ MDN

    If CR is so insignificant and due to its “geriatric subscribers”, we really should never again see a MDN post trumpeting Apple’s great CR rscores for computers and customer service.

  3. MDN, you are such hypocrites.

    When Consumer Reports says something positive about Apple products, you proudly tout it all over your website and announce in your “MDN Takes” that “Consumer Reports gives Apple top marks”!

    But suddenly, Consumer Reports says something negative about Apple, so now nobody cares about Consumer Reports except for their geriatric readers?

    This is a real problem with the iPhone 4. Maybe it would serve you to somehow step back from the Apple-worshipping altar and actually take a realistic look at Apple once in a while?

    It would make you a more credible news source.

  4. CR: ” Apple needs to come up with a permanent—and free—fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4.”

    MDN, June 24: “Therefore, if the iPhone 4 requires a “case” or rubber “bumper” in order to operate properly, then Apple should provide one in every box free of charge.”

    Completely different. I get it.

  5. It’s hit or miss for me when I try to replicate the problem in the same location. In the same exact location I can get absolutely no difference in download speed (sometimes as fast a 2mps) whether I cover the kill spot or not. Other times of the day I can get the signal to drop but not the speed. Other times I can get both signal and speed drops, My best guess is that since the phone has three frequencies at which it can connect to a tower that when it tries connecting at the higher frequencies is when the problem is most pronounced. Most people fall into the “it drops when covered always” or the “it never drops for me” crowds and the truth of the matter (as is true most often in life) is not that bloody black and white and most people offering an opinion or just too damn ready to claim to know definitively that they know what’s going on. Geezzzzzzzzzz!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. “but because you need a case for it if you’re going to cover the antenna while holding it a certain way — a case, by the way, is something most people add to their phones regardless — Consumer Reports won’t recommend it”

    Uhh yeah, that’s the way it should be. If a phone needs a case to operate at peak efficiency then something is wrong with it. Had this been a new Android device, MDN, your mocking of it would be downright incessant.

  7. The fact of the matter is that all phone suffer attenuation. The iPhone is no different. What is different on the iPhone 4 is that by grasping the phone in such a way as to cover the two black strips on the side of the phone, you create demonstrable attenuation, though it is most pronounced in low signal areas.

    The iPhone 4 under iOS 4 give you the impression that your signal is stronger than it is. So it appears you’ve basically gone from 4 or 5 bars to none.

    If you are in a good signal area, you can grasp all you want and you won’t be able to significantly bring the signal down. I’ve tested this several times on both my iPhone 4 and my neighbors Nexus 1.

    Same exact behavior. My house has a crappy signal, particularly downstairs. I can do the “death grip” and bring the signal down to nothing (though I don’t drop calls, interestingly enough.)

    Upstairs the signal gets lower, but doesn’t completely go away. Still no dropped calls.

    If I go to areas where I know the signal is strong, applying the death grip may cause me to drop a bar, but nothing like when I’m home.

    I believe the problem here is that most people are just learning about this issue for the very first time because it has been made an issue specifically by Gawker Media and Gizmodo. Had they launched a similar smear campaign against the Nexus One, everyone would have thought it originated there.

    Now when you add the fact that the problem all but goes away with a bumper or some other case, I personally consider it a non-issue.

    Add to this the fact that reception on the iPhone 4 is generally better than any previous model, and it’s definitely a non-issue.

    Though I’m sure the consumer reports about face on this will be blasted all over Gizmodo before the day is over.

    If I

  8. *shrug* i actually own an iPhone 4 and i think all this hype is bogus. the attenuation issue is the same as it has been in every phone i’ve ever owned, and my overall service has been better.

    for those who have the iPhone 4 and are suffering from this issue in normal usage situations (yes, actual phone calls, not violating your phone by grasping it in unnatural ways to prove a point), i’m sorry for you. you should take it back to apple and return it, especially if you had a previous iPhone and it worked well in your area.

    for those of you who don’t own an iPhone 4 and are just complaining about a problem that you saw in YouTube videos and on the news… go get yourself a hobby.

    i’m happy with my iPhone. it’s the best phone i have used to date, and i can’t wait to upgrade to the next one and the one after that.

  9. Most of the criticisms directed at CR for its various negative reviews have to do with the readers own biases, not CR’s. And for a flat fact, if these comments had been about a Zune/Kin/Windows7/Droid/etc., it would be a banner headline for a week on MDN.

  10. I’ve experienced the proximity sensor problem as well. I get a quick “WTF” moment and then finish my call. That’s almost definitely a software fix.

  11. The problem I have with these “reviews” is they all say how great the iPhone 4’s reception is — better than previous models. But then they add that there’s a rare issue with covering up the antenna and somehow that negates all the other positives.

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