iPhone 4 Antenna Review (Woe & Whoah)

Posted: July 13, 2010 in Phones

Count me in as part of the growing throng of those experiencing antenna woes on my iPhone 4…and whoahs!

First the WOE (insert your own sad emoticon here):

Because I live in the Minneapolis metro, reception is very strong everywhere you go, for the most part.  However, in my place of employment (just across the street from the new Apple store in Uptown – see pic) it’s been spotty.  Granted, I work in a brick building, flanked by a concrete parking garage immediately to the east and a newly opened LA Fitness above our store.  I had been chalking up many of my recent reception issues in the store to the added concrete, steel, etc.  That’s when I heard about the iPhone 4 antenna issue.

I’m also spending a few weeks as a guest in a friends basement while my family waits to move into a rental house that’s not quite available.  My friends live in a southern suburb and we have decent AT&T reception while in their home.  Some of my wife’s calls (made on a Samsung phone) don’t reach her during the day and go straight to voicemail.  So, clearly the basement isn’t great for reception.  However, my iPhone 4 registers 4 bars (when it’s laying flat on a desk in their basement).  Then I pick up the iPhone and it drops to 1 or no bars.

So, I tried to conduct an experiment to see if I could hold the phone in a way that didn’t require me to touch the metal band around the edge.  It’s next to impossible.  That’s because I can’t touch the touch-screen without causing the phone to suspect that I’m trying to interface with the phone app.  Next I tried holding it at the very top next to the earpiece speaker.  I nearly dropped the phone.  The highly polished glass makes it too slippery to hold this way.  But wait, before the phone slipped out of my hand, my “4 bars down to 1 bar” iPhone 4 jumped back up to 4 bars.  Splendid.  Now all I have to do is get a pair of those rubber finger tip things that the banker uses to count money…then I’ll be able to hold my phone…until I have to use one of those fingers to touch the screen.  The most embarrassing part is that casual onlookers look at me holding my 3-week old phone and wonder why I’m contorting myself to use this beautiful piece of erratic functionality.

Sure, I could take the advice of Apple and buy and install a “Bumper” (to insulate me from my own phone…and doesn’t this sound ridiculous…for a new piece of cutting edge technology?), but I already bought and returned my Bumper since it interfered with headphone and dock connector (see my previous iPhone 4 Bumper review).  I’m just waiting (somewhat impatiently) for the release of more cases like the Otterbox Commuter so I can protect my phone and still have full functionality of all the phone’s ports.

Now for the WHOAH (insert happy emoticon here):

Guess what?  The quirky antenna (when not impeded by contact with my skin) delivers much stronger WIFI reception.  At my store I used to be able to pick up the mall’s WIFI signal when in the back of our store (closer to the mall’s center…or wherever the wireless router is located) which is off of the sales floor.  However, now I can be anywhere in my store and still get great WIFI reception (adding at least 30 feet to the range).  I also noticed (before we moved out of our apartment) that I was able to pick up a WIFI signal in our storage garage which frankly blew me away.  It was at least 100 feet from my apartment.   This is a bit of good news for those who hope to eventually be able to hold their phone while using WIFI and other antenna-reliant features.


Without a Bumper or case, the iPhone 4 antenna performance is flawed and frustrating…most of the time.  I don’t know how most people hold their phone, but I often hold mine while touching the “trouble area” of the antenna.  I’d like to think that a recall will be conducted, but I seriously doubt it.  While Apple’s image is largely built upon slick advertising, I don’t see how issuing a recall could be spun positively by them.  And if they can’t spin it positively, I don’t think they’ll do it.  My guess is that Apple will continue to downplay concerns, perform a clever “smoke and mirrors” distraction, and hope that everybody goes out and buys a Bumper or a real case.  Then, and only then, will people start to forget about how Apple stepped in the “oopsy daisies” in 2010.  Once people get past the antenna flaw, they’ll most likely be overwhelmingly supportive of the iPhone 4.  In my 3 weeks of using one, I’ve been very impressed with every other function of it…just not the phone reception.  Ouch.

As to the Bumper, let me reiterate that I do not advise buying one if you hope to use the dock & jack.  Furthermore, if you hope to keep the glass from shattering when you drop your iPhone 4 (since it’s largely exposed and vulnerable to impact, even with a Bumper installed), don’t buy the Bumper.

And the antenna’s rating…


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