July 13, 2010

Consumer Reports Says No To iPhone 4

Consumer Reports said Monday that it would not recommend Apple Inc.'s latest iPhone due to reception problems caused by a design flaw in the device's antenna.

"Consumer Reports' engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception," wrote Mike Gikas of Consumer Reports in a blog post on the magazine's Web site on Monday.

"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."

"Due to this problem, we can't recommend the iPhone 4," the influential product review magazine said.

The issue has already prompted consumer lawsuits against Apple.

Earlier this month, the Cupertino, CA-based company acknowledged that it had used flawed formulas to calculate signal strength for the iPhone 4, and pledged to resolve the issue via a free software patch.

However, Apple denied claims that the reception problems were due to faults in the new antenna system, which is incorporated in the device's casing. 

But Consumer Reports rejected the explanation.

"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," the magazine said.

Consumer Reports said it had tested three iPhone 4s along with other devices, including prior models of the iPhone, under the same conditions, but none exhibited the signal-loss problems observed in the iPhone 4.  

After conducting these tests, the magazine decided against recommending the iPhone 4. 

"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."

However, the magazine said it had discovered "an affordable solution for suffering iPhone 4 users: Cover the antenna gap with a piece of duct tape or another thick, non-conductive material."

Despite the reception problems, the iPhone 4 performed well in other areas, Consumer Reports said.

"It sports the sharpest display and best video camera we've seen on any phone"¦and outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats."

Shaw Wu, an analyst with Kaufman Bros., told Reuters he was surprised by the Consumer Reports assessment, noting that many consumers rely upon the magazine's recommendations.

"Consumer Reports is a respected publication. This could have an impact on iPhone sales," he said.

Shares of Apple's stock closed down less than 1 percent on Monday, regaining some of that loss during after-hours trading.


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