In July 2010, Consumer Reports caused waves by confirming that the then-new iPhone 4 suffered from a serious hardware defect, refuting Apple's claims that the device behaved similarly to the competition. This week, the consumer-advocacy group released the results of similar testing with the iPhone for Verizon. And there's bad news, Apple fans: According to Consumer Reports, this version of the iPhone is just as flawed as the original.
"The Verizon iPhone 4 has a problem that could cause the phone to drop calls, or be unable to place calls, in weak signal conditions," Consumer Reports noted in a blog post announcing its findings. "The problem is similar to the one we confirmed in July with the AT&T version of Apple's newest smartphone. It can occur when you hold either version of the phone in a specific but quite natural way in which a gap in the phone's external casing is covered."
Responding to Apple claims that competing smartphones had similar attenuation issues, Consumer Reports also tested whether several other highly rated devices—the Samsung Fascinate, Motorola Droid 2 Global, HTC Droid Incredible, LG Ally, and Motorola Droid X—suffered from the same bad design as the iPhone 4. None did.
"The only phone in which the finger contact caused any meaningful decline in performance was the iPhone 4," Consumer Reports said. "Putting a finger across one particular gap \\[on the iPhone 4\\] caused performance to decline. Bridging this gap is easy to do inadvertently, especially when the phone is in your palm, which might readily and continuously cover the gap during a call."
The problem with the iPhone 4 is so serious, the group said, that simply proceeding with a phone call would cause that call to drop over time. These tests were repeated under a variety of conditions and in each case, only the iPhone 4 lost its signal and dropped calls. For this reason, Consumer Reports refuses to recommend the Verizon iPhone 4, just as it did with the AT&T version. The group also called Apple to task for not formally admitting to the problem and for providing a stop-gap fix (literally, in the form of a "bumper" case that covers the external antenna) for only a limited time last year.
Tear-downs of the Verizon iPhone show that Apple, despite its protestations, actually did work to overcome the attenuation issues in the device when it was reconfigured slightly for Verizon. These efforts were clearly unsuccessful. But as was noted last summer, other more experienced phone makers learned years ago not to put antennas on the outside of devices, where attenuation can cause signal drops and dropped calls. This is a lesson Apple—which strongly favors design over function—had to learn belatedly, and the hard way.