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You Have Spoken: Apple Is Not Lying

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One week ago, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs stood in front of the world and explained how all smartphones are susceptible to signal-strength loss when held in a more or less normal fashion. That -- along with the free cases he promised to all iPhone 4 buyers -- seemed to mitigate some of the outcry over "Antennagate."

But while the seething masses settled somewhat, competitors cried out. The responses from Samsung, HTC, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) , Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) were sometimes vague and sometimes pointed ("RIM's customers don't need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity"), but let's face it: They were all conveying the message that Jobs' claims rang hollow.

My conclusion: Somebody has to be lying, either Apple, or everybody else.

And so, not-so-gentle readers, I turned to you to find the truth. I asked all smartphone users to view Apple's video, replicate the grip, and report back on how much, if any, the signal was affected. (Feel free to test your phone and leave comments if you haven't already.)

Survey says ...
I'll start out by saying this is clearly not a scientific study. For starters, it's not a random sampling, it involves a small sample size, and the tests weren't performed in a controlled environment. Still, I think we can draw some valid conclusions.

And now to the data. I received 23 usable responses encompassing a variety of smartphones. Of those, 14 reported a signal drop of at least one bar, and 11 of those dropped two bars or more.

It doesn't seem to matter which phone we're talking about -- some users experience a drop in signal strength, and some don't. For instance, two out of five iPhone 4 users saw the bars drop. One of two Motorola Droid respondents was affected; same with the Nokia 5800. BlackBerry users reported the most problems in my unscientific survey: Five out of six Curve users saw their bars drop, and both Bold owners reported the same.

I personally tested three iPhone 4s (not included in the summary above) and was able to get each to drop a couple of bars. The same thing happened with my first-generation iPhone. However, as if to reinforce the wild variability in all this, when I tried the same test the next day with my first-gen, I saw no change. (Another complicating factor: My old phone iPhone did not receive the software upgrade that Apple says gives a clearer representation of the signal strength.)

So no matter which smartphone we're talking about, some users see a drop, and some don't (including New York Times tech reviewer David Pogue, who tested the iPhone 4 and wrote, "I cannot even reproduce it, no matter how hard I try.")

Antennagate is bigger than we thought
I am convinced that Apple is not lying, and therefore the other manufactures are blowing a bit of smoke at us. This issue can (and does) happen with most any brand of smartphone, though it won't happen with all people and all phones -- not even all iPhone 4s.

But why did the issue only come to light with the iPhone 4? I can think of a couple of reasons. One, the spot where the signal really degrades -- the gap on the bottom left of the phone -- is very clearly identifiable and in a location lefties are likely to be covering during a call. Two, this is Apple we're talking about. Every product it launches receives a wild amount of attention. Combine that with the fact the iPhone 4 was its most successful product launch ever, and you have a white-hot focus on every aspect, especially the warts.

My suggestion is to test out any phone after you buy it (even before, if possible). Take full advantage of the buyer's remorse period to return it if it's not up to par. My personal testing of the iPhone 4 showed the signal-strength drop won't be a problem for me, but it might for you.

Never has the phrase "your mileage may vary" been so appropriate.

Fool analyst Rex Moore remembers when phones had cords and were connected to a wall. Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 3:44 PM, hary536 wrote:

    Again this is attention grabbing headline try.

    Based on 23 responses, and that too illogical and unconfirmed and no-proof tests, you are declaring

    "Apple is not lying".

    Ofcz, Apple is not lying that signal does degrade,when antenna part is covered by hands.

    But what Apple is trying is to divert people's attention from iphone4 issue to other manufacturers and phones.

    iphone4 has a bigger problem than any phone. Let's say my Nokia 5800.

    IF you hold a Nokia 5800 and iphone 4 in normal phone holding position, i can guarantee that it does not drop so many bars as iphone4, nor does it drop to zero bars like iphone4 and does not drop calls like iphone4. Hence, iphone4 has a bigger issue than other phones out there. Just dropping bars can't signify anything, especially using reader's comments, who can be biased/non-biased towards certain company or who have already been brain-washed by Apple, shouldn't been determining factor in anything.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 3:46 PM, hary536 wrote:

    Additonally, in iphone 4,the main antenna part is right at the bottom whereas other phones don't put it at that place, instead try to put it so that is unlikely to be covered by hands in normal holding positions.

    That's why Nokia said in their press release"They prioritize performance over design, if ever needed".

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 4:43 PM, macdesktops wrote:

    "Based on 23 responses, and that too illogical and unconfirmed and no-proof tests, you are declaring"

    "IF you hold a Nokia 5800 and iphone 4 in normal phone holding position, i can guarantee that it does not drop so many bars as iphone4, nor does it drop to zero bars like iphone4 and does not drop calls like iphone4"

    So on the one hand, you criticize the author for lack of scientific method, which he already acknowledged. Then, on the other, you use your own anecdotal experience with sample size of precisely one. And you are so certain that your experience with a Nokia 5800 is typical of every Nokia 5800 that you are willing to provide a full money back guarantee to every Nokia 5800 owner who can get their phone to drop a couple of bars by holding it in a certain way.

    Further, you impugn the characters of the 23 people who were helpful enough to share their own experiences (I was not one of them) by accusing them of being shills for Apple.

    Well done sir.

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 5:13 PM, tjsimone wrote:

    Jobs biggest mistake:

    He compared the iphone 4 to other smart phones.

    Huge Marketing blunder. They sell the iphone 4 based on the perceived notion that it is technology superior, then say..." Well, everyone else has these problems"

    They cheapened their own imagine in the eyes of the public

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2010, at 8:27 PM, hary536 wrote:

    "Further, you impugn the characters of the 23 people who were helpful enough to share their own experiences (I was not one of them) by accusing them of being shills for Apple."

    I was also one of the 23 people. So i am not questioning anyone's character sir.

    Btw, yes, i can guarantee based on my experience that Nokia 5800 doesn't have similar problem as iphone4, not just because i have that phone, because that has been confirmed by several 5800 owners on the net and also have seen my friends' 5800 too.

    Also as i said, it may drop couple of bars, but not permanently(until you release the phone) like iphone 4, nor so many bars to zero bars to dropped called as in iphone4.

  • Report this Comment On July 24, 2010, at 2:31 PM, macdesktops wrote:

    @hary536: You may think that you're entrenching your position, but from where I'm sitting, you seem to just be digging yourself a deeper hole.

    It appears that you were fine participating in this experiment, but because the results do not reflect your opinion you prefer to supplant the experiences of the other 22 participants with your own.

    I can't help but get the impression that you wouldn't have had a problem with only 23 participants if the author had come to the same conclusion as you. I too would have liked information from a broader sample size, but I'm having to settle for several small samples such as this one. The thing is, each of the three or four I've seen has drawn the same conclusion regardless of how the question was posed.

    As the author plainly stated "this issue can (and does) happen with most any brand of smartphone, though it won't happen with all people and all phones -- not even all iPhone 4s." It is hubris to think that your experience is more valuable than the sum of everyone else's.

  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2010, at 3:54 PM, QueridaNegra wrote:

    The issue was not that holding (or touching) the phone in a certain spot caused it to drop bars, but PHONE CALLS. There is no other phone currently out that can DISCONNECT a call merely by touching it in a specific place, if the signal wasn't great already. Steve Jobs did a great thing in that he distorted the actual problem in the minds of most of the public. If you go back and read, the initial problem was disconnects if the signal was at, say, 3 bars, and you touched the antenna gap. . .NOT that if you hold (or squeeze so hard that your fingers are white *ahem* blackberry *ahem*) the phone, that you get less reported bars.

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Rex Moore

Rex Moore spent his formative years in Texas, and fought beside Davy Crockett at the Alamo. He currently travels the globe for TMF, bringing back video reports on conferences and companies that matter for investors.

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