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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.