More IPhone 4 Antenna Stuff: Your Signal “Bars” Are Wrong, Says Anandtech

In their review of the iPhone 4, the hardware hotshots at Anandtech delved into the infamous antenna issue, in which users’ hands touching the device’s reception points on either side causes degraded signal or dropped connection.

Thank goodness for geeks; they go where lay people don’t dare. True to form, Anandtech reviewed the heck out of the new Apple handset, diving in deep to chart the signal strength that those bars at the top of your screen represent.

The range starts at -51 decibels (5 bars, perfect) to -131dB (1 bar, barely connected).

According to their findings, more than 40 percent of this range is represented by 5 bars. That is huge. So your signal has to drop a ridiculous amount (more than 40dB) before you see it dip down to 4 bars. But a small drop of just 10db is all it takes to go from 4 bars to 3.

What does all that mean? Users in really good AT&T coverage areas could see the same decrease in signal as someone in a terrible coverage area, but they wouldn’t necessarily know it.

For example, consider people in different areas. User A has awesome reception. User B is in a slightly worse coverage. When they hold their phones in the infamous “death grip” position, both could suffer the same amount of degraded signal — say, 24dB — but the i4 owner with 5 bars won’t realize it. That phone is still showing 5 bars, and he’s still got a connection.

User B, however, sees the 4 bars he was getting now show up as 2 bars when he holds the phone. And poor random User C, who only eeks by on 1 or 2 bars in his remote area, gets nothing at all. They’ve all suffered the same amount of loss, but only two see it. (And only one is completely out of luck.)

This seems to account for a lot of the disparate reports on the antenna issue, since not all users are complaining about this. But it’s caused enough of a stink that Apple itself has issued an official statement about it, with a “fix” for the problem.

Actually, the fix isn’t really a solution. Cupertino announced that it will send out a software update to make the bars on your phone more accurate, and that’s about it — at least for now. (For more on this, click here.)

I’m with Anandtech on this — I am gobsmacked about how Apple could’ve sent out this handset without at least some sort of coating on the antenna. We’ll have to see what happens. If this problem continues to get a massive amount of bad press, the company will surely have to do something.


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