Since the iPhone 4 was released in Singapore, we've been keeping a close watch to see if the iPhone 4 would suffer from significant signal problems here. The results so far have been interesting.
Before we go on, let's be clear: the issue isn't whether or not the signal on the iPhone 4 gets attenuated when you hold the phone. In the famous antennagate press conference a few weeks ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the iPhone 4's signal does get attenuated when it is held in a particular way. He also noted that this was a problem that other smartphones experience as well.
To us, the more important question is the practical one: is this problem here so bad that calls drop as a result?
We don't have a definite answer yet, but the early results have been encouraging. Galwithawand has a video on YouTube showing her iPhone 4 on the SingTel network (running iOS 4.0.1) dropping from three bars to one bar when held. However, she reports that she has never had a dropped call.
The most impressive video we've seen is one by research engineer Tawfiq Taher. In a video he posted on Yfrog, he was able to get the signal to drop from five bars to one bar in less than a minute, just by holding it. (In the video, he is running iOS 4.0. He has upgraded to 4.0.1 and sees the same problem.)
When we spoke to Tawfiq, he told us that the signal attenuation occurs when he holds the iPhone in the middle of his living room in his home in Bukit Panjang. He says he does not have to grip it hard to bring the signal down. "You just have to hold it like you would normally," said Tawfiq, who has a background in electronics engineering.
Interestingly however, even though the signal goes to one bar, he does not suffer from dropped calls. "When it goes to one bar, it switches from the 3G network to the GPRS network, and then the signal bars actually go up again," said Tawfiq.
This corroborates a video made by Mike Foong of The IT Channel. He also has a video showing a drop from three bars to one bar when he applies the grip of death. However, in his video, after he turns off 3G, he is unable to make the bars drop.
These three videos do not prove anything conclusively of course. This much, however, we can say:
1. Yes, the signal does get attenuated, which we would expect.
2. Even when the signal goes down to 1 bar, it is still able to hold a call, possibly because it is a better antenna.
3. When the 3G signal becomes very poor, in some cases the phone switches automatically from the weak 3G network to the strong GPRS network, and this helps to prevent the call from dropping.
We are still collecting data on this issue so do write to us at editor at imerlion dot com if the antenna is causing you serious problems. If you are able to completely kill your 3G signal and make it drop calls, please let us know. We'd also be interested to know if the reception on your iPhone 4 is better compared to your 3GS (or 3G).
(One note about dropping calls, we have a 3GS running iOS 4.0.1 on the SingTel network and it drops calls constantly, and it seems, more so after being updated to 4.0.1. We are now seeing a "no service" message regularly which we had never seen prior to updating. We are also seeing the calls drop especially when the phone attempts to switch from the 3G network to the GPRS network. If you have this experience, let us know. We'd love to try to gather some data.)
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