Thankfully, today Anand has a post up as part of his overall iPhone 4 review that definitively investigates and explaines the widely discussed iPhone 4 “Reception Issue”. The entire review is absolutely worth a read, especially if you are considering a purchase of the iPhone 4, but the full page he spent on investigating the reception is fantastic. His conclusions on the iPhone 4 signal reception issue is effectively simple.
Holding the iPhone 4 without a case, in your left hand, crossing the black strip can result in a worst case drop of 24 dB in signal. As we’ll show in a second, how you hold the phone makes a huge difference across every smartphone – and we’ve tested thoroughly in 5 different positions.
Because, as Richard Gaywood put it, “the signal strength bars are almost meaningless and should not be relied on”, Anand goes on to explain that what happens to the signal strength “bar graph” on a phone can vary wildly depending on the actual signal-to-noise ratio in your location. This can range from no apparent change in signal strength (5 bars stays 5 bars) to the bar graph dropping off a cliff.
I happen to live less than one block from an AT&T UMTS tower (it’s across the street, literally), and have exceptionally strong signal in all of my house – it’s part of why I chose to live here, actually. Signal is above -65 dB in every single room, in most cases it’s at -51 dB. When I incur that worst case drop of 24 dB from squeezing the phone, I fall down to -83 dB, which is still visualized as 5 bars.
However, in locales that have less signal, but where iOS still displays 5 bars, the drop of 24 dB is visualized much differently. For example, at another test location, signal without holding the phone is -89 dB, which is still displayed as 5 bars. Cup the phone, and you’ll fall all the way to -113 dB. All the bars dramatically disappear one after the other, people think they’ve dramatically lost all the signal, and you know the rest.
But pure signal-to-noise ration isn’t everything in determining how well a particular cell phone will perform in specific network conditions. Different baseband hardware (and firmware) designs will handle poor SNR in wildly differing ways. He finds that the iPhone 4 handles poor SNR much better than previous iterations of the iPhone ever did, which somewhat confirms that some of the dropped call problems with earlier iPhones may indeed have had something to do with the iPhone design and how it interacted with the design of AT&T’s network in the US.
Interestingly, he found in his testing that gripping the phone tightly without a case actually seems to improve WiFi reception:
Holding the phone with no case actually improves WiFi signal strength by a measurable 5 to 10 dB. In the following plot, the dips are me releasing the phone from a tight grip and going to the two finger pinch. I verified the same ballpark level of performance increase on the phone as well. RF is truly an odd beast indeed. It just depends whether you’re adding or subtracting length from the antenna, and thus moving away from or closer to an optimal solution.
But, in the end, as I’ve said and as basically every respectable reviewer that has had hands-on experience with the phone has concluded, he finds (emphasis mine):
From my day of testing, I’ve determined that the iPhone 4 performs much better than the 3GS in situations where signal is very low, at -113 dB (1 bar). Previously, dropping this low all but guaranteed that calls would drop, fail to be placed, and data would no longer be transacted at all. I can honestly say that I’ve never held onto so many calls and data simultaneously on 1 bar at -113 dB as I have with the iPhone 4, so it’s readily apparent that the new baseband hardware is much more sensitive compared to what was in the 3GS. The difference is that reception is massively better on the iPhone 4 in actual use.
He concludes that Apple should either insulate the stainless steel band somehow, at least in the lower-left-hand corner (this seems unlikely considering Apple’s focus on design with their products), or should subsidize the bumper cases. After seeing real numbers rather than conjecture filled with hyperbole, I’d tend to agree. The rubber bumper cases are way overpriced anyway. Apple doesn’t need to give everyone who complains a free bumper to solve their PR problem, they can simply say “while the iPhone 4 has been determined to have the best reception ever for an iPhone, we’ve decided to cut the price of our bumper cases in half as a gesture of good faith” (or something Steve-i-fied to that effect). Drop the price to $15 for the bumpers and be done with it. Frankly, they’d probably still make money on them at that price.read more
Check out this awesome video of an artist “painting” a live model with an iPad and the Brushes app:
The video was shot over a three hour period and then sped up for posting on YouTube. Very cool stuff. The future of painting is now, I suppose.read more
We put up some new gutters yesterday, with the downspout directed at our new rain barrel. It was a pretty fun little project, and it should help protect the siding on our house a bit as well. We woke up this morning and the rain barrel was overflowing after literally one day. Oh well!
So… Instead of something real, I have this fun fan-made video for you:
Gregg Michael Gillis is not a DJ.read more
California is in the midst of what looks to be the worst whooping cough outbreak recorded in the past 50 years, which was when we got serious about vaccination and essentially eradicated many severe childhood illnesses from the country. From the Silicon Valley Mercury News:
A statewide whooping cough epidemic has made its way to the Bay Area, with local counties reporting a sharp increase in cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease.
State health officials declared the epidemic Wednesday – with 910 confirmed cases as of June 15 – more than four times as many cases as this time last year. The numbers put California on pace for its worst pertussis outbreak in 50 years.
As mistermix observed over at Balloon Juice:
Is is just a coincidence that California is having an epidemic of whooping cough after years of autism-related vaccination freak-outs? Perhaps following the vaccination schedule of an ex-Playboy-model celebrity instead of the CDCâ€™s might not be the awesome plan it appeared to be at first blush.
I just realized that I now have 3 different generations of iPhones at my disposal, and decided it would be worth doing a little testing!
Read on for the tests and all the geeky number goodness!read more