Tests Show iPhone 4 Hit Hardest by 'Death Grip'

A technology consultancy in England has carried out a series of signal-strength tests for the iPhone 4 and other smartphones, and has concluded that while all phones do lose signal strength when held a certain way, the iPhone 4 is the most affected.

PA Consulting Group published a new report comparing Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 4 to the BlackBerry 9700 and HTC HD2. It found the BlackBerry and HD2 both see signal reduction when held a certain way, but that the iPhone 4 consistently suffered the greatest signal losses.

The iPhone 4 has been plagued with complaints that its signal strength diminishes when held a certain way -- in particular, when gripped in the left hand. That's because the palm covers the antenna in the lower left corner of the phone. The problem has been jokingly dubbed the "death grip."

Apple initially denied the problem, then said it was a software issue, and when that didn't quiet the masses, held a defiant press conference where CEO Steve Jobs said the problem affects other phones as well, and then said Apple would give away free rubber "bumpers," a case that goes around the perimeter of the phone. When in a case, any case, the iPhone 4 is not impacted by the "death grip."

But the new research seems to rebut Jobs' assertion that the issue is common across many handsets.

"Our tests indicate that the 'death grip' issue is real, and is worse for the Apple iPhone 4 than for other smartphones," wrote Simon Tonks, the consultant who led the testing for London-based PA Consulting. "The iPhone 4's radio performance was also found to be generally at the lower end. This means it will tend to drop calls earlier than other phones, and may suffer more in areas of weak signal."

He noted that under normal circumstances -- when the phone is not held in the hand -- the iPhone 4 signal levels are comparable to the other products. It's when the phone is held, particularly in the left hand, that signal and performance drops precipitously.

The firm found that by improvising its own rubber case for the iPhone -- the bumpers are not yet available in Britain -- it was able to ameliorate the problem and reduce signal loss.

Given that PA Consulting is in England, the tests would seem to clear AT&T (NYSE: T), Apple's U.S. wireless provider, because the tests were conducted on the Vodaphone network. This suggests that the problem is either the antenna, or that both AT&T and Vodaphone have signal problems.

PA Consulting noted that Steve Jobs' defense is technically correct, but the problem is still real and worse for the iPhone 4 than for other phones.

"All the mobiles suffer attenuation when handled. The so-called 'death grip' gives a substantial further drop in performance for the iPhone to the point where we could not quantify it using the same test method," Tonks wrote.

Apple did not return requests for reaction or comment.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPhone, Apple, smartphone, iPhone 4 antenna, death grip