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Cellphones Bug Iphone

Death Grip Tested On iPhone Competitors 373

Posted by timothy
from the not-deathy-enough dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "Given Steve Jobs' recent claims about 'Death Grip' being a common problem among smart phones, PCMag tested out six major iPhone competitors to see how they would react to the grip. The test included Motorola Droid X, T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide, Droid Incredible by HTC, BlackBerry Bold 9650, and the Samsung Captivate. The signal strength was measured in dBm, which typically ranges between -50 to -110 dBm (numbers closer to zero show better signal). Interestingly, the test results video showed mixed results. T-Mobile myTouch 3G and Samsung Captivate showed drastic changes, dropping down to -89 and -97 dBm respectively. On the other hand, while the signal strength dropped for HTC Droid Incredible, Motorola Droid X and Blackberry Bold, it wasn't as severe. Results of testing showed that not all phones reacted the same way to the typical death grip and required variations of it to bring about results."
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Death Grip Tested On iPhone Competitors

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  • by Jorl17 (1716772) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @05:48PM (#32983714)
    I think that the Banana significantly outperformed the iPhone.

    No, really, I mean it.
  • by jerdo (674382) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @05:50PM (#32983742)
    Steve Jobs hasn't ever admitted to the iPhone 4 losing all signal or dropping calls when held in the "death grip". He only admitted to a loss of signal strength, which he said all phones experience when held in a similar manner. This article just seems to confirm what he said. The real world difference is, that the iPhone 4 can actually drop calls and appear to lose all signal when held this way. Notice there is a difference between reality and what Apple (or any company that doesn't want to admit they have a flaw in their product) will admit to.
  • by donny77 (891484) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:00PM (#32983836)
    All of these phones CAN drop calls and lose service, it all depends on the starting signal strength. The iPhone 4 doesn't automatically lose service or drop calls either. In medium to strong signal areas it works fine EVEN touching the dreaded antenna spot. The only reason this is being discussed is Apple pointed out the external antenna.
  • Re:Both hands?? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:05PM (#32983904) Journal

    Perhaps you should watch/read the press conference that Steve Jobs gave the other week. He specially pointed out X marks the spot on the iPhone, and then pointed out how holding other phones in certain other ways affected signal as well.

  • by WitnessForTheOffense (1669778) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:09PM (#32983958)
    JFGI [justfuckinggoogleit.com]
  • by bonch (38532) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:26PM (#32984148)

    The problem with the iPhone is that the simple act of holding it normally can cause it to completely lose all signal....No other phones have this problem, that is why it has never come up before.

    There are countless videos on YouTube submitted by users demonstrating the same effect with non-iPhones, and Apple has posted their own antenna page [apple.com] with videos of competing phones losing signal. It seems to be an issue in low-signal areas and is a fact of life for all smartphones.

  • by NatasRevol (731260) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:27PM (#32984158) Journal

    "No other phones have this problem"?

    Riiiight. Then why do ALL of their manuals tell you NOT to hold it certain ways which decrease signal strength?

    http://dontholditwrong.tumblr.com/ [tumblr.com]

    If Apple put the 'death grip' in their manual, would everyone be ok with that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:29PM (#32984188)

    ...he said all phones experience when held in a similar manner.

    Which is false. My phone shows no signal drop (using field test app which shows raw signal strength) when being held normally with either hand. I was able to degrade the signal by cupping my hand tightly over the top of the phone, but that is in no way a normal way of holding the phone.

  • by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:30PM (#32984192) Homepage Journal

    There must be huge variation from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4. I'm right handed and almost always hold my phone in my left hand. (I keep seeing stories that suggest that this problem affects lefties more, because they hold their phones with their left hands, but this seems backwards to me.)

    I can't detect any problem with holding my phone in my left hand. I do see a substantial improvement in apparent coverage. Works reliably in my office, where my iPhone 3g was spotty at best. Voice works (but data sucks) in the basement of my office, where I had NO coverage before. I can only attribute this to the antenna redesign.

    I think there must be some marginal phones out there, but it seems that there are a lot of iPhone 4s out there that are working well. And I think there's an aweful lot of hype around this problem. Maybe the lesson is that if you live by hype you can die by hype?

    -Peter

  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:30PM (#32984204)

    While its absolutely true that a 'death grip' can cause signal loss on any phone, just as sticking it in a Faraday cage can, Apple is currently conflating two different problems. The first, where your hand blocks some signal is common to all phones.

    However, there is a second problem with the iPhone 4. When you touch it in the wrong place, you, a conductor, connect two different antennae that each are designed to work at a specific wavelength. When you bring the two together, and throw your body into the mix too, the antenna geometry is decidedly sub-optimal, and this can damage reception significantly. This second problem is why bumpers/cases are suitable correction to the majority of the problem.

    And I say this as someone who still plans to get an iPhone 4, because even while they hem and haw and obfuscate on the fact that there is a design flaw, they've taken appropriate actions to help those troubled by it, and if it really bothers me some tape or some clear nail polish should fix it.

  • by donny77 (891484) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:35PM (#32984260)

    Sorry but you don't even know what you are talking about. I refer you to http://www.anandtech.com/show/3821/iphone-4-redux-analyzing-apples-ios-41-signal-fix [anandtech.com]. People are assuming "bridging" or "shorting" is the problem. Anadtech shows a 10db performance difference, they do not specify the cause. The redux article above clearly states they talked to metallurgists that stated stainless steel is a poor conductor, and your hand is a poor conductor.

    Find an old radio. Touch the middle of the antenna, it effects the sound quality. Now touch the tip of the antenna. It effects quality much more drastically. THIS is what the iPhone 4 is doing.

  • by Logic and Reason (952833) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:53PM (#32984418) Homepage
    This could be related to the previously-discussed 'bug' in how the number of bars is calculated. As I understand it, the bar count is/was heavily weighted such that you'd still get 4-5 bars even when the signal strength was actually marginal. So even though you previously had 5 bars, you may not have had that strong a signal to begin with. See here [anandtech.com] for more details.
  • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @06:53PM (#32984420)

    Why haven't they taken the device back for a refund?

    Because of all the apps they bought previously, and the itunes music and movies they bought, etc. Lock. In. Baby. Now that Apple has users by the pocketbook, they can afford to cut corners just like Microsoft.

  • by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:05PM (#32984534)

    The issue was the death grip affecting signal strength. You even used Apple's "physics" defense to state that it affects all phones. What does a bare metal antenna have to do with it if all phones are affected?

    Hello and welcome to the world of physics.

    Shit (both matter and energy) can interfere with electromagnetic signals, like those used by your cellular telephones.

    When reception is hindered by your hand, the concrete in your building, or whatever else, we say the signal is "attenuated".

    Modern devices can handle a large range of attenuation before showing any negative effects, and they can handle even more attenuation before the fail completely.

    All cell phones experience attenuation.

    The iPhone 4 experiences attenuation, but it also experiences detuning. Detuning is what happens when you alter the electrical length of your antenna.

    You see, kids, antennas need to be "tuned" to a specific frequency. When you move the dial on a radio, you're altering the electrical length of its antenna. By changing the electrical length of the antenna, the antenna then receives signals on a different frequency.

    The electrical length of antenna is a combination of its physical length and some electrical properties of the material its made out of, such as the antennas total capacitance - its capacity to hold electrical current.

    Unlike attenuation which gradually weakens a signal, detuning instantly and dramatically cuts the reception of a signal. Consider an old radio. Tune to your favorite station. Then turn the tuning knob to the left or right. You'll find that your favorite station is gone, and you're now listening to something in Spanish!

    The iPhone 4's antennas become detuned when human skin or another conductor bridges the cellular antenna's bezel with the next bezel, another point on the case of the phone, or just the skin. This is due to a design flaw in the antennas. Apple decided to make external, conductive antennas on the body of a portable device. This, by any measure, is fucking retarded.

    I hope you have enjoyed your brief visit to the world of physics! If you would like to know more, you can go fuck yourself.

  • by catmistake (814204) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:05PM (#32984538) Journal

    While its absolutely true that a 'death grip' can cause signal loss on any phone, just as sticking it in a Faraday cage can, Apple is currently conflating two different problems. The first, where your hand blocks some signal is common to all phones.

    However, there is a second problem with the iPhone 4. When you touch it in the wrong place, you, a conductor, connect two different antennae that each are designed to work at a specific wavelength. When you bring the two together, and throw your body into the mix too, the antenna geometry is decidedly sub-optimal, and this can damage reception significantly. This second problem is why bumpers/cases are suitable correction to the majority of the problem.

    And I say this as someone who still plans to get an iPhone 4, because even while they hem and haw and obfuscate on the fact that there is a design flaw, they've taken appropriate actions to help those troubled by it, and if it really bothers me some tape or some clear nail polish should fix it.

    The second problem you speak of is also true of all cell phones. Many, including the Incredible, point out right in the manual where you should avoid touching a certain spot. All cell phones have a spot you can touch with a single finger that will cause the phone to loose more signal than if you touched it in any other spot. This isn't new. Apple showed a picture of a phone with a sticker "don't touch here." They didn't ignore it.

  • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:14PM (#32984596)

    The music is not locked in.

    The apps are specific to iOS, so they could go for a 3GS if they were finding the iPhone 4 to be useless, but didn't want to part with their apps. In the same way that if I move from Windows, my windows apps don't work on my Mac (without emulation/parallels etc).

    They would likely find that the 3GS does not get a signal at all in the areas where the death grip affects the iPhone 4, so swings and roundabouts.

  • by makomk (752139) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:14PM (#32984602) Journal

    Let's do what the article should've done and quantify it. The worst signal loss they could get from the other phones by death-gripping them is about -14 dB. They didn't provide figures for the iPhone 4, probably because Apple makes this hard to find out, but IIRC it's been measured at -24 dB. That means that if you death-grip the iPhone 4 your signal is reduced to about 1/200th of what it was, and if you do the same to the worst of the normal smartphones it's instead reduced to 1/20th.

  • by WARM3CH (662028) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:15PM (#32984604)
    You still don't get it, do you? The test is fine. They did exactly same thing, with and without a glove. 10 dB difference. Difference is due to insulation. End of story.
  • by iammaxus (683241) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:43PM (#32984844)

    and if it really bothers me some tape or some clear nail polish should fix it.

    It is possible that clear nail polish will do very little to mitigate the problem. At those frequencies, capacitive coupling can be as good as a DC conducting path. The bumper adds a millimeter or so of space which reduces the capacitive coupling as compared to nail polish.

  • by catmistake (814204) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:45PM (#32984868) Journal
    See page 6 [htc.com]
  • by PPalmgren (1009823) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @07:53PM (#32984916)

    People, people, people. Its not about the death grip. Its not about general signal loss on all phones.

    It is about the magnitude of signal loss. According to Anand's article, the iPhone 4 loses 20 dBm from holding it naturally with the antenna gap covered. That is 30% of the signal range. No other phone can acheive this signal loss, even with the death grip. Most phones 10 dBm or less, or better, even with a death grip. The magnitude of the iPhone 4's signal loss is 100% higher, or more, than all of its competitors when held naturally. This is abysmal, and makes it very hard for the user to predict whether his call is in danger or not. The bar change helps this a bit, but it doesn't take away the fact that a vanilla iPhone 4 has a signal handicap on all of its competitors due to shitty engineering.

  • by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:50PM (#32985312)

    Perhaps only old fogeys recall rabbit ear TV antennas for analogue TVs ...

    So it all seemed like a tempest in a teacup to me.

    Did you read the article (I know this is slash dot). With each phone they had to use very unorthodox grips just to get half the signal degradation experienced by holding the Iphone4 normally.

    Yes I remember TV aerials, I also remember you had to tune them because unlike digital signals you had to adjust the TV to the frequency your aerial picked up, not the frequency that was transmitted. This is why you couldn't move a TV and rabbit ears (an aerial that looks like a pair of rabbit ears for the young uns, and get off my lawn) into another room without having to retune.

    Bare metal TV aerials were very good at picking up weak signals, but very prone to interference. You cannot have this with a mobile phone, the frequency received and transmitted must be within a very small frequency band or the whole thing doesn't work. TV is fine because it's just a receiver and doesn't matter if the freq is slightly distorted, mobile phones need to be a receiver and transmitter in addition to the signal being broadband, not baseband.

    The aerial was a massive design failure and Apple are trying to sugar coat it. Fanboys are helping this which is only making the problem worse in the long run (I.E. the sugar coating wears off, the problem remains).

  • by Jezza (39441) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:58PM (#32985360)

    Reading the article (I know actually reading the article before posting - what's fsck'in wrong with me?) it says some phones were affected by a similar "death grip" - so that's the same, isn't it?

    Of course, this is really easy to reproduce because Apple put a line across the area that if covered affects the signal strength - other phones you have to kind of guess. That makes it really easy to reproduce the effect on the iPhone 4, and I suppose easy to avoid (don't cover that area). Other phones it's hard to reproduce, and also hard to avoid (unless you find the "drop spot" and put a marker on it - so you know where not to touch).

    It is also true that some phones have far less of an issue (in the case of the Droid where two hands were required, it would be hard to see this as an actual problem as it's actually quite difficult to reproduce and is not likely to happen in practice). So clearly when Steve said this is a problem for the whole industry that wasn't the whole truth - it's an issue, but some phone seem to have it pretty well mitigated.

    From what I understand for a lot of phones it isn't covering an side of the phone that manifests this effect; if you have significant contact with the rear of the phone it can cause it. This is quite common. Again, the exact location(s) vary and may mitigate it (like the Droid).

    But this doesn't seem at all unique to the iPhone 4, but it isn't quite as "universal" as perhaps Apple would like us the think. It's just something we'd never thought about before.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:19PM (#32985514)

    Of course it stands up if you actually understand the issue. "bars" don't mean anything, you have to look at the dB range that qualifies as a "bar" for the specific software you're testing. in the case of the iphone (pre 4.1), that signal range was -51 to -91 dB for "five bars" down to -107 to -113 for "one bar." it's now known that bridging the iphone 4 antennas causes a signal drop of 24 dB. so first, imagine you're sitting pretty at -51 dB and you touch the lower left corner and attenuate the antennas. you're left with -74 dB and stay at five bars. now imagine you're at -91 dB and you do the same thing. suddenly you're at -114 dB and you have zero bars. in both situations you began with "five bars"

    the 4.1 update alters the relationship of signal strength to "bar" to address this somewhat

    eg: http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/gadgets/apple/iPhone4/part2/signalbarmapping.jpg

    aside: i'm surprised that this didn't catapult into the media the fact that "bars" are pretty much meaningless across phones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:33PM (#32985612)

    You see, kids, antennas need to be "tuned" to a specific frequency. When you move the dial on a radio, you're altering the electrical length of its antenna. By changing the electrical length of the antenna, the antenna then receives signals on a different frequency.

    I won't repeat the rest of your colorful misinformed ramblings. However, it's worth pointing out that when you know nothing about physics or electronics, you shouldn't spout off as if you do. For instance, when you move a dial on a radio you in fact are not altering the electrical length of its antenna. What you are actually doing is tuning a bandpass filter to a different region of the rf spectrum. The antenna is typically designed to collect as much of the rf spectrum as possible and tuning (i.e. moving the dial) just selects the piece of spectrum of interest while attenuating the rest. The antenna length is not altered when tuning (moving the dial) on a radio.

    You may resume your irrational and misguided thought processes ...

  • by Moridineas (213502) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:51PM (#32985740) Journal

    And then he goes on showing EVERY PHONE does that.

    I think you must be confused by something? They showed 3 different phone brand/OS combos that by holding in a certain way could loose substantial signal. Yes?

    NO - they don't do THAT while holding it THAT WAY.

    Parse error...care to restate?

    So, yes, he lied and did not accept that iphone was the only phone which did something wrong.

    I'm lost...what's the problem? Do you not agree that some phones can lose signal by being held certain ways? What's the lie?

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:46PM (#32986090)

    It is possible that clear nail polish will do very little to mitigate the problem.

    Anadtech showed that 1-mil Kaplan tape [anandtech.com] applied did reduce the effect somewhat.

    The case will always be better but even bare as it is it works well enough. I don't plan to put a case on mine.

  • by jimfrost (58153) * <jimf@frostbytes.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:10PM (#32986208) Homepage

    It's not just smart phones. I had aNoxia 97xx that would drop calls if held a certain way. It always seemed obvious to me that it was attenuation.

    Having said that,I thought Apple was nuts to expose the metal, and had presumed originally that it was covered in clear polymer. Every school kid radio fan knows what happens to the signal if you grab the antenna, right? So why would you make a phone with a naked antenna?

    On the other hand I've played with a few 4s and the issue is IMO not nearly as severe as the tempest would imply, and while most people I know can reproduce the problem several indicate that the phone works in places where previous models didn't. If I were in the market I would still buy one. I would use a case as a matter of course anyway (put one on the 3gs immediately, have you seen what these things cost?). Not Apple's case, I swear Apple has no idea how to make a good case.

  • by bored (40072) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:43PM (#32986402)

    I won't repeat the rest of your colorful misinformed ramblings. However, it's worth pointing out that when you know nothing about physics or electronics, you shouldn't spout off as if you do. For instance, when you move a dial on a radio you in fact are not altering the electrical length of its antenna. What you are actually doing is tuning a bandpass filter to a different region of the rf spectrum. The antenna is typically designed to collect as much of the rf spectrum as possible and tuning (i.e. moving the dial) just selects the piece of spectrum of interest while attenuating the rest. The antenna length is not altered when tuning (moving the dial) on a radio.

    Which is all true, but the antenna is also tuned as part of the system. Especially for high frequency system, or systems with a fixed frequency.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @02:17AM (#32986998)

    As with all dBs, this is logarithmic. A 20dBm loss is a 100x loss, 10dBm is a 10x loss. Each 10dB of attenuation is much worse than the last.

    As an example if I gave you earplugs with 10dB of attenuation, it would take a conversational voice down to a quiet level. 20dB would take it down to a whisper. 30dB would put it below the background level of most rooms.

    With dBs, you are talking orders of magnitude.

  • by crossword.bob (918209) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @06:00AM (#32987686)
    Small point of order: the article measured dBm results only. It is widely known that this is not the sole test of an antenna's performance. The iPhone may be stronger or weaker in other areas, such as signal-to-noise; the article doesn't give us enough information to deduce anything like as clearly as you claim. Antenna design is far more complex than the "big dBm good small dBm bad" and "stick some duct tape on it" views that have been expressed by iPhone supporters and detractors alike.
  • by Vegemeister (1259976) on Thursday July 22, 2010 @07:07AM (#32987960)
    Actually numbnuts, unless your radio is very old, you're changing the frequency of the local oscillator.

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