After Using iPhone 4: Great Device, Weak Phone (With Update)

After playing with a new iPhone 4 for some time here’s our take. It’s a wonderfully designed portable multi-media device that needs a new phone. Phone problems go beyond the well-known antenna flaw.

We got ours just by walking into an Apple Temple and simply asking for it. They handed one over, no wait time, no pre-order. Apple and AT&T still usually quote a 3 weeks wait. We upgraded on the spot because of Apple’s 30 days no questions asked return policy. Like everyone, we’ve seen the antenna stories.

Our earlier iPhones worked well with AT&T in the D.C. area, unlike NYC or SF. This new phone drops calls more often than wide open Redskins receivers. It’s not the ‘kung fu’ grip antenna problem, either. Even when a call is going well with the phone sitting untouched on a table using speakerphone, it drops a call more often than not. Untouched.

At home, earlier iPhone 3 series reception with AT&T was flawless. Now, walking down a hallway 10 feet will drop a call repeatedly. Moving from one end of a room to the other will drop a call. No matter how delicately one holds the jewel-like device. Rocking in a rocking chair (seriously) suddenly dropped a call with the first rocking movement. All while holding the phone awkwardly with just two fingers on the top and bottom to placate radio propagation deities.

It’s one thing to read frustration like this in say Engadget comments. Experiencing it another. A call to AT&T technical support confirms we’re near 4 network towers. The iPhone 3 series worked flawlessly with them. Out of all the phone calls we’ve made on the new device, maybe 5 didn’t drop, requiring a call back with the other party saying ‘that was weird’. Whether to a landline or cell. We’re careful holding the phone to avoid antenna problems.

It’s a shame. The other functions of the device are beautifully executed. Build quality as always is excellent. Web surfing using WiFi is noticeably faster as well. The pixel density provides a truly crisp, readable display. The camera, Face Time, and hi def video capture are easy to use.

AT&T says they can roll back to the earlier 3G phone (but not give back unlimited data, naturally – no surprise). One AT&T customer service rep earlier tried to talk us out of trying an upgrade, urging wait for a new iteration. He was right. Who knew?

Well, Steve Jobs, we tried. We are, after all, a 99% Apple shop across the board. The sole hold out? A second Xbox 360 at home (first one, RIP due to Red Rings of Death). Just didn’t feel the magic or revolution.

What’s your reaction? Have you had similar experiences?

[UPDATE] Apparently our experiences above, like Tugg Speedman in a POW camp, are a ‘rooster illusion’. An August 5th survey tells us all that the new phone means *fewer* dropped calls. Odd given that Jobs himself admits that the new 4 drops more. We just didn’t realize what Jobs’ ‘only 1% more calls dropped’ meant in real life: a functionally unreliable device.

Comments

  1. Dr Leo Strauss says

    @Charlie Stross
    Charlie, went back to the Apple Temple today after more weirdness. They gave a new handset.

    This particular Apple rep said the unit had a flaky proximity sensor. My dropped calls apparently he said the result of what was mentioned below as a possibility, a cheek or other facial area was activating the phone surreptitiously and actually hanging up calls, putting calls on mute or setting up conference calls randomly.

    You may be right about the carrier. Will give this new unit a chance. Got one call done tonight without a drop. Progress !

  2. Charlie Stross says

    I have an iphone 4 – in the UK, on O2 (though I’ll switch to Three when O2 discontinue my current unmetered data tariff in October). Call quality is fine, with no dropped calls. Yes, I’m using a case. Data quality is normal for O2, which is to say, chronically poor on 3G (this is an O2 network problem, not a handset issue). I think your problem is 80% AT&T …

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Genius Bar [koff] visit reveals interesting Apple perspective. Quietly, they admit not all iPhone 4s are the same. ‘Batches’ from different Chinese subcontractors and assembly plants show varying quality.

    Specifically, besides the simple radio transmitter and antenna issues, the Genius Bar rep advised a major problem is that a sensor built into the face of the phone to turn off the touch screen when the phone is placed near a head (as during a call) apparently has proved to be defective in a number of batches.

    This fail means people holding the phone to their face side in a normal conversation may be unknowingly hanging up on themselves with their cheek, etc.

    The rep reset the phone to factory settings, AT&T provided a new sim card, and we are supposed to use the phone for two weeks to collect data on calls and call drops. They will then diagnose the data. The rep training is good – went through a faux intimate but clearly memorized patois that anticipated ‘customer escalation points’ by continuing to emphasize the Apple will provide a new phone until one works no matter what, etc. We’ve read on the Net some people are on their 3rd and 4th iPhone 4. We won’t be that patient.

    It may all be for naught anyway. A WaPo ‘trend piece’ advises only old people who think the Moody Blues hip call these days. Data indicates those under say the mid 30s just don’t call or answer phones like ‘old people’, preferring TXT, emails and tweets.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/07/AR2010080702848.html?wprss=rss_print

    re a non-functional phone, Jobs was ahead of his time again?

  4. Dr Leo Strauss says

    @anxiousmodernman
    Makes sense the EVO can handle stuff. Felt that way compared to the Droids. Am with you re battery – not an issue. Usually recharge at various places along any given day anyway.

    Have too many phones now already. One more expensive iPod Touch dongle doesn’t make alot of sense. Perhaps when the CDMA iPhone materializes or a refresh comes next January the 4 series would make sense personally.

    Agree re Android market place. Its time, if to come, is still in the future. One reason for pique at Apple’s self-interested war on Flash. A developer would still ensure clients’ products are populated across all viable markets, including Android. Just one more pointless hoop.

  5. anxiousmodernman says

    It’s an EVO. Still a satisfied customer. The battery thing has become a non-issue. I charge my phone every 1.5 days and use it regularly. Call drop is a non-issue. I get great reception. I’ve also, uh, dropped it once or twice and it’s still together (have silicone skin as a protector).

    Yeah, it’s a big fat phone.

    Two phones? Two phones is not that rare. Usually one is the “work” blackberry that syncs to the “work” email with the “work” number. One thing I do not have is two belt clips, so I can look like an IT version of Billy the Kid. If you had to play that game(BB, iPhone, Droid), I guess you’d have 3 phones. Yeah, that would be approaching weirdness.

    If it’s your business, of course you can’t stop developing for iOS. The market share commanded by Apple demands to be paid attention to. Android is catching up, but it’s hard to see Apple as anything but a dominant player for some time to come. Developing for Android, too, would be ideal, but if you’re working with limited resources, well, that’s just a tough call to make.

    Pun intended.

  6. Dr Leo Strauss says

    MM, IIRC you mentioned you were content with an Android phone? Was it the Sprint EVO? Went to a Sprint store to look at one the other day. Took a bit of time to get used to the larger form factor. A VRWC acquaintance says he gets great reception even at home in Great Falls. EVO build quality seems a notch better than Droid.

    There’s a software development issue in play as well. Switching to an Android phone means cutting off our iPhone app software development experiments. We use the now iOS (used to be used mere ‘iPhone’) software development kit (SDK), XCode and Objective C to explore app technology in the iPhone eco-system. While grumbling at Jobs that Objective C is a sub-optimal programming environment compared to the modern, start-of-the-art C # anyway.

    Developing for Android might not be such a bad thing. But one must have an iPhone to develop and test apps. A simulator just won’t cut it. We’ve all discussed here before how Jobs killed Flash in large part to force people to choose and remain in his developer walled garden. Much like a carrier with their early termination penalties.

    Leading one to ponder the absurdity of having two phones, one that works and does what it should, and the other being a FLIP HD video recorder and iPod Touch that keeps a patch in the walled garden.

  7. anxiousmodernman says

    That’s a shame. The screen is beautiful, for sure. But it is supposed to be a phone with the ability to make and receive calls. I don’t knowingly call that many iPhone 4 users, so I can’t speak anymore on this.

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