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Verizon's iPhone fixes 'death grip' problem

Apple fixed the so-called 'death grip' problem when it altered the antenna design of the Verizon iPhone 4. By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Consumer Reports' made waves last week with its decision not to recommend the Verizon iPhone 4 because of the same "death grip" antenna problem that plagues AT&T's iPhone 4. But the magazine may have made the wrong call: Tests show that Verizon's version is significantly improved over its rival's.

Gadget analysis group AnandTech, which was the first to diagnose the iPhone 4 antenna issue, ran a thorough test of the new Verizon iPhone 4 and found that the "death grip" problem has been mitigated.

"Apple fixed the problem," said Brian Klug, author of AnandTech's report. "You can use the Verizon Wireless iPhone with no case without any concern for losing signal because of how it's held."

That runs contrary to the Consumer Reports test. The magazine found that the Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500) iPhone, like the AT&T (T, Fortune 500) iPhone, "has a problem that could cause the phone to drop calls, or be unable to place calls, in weak signal conditions" when held in a "specific but quite natural way."

AnandTech founder Anand Shimpi criticized the Consumer Reports study for failing to provide data to support its findings. Consumer Reports spokeswoman Melissa Valentino declined to offer the group's test results, only saying that the Verizon iPhone and the AT&T iPhone performed "similarly" in tests.

The AnandTech study, however, showed that the Verizon iPhone performed roughly on par with its non-iPhone peers -- and far better than the AT&T version -- in terms of cell signal attenuation (a fancy word for the reception loss experienced when your hand covers the antenna).

Verizon's device lost 16.5 decibels of signal reception when cupped tightly in the "death grip," compared to 24.6 dB for the AT&T iPhone 4. The average signal loss of seven other smartphones that AnandTech tested was 14.4 dB.

When held naturally, the Verizon device fared worse than non-iPhones, but it still beat the AT&T iPhone by a fairly wide margin.

AnandTech noted that the "held naturally" average was skewed much lower by the excellent performance of the Motorola Droid 2 and the Droid X. The Verizon iPhone actually fared very similarly to the HTC Nexus One and the LG Optimus 2X. Klug said that its performance was within the normal range.

So why does Verizon's iPhone fare better than its AT&T cousin? A key difference lies in its antenna architecture.

A teardown analysis performed by IHS iSuppli revealed that the Verizon iPhone kept the same integrated antenna design of the AT&T iPhone, but Apple made several improvements to fix the signal problems that the earlier model. The Verizon antenna employs a "dual-antenna design that takes advantage of antenna diversity to improve reception," iSuppli said in its analysis.

Unlike its competition, Verizon requires that all of its smartphones have multiple antennas that can be switched depending on which one has a better signal. That so-called antenna diversity also allows the phone to average out the two antennas to get a better signal.

That function is what Motorola (MMI) referred to its in ads for the Droid X, when the company said you could "hold your phone however you want". The Droid X debuted about two weeks after AT&T's iPhone 4 launched (right when "Antennagate" dominating in the news).

Klug said he expects Apple to employ that design on future versions of the iPhone. Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) is expected to debut its new smartphone in June. To top of page

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