The iPhone 4 ‘Death Grip’ Is Real — But Does It Matter?

The iPhone 4 ‘Death Grip’ Is Real — But Does It Matter?

We’ve been able to replicate the iPhone 4 radio reception ‘Death Grip’ with older iPhones, and speed tests show that network performance is perhaps more complex than the number of bars in the upper left corner.

The iPhone 4 ‘Death Grip’ is real: Steve Jobs confirmed it. Covering the external antenna with your fingers degrades radio reception.

However, it’s not just the new iPhone 4, with its fance external antenna, that is affected. Our own writer Eli Milchman was able to reproduce the same effect on his 3GS: Call bars drop dramatically (from five to one or two) when he grips the phone is in his hand, then return when the phone is released — which makes us curious:

  • We’ve had umpteen million calls dropped in the Bay Area over the past two years with our iPhones showing a full five bars. We’ve also been able to make and receive calls with the phone showing only one or two bars. It could be that the number of bars showing on the display is completely unrelated to the odds of a call being completed or kept alive until its termination by the user.
  • Does it actually degrade performance? In speed tests I conducted this afternoon with the Speedtest.net app, I could’t find consistent degradation in performance whether the iPhone was showing five bars or two. In fact, two of the best speeds recorded using Speedtest.net was when the iPhone showed only two bars (1614 kpbs download and 1562 kbps). One of the worst tests (394 kbps download) occured when all five bars were present.

So could this just be a result of a hand blocking the antenna, regardless of the version of iPhone?

Eli’s experience with his iPhone 3GS suggests that this occurred previously with other iPhone models and slipped by unnoticed, with attention only being focused on the iPhone 4 because there just happens to be a new antenna.

And can the 4G’s dropped calls be attributed to something else — perhaps an overloaded cell network?

The iPhone 4 ‘Death Grip’ Is Real — But Does It Matter?

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About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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