Are you caught in the iPhone 4 Death Grip?

I am. But are you? I'd like to hear from iPhone 4 users about their calling experiences with the so-called "death grip." Please share your experiences in comments or by e-mail (joewilcox at gmail dot com). I'll collect reactions into a separate post. Do yourself a favor and respond. The more feedback Apple and AT&T receive, the better chances death grip can be resolved -- and there are problems. I only personally know about a half-dozen iPhone 4 owners, and all complain of some reception problem or another.

On June 23, I asked: "What's wrong with iPhone 4's antenna?" Only hours after receiving iPhone 4, I observed that the number of bars receded to zero over about 20-30 seconds when holding the device in my left hand. I wrote: "By appearances, the act of holding the phone impares signal strength. I'm not so bothered because I typically use a Bluetooth headset rather than hold a phone. Flat or holstered in a case are the handset's typical positions when used." Whoops, I'm having Bluetooth reception problems, too.

Death grip seemingly is a problem of human contact with the metal band surrounding iPhone 4. But I'm seeing much more. Unless my iPhone is holstered in the case with the bottom left side exposed, people complain they can't hear me. The conversation is garbled. Strangely, I can hear them. Additionally, whether the phone is holstered or laying flat on a surface, Bluetooth reception is impeded. There are two irregular patterns. The first: The call starts out fine, but degrades within 30 seconds to about 2 minutes. The caller complains that the audio breaks up. He or she can't hear me. The second: I move more than a couple feet from the phone, and the audio breaks up. With iPhone 3GS or Google Nexus One, I can easily move 15 feet or so from the phone before there is noticeable signal degradation. The point: I'm experiencing Bluetooth reception problems, too, using a Nokia BH-804 earpiece.

A friend of mine back in Washington, D.C., waited from 4:45 a.m. on June 24 to about 10 a.m. to get iPhone 4. He experienced reception problems from the first call and since has contacted Apple support. He's convinced the phone is defective and that a replacement will solve the reception problems. We called each other three times on June 24 -- iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 -- and had to disconnect each time because of badly grabbled reception. Interestingly, calling wasn't as bad on June 25 or 26, which raises some questions about AT&T's network being overburdened by new iPhone 4 users.

It's like Apple and AT&T traded one problem for another. In the five days since getting iPhone 4, I've had no dropped calls. Nada. But I've had to disconnect 7 out of 10 calls because of reception problems. I told my friend yesterday: "I never thought I would long for dropped calls. I'd rather have a clear call that drops than one I have to disconnect because you can't hear me."

I'm most interested in your calling experiences, particularly for people who don't live in the United States. Like the dropped calls problem, for death grip there is same question: Is it the device, the network or both? If people in other countries aren't having the same problems, then it would unscientifically suggest something related to the device and AT&T's network (remember 3G frequencies in other launch countries are different than United States). If the problem is everywhere, then it would unscientifically suggest a problem with the device -- perhaps hardware, or software.

Apple has a huge problem with the 1.7 million iPhone sold over the launch weekend if there is a major antenna flaw. Software glitch would be a considerably easier fix.
Today, Justin Horn asks: "How can a software update fix the iPhone antenna problem?" His answer may come as early as today based on rumors.

Apple's "you're holding the phone the wrong way" response is rather laughable. Cameron Kenley Hunt's Tumblr blog "Just avoid holding it that way" is a hilarious and apt response.

Last week, I asserted that the reception "problem also raises questions about a known design flaw. I ask because of Apple's iPhone 'Bumper' guards...what if using the Bumpers separate the metal band from the hand enough to remove any signal interference?" Because Apple secretly tests new devices, such a problem might have come up late in the design cycle. Remember that the lost iPhone obtained by Gizmodo had been disguised with a 3GS-like case. I'm not suggesting wrongdoing on Apple's part, but accurate stories about real users' iPhone 4 experiences could remove any doubt.

I want to wrap up by clearly stating that I like iPhone 4. It's the first Apple smartphone I would use every day. I'll explain why that is in a future post but will hint now: Battery life is now acceptable. This post isn't about generating iPhone 4 negativity, as I expect some commenter(s) will assert. This post is meant to collect stories about calling or reception problems -- or not. If you're not having reception problems, please share that story, too. As aforementioned, I'm particularly interested to see if there is a difference between AT&T and other network subscribers. More significantly, satisfied AT&T subscribers might help identify whether or not there is a bad lot of devices. The phones all have serial numbers, remember.

[Update: The grabbled calls problem turned out to be caused by my Bluetooth earpiece not properly connecting to iPhone 4. Switching to Jawbone Icon fixed the problem.]

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