Believe me when I say that Consumer Reports is WRONG about iPhone 4

Now that I'm comfortably satisfied with iPhone 4, it's time for a quick review -- and big whack against Consumer Reports, which has once again disavowed a smartphone its editors highly ranked. This morning, Instapaper creator and Tumblr developer Maro Arment tweeted: "Consumer Reports got hooked on inflammatory Apple traffic." I thoroughly agree. The only Death Grip remaining is Consumer Reports clutching to pageviews and trying to save face, which the organization really lost by rating iPhone higher than other smartphones but later giving a no-recommendation.

Apple's newest handset is the first I enthusiastically recommend -- that after dissing the first-three generation models; I found the number of dropped calls to be unacceptable and, more importantly, battery life to be inadequate to support the functions. In stark contrast, calling experience is superb on iPhone 4, by every measure. No longer am I having calling problems -- dropped or failed connections -- anywhere in the San Diego, Calif. area.

Battery life is exceptionally satisfying. To use the iPhone 3G and 3GS, I had to plan my day around the next charge. Apple's handsets made me feel something like a drug addict organizing the day for the next fix. When would I have to hook up for the next charge? Even with proper battery conditioning, I could never get through the day on a single charge. In perhaps twisted, Monty Pythonesque-irony, I'm still thinking about iPhone battery life. But instead of "Crap, the battery won't last long enough" it's "When is the battery going down enough for a charge." I now easily get through one day and well into the next -- or even the next -- before recharging. Battery life is exceptional.

Telephony and battery life were the two reasons I wouldn't recommend older iPhones. They are now reasons to recommend Apple's newest smartphone. But there are many others that make iPhone 4 an exceptionally good choice.

Because I am a journalist, my criteria for evaluating smartphones may differ from most consumers; digital media features are priorities. Among my priorities:

  • Telephony. Calls must be clear and crisp for both parties. Frequently dropped calls are unacceptable. A phone should be a phone first before anything else.
  • Battery life. The device should easily get through a day's use without need to recharge. Nokia's E7x series is the gold standard. The E71, 72 or 73 can easily be used for three days, or more, between charges.
  • Camera. The phone should easily and speedily take photos or videos of suitable quality for print reproduction. Related: Phone must record audio in stereo quality suitable for broadcast.
  • Data. The phone should consistently connect at broadband speeds -- at least 1.5Mbps, which is minimum bandwidth wired providers still typically offer.
  • Internet. The phone's e-mail client and browser should deliver experience comparable to a PC. Digital content posting/sharing should be easy. Third-party applications are nicety, not necessity.
  • Sync. Content should easily sync with PC or, better, to the cloud. Push sync is must-have for e-mail, calendaring and contacts.
  • Screen. The phone's display should be adequately viewable from most angles and even in bright daylight; text should be clear and colors bright and accurate.

Death Grip is a Non-Issue

Apple's newest handset meets or exceeds my expectations for all the criteria. I've already praised telephony and battery life but want to briefly return to calling quality because of Consumer Reports. I must start with an apology to Apple and to Betanews readers for participating in the frenzied reporting about so-called Death Grip. I received my iPhone 4 on June 23, and, as I blogged hours later, immediately noticed the number of signal-strength bars receding when cusping the device in my palm. This phenomenon would come to be widely known as the Death Grip. However, after using the phone for several weeks, I found no practical calling problems related to Death Grip. Additionally, the first iPhone 4 update solved any other calling problems.

On June 28, I asked Betanews readers to share their Death Grip stories, and 12 people did just that. Based on Betanews reader responses, my own iPhone 4 experience, the experience of other iPhone 4 owners I know and Apple's statement about a glitch affecting the signal-strength indicator, I concluded that there was no practical everyday calling problems caused by Death Grip. As I explained in a post right before Apple announced the free case giveaway:

I have no problem creating the Death Grip...But I haven't had any more calling problems with iPhone 4 than its predecessors -- and that's living in an area where AT&T reps admit reception is notoriously bad. Elsewhere, I find signal strength improved and that Death Grip is not easily reproduced in areas with strong signals...I believe that Apple's problem is more perception than reality.

The huge Death Grip media frenzy contributed -- quite likely was responsible for -- negative perceptions about iPhone 4. Proof point: Nearly all the media and other noise disappeared after Apple announced the iPhone 4 free case program. However, Consumer Reports is back following Apple's reassertion that the program ends September 30. The Apple statement begins: "We now know that the iPhone 4 antenna attenuation issue is even smaller than we originally thought." That's exactly my experience, too. Consumer Reports -- in a post I refuse to link to (why feed the pageview beast) -- responds: "We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4, and to call on Apple to provide a permanent fix for the phone's reception issues." I disagree with the assessment.

iPhone 4 is Gold Standard

Apple's newest iPhone more than satisfies my other criteria, particularly following last week's iOS 4.1 update. The camera takes surprisingly crisp photos -- even better with the new HDR (high dynamic range) feature that combines several images together. I initially wasn't impressed with the camera, but HDR made the difference. Low-light performance is surprisingly good. My only gripe -- and it is a big one: No dedicated shutter button; the soft, touchscreen button is deficient. Video recording really impresses, particularly audio. As a journalist, iPhone is a sufficient and pleasing portable digital media studio.

The Internet experience is exceptionally good, I normally get 1.5Mbps-2Mbps downloads and as much as 2Mbps uploads, according to the Speed Test app. However, I typically see 3Mbps or more on my wife's Android 2.2-Nexus One running on T-Mobile's network. Apple Mail is an excellent client and Safari delivers a near-desktop experience. Safari lacks for Flash. However, I find Android 2.x's mail notifications to be a more sensible user-interface motif.

iPhone 4 sync is excellent, even if antiquated. The push features are reliable and don't suck up battery life. However, iPhone 4 must still be sometimes connected to a computer, such as applying updates. Android's cloud sync and over-the-air-updating is superior. That said, while iPhone 4 sync could be better by comparison, it's more than adequate.

The screen is simply magical. Nothing compares in the size class. The 960-by-640-pixel resolution, 326 ppi display makes text easily -- as in exceptionally -- readable. During downtime, I've read several ebooks on the 3.5-inch display. Enjoyably. As a consumer, I find three features -- telephony, battery life and screen -- to be dealmakers. If Apple failed to deliver on any one, I would be using an Android phone today.

Not only do I highly recommend iPhone 4, I must scold Consumer Reports for making Death Grip out to be something more than it really is. The CR team can wag around its antenna tests and cry consumer foul, but it's real-world use that matters. In my own experience and what I've heard from a couple dozen other folks, iPhone 4 delivers. I'm on record as being one of the crankiest complainers about iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS calling problems. If there was a real problem with iPhone 4's antenna, I'd be first in line whacking Apple aside the head with a two-by-four.

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