Why the iPhone 4's aerial doesn't work

The iPhone 4 is here and the first thing we noticed is it loses several bars of signal when you hold it in your hands. So what's wrong with the aerial? We find out

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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The iPhone 4 is here, in our immaculately manicured hands, and here's the first thing we noticed: the aerial, so cleverly forged into the frame, loses several bars of signal when you hold it in your hands. This seems like something of a flaw, to say the least.

This is because our fleshy meatbag digits are not conducive to smoothly received radio waves. As you can see in the photo above, we get excellent reception from Vodafone at our desk, unless our fingers are wrapped around it in the manner of someone making a phone call.

We're not going to pretend we're au fait with the technical details of radio engineering, but we know a man who is: Rupert Goodwins, editor of ZDNet UK and one-time CNET UK Podcast regular. Rupert's written a fascinating analysis of the iPhone 4's aerial issues -- without even having seen the thing -- and he's been proven absolutely right. What a legend.

We strongly recommend you go and read it right now, but here's a taster of the beautifully worded explanation: "[The aerial design] would be fine... except for one design component. The user. Users have hands and hands are made of flesh, which to a radio wave looks like a big bag of conductive saline solution. As submariners know, if you surround an antenna with a large lump of salty water, it stops working: it's shielded from the outside again, and its electrical length will change dramatically."

If you're lucky enough to have an iPhone 4, let us know in comments if this has been an issue for you.

Update: We've now posted our full, in-depth, precisely scored Apple iPhone 4 review. Flora had this to say about the antenna: "The drop in signal strength only seemed to occur when we held the phone in our left hand, with the bottom of our palm slightly covering the bottom-left corner of the phone. Holding the phone in our right hand, or along the top, didn't seem to affect reception. We lost one bar just by pressing a fingertip against the seam that's on the bottom-left corner, so perhaps this is where the trouble lies." Read the full review for more.