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iPhone 4 Seems to Connect Faster, With One Troubling Flaw

A new antenna design helped the iPhone 4 achieve higher speeds in our tests, as long as we held the handset correctly.

By Mark Sullivan, PC World
June 25, 2010 01:52 PM ET

PC World - When the new iPhone was announced, Apple CEO Steve Jobs crowed about a new antenna design that would improve wireless reception by making the metal band forming the outside edges of the phone part of the antenna. Wireless antennas are typically built on the inside of phones.

To find out if this innovation really makes the iPhone 4 connect better and faster than previous models, I took the new phone and its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS, for a mini-tour around San Francisco, measuring and comparing the network connection speeds and voice-call quality of the two phones. I tested the phones at the same locations at the same times over the same AT&T network; the only difference was the 3G radios and the antennas in the devices.

Though my tests were informal and my results were far from definitive, the results left me with the impression that the iPhone 4's antenna design has some very positive effects on the phone's network performance.

And one really negative one.

Better Connection Speeds

I found that, in most parts of the city, the iPhone 4 did indeed connect at faster speeds to the AT&T 3G network (which has been upgraded with HSPA 7.2 technology) than the iPhone 3GS did. The iPhone 4 showed an average download speed of 1958 kilobits per second--almost 2 megabits per second--across my five testing locations in the city, while the iPhone 3GS averaged only 1522 kbps, or roughly 1.5 mbps.

The iPhone 4's best download speed of the day was 4 mbps--well within the range of speeds promised by next-generation 4G networks, and enough speed for lightning-fast Web browsing and high-quality video streaming. The iPhone 3GS had a top speed of 2690 kbps (roughly 2.7 mbps).

The new antenna may have had an even greater positive effect on upload speeds. The iPhone 4 registered an average upload speed of 434 kbps, fast enough to support basic file sharing but not swift enough to make fat-pipe apps such as multiplayer gaming or videoconferencing run well. Meanwhile, the iPhone 3GS showed average upload speeds of just 138 kbps across five testing locations.

However, the iPhone 4 seemed to have a lot of trouble establishing a fast connection at my testing location in the center of San Francisco's Financial District, and the new antenna didn't seem to help. After several connection attempts from the sidewalk on Market Street--amid lines of tall buildings on both sides--the best download speed the iPhone 4 could muster was 480 kbps. The iPhone 3GS, meanwhile, managed a download speed of 520 kbps.

Better Voice Quality

Bad-sounding and dropped voice calls from the iPhone on the AT&T 3G network have long been the bane of iPhone users here in San Francisco. But in this respect, too, the iPhone 4's new antenna seemed to improve the experience considerably.

I was surprised to find that in all the test calls I made with iPhone 4, not one call dropped, and on none of the calls did I hear any noticeable jitter, delay, or static. I was left with the impression that the iPhone 4's 3G radio and redesigned antenna were combining to create a stronger handshake between the phone and the network. AT&T's upgrade to the faster HSPA 7.2 technology in its cell sites probably helped, too.

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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