Samsung held a huge launch event for its Galaxy S line of Android handsets in New York City a few weeks ago. During the event, Samsung's media relations staff was sure to take some pot shots at the iPhone 4, and told me, "You can hold the Galaxy S any way you want."
Um, not true.
I have both a Samsung Vibrant and Captivate on hand for testing purposes. In both phones, the internal antenna is apparently located on the back of the phone, towards the very bottom edge. When gripped around the bottom of the phone (with either hand) the signal strength drops almost immediately. The Vibrant went from three bars to zero bars in about five seconds, and the Captivate went from four bars to zero bars in about six seconds. When I let go, the signal returns immediately.
I replicated a similar signal drop with the Microsoft KIN devices a couple of weeks ago. I turned the KIN on, waited for it to connect to Verizon's network and register four bars of service. I then covered it up with both hands. Guess what happened? The signal dropped to two bars.
I don't hear KIN and Samsung Vibrant customers screaming about the "death grip" problem.
What these examples illustrate is how silly and overblown the reaction to the iPhone 4's "death grip" antenna problem really is. Many of the phones I review come with stickers on them. Those stickers often warn users of certain things. One of the stickers I've seen on many phones is one which warns users to avoid touching certain parts of the cell phone in order to not block the antenna. Covering the antenna of just about any cell phone made can result in a drop in signal strength.
Even when the Vibrant and Captivate lost signal strength, neither phone dropped a call, and I was still able to send text messages and surf the mobile web. With the iPhone 4, I never dropped a call or lost a data connection when it was suffering from the "death grip" phenomenon, either.
What's the bottom line here? Cell phones are complicated and complex devices. They have lots of radios (cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS), lots of antennas, and rely on innumerable external factors to work correctly. How far away is the nearest cell tower, is it over a hill, what's standing in the way, are you in a building, are you in an area with overlapping coverage, are you in a moving vehicle, and (yes) how are you holding it? Expecting perfect performance and service 100% of the time is simply not realistic.
I am in no way excusing Apple's behavior and response to this particular issue (so far). I am simply pointing out that Apple isn't the only company on earth to make a phone that experiences signal attenuation when the antenna is obscured.
Hopefully Apple will set everything straight this afternoon so we can all forget about it and move on.
(By the way, Samsung, I have some crow for you to eat.)