Curious Claims in NYT Review of Verizon iPhone

David Pogue slips up in his review of the Verizon iPhone, noting that the antenna redesign doesn't do anything to fix the infamous iPhone "Death Grip" issue, despite the fact that he actually couldn't reproduce this issue at all. So how does he know that?

Paul Thurrott

February 3, 2011

5 Min Read
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I've often wondered about NYT tech columnist David Pogue. Every time the guy writes something about an Apple product, I cringe at the inaccuracies and fanboy-like product promotion, because, well, it's in the "paper of record." Normal people read this publication, and they don't know any better.

In todays's review of the Verizon iPhone, Pogue makes an interesting couple of claims. Please read this bit carefully and see if you can spot the problem.

Contrary to blogger belief, the [antenna] redesign doesn’t help with the famous Death Grip issue, in which holding the phone in a certain way makes your signal bars drop. Then again, the problem emerges only when you’re in a very weak signal area, so you’ll see it less often on Verizon. I couldn't reproduce it at all.

So, according to Pogue:

  • Apple redesigned the iPhone 4's known-faulty external antenna for the Verizon version, which is true. You can see it's been redesigned, both internally and externally. This has been widely reported.

  • Pogue states that the redesign doesn't help alleviate the famous "Death Grip" issue (i.e. attenuation) that was caused by Apple putting the antenna on the outside of the device.

  • Pogue states that you will experience this Death Grip issue less often on Verizon, because it only happens in areas where there is a very weak signal and Verizon, generally speaking, has fewer of these areas than does AT&T.

  • Pogue did not experience the Death Grip issue on the Verizon iPhone "at all," suggesting he tried to make it happen.

I have a question. If Pogue couldn't reproduce this issue on the Verizon iPhone "at all," i.e. not even once, then how could he possibly know that the redesigned antenna doesn't alleviate the problem? If anything, Pogue's testing suggests that the redesign does fix this issue.

Here's the thing. Apple has refused to admit that its faulty antenna design is a problem, compared with other phones, despite the fact that it is very clearly a problem. And when reporters pointed out the new design of the external antenna to Apple at the Verizon launch event, the company claimed that the redesign had nothing to do with the Death Grip issue, which again, it never admitted was a design flaw but was rather a common issue with many phones. After all, you don't want any uncomfortable class action lawsuits popping up. Job One is to not admit to the problem. Stay the course.

But Pogue can't reproduce this issue and can yet state with certainty--as a fact--that the redesign wasn't done to address this issue. (He also throws in a typical Pogue slam against the "bloggers," i.e. the unwashed masses who do a better job of reporting the truth these days. This is another constant in his writing. He often refers to people who don't parrot Apple's line as "haters".)

So where did he get this information from exactly?

Did he get it from Apple, and then just regurgitate uncredited to readers?

Maybe. How could I know? But do read that quoted passage a few times. Let the illogical nature of it sink in.

Possible responses: The explanation was edited out because of space issues. He addresses this in his inevitable video review, complete with high school-quality costuming and premise. He blogs about it separately. I try to limit my exposure to Pogue, but I will look.

And by the way, while we're on the subject, I'd like to also point out that Pogue (like others, see below) also claims that the move from AT&T to Verizon has suddenly and magically allowed the iPhone 4 to not drop calls. In other words, the iPhone's dropped calls problem was always AT&T's fault. (The article is titled "Verizon’s iPhone Doesn’t Drop Calls" after all.) This, too, parrots Apple's (un)official line, that the phone call issues were never it's fault.

But in my own several-months-long experience (from July 2010 on)--including while in Manhattan, by the way--I've only dropped one call during nationwide travel using AT&T ... but with a Windows Phone. When I was using my iPhones (and I've owned four of them), I dropped calls regularly. It was a sad joke between my wife and I because every time I called home there was an invisible countdown heading towards the drop. But now I would never leave AT&T. My call quality and reliability is excellent. All I had to do was stopping using the iPhone.

No, my experience doesn't "prove" the call dropping was Apple's fault. But it does suggest that it was at least partially Apple's fault. You know, objectively speaking.

PS: Walter Mossberg, another guy I'm unsure of, also says that the Verizon version of the iPhone 4 has a better success record with phone calls than does the AT&T version. But Walter at least has the smarts to qualify it: These calls were more reliable "at least in the areas where [he] was using it," and he makes no claims about the antenna redesign at all. In fact, the word "antenna" doesn't appear in his review even once. In this case, simply ignoring the iPhone 4's biggest issue is, curiously, a better tactic.. Hm.

PPS: USA Today's Ed Baig does briefly mention the antenna redesign in his own review. And his disclaimer is the most credible of all: "It's impossible to judge network quality based on a relatively short testing period and in a confined, albeit major, geographic market.." Exactly so, Ed. Exactly so.

About the Author(s)

Paul Thurrott

Paul Thurrott is senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro. He writes the SuperSite for Windows, a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE, and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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