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Wednesday, August 04, 2010, 08:10 am PT (11:10 am ET)

iPhone 4 owners report fewer dropped calls than iPhone 3GS

A new survey of iPhone 4 users has found that owners of Apple's latest handset have experienced fewer dropped calls than those who own an iPhone 3GS, suggesting the real-world impact of the iPhone 4 antenna issue is a non-factor.

ChangeWave Research on Wednesday released the results of a new survey conducted between July 19 and 28 of new iPhone 4 owners. The company waited until a few weeks after the handset launched to allow the impact of the device's antenna controversy to set in.

The survey of 213 new iPhone 4 owners found that users claimed to experience fewer dropped calls than those who own an iPhone 3GS. A June 2010 survey of iPhone 3GS owners found that 6.3 percent had experienced dropped calls. But in July, just 5.2 percent of iPhone 4 owners said they had dropped a call.

"Despite all of the issues surrounding the antenna, in actuality iPhone 4 owners reported experiencing fewer dropped calls on the average than iPhone 3GS owners," said Paul Carton, vice president of research with ChangeWave.

Those numbers are actually different from the data that Apple reported last month at its iPhone 4 press conference. There, Chief Executive Steve Jobs revealed that the iPhone 4 drops slightly more call, at a rate less than one call per 100 greater. Jobs said he believes this is because there were not many cases that fit the new form factor of the iPhone 4 available when the handset launched in June.

Respondents were also very satisfied with Apple's response to the antenna controversy, in which the company will give away free cases to all customers through Sept. 30. Users can select an Apple branded "Bumper" case, or a number of other third-party options.

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The survey found that 35 percent of iPhone 4 owners were "very satisfied" with Apple's response, while 38 percent were "somewhat satisfied." Another 18 percent fell into some degree of "unsatisfied."

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Significant media coverage of "antennagate," however, did have an impact on consumer perception of the iPhone 4, the survey found. Despite the fact that iPhone 4 owners experienced fewer dropped calls, the satisfaction rate for Apple's latest smartphone is slightly less than it was with the iPhone 3GS.

"The iPhone 4 comes close, but isn't quite at that level from what we saw a year ago," Carton said.

He said it's not that surprising, given that the reception issues gained a great deal of attention from the mainstream media. In fact, he said he views it as an accomplishment that the satisfaction ratings stayed high for the iPhone 4 in spite of the bad publicity.

In all, 13 percent of respondents said they were disappointed with their iPhone 4. With iPhone 3GS owners, that number was just 6 percent.

Those surveyed liked the high-resolution Retina Display of the iPhone 4 best, with 49 percent of respondents choosing it as one of three things they liked best. In second was the 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, taking 31 percent, followed in third by the touchscreen interface with 30 percent.

Multitasking came in fifth with 22 percent, and FaceTime video conferencing took ninth with 15 percent. Carton noted that the survey did not include teenagers, and he believes FaceTime may have performed better if a younger group were surveyed.

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As for the most disliked features, tops was the restriction to AT&T's network. And second was the coverage, speed and quality of AT&T's 3G network. Together, close to half of all users had a problem with AT&T in some capacity. That's the same complaint users have had for years with Apple's handset.

The notorious "antennagate" controversy played a part in this category as well, with antenna issues coming in third as the most disliked feature of iPhone 4. A total of 24 percent said the antenna issues were something they disliked — something, Carton said, that was to be expected.

"It would have been astonishing to us to ask about dislikes and not have the antenna issue or have the dropped call issue appear in the grouping," he said.

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