I first grasped this disparity when my wife, Abbe, and I bought seemingly identical 3G iPhones three years back. Both units worked equally well at home on wi-fi. But when we were moving around in the real world, connecting on the "nation's most reviled 3G network," her phone was always first to bring up a website we were both racing to visit. And there were some locations where she enjoyed reception and I, standing two feet away, couldn't make or take a call.
DEJA VU (ALL OVER AGAIN): This situation cropped up recently after we each brought home an identical new iPhone 4S. Only this time, the shoe was on the other foot.
My new communicator operated as expected, with that "just OK" call fidelity we all tolerate, but otherwise chock-full of fun.
Every time I called Abbe on her iPhone 4S, though, I'd hear an echo of my voice repeating what I'd just said. Didn't matter if I was making the call on a landline or a mobile, if she was in the car or walking.
Through user forums, I found other iPhone 4S owners grousing about echo problems. Some concluded their problem was connected to the plugged-in Apple earphones/microphone, which we weren't using!
Also spotted were complaints from users initiating calls that couldn't be heard on the other end or were plagued with static.
MUM'S THE WORD: The logical conclusion here is that Apple isn't doing enough quality-control testing as new iPhones are flying off the line. QC costs money and slows down production. And if some poor factory worker was to discover that an inspected phone wasn't up to spec due to corrupted software, a faulty resistor or a run of bad microphones, then duty might require that the line be shut down.
So, to a degree, Apple leaves the quality-control chore to product buyers to do on our own time and dime. Gee, you have a problem with that phone? Wow. Who'd have thunk!
Judging from my experience, some customers simply tolerate flaws, just as new car buyers do with spongy brakes or clunky transmissions. Or they blame their service provider - a much easier target of wrath, especially if you're an Apple fanboy.
APPLE POLISHING: To their credit, the young men and women tending the Apple store Genius Bar are universally pleasant about taking back faulty goods. They're also more generous with information than Apple PR.
Our initial Genius contact asked first if we'd tried "wiping" the errant phone's memory and rebooting. We had. After repeating the process to no avail, he went online to HQ, furrowed his brow, then declared that there was, in fact, "an echo issue" with some new iPhones.
I pressed him and was told Abbe's phone had an "imbalance in the settings of the two onboard microphones." The little one on top is supposed to hear and cancel out unwanted noise, anything that's not your voice blasting into the lower mike. If the mikes haven't been adjusted precisely, feedback problems result.
Apple stores carry a separate inventory of replacement phones for fast swap-outs. On the day of our visit, the store had run through its allotment. Five days later, another kind and patient Genius welcomed us back and pulled out Abbe's replacement phone. But this Apple rep didn't like an odd speck of white goop she spotted inside the multi-pin connector. So she set us up with a third phone, which so far has functioned as expected.
Except, that is, for the short run-time we've experienced with the phone batteries not meeting the specified 200 hours of standby time. Apple has released a statement that it will address this issue in the next operating-system upgrade.
ASSAULT AND BATTERY: I have theories for the battery bleeding. Start with too many operations always on, awaiting your next move. Like the cool way just lifting the iPhone 4S to your ear automatically activates the Siri personal assistant.
Shutting down Siri, as well as "pinging" location features, Bluetooth and WiFi, lengthens battery run time, shared the Geniuses.
And don't forget to double click on the iPhone's home button to see all the "apps" unnecessarily running in the background. Press firmly on one, until the bunch start wiggling, then tap on each to send 'em packing.
Why doesn't this "smart" phone automatically deal with the power drainers? Siri had no answer.
FYI, Consumer Reports has declared the antenna shortcomings of the iPhone 4 to be resolved on the 4S and added the new model to its "recommended" list. CR is still ranking some Android phones higher, including the Samsung Galaxy S II, Motorola Droid Bionic and LG Thrill.