HTC Sensation and the Grip of Death

, posted: 21-Jul-2011 09:00

That read a bit like the title of a Harry Potter book. Possibly appropriate given the dark mystery of the so-called "Death Grip" that a certain Steven Jobs has decreed infects every smartphone made, including, presumably, the HTC Sensation. So does it? As a tester, I thought I should leave no philosopher's stone unturned in an attempt to discover the truth.

Explain what's meant by the Death Grip?

In a highly publicised storm of criticism, Apple's current iPhone 4 model was accused of having an antenna design that could be detuned by the simple expedient of having your pinky bridge the gap between one antenna element and an adjacent one. This was make spectacularly easy due to Apple deciding to put the antennas on the outside of the phone for some reason, the resulting detuning causing data connection to fail and voice calls to be dropped. So it is said...

Regardless of your feelings regarding the veracity of that claim, or even of its importance, it's interesting to note that Apple offered free plastic/rubber/something-else-entirely 'bumpers' to prevent such gap bridging, while "protecting the device from damage should it fall". Or something like that.

During that storm of criticism, Apple took to releasing YouTube videos of a myriad (however many that is) of competitor handsets suffering signal loss by being held in the Death Grip. Their point being, presumably, that Apple's antenna woes were no worse than anybody else's.

So there's always a tacit expectation that each new smartphone will exhibit the Death Grip. And lose data connection, or drop calls.

Whither the HTC Sensation then?

Tradition requires that I don't tell you until the very end of the post, in a cunning scheme borrowed from books like the Potter series that leave the reveal until you've read all the bits that authors want you to. (Although it seems to have escaped the authors' attention that you can simply turn to the second to last page and save yourself a lot of reading, therefore foiling their cunning ruse, but I digress).

So I have to go through my methodology prior to revealing the results. Nope, I can't make an exception for you, much as I admire you all. It's a Bloggers Union thing.

You have a methodology? That's new...

In order to demonstrate the Death Grip in the way that it's intended, namely seeing data connections fail and or calls drop, the signal needs to be quite low. Fortunately I know of a truly awful cellular ghetto where I can perform such testing. It's known as my home.

Here, in the wilds of St Heliers, despite the best efforts of Telecom New Zealand and Vodafone, the topographical feature that represents my immediate neighbourhood virulently resists a half decent cell signal. This then makes it ideal for our purposes and at not inconsiderable risk to my health and safety (I suppose), I have completed extensive testing.

Well, what happened?

The Death Grip is kind of based on fact. The human animal is a large bag of salty water mostly, with some solid-ish bits scattered hither and yon. This saline construction isn't particularly helpful to the finely engineered antenna elements that are attempting to extract very high frequency electromagnetic radiation (cell signals) from the ether.

So it's certainly true that putting bits of you between the signal and the antenna is not helping. My testing confirms that in practice.

I compared two phones in the test, the HTC Sensation naturally, and the Galaxy S that I've been using for nine months now. This test didn't actually require two phones, but I thought you might be interested anyway. If I'm wrong, please don't leave a barrow-load of comments refuting that notion. I'll admit now that it was possibly a mistake.

The HTC Sensation

Prior to the Death Grip (Telecom XT): -71dBm (21 asu)

With the Death Grip: -99dBm (7 asu)

A drop of 28dBm

The Samsung Galaxy S

Prior to the Death Grip (Vodafone): -71dBm (21 asu)

With the Death Grip: -91dBm (11 asu)

A drop of 20dBm

Wow. That must've killed reception!

Oddly enough, it didn't. On either phone. But it certainly demonstrated that the saline-saturated filters that are our hands do indeed attenuate cell signals.

So how come the data and voice weren't interrupted given the OMG drops that resulted from my tests? One can only assume that a modern smartphone radio and its firmware are indeed spectacularly sensitive teams. Like Harry, Hermione and Ron. Okay, not really like them.

It seems to take more than the Death Grip to attenuate the signal so much that a call will drop, even in the admittedly signal-poor area where my home is, or the signal has to be so bad that the Death Grip will block practically all signal from reaching the antenna.

Is that it then?

No. I decided to put the Vodafone SIM in the HTC Sensation to see what happened there. The result follows...

The HTC Sensation

Prior to the Death Grip (Vodafone): -69dBm (22 asu)

With the Death Grip: -91dBm (11 asu)

A drop of 22dBm

It's apparent that the Death Grip effect is more pronounced on the HTC Sensation on both networks so the explanation isn't in the network itself. It would seem, to me at least, that the metallic construction of the Sensation is a likely contributor to the greater drop compared to the Galaxy S, which is encased in some kind of plastic.

But at the end of the test, neither phone had data interruption or suffered dropped calls, so the so-called Death Grip doesn't actually exist on these handsets. Which doesn't mean you couldn't build some Faraday cage-like apparatus to block the signals totally. Though why you'd wish to do that escapes me.

Suffice to say that in normal use, the HTC Sensation has a radio set that has sufficient sensitivity to keep you on the air even in signal-poor areas such as around my home.

Conclusion

And for the folk who have jumped straight to the end, Hermione and Hagrid have a baby together.

Coming up on our next exciting episode...

With any luck, the mythical video post will make its appearance. I hope...

About the author:

Andy (ArtooDetoo) may be a relative noob in comparison to his fellow HTC Sensation testers, being merely an "Ultimate Geek" in Geekzone, but it hasn't prevented him from commenting at length on numerous topics and forums, with a prolific presence in the Geekzone 'Android' area.

An advertising creative in his day job, he also possesses a passion for tech stuff - software and hardware - and besides having a number of gadgets to keep him interested, he also has a background in software development.

These attributes should at least give him the kind of analytical slant to temper opinion with reason. He and his fellow Telecom Ambassadors have already been hard at work testing and benchmarking so you'll get all the info without the effort. At least, that's the theory. Judge for yourselves.



Other related posts:
HTC Watch on HTC Sensation in New Zealand
HTC Sensation: The Story So Far
Testing mobile data speeds with HTC Sensation






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Telecom New Zealand
Auckland
New Zealand


Telecom Tech is a different type of blog. We're sponsored by Telecom New Zealand, but most of the posts here are from every day users like you.

We choose tech savvy Geekzone users to "test drive" the new handsets from Telecom New Zealand.

The team will post firsthand reports on using these smartphones on New Zealand's smartphonenetwork. Make sure to keep an eye on this blog. Who knows who might be our next "test drivers"?

   

Catch up on previous Telecom Tech reviews - read about the Nokia Lumia 1020Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung Galaxy Note II, Nokia Lumia 800, Nokia Lumia 710 and HTC Sensation.





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