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My excellent, fun-time, rage-inducing iPhone 4 adventure


As I write this, I have been an iPhone 4 owner for ten days. I've replaced one iPhone 4 so far, and I'm about to send the replacement back, too. You know why? Because both of the iPhone 4 units I've owned have had the same design flaw. No, not that one. No, not that one, either.

A few days after being savvy/lucky enough to score an iPhone 4 during New Zealand's notoriously bungled launch, I noticed a small gap between the rear glass and the stainless steel antenna band. At the iPhone 4's top, near the rear-facing camera, the top couple millimeters of the unit had a gap between the antenna bezel and the rear casing that was large enough to admit all sorts of dust and pocket crud into the iPhone 4's internals. I also noticed an irritating, rhythmic buzzing noise coming from the vicinity of the noise-cancelling mic any time I was on a phone call and had the handset against my ear.

I took the unit in to get it replaced, as most people would do. And so began my excellent, fun-time, rage-inducing iPhone 4 adventure. Click "Read More" to learn about the bafflingly stupid state of affairs that takes place when you need to exchange an iPhone in a country that has no official Apple Stores.

In the US, if you need to exchange an iPhone and have a nearby Apple Store, it's a simple process. You walk into the store with your old and busted iPhone, and assuming the store has stock in the back, ten minutes later you walk out of the store with your (hopefully flawless) new hotness iPhone.

But what if the nearest Apple Store is on the other side of the Tasman Sea? In that case, assuming you bought the iPhone from Vodafone (New Zealand's only official supplier of subsidized iPhones), rather than dealing with Apple directly, you use Vodafone act as a go-between, which means taking the flawed iPhone to a Vodafone store. Vodafone then has to ship the flawed unit to Apple. Apple examines the unit, determines whether to repair or replace it, then sends the repaired/replaced unit back to Vodafone. In all, this process takes five days... during which time you're without a working iPhone.

Now if you're anyone other than me, you only have to go through this process once. You get your replacement iPhone 4 from Vodafone, take it home, find nothing wrong with it, activate it, sync it with iTunes, restore your backup, and go on your merry way.

If you're me, this happens instead: you get your replacement iPhone 4 from Vodafone, take it home, slip it out of its bubble-wrapped envelope, hold it up to the light, and discover that you've won the reverse lottery: your replacement unit has exactly, and I mean exactly the same issues as the one you sent in for replacement. Gap between the rear glass and the steel, in the same spot. Same buzzing from the noise-cancelling mic. It's almost as if Apple shrugged and sent you back the same phone you sent to them... hey, wait a minute! Did they send back the same phone?!

Hey, I'm no engineer, but I know "abnormal" when I see it

As it turns out, no, they didn't send me the same iPhone. The replacement iPhone 4's serial number is almost totally different. The number's so different, in fact, that not only is it clear the replacement isn't from the same batch as the original, it's not even from the same factory. So yes, somehow I really did win the reverse lottery, and out of millions of iPhone 4s streaming from China, I fished out the one unit with the same problems as the first one.

Below is a video that shows the noise I'm hearing during phone calls. Keep in mind, I've had two iPhones from two different factories exhibit this same issue. The first iPhone 4 was even running iOS 4.1 beta 2, while the replacement in the video is running iOS 4.0.

I spent an hour on the phone with Applecare tonight trying to get them to offer me a solution that didn't involve me being without a working iPhone for yet another five-day waiting period. They were happy to ship me a replacement iPhone 4 before sending them my faulty one... until they found out I live in New Zealand and not Australia. In which case, I'm boned: the only solution Apple offers to New Zealand iPhone customers is 1) send in the faulty unit, 2) twiddle your phoneless thumbs for almost a week, 3) cross your fingers and pray for a decent replacement as you open that bubble-wrapped envelope.

By the time I get the second replacement later this week/early next, I'll have owned an iPhone 4 for two weeks, but I'll only have had a working phone in my hand for five days. That's bad enough, but it's worse when you consider that Apple had no problem sending me a replacement MacBook earlier this year well before I sent hem the faulty computer... and a MacBook costs way more than an iPhone! On what flotsam-choked planet does this nonsensical dichotomy make any kind of sense? "Here's your replacement MacBook, send us the old one whenever, it's chill," versus, "Send us the faulty iPhone first. Then and only then will we send you a replacement. This is the only solution available to you. Comply, consumer."

At least I don't live in China; according to the Applecare rep I spoke to, Chinese iPhone customers can't exchange their iPhones at all. Period. In China, you take the iPhone you get, and you like it, citizen. That's small comfort for me as I face another five days of using this... thing... as my link with the world outside my home:


If the second replacement has the same issues as the first two iPhone 4 units I've owned, I'm giving up on the iPhone 4 and getting my money back. I just turned 33; it's way too early for me to have a rage-induced aneurysm because of something this stupid.

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