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GSM Cell Phone Reception Quality? 68

Posted by Cliff
from the can-you-hear-me-now dept.
A not-so-anonymous reader asks: "I am about to buy a new cell phone and my primary focus is on good reception quality, as I have bad network coverage at home. I made some tests using some phones I have access to and got a subjective rating of T610 < K500i < 6520 < V600i, where T610 means 'nearly no service' and V600i gives 'service even in the wine cellar'. Googling around did not give any useful hints. Has anyone compared the reception quality of current GSM phones via simple locations testing, or better yet with commercial GSM testing equipment?"
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GSM Cell Phone Reception Quality?

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  • Forum (Score:5, Informative)

    by non-poster (529123) on Friday May 12, 2006 @05:54PM (#15321681)
    Go to Howard Forums [howardforums.com] and search/re-post your question. I'm pretty sure it's been discussed a quadrillion times.
  • SE z520a (Score:3, Informative)

    by brettlbecker (596407) on Friday May 12, 2006 @05:54PM (#15321684) Homepage
    I've had nothing but clear calls and good reception from my 2-months-old Sony Ericsson z520a. Pretty cheap, too, plus it's a quad-band world phone. By far the best phone I've ever had in terms of reception, voice quality, battery life, and general, all-around easy-to-use-ness in a small, palm-friendly clamshell.

    B
    • RTFQ (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816) on Friday May 12, 2006 @06:20PM (#15321857) Homepage Journal
      The dude asks for objective test results, and you give him the usual subjective anecdotes. I too have a Z520A, and I too get good reception. But is it because it's a GSM phone? Or is it because I happen to be in an area that's well served by Cingular?
  • Lots of factors (Score:3, Informative)

    by DrDitto (962751) on Friday May 12, 2006 @05:56PM (#15321699)
    There are a lot of factors that determine reception.

    I'm more familiar with CDMA, but both the noise floor and the signal strength determined reception quality. The noise floor is more of a factor w/ CDMA than GSM.

    And different phones use different algorithms for computing "the number of bars", so definitely don't use that to compare phones.

    • Re:Lots of factors (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Friday May 12, 2006 @06:07PM (#15321780)
      And different phones use different algorithms for computing "the number of bars", so definitely don't use that to compare phones.

      And you can't even use it as a guide on an individual phone - I've lost connection on phones when the signal strength showed medium or above - just boom, signal gone.

      Cellphones suck, and they don't seem to be working on improving call quality - just adding stupid features. Who the hell needs an 8 megapixel camera on their cellphone?!
      • they don't seem to be working on improving call quality - just adding stupid features.

        I disagree.

        The latest free phone I got from Verizon has three "extra" features: speakerphone, flashlight, and three built in games. My understanding was that Verizon's whole business model was that phones were crippled but could download expensive shit. This phone can't download anything. It's great.

        Every phone I've purchased has had better reception than the one before it, aside from when I've accidentally downgraded prov

        • "Newer software on your phone will frequently improve reception, sometimes just because the new software is aware of more towers. So purchasing the same phone from the same provider at a later date can get you better reception." Unfortunately that's wrong. The towers are not hard coded into the phone and a software fix cannot fundementally alter the reception. However your are probably referring to different version of the same phone which do change the hardware and software in the phone.
          • "...So purchasing the same phone from the same provider at a later date can get you better reception." "Unfortunately that's wrong." Actually, under certain circumstances, it's possible. GSM phones carry a list of providers, ranked generally according to how much they'll charge your provider if you make a call on their network. It's possible for a provider to be blocked completely, or ranked low enough that your phone will talk to a cheaper tower with a poorer signal. But this information can get outdat
            • Well, you can manually select the roaming provider on GSM phones, at least here in ye olde Europe, don't know if they have crippled that feature over there...
            • Actually, on a GSM phone, that data is pulled from the network on a regular interval or when the phone is powered on. With a CDMA network, it has to be downloaded to the phone manually (*228 on VZW).

              I've found that I had much better performance with CDMA than GSM. My history of cellular history is Analog (Airtouch), TDMA (CellularOne), PCS-CDMA (Sprint) GSM-CDMA (T-Mobile), CDMA (Verizon), and GSM (Cingular). Of all, the best performance with Verizon wherever I've gone. Of the various phones I've used,
            • GSM phones carry a list of providers, ranked generally according to how much they'll charge your provider if you make a call on their network.

              That's exactly what I was talking about. Where I live, some providers couldn't work anything out for a while, so some phones wouldn't use some towers at all. Sure, the phone got new information about which towers it had access to, but it didn't get information about which networks it was allowed to connect to.

              I'm sure I could have manually updated my phone, but that w

      • That's the main reason that this question is somewhat flawed. Newer software on your phone will frequently improve reception, sometimes just because the new software is aware of more towers. So purchasing the same phone from the same provider at a later date can get you better reception.

        The PRL (preferred roaming list) can be reprogrammed on all cellphones. The list of towers are not hard-coded into the software.
      • Re:Lots of factors (Score:4, Informative)

        by slashdot_commentator (444053) on Friday May 12, 2006 @07:58PM (#15322515) Journal
        If you're going to have a camera on a phone, it SHOULD be an 8 megapixel camera. It makes your camera a 2-in-1 device (no need to bring/own a fancy shmancy camera). Real handy if you're a insurance claims adjuster, contractor, Al-Queda terrorist, or live in NYC and like to risk your life photographing murders or police brutality.

        I, on the other hand, am quite DISPLEASED that they put a crappy camera on my Treo 600. If I go to court, or certain gov't buildings, they take it away from me.
        • Re:Lots of factors (Score:4, Informative)

          by ottothecow (600101) <ottothecow@gmaQUOTEil.com minus punct> on Saturday May 13, 2006 @05:23PM (#15326427) Homepage
          Why can't they give me a good phone without a camera.

          I really like my black razr that came free after rebate. It's not got the feature set of a smartphone, its internet is slow and useless but as a phone it is great. It is thin but it is actually quite large which makes it nice to talk on, the messaging and voice features do everything I want (after a firmware update to allow multi-letter searches) but that damn camera just sits there. If I do try to use it, it takes such bad pictures that it is useless. When I look at the live disply trying to set up the picture, it doesnt look THAT bad for a camera but when I actually take the picture, I get this ugly thing with wierd interference patterns. Completely useless for any of the arguments they make for cameraphones (like hit and run license plate gathering).

          This completely useless and poor feature means my phone cant be with me in certain places but if I want something without the camera, my only options are old phones or new cheaply built poorly featured phones.

          I don't really want an 8mp camera on my phone either. What matters more is the quality of the optics and even on the slim cameras with good optics (like the newer canon SDXXX series), the optics take up a lot of space. The smallest camera I have access to (friends with SD450s off of slickdeals)takes good pictures for its size but is larger and heavier than my phone and gets nowhere near the battery life when in use.

          • 1) RAZRs suck. Hard. They look nice, but the software's appalling: and I mean just in general use as a phone. Ugh. Crappy synch, horrendous UI, stupid menus.
            2) Your RAZR's large? The *only* thing it has going for it is the small size and shirt-pocketability.
            3) The camera adds approximately 1/10th of a metric bugger-all to the dimensions of your phone. If it's got interference and banding on the image, it's faulty. Most RAZRs don't do this. If you don't like being restricted on where you take it, po
      • The people who make the phones are typically not the same people as those who control call quality (which I guess is related to density/power of base stations). Why should they not add features when it's the operators problem to sort out reception issues?
      • It's not the phone dropping the call - it's the network.
        Each GSM cell phone tower can only handle a finite number of calls. Any more than that and you'll either fail to dial a call, or if you're handing over from one cell to another (and remember, GSM cells are quite small on some networks dependant on frequency) then you'll drop the call.
        The GSM specs are even bright enough to force dropped calls if a user is in a cell that's full to capacity, and someone dials an emergency number - in this case it'll d
  • T-mobile is the carrier. Now think, phone model is not the only consideration! As an aside, you should be able to compare the performace of the phone by doing a quick Google search on a few key factors such as: Max mW output, antenna dB rating, receiver sensitivity, etc.
  • I live in an area with bad reception from nearly all cell carriers. I switched from sprint to att after a friend's phone (a Siemens GSM phone) seemed to work much better at my house. So, my first ATT phone was a NEC 520, but I could hardly keep a call for more than 5 minutes. Eventually, I upgraded to a RAZR V3, and my reception has vastly improved. So, yes, there are huge differences in handset reception, but I haven't seen any qualitative comparisons between handsets.
  • You seem to be looking at phones in the 900/1800/1900 frequency range. Great for other parts of the world, but only 1 of those frequencies (1900 works in North America). You should look into a quadband or other triband phones that include the 850mhz range. Most mobile carriers in the US only sell these types of phones due to quality issues.
    • *IF* you end up with one of these non "North American" you can use it effectivly with T-Mobile. They are 1900 MHz only throughout the US. I had to use them to use my XDA 2 in the US.
  • I have T-Mobile. The T stands for tenuous, but when I'm
    near a tower the voice quality is excellent.

    Trying to determine the best phone is just about impossible
    however, because of the variations in the phones themselves.
    Sad to say, but after the "bag phones" each generation after
    got a little worse in terms of build quality. I have a V66
    from Motorola, which I've dived into a couple of times now,
    to tweak things and make it more reliable. My wife's V66
    was never as sensitive as mine, such that in null spots I
    c
  • by jodonoghue (143006) on Friday May 12, 2006 @06:35PM (#15321944) Homepage Journal
    I assume that you're in the United States.

    A few simple rules of thumb should see you clear:

    1) You should try to get a phone which supports the 850 band, as this gives far better in-building coverage than 1900.
    2) The network you choose probably makes more difference than the phone you choose. Choose the network with the best coverage in your area, if you're in a poor service location.
    3) There's not that much difference between the sensitivity of different GSM phones - they all have to meet the same RF specifications, and few beat them by very much. However, an external (stubby) antenna, while possibly causing an unsightly bulge in your trousers, will probably give silghtly better reception in practice than one with an internal patch antenna, if only because you won't get the attenuation from your hand while you're holding it.
    4) Please, please don't use the signal strength meter as a guide. A true story: some years back I was working for a manufacturer whose new phone was slated by a magazine for "poor sensitivity". We tested the review phone when it came back and it was working very well. We loaded some new software which showed full signal strength for a relatively poor signal (about -97dBm, IIRC), and sent it (exactly the same phone) back. In the next issue the magazine printed a note to say that they had since tested a new sample of our phone which was much more sensitive...
    5) If you're really still looking at marginal differences, Motorola phones often have slightly better sensitivity than average in the 1900MHz band. Alternatively (may not be what you're looking for as UMTS, not GSM), phones with the Qualcomm chipsets can be tuned to turn in very good performance. I have an LG U880 which pulls a signal when most others fail. I must admit an interest here, as a Qualcomm employee, but our GSM/GPRS implementation really is among the best around.
    • Granted the 850 band is a big factor in building penetration, however another significant factor is simply the level of coverage in a given area. For example, T-Mobile quantifies their coverage as Fair, Good, and Great. Typically the only difference between good and great may be data transfer speeds, especially with EDGE compatible devices. However in a Fair coverage area, they do not guaranty any signal inside a building, residential or otherwise, and they put that into your contract (always read the fine
    • I find the difference in reception quality between my old Sony and my new Nokia, quite big. I work in an official no RFI zone, in my country one of the few places with very poor reception (GSM). The Nokia does not give these "Under water sounds" that the Sony gives when they're at almost no signal. (same location same provider, only different phone) They both sometimes drop the entire conversation, if I move while on the phone, so the actual ability to receive the signal probably is about the same.
    • by riflemann (190895) <{ten.iitcac.bb} {ta} {nnamelfir}> on Saturday May 13, 2006 @04:06AM (#15323916)
      I assume that you're in the United States.

      *Sigh*. If you bothered to hover your mouse over his "username", you'd have seen the domain is ".de".

      He's in Europe, not the US. Mobile phone topics are totally different, especialy when it comes to providers. Please take at least a fraction of a second to find out something about the submitter.

      (Yeah yeah slashdot, it's post-before-read-etc.) //gripe
    • 3) There's not that much difference between the sensitivity of different GSM phones - they all have to meet the same RF specifications, and few beat them by very much. However, an external (stubby) antenna, while possibly causing an unsightly bulge in your trousers, will probably give silghtly better reception in practice than one with an internal patch antenna, if only because you won't get the attenuation from your hand while you're holding it.

      I doubt that. I have an old (yeah... very old) Motorola 7089,

      • perhaps the better reception is because your phone's old enough to do it through brute force and a higher wattage. there's a lot of concern over mobile phone radiation and so handsets now tend to be lower in wattage and more significantly have shaped antennae so they don't radiate towards your head. these two factors tend to have a slightly negative effect on signal strength, particularly now that stubby antennae are unfashionable.
    • -97 dBm is a "relatively poor signal"?

      I've got analog FM receivers here that will receive at 12 dB SINAD at -125 dBm!

      If -97 dBm is poor quality on cell phones, no wonder they suck.
  • If you want good reception just get a sheet of aluminum foil and hold it up next to the phone. It works.
  • Don't know about the middle two, but I've owned a T610, V600i and K750i (I'm assuming you mean a Sony Ericsson V600i here). I'd say (for GSM reception) T610 K750 V600. The new K800 (combined features of V600/K750) looks amazing though, if you can wait and afford it...

    The V600i has the best reception by a long way, and is also a world phone - it'll even work in Japan. It will use a 3G network where one is available, which gives it far superior quality than the GSM handsets. I always get very clear receptio
    • W800i. Looks so so (the color is not everyone's taste), but works very well. Has some minor SW flaws (when you listen to ringtones they are very low, but they are loud enough when the phone actually rings), but otherwise is really nice. And the 2MPixel camera lacks a zoom (I don't know of any phone that has a zoom :-) but is otherwise of good quality.

      I've had a 610, 630, 750, and the 800 is the nicest one, has the best camera by far, nice menu, good display (quite a good resolution) and has the best quality
      • Indeed! the W800i is a K750i (identical hardware/interchangeable parts) with better walkman software, better headphones and a bigger stick and a white case. The W810i is nearly the same phone as the W800i with a slightly different button arrangement and a (IMHO nicer) black case.

        The W800i costs a bit more usually, but if you want to spend more, get the W800 over the K750 every time! (You can also flash the W800i firmware onto a K750i and get a W800i, but the memory stick+headphones are worth more than the p
  • by thedave (79572) on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:30PM (#15322937)
    I normally don't participate in these discussions, because some Radio Engineer will tell you about dB and wattage, and yet another guy will talk to sound quality with the golden ear of an orchestra conductor.

    I on the other hand have the leaden ear of an engineer and the engineering skills of an orchestra conductor. But, I use cell phones a lot. I use my phone around 3500 prime time minutes a month, and I don't have any idea how many non-prime I use. I charge my phone nightly, and it usually needs it. I send over 1000 text messages a month. And, all I care about is how well they work. I don't care about the camera, I don't care about the video games, and I don't care about the lifestyle accessories.

    All cellular systems suffer from the flaw that structure, geography and EM interference separate you from their network. That aside, you then look at the robustness of the protocols, the length of talk time, how well they work in noisy environments, what they make your voice sound like on the other end, whether or not you can hear the ring tone, how easy is it to place a call, how easy is it to add a number to the address book.

    The really important thing to ask is how well does a given phone and network perform in the places where I need to use it? For me, it's the office, my house, my car and in large international cities. I need a reasonably up to date phone that supports all the network features.

    Given these criteria, a GSM world phone is the only phone for me.

    The most trying environments for my phone seems to be switching cells in rush hour traffic, my brother's house and a 150 yard stretch between my San Francisco apartment and I-80.

    That said, I have settled on T-Mobile, because with them I get the talk time and text message count I need, and their international support is very good (after all my first T-mobile account was in the UK).

    Now, onto the question asked. Assuming GSM and T-mobile, my history has led me to the Nokia 6230i.

    I have used Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony within these parameters and my conclusions are as follow:

    • Motorola - Motorola makes by far the best radio. Motorola definitely has two lines of phone: the toy phone, and the serious phone. The toy phones are flimsy pieces of crap. But, their serious phones are rugged workhorses. If all you care about it making calls, they are the best phone out there. Especially their phones with external antennas. The sound quality in noisy environments is good, and the sound quality in quiet environments is excellent. The battery life is good, and their displays are easy to read. But, the displays typically don't tell you much. And the menus and contact management features are almost useless.
    • Nokia - They are my preferred phone brand. Don't mess with their low end consumer models, and be prepared to shell out the cash from an unlocked phone. But, most of their phones in the 6200, 8000 and 9000 lines are exceptional communication devices. They place and receive calls intuitively. They seem to roam through crowded cells very well. The menu system is designed for a phone not a PDA. The contact management and synchronization tools for windows are pretty good. The sound quality in noisy environments is fair, but reliable. Their sound reproduction in quiet environments is excellent. And, their support is excellent.
    • Samsung - Of all the brands, I have the least experience with Samsung. I had one as a temporary replacement while I was on vacation. It was small, light and pretty. It received the few calls I needed without any problems, but I did not place many calls. Under normal conditions I had no problems with sound quality, and had no dropped calls. But, again, conditions for that phone were almost ideal. My impression was that it would not have the staying power to survive my usage. But, I have friends who contradict me on this.
    • Sony - The undisputed king of consumer electronics makes terrible pho
    • I,ve only used Nokia and SonyEricsson, but my experience exactlymatches yours.
      The Nokia just works, and keeps having a clear signal up to the maximum range (no "under water noise")
      The Sony also sometimes failed to ring, had much poorer sound when the signal became less, and a much les understandable interface, but it was also a lot cheaper.

      I realy like my new Nokia N70, but also had other ones in the past that performed fine.

      I don't like Siemens either, but have little experience with them.
    • Honestly, is the mobilphone stoftware stable?

      I have so far owned Siemens, Nokia and Motorola.

      I hate to admit that the Nokia phones seemed to be the stablest ones: no hangups, excellent battery. But rumors out there say that there are plenty of SMS and MMS exploits out there in the wild for Nokia. And I don't like the menu system.

      Both Siemens M35i and Motorola V220 tend to lock up and lose 80% of their battery capacity after about 1.5 years.

      The antenna sensitivity seemed to be equal to all phones. Bu
      • I find that regardless of vendor, battery performance really starts to drop around 400 charges (1.5 years by my standards).

        But, I have the same problems with my laptops.

        The only Nokia I've had software issues with was the 6600. It was less stable than Windows 95. I'd frequently get into the mode where it would refuse to hangup a call. I've got one on my desk right now that gets the error "Illegal Function call. Unable to start screensaver."

        Running GPRS over bluetooth really seems to give them fits. Not

  • I haven't used the other phones on your list, but I can weigh in on the T610 and the K300 (similar to the K500, but lesser gooda).

    The T610 has great sound quality, is very well shielded (there is NO interference from the phone with my computer speakers), and the built-in software has a lot of little features to play with. The battery lasts for days (I use about 3 hours per day on this phone). I use bluetooth to get information between the phone and my T|X pretty frequently too.

    On the dark side, the receptio
    • I still happen to have an old t39m around with 2 good batteries, which I use mostly.. its simple, esp. to todays standards, but it does bluetooth and gprs, has a very good sound quality and receiption..

      Almost a year ago, I got a free k300 from my provider (simlock free even), and didn't expect much of it. While as you say it doesn't seem overly sturdy, I was happily surprised by its sound quality and user interface. Its reception however is inferior to that of my old t39m, or so it seems from the number of
    • How can a mobile phone be better shielded? Don't understand - I thought the signal from the mobile network is causing interference with loudspeakers, not the shielding of the internal electronics of the phone.
  • As the subject says, have you tried a Nokia 6010 yet? It's a very basic phone, but it has stellar RF performance and very good battery life. It's also quite durable.

    It's also free from most providers, or can be had for $50 or less elsewhere. If you're looking to just try it out, hunt down a T-Mobile ToGo Nokia 6010 Starter Kit. This is T-Mobile's prepaid service, but the phone is the same as what you'd get on a postpaid account. Being that it's in a prepaid kit, you can usually return it to the store with

  • get a cell phone repeater. $500 or so, maybe.
  • A couple of notes, before going over to Steve Punter's Cell Phone Page [arcx.com] where reviews are for serious phones, and thorough.
    • the two bands that matter in the U S of A are 850 and 1900 for Cingular, while T-Mobile has only 1900 (weird regulations), and almos everywhere else in the world GSM is the main cellphone system with 900 and 1800 bands.
    • phones do have quite different signal reception qualities. In my personal experience a Motorola P280 still remains possibly the best and a Sony Ericsson t68 probably the
  • noone's mentioned the Motorla V330. Waay more reliable than the V300, a decent camera, if it does take a long time to register the picture saves. I had no dropped calls, awesome reception everywhere but on the local mountain (cingular phones had reception up there, not my T-Mobile) and decent media features. I wouldn't recommend using the AIM client on it, it has some issues with 100+-member buddy lists.

    But I lost that phone and upgraded to a T-Mobile (HTC) SDA (Hurricane) smartphone. Aside from the fac
  • I just wish you could get REAL specs - Sensitivity, S/N ratio, selectivity, image rejection, Audio Power - all the full specs that a REAL 2 way radio would give you - lets face it, that's what a cell phone IS

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