Back in 2010, “You’re holding it wrong” practically became a mantra after Apple’s iPhone 4 proved to have an antenna problem that dramatically limited reception if the device was held in certain ways. Now Samsung reportedly has a similar and serious problem with the Galaxy Tab 5e. The timing couldn’t be worse, given that the firm is still working out the problems with its nearly launched Galaxy Fold.
If you hold the device in landscape mode with the selfie camera facing left, your hand apparently blocks the antenna receiver, leading to a sharp drop in signal strength. This can even result in complete Wi-Fi disconnects. Samsung user David Warner confirmed the problem after testing the replacement device the company sent him and discovering it had exactly the same problem:
Not all users are reporting the issue, however, which means it could be caused by a difference between the Wi-Fi only version of the device and the LTE-equipped flavor. LTE versions may not be affected, or not affected to the same degree based on user comments in the Instagram post above.
SamMobile tested the device and found a 50 percent drop in signal strength when the tablet is held in landscape orientation with the camera oriented to the left.
While they were unable to make the device lose strength altogether, a 50 percent signal drop is bad enough to cause an outage if Wi-Fi strength is weak to start with. It’s also possible that routers are impacted based on which wireless bands they’re using; 2.4GHz and 5GHz propagate differently, even if the difference is smaller than the gap between current LTE and 5G devices.
Samsung hasn’t issued a statement yet on this, but the company isn’t going to be able to fix the problem in software. Hardware antenna issues can only be resolved by changing the physical location of the antenna to prevent this kind of problem (or fixing whatever other issue is causing the antenna to malfunction). Nintendo’s left Joycon design had a similar problem at launch; the company eventually resolved it with a hardware-level change and offered to replace Joycons for customers that continued to have issues.
Whether Samsung will recall affected tablets or not is unknown. Given that Apple suffered no lasting harm from telling users that their hands were genetically misconfigured for holding objects they’d paid hundreds of dollars for (as opposed to owning up to the problem and fixing it), Samsung may opt to take no particular action either. It’s much cheaper to tell your customers to rotate the device to the right instead of the left when using it than to recall and fix your own broken hardware. The fact that this problem is arriving so quickly on the heels of the Galaxy Fold issues could raise questions about Samsung’s process for approving products for sale, however. Whatever the company’s internal practices for validating hardware pre-launch, they appear to be letting some mistakes into market.