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Consumer Reports says it cannot recommend the iPhone 4 until Apple issues a free fix for its antenna problem. ((Kiichiro Sata/Associated Press))

The bad news continues to pile on Apple as Consumer Reports, an influential technology website and magazine, has given the iPhone 4 a thumbs-down.

The website said Monday it could not recommend the iPhone 4, released in several countries in June, because of its antenna issues, which cause reception failures when a user holds the device in a certain way.

"Consumer Reports' engineers have just completed testing the iPhone 4, and have confirmed that there is a problem with its reception," the site said in its assessment. 

"When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower left side — an easy thing, especially for lefties — the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal. Due to this problem, we can't recommend the iPhone 4."

Apple acknowledged the problem shortly after the phone's release. At first, the company told users to avoid holding the device in a certain way, or advised them to buy a protective case for it. The company then said the issue was largely the result of a software problem that stemmed back to the original iPhone, released in 2007, that displayed signal strength incorrectly. Apple said it would soon issue a software update to correct that issue.

Consumer Reports said it tested three iPhone 4 devices and several other AT&T phones, including an older iPhone 3GS as well as the Palm Pre. None of the other phones had issues, the site said.

'Optical illusion'?

"Our findings call into question the recent claim by Apple that the iPhone 4's signal-strength issues were largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software that 'mistakenly displays two more bars than it should for a given signal strength,'" the site said. "The tests also indicate that AT&T's network might not be the primary suspect in the iPhone 4's much-reported signal woes."

The site said iPhone 4 owners could avoid signal problems by covering the affected area with a piece of tape, or by buying a cover for the phone. The device also scored high points for its sharp display, high-quality video camera and long battery life. Still, Consumer Reports said it could not recommend buying the iPhone 4 until Apple comes up "with a permanent — and free — fix for the antenna problem."

All three of Canada's major cellphone providers — Bell, Rogers and Telus — have said they will carry the iPhone 4, but none have specified a release date yet.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Consumer Reports assessment came on the same day that a U.S federal judge gave the green light to a class-action lawsuit against Apple and AT&T. The lawsuit claims that an exclusive agreement between the two companies hurt competition and drove up prices. Apple has denied the allegations.