Late to the party, but coming with the results of extensive testing, Consumer Reports is not recommending the iPhone 4 to US shoppers. The reason, as you have already guessed, is the old “touch here and lose your call” problem that has plagued the phone since it launched.
According to the Consumer Reports release on the matter, they managed to consistently create the problem using a number of different iPhone 4s in their special testing chamber. Even more, they say that:
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 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength.”
Therefore it is neither AT&T’s fault, nor the iPhone’s faulty bar display software, it’s the damn hardware that is to blame. Consumer Reports did test and made sure that if you put tape (or other “thick, non-conductive material”) over that special spot on the iPhone 4, signal strength and call reliability rise dramatically. They also recommended a case.
Even with that fix, the phone out of the box has a serious design flaw, one that makes the phone difficult to use and unreliable. That in mind, the testing gods at CR finally said this:
The signal problem is the reason that we did not cite the iPhone 4 as a “recommended” model, even though its score in our other tests placed it atop the latest Ratings of smart phones that were released today.
If you want an iPhone that works well without a masking-tape fix, we continue to recommend an older model, the 3G S.
That does sum up well the consensus view on the iPhone 4, that it is a wonderful phone with one broken part so obvious that no one understands how it slipped through testing.