Don’t trust those cell phone bars

Remember this chart? It made the rounds a few years ago when Apple was trying to convince everyone that their iPhone didn’t have antenna issues. It’s a little dated but the problem it displays is still there.

See, cell phone bars are pretty much meaningless. Not only that but they are supposed to represent different things, as you can see by the chart above. It’s possible that one phone can show 5 bars while another phone shows 3, and they both get the same reception.

Not only that, but keep in mind that your cell phone has somewhere between 4 and 8 different radios in it and it’s not always clear what the bars are really measuring. It could be that you have good voice reception but not good data, or vice versa.

Cell phone bars are really intended to give you a basic idea of whether you can make a call or not. They won’t really give you more information than that.

Ask yourself: Are you dropping calls consistently? If not, it’s not worth really worrying about, is it? I you need more information try using your phone’s built-in signal meter to get real dB measurements. If you find that your phone is receiving -85 or higher (like -70, -65, etc.) you should have no problem making calls. If it’s more like -90, -95, or even -100, you might want to consider a cell signal booster.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.