The age-old debate of internal versus external antennas came into stark relief for me this last week.
Cingular's coverage on Long Island is bad enough, but where I live is right at the edge of the nearest basestation's reach. On my old company-supplied Motorola v180 with external antenna I got a signal sufficient to at least receive a call (and then I'd switch to a landline). That phone died last week and I got a Samsung SGH X507 as a replacement. It too has an external antenna and the reception is a little better. The voice quality is terrible, but that's a whole other argument. The v180 costs around $100, the SGH-X507 is probably less, though a published price is hard to find.
At the same time as I got the Samsung SGH X507 I was also the happy recipient of a "Nokia E70 all-the-bells-and-whistles phone with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G capability (WCDMA) and memory expansion for MP3 audio. Typical cost is around $299. Needless to say I was pretty excited and quickly swapped over my SIM card from my Samsung phone, but couldn't get a network connection. I went to the local Cingular store, and they got one handily enough. Perplexed, but happy, I was making calls on the way home until I approached my house and noticed the signal strength deteriorate. I looked at the indicator which was by now at the last bar. As I turned into my driveway, that too disappeared and my call dropped. I was officially out of range. The E70 has an internal antenna.
While the arguments for an internal antenna are good ones, including cost, aesthetics and pocket-ability, when push comes to shove I'd swap it all for a decent connection. Being a man on the edge (of a network's reach) I'm back to the Samsung and its barely tolerable audio—but solid connection. It's a real-world example of something we've covered at length both here on this site and across the RF universe. The arguments will of course go on but my mind's made up: All things being equal, external antennas are the way to go. Meanwhile, my fancy E70 gathers dust.