After panning the iPhone 4 because of its much-publicized antenna problems, the non-profit Consumer Reports magazine is giving its successor, the 4S, the thumbs-up. But not as high up as some leading Android devices.
"Apple's newest smart phone performed very well in our tests, and while it closely resembles the iPhone 4 in appearance, it doesn't suffer the reception problem we found in its predecessor in special tests in our labs," the magazine's Mike Gikas wrote Tuesday.
The problems with the iPhone 4 stemmed from its unique steel band design comprised of two antennas. When holding the phone in a way that bridged both antennas calls were interrupted, some users reported, and Consumer Reports found in lab tests. The glitch had little effect on sales, and Apple ultimately addressed the problem by offering, for a time, free cases that covered the bands.
Tests of new samples of the still-available iPhone 4 continue to find the problem, Gikas wrote, and so it is still not recommended by the magazine's researchers.
Does It Matter?
Consumer Reports does more intensive testing of phones and other electronic devices than the more standard "hands-on" user tests done by many technology blogs. But despite that high standard, its recommendations may not have the same cachet among younger technology buffs.
"For an IT vendor, a CR recommendation is like having your mom say she thinks your girlfriend is 'nice,' " said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "While gratifying, it's not the stuff true romance or commercial markets depend on."
Wireless industry analyst Kirk Parsons of JD Power and Associates, which also gives ratings for consumer products, said: "Consumer Reports may hold more sway over other industry findings like auto ratings. I remember they made a big deal on not recommending a specific SUV for failing their roll-over test. In wireless devices, that may be less so influential."
Consumer Reports backed up Apple on the issue of battery life after some users complained about short run times, saying "the 4S did very well in our standard tests of battery life; like the iPhone 4, it scores Very Good overall on that attribute....Apple has said the culprit is 'a few bugs' in its latest mobile operating system, iOS 5, and promised a software update to address the problem later this month."
The magazine will retest both iPhones after the update.
Thrilled with Android
But even with high ratings for the 4S because of its upgraded camera, faster dual-core processor, and "intriguing" Siri voice-activated personal assistant, Consumer Reports gave its top marks to devices powered by Google's Android, including the new Samsung Galaxy S II phones, Motorola's 4G LTE Droid Bionic, and the LG Thrill, impressed by the larger displays and faster speeds.
The report noted that only AT&T's version of the 4S is considered 4G because it uses that carrier's HSPA+ network, which is "at the bottom rung of what is considered to be 4G network speed."