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Product reviews

Smartphone race heats up

Rivals are now beating the iPhone in terms of screen size, features

Consumer Reports / February 27, 2011

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There’s more competition among cellphones, especially sophisticated smartphones. Consumer Reports recently tested more than 70 phones. Here are some of the findings.

IPhone rivals come on strongThough a fine phone in most respects, the newest version of the Apple/AT&T smartphone, the iPhone 4, can have reception problems if held in a certain way in an area with a weak signal. But that isn’t the only iPhone concern. Consumer Reports’ survey data, reflecting all versions of the phone, found that iPhone owners were, by far, the least satisfied with their carrier. They rated their data service (Web and e-mail) lower than owners of other carriers’ smartphones, which, like the iPhone, have a host of apps that encourage heavy data use.

The iPhones did well in Consumer Reports’ tests, but the ratings also list other high-scoring phones from carriers with higher satisfaction scores than AT&T. Some of them, including the HTC Evo 4G and Samsung Galaxy S models (the Fascinate, Epic, Vibrant, and Captivate, all recommended) even beat the iPhones in some respects and have larger screens.

Recommended choices for smartphones

Best Choices for Verizon: Motorola Droid X, $150 Samsung Fascinate, $200

Best Choices for Sprint: Samsung Epic 4G, $200 HTC Evo 4G, $200

Best Choices for T-Mobile: Samsung Vibrant, $100 T-Mobile G2, $249

Best Choices for AT&T: Samsung Captivate, $150 Apple iPhone 3GS (8GB), $49

Conventional phones get smarterLast year, about a third of the conventional cellphones in Consumer Reports’ ratings had touchscreens, which are almost standard on smartphones. This year, closer to half the conventional phones have touchscreens to help you navigate to websites or open apps.

So-called smart features are consistent with changing use patterns. Almost all respondents to the survey still made at least some voice calls on their cellphone, but 75 percent used them to send or receive text messages. Half used them for access to the Internet or personal e-mail.

At least one downside exists to the rising sophistication of conventional cellphones. Almost all smartphones require data service, and some also require a messaging plan.

Some of the higher-rated conventional phones in Consumer Reports’ ratings also require a messaging service (AT&T) or a data plan (Verizon) even if you don’t want it.

The AT&T messaging plan costs $20 per month and up, and the Verizon data service runs $15 to $30 per month.

Best choices for conventional cellphones

Best Choices for Verizon: LG enV Touch, Free Samsung Alias 2, $25

Best Choices for Sprint: Samsung Instinct HD, $80 LG Rumor Touch, $50

Best Choices for T-Mobile: Samsung Gravity T, $30

Best Choices for AT&T: Samsung Impression, $130 LG Vu Plus, $100

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.