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12/16/2007
11:01 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Consumer Reports Rating Of iPhone Over Blackberry Is Out Of Sync

Both in naming its winner for best cell phone service provider (Verizon) and best smartphone (Apple's iPhone), Consumer Reports' "Best & worst cell phone deals," in its January issue, is stunningly out of sync with the anecdotal evidence on the street. Most glaring is its generally tepid assessment of RIM's BlackBerrys, which should be at the top of the heap because, to apply the Apple mantra, "they just work."

Both in naming its winner for best cell phone service provider (Verizon) and best smartphone (Apple's iPhone), Consumer Reports' "Best & worst cell phone deals," in its January issue, is stunningly out of sync with the anecdotal evidence on the street. Most glaring is its generally tepid assessment of RIM's BlackBerrys, which should be at the top of the heap because, to apply the Apple mantra, "they just work."I have to confess I was completely confounded when I finished reading the Consumer Reports article. Actually, there are two main stories, a piece which rates cell phones and smartphones, and a carrier survey comparing Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Unfortunately, the results aren't online so you'll have to go pick up the print issue (there's a novel concept!) for $6.

Let's take the carrier and phone articles separately, since we're talking different levels of disconnect. The service-provider story, which rates Verizon at the top, is harder to swallow than the cell phone ratings, which elevate Apple. That's because, while I know many people who love their iPhones (I think they're misguided and probably unfamiliar with BlackBerry, not crazy), I can't think of anyone who's in love with Verizon.

For the carrier ratings, Consumer Reports says it surveyed 47,000 readers. Top rankings went to Alltel, which operates mainly in the South, and Verizon. T-Mobile got a middling "solid performer" rating. AT&T was dubbed as "trailing the better carriers in almost all respects, and Sprint took up the rear with "bottom rated."

OK, no arguments on Sprint, which is simply stating the obvious, and with Alltel, which doesn't operate in New York so I can't say. My real gripe is that, when you look at the numerical ratings for cell service in New York (the survey is divided up into 20 metropolitan areas), Consumer Reports gives Verizon a score of 69, T-Mobile and AT&T each a 64, and Sprint a 57. So saying Verizon is the best is a bit of a stretch; it's clumped pretty closely with T-Mobile and AT&T.

That makes much more sense, because the real deal is that all the cell carriers are pretty much on par. Their service tends to be middling, but getting better as the networks continue to be built out. Customer service is widely perceived as terrible, though I have to say that my personal experience with AT&T's BlackBerry support people has been great. (I was really surprised with how efficient and friendly they were helping me through an e-mail glitch recently.) Also, I never experience dropped calls on AT&T, while my daughter experiences frequent disconnects on Verizon, though that could be the fault of her all-dressed-up-but-not-as-well-designed-as-it-looks LG Chocolate phone.

iPhone And Palm Over BlackBerry?

Now to my real gripe: Consumer Reports' smartphone ratings. Its "Quick Picks" recommend Apple's iPhone as the "best choice for multimedia use." Next up, as "best choice for office-type uses," are the Palm Treo 700-Series, HTC Wing, and Motorola Q. It's only when you get down to the last category, "best choices for compacts," that a BlackBerry appears. But it's the Pearl, the most consumer-oriented of RIM's smartphones, and it's paired with the Palm Centro as an alternate recommendation.

This is nuts. Sure, I agree with Consumer Reports when it says that the iPhone has a "superb touch screen and interface" and "it has the best phone MP3 player we've heard." Hey, isn't that the problem? It's a great iPod married to a still-in-development phone. Haven't the Consumer Reports testers read all the service complaints on the various iPhone user message boards?

Even more mystifying is that fact that, on Consumer Reports' full list of smartphone ratings, a BlackBerry doesn't appear until No. 7. That's after the iPhone, Palm Treo 755P, Samsung BlackJack, Motorola Q, and Treo 680. How can a BlackBerry be below a couple of Windows Mobile devices like the BlackJack and the Q?

While both phones look great, Windows Mobile is legendary for maintaining a too-many-clicks, PC-like command structure in the face of faster interfaces optimized for phone functionality. Like the BlackBerry.

Perhaps BlackBerrys suffer from their longtime reputation as corporate phones with a bit of a stodgy look and feel. If that's the case, then RIM is simply being penalized for being first. In any case, the Curve puts to rest the rap that RIM can't design a great-looking smartphone.

Look, I have nothing against the iPhone. However, I defy anyone to prove that BlackBerrys aren't a better deal. They're almost always cheaper, they always work, and you don't have to worry about your carrier or the manufacturer locking the thing up on you.

P.S. If comments system below is down (appears to be an outage, midday Sunday), readers who wish to comment can e-mail me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net.

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