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  • Consumer Reports Continues to Lose Credibility

    October 17th, 2013

    Well, the mainstream media has reviewed the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, and given them high ratings. Not perfect, but very good, which puts them among the best smartphones on the planet. But not all the reviews you have read are credible, let alone accurate.

    Take Consumer Reports, which still believes that the iPhone 4 was the one and only smartphone to exhibit reception problems when held the "wrong way." Over the years, they have pronounced Android smartphones as better for sometimes specious reasons.

    Thus it was understandable that CR would find ways to look unfavorably upon the new iPhones. One main area of criticism was the display size, praising the screens on Android gear from Samsung and other companies as not just larger, but sharper. Sharper!

    Beginning with the iPhone 4, Apple has used a Retina display, which means the image will be perfectly sharp, without visible pixels, at a normal viewing distance. So even though some of the competition, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, boast a higher pixel-per-inch count, it doesn't matter. The difference isn't visible. More to the point, Samsung uses AMOLED displays that totally wash out in bright sunlight. But CR doesn't understand the distinction, although they do admit that the iPhone 5s's "display is easy to see in bright light."

    Some of the criticisms are a little misleading. When it comes to battery life, the iPhone 5s and 5c are better than average, and certainly superior to the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4, although there are a few phones with larger batteries. But the iPhones are dinged by CR. They also complain that you can't talk on the phone and surf the net at the same time. That's true on Verizon Wireless and Sprint, but not on AT&T, T-Mobile and other GSM networks. As Verizon's LTE network is updated, this limitation will no longer exist.

    There's also a totally false criticism claiming you cannot create and edit Word and Excel documents. Not quite. Apple now offers the three iWork apps as free downloads for new iPhones. They can all open and edit documents created in Microsoft's office suite. I'm also concerned about CR's constant complaint that the voice quality on the iPhone is merely fair, which, compared to all other mobile phones I've checked, is decidedly not true.

    Two other negatives are also curious. CR continues to downgrade smartphones for not supporting Flash video, yet they continue to fail to understand that Adobe no longer produces a mobile version. So that's hardly a criticism worth a mention. The final complaint is that the YouTube app isn't installed on an iPhone, but it only takes a couple of minutes to download, so that's hardly relevant. Or maybe CR doesn't know.

    In large part, however, CR praised pretty much all of the new features on the iPhone 5s, including the Touch ID. Certainly I do not expect CR to agree with my conclusions. I do not expect anyone to agree with me, but CR presents itself as being a step above the usual consumer review publication because products are bought, rather than accepted on loan from manufacturers, and the magazine doesn't accept advertising. The only ads you see are for CR-related products and services.

    But that also means that the magazine is expected to adhere to a higher standard, and the core issues of smartphone use are often overlooked. Specs are emphasized over real world performance. So you end up with products loaded with useless features receiving higher ratings than gear that may offer fewer bullet point entries, but superior performance with the ones they have.

    So the iPhone isn't perfect by a long shot. There are legitimate areas where Apple may improve the products, and a model with a larger display would certainly satisfy a large number of potential users. But CR continues to overlook the real issues, focusing on fluff that often has little to do with how a product functions in the real world. But since manufacturers rely heavily on getting a top rating in CR, it's not that they will object if feature bloat actually influences a a more favorable verdict.

    But that doesn't mean they follow CR's conclusions. Apple didn't redesign the iPhone 4 after CR refused to issue a recommendation because of the faux AntennaGate controversy.

    Now CR does do some good, such as the reports about autos failing normal safety tests. Under extreme handling conditions, a few models have nearly overturned, which could certainly result in a serious accident and possible injury if someone has to make an emergency turn to avoid a collision. Auto makers have been quick to repair flawed designs as a result. That's a good thing.

    But CR still doesn't get technology. If you want honest usability comparisons between iOS and Android, or OS X and Windows, look elsewhere. If you want to get accurate ratings of the best mobile gear, look elsewhere. You won't get that critical information from CR, and that's truly unfortunate.



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    12 Responses to “Consumer Reports Continues to Lose Credibility”

    1. […] “Consumer Reports Continues to Lose Credibility: Well, the mainstream media has reviewed the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, and given them high ratings. Not perfect, but very good, which puts them among the best smartphones on the planet. But not all the reviews you have read are credible, let alone accurate.” — “The Tech Night Owl” […]

    2. Don108 says:

      When it comes to anything electronic or electric, CR has continually made weirdly baffling recommendations. Virtually every electric device test, from vacuum cleaners and toasters to refrigerators and washing machines is either won by Sears or a Sears product is near the top. In actuality, Sears doesn't even make their own products.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Don108, Well, we've had an Oreck vacuum cleaner, which got a mediocre rating from CR, for well over a decade. It continues to work great. It has a 20-year warranty and free annual service. And it was (and I think still is) made in the U.S.A.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Jeff says:

      CR has always been technologically challenged. Having been a CR reader since the 70's I quickly learned that any review of theirs relating to cameras, hifi equipment, computers and now electronics are not to be taken too seriously if you are at all knowledgeable in those areas.
      I'm sure CR would justify there conclusions by saying they are reviewing for the masses, not aficionados.
      But sometimes their biases (or mistakes) are glaringly obvious, as you and Don can attest to.

      But for reviewing toilet paper or car tires they can't be beat.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jeff, Of course, making their content friendly for the masses doesn't give CR the excuse to make factual errors, or overlook real differences among tested products.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Paul says:

      CR has always been BS. They should stick to reviewing lip balm.

    5. tz says:

      A bit off-topic but I will pile concerning CR's automotive coverage as well.
      They used to be more objective they are now. I have seen them make subjective comments such as how stylish a certain model is.
      They loudly denigrated the smaller Toyota Prius C, and after some feedback from several sources, continue to do so. They sound almost like they're angry at that particular model. They must have driven the living shit out of it because they complain about the loud motor, and they got one mpg less than the 500 pounds heavier, larger motored standard Prius that they recommend. Owning a "C", I will agree with them that the ride is stiff. However how they got 43 mpg when I have returned 53 is beyond me. Like I said they must have run the thing with the pedal to the floor every possible opportunity, and of course then you will hear the motor when it is running a max RPMs. Name another econobox in this class that has a silent motor. At least CR documents that it is the least expensive model to own, is the most reliable of all in its surveys, has their top rating in owner satisfaction survey, and returns top scores in the IIHS crash tests.
      They need to get back to being CR on cars, rather than seemingly trying to ape Road & Track and Car and Driver.
      Just because they are non profit does not mean they don't want to score sales and wield influence, and they seem to be increasingly self promoting in recent years.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @tz, I suppose a loud motor, or a stiff ride, will turn off some people, so it needs to be mentioned. But it has to be weighed carefully as to the importance in rating a motor vehicle.

      Just for the heck of it, I took a test drive in the new "baby" Benz, the CLA. It costs only slightly more than a well equipped Honda Accord, so it'll be an attractive choice for many who don't need a large car and would love to upgrade to a luxury brand. But the ride can be a bit stuff, and even noisy over big bumps. It's no big deal, but CR will complain severely, since they appear to prefer the mushy ride of the Toyota Camry as the standard by which all motor vehicles are judged.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Peter says:

      They also complain that you can't talk on the phone and surf the net at the same time. That's true on Verizon Wireless and Sprint, but not on AT&T, T-Mobile and other GSM networks. As Verizon's LTE network is updated, this limitation will no longer exist.

      Y'know, Gene, one of the things that impresses me about your writing is not what you say but what you leave unsaid.

      For example, reading the above, I would assume that the issue is with Verizon's network and not with the smartphone maker which is somewhat true. Verizon only does data with LTE--voice still runs through their older network because, if they "updated" their network, millions of non-smartphones wouldn't work anymore.

      Of course, Samsung and other Android phone makers have solved this problem by having different antennas (and possibly radios). So if you have a Galaxy S4 and you use Verizon, you can talk and surf at the same time. That's the piece of information goes unsaid.

      So when CR points out that you can't do this with the iPhone, you don't mention that you can do it with other smartphones on Verizon and, instead, shift the blame to Verizon with the implication that it's not the smartphone maker's fault and that nobody else does it either.

      If you're using an iPhone on Verizon, you can't talk and surf. If you're using a Samsung Galaxy S4, you can talk and surf. This is a legitimate contrast. Don't know why you have a hard time with it.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Peter, As I said, that problem doesn't exist with AT&T and T-Mobile, and other GSM carriers. However, based on iPhone sales at Verizon, most customers do not consider that a serious limitation. I don't have a hard time with facts, and when choosing a carrier, I would want to know how the smartphone I might buy will perform on it.

      The Samsung Galaxy S4 does some things the iPhone doesn't do. Most of those things don't matter. A larger screen might, but the Galaxy S4 is virtually invisible in sunlight, which is a limitation that CR doesn't appear to consider that a negative, and they should.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Darwin says:

      I feel like CR got a lot of grief for their iPhone reviews so is just sticking to being critical of Apple so it won't look like they backed down. Makes them much less credible on just about everything.

    8. Peter says:

      As I said, that problem doesn't exist with AT&T and T-Mobile, and other GSM carriers.

      Nor does it exist with Verizon, if you're using a Samsung G4. It's only an issue if you're using an iPhone. Sounds like a deficit to me.

      A larger screen might, but the Galaxy S4 is virtually invisible in sunlight, which is a limitation that CR doesn't appear to consider that a negative, and they should.

      Actually, my iPhone 4S has this issue due to the glossy screen. I use my iPhone 4S on my bicycle with a bike mount and I have to make sure that the angle is just right on a sunny day or I can't read how fast I'm going (though I can see my sweaty face quite nicely :^)

      But Apple improved that, I believe, with the iPhone 5. I haven't seen an issue with my iPhone 5S, but I don't have a bike mount for it yet. So when it was with the iPhone 4S, it wasn't a big deal. But with AMOLED displays? It's the end of the world!

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