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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.

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.