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Apple iPhone 4 Rated Most Reliable Smartphone

SquareTrade study reveals major Android device makers also had low malfunction rates for the first 12 months, but the Blackberry is less dependable and accidents are a key cause of failure.

SquareTrade Smartphone Reliability Study
(click image for larger view)
SquareTrade Smartphone Reliability Study

Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4 has the greatest reliability among smartphones, with only 2.1% experiencing a non-accident related malfunction in the first year, according to a study done of the four major smartphone makers by warranty provider SquareTrade.

Android device makers Motorola and HTC were not far behind, with 2.3% and 3.7% malfunction rates in the first year, respectively. Other smartphone makers were less reliable, with some 6.3% of Blackberry devices failing in the first 12 months, along with a 6.7% failure rate for other smartphones, the SquareTrade report said.

The study also found that over 75% of smartphones experience a failure due to accidental damage. Blackberry devices had the lowest first-year accident rate, at 6.7%, while the iPhone 4 had the highest, at 9.4%. Its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS had the lowest overall failure rate, at 11.7% over the course of a year, with the highest failure rate going to other smartphones combined, at 16.9%, the study found.

SquareTrade used eight months of data for Motorola and HTC and four months of data for the iPhone 4, which was launched last June. Data over a 12-month period was used to analyze the Blackberry, the iPhone 3GS and other smartphones to arrive at the overall failure rates, the company said. SquareTrade used customer-reported failure data from a sample of over 50,000 new mobile phones and analyzed accidents from normal malfunctions separately.

“Overall, the four major smart phone manufacturers we looked at individually fared better than smartphones made by other manufacturers,” SquareTrade said.

Due to the relatively high failure rate of Blackberry devices, SquareTrade said it is noteworthy to compare the findings to their last analysis, which was done in November 2008. At that time, Blackberry had a first-year malfunction rate of 11.9% and iPhones had a 5.6% rate. “This means that both Blackberry and iPhone malfunction rates have dropped by half or more in two years, a pretty impressive feat,” the SquareTrade report said. Since contemporary smartphones have been around since about 2006, the “dramatic improvement in reliability” indicates manufacturers have figured out how to fix the hardware problems that earlier smartphone technologies experienced, the company said.

SquareTrade also analyzed the 12-month malfunction rate of portable electronics and found that basic feature phones had the highest rate, at 6.9%, followed by netbooks, with a 5.8% failure rate; laptops, with a 4.5% failure rate; and digital cameras had the lowest rate of 3.4%.

Since smartphone technologies have improved, “the bigger issue for consumers is the vulnerability of phones to accidental damage, especially as the market evolves more and more to include large glass displays,” the SquareTrade study said. “Accidents accounted for 77% of all failures in the four manufacturers that we looked at closely, and nearly 90% for the iPhone 4.” The company said the use of protective cases and screen covers will mitigate the risk.

The study included phones sold after January 2008 for all brands, with analysis done on failures reported by the owners of its warranties. The company defines a smartphone as a device with a non-subsidized retail price of $350 or more at the time of purchase.

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