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Consumer Reports: Though Maps “Falls Short,” iPhone 5 a “Winner”

Ever since Consumer Reports infamously blasted the iPhone 4 for its poorly-designed antenna, which caused wireless signal loss when held normally, customers have waited breathlessly for the consumer advocacy group’s ruling on subsequent iPhone handsets. Well, good news, Apple fans: Consumer Reports says the iPhone 5 is a “winner.”

“The Apple iPhone 5 is among the best smart phones in our Ratings and the best iPhone yet, our completed tests confirm,” Consumer Reports wrote in a post to its Consumer News blog. “They also conclude that despite the widespread criticism it has received, Apple's new Maps app, available on the iPhone 5 and other iPhones, is competent enough, even if it falls short of what's available for free on many other phones.”

Consumer Reports has a rocky history with recent iPhones. As I wrote in Consumer Reports Confirms iPhone Hardware Defect, Refutes Apple Claims, the firm determined that Apple’s attempts to convince the public that the iPhone 4 antenna design was fine was incorrect, and that Apple, and not AT&T Wireless, was to blame for the issue.

But after releasing a similarly broken iPhone 4 on Verizon Wireless, as noted in Consumer Reports: Verizon Version of iPhone 4 Is Also Flawed, Apple got it right with 2011’s iPhone 4S. As described in Consumer Reports: Apple Finally Fixes Antenna with iPhone 4S, the firm noted that the 4S didn’t “suffer the reception problem we found in its predecessor(s) in special tests in our labs.”

According to Consumers Reports, the iPhone 5 is pretty amazing across the board. Among the accolades are its screen (larger, 4-inches), form factor (thinner and lighter), networking (4G LTE), Siri improvements, camera (the best they’d ever seen on a smart phone), and “a host of [other] innovative features.”

As for Maps, Consumer Reports was kinder than most reviewers. The firm noted that it includes GPS navigation with spoken turn-by-turn directions and automatic re-routing, a feature of Android (and Windows Phone) handsets for years. But while Consumer Reports agrees that Maps “fell short of the best third-party navigation apps,” it also felt that the app would improve over time.

I certainly agree with that. But here’s the important bit. Where the iPhone 4 suffered from an amazing spate of endemic hardware issues, the iPhone 5 has only two flaws that I’d categorize as major, and both of them are software-based: Maps and iOS 6. (I noted both issues in Compete Report: Apple iOS 6.) And software issues are easily fixed.

(Consumer Reports didn’t address the fact that the iPhone 5 seems to suffer from an easily-scratched exterior, a common problem with all of Apple’s gadgets. Given the healthy market for cases and covers, and Apple users’ tendency to buy such things, this is not really a huge problem, in my opinion.)

Put simply, it’s hard to quibble with the conclusion here: By all accounts, the iPhone 5 is pretty terrific.

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