The iPhone 3G S tops our new smart-phone Ratings (available to subscribers), with strong performance in everything but voice quality, an area in which few phones score well. It's not a runaway winner, though. A number of other phones ranked close to the iPhone, including the Palm Pre, which turned in a fine performance, as we expected from our head-to-head review of these two highly publicized rivals.
The phones vary significantly in how they achieve their high scores. The iPhone 3G S edged out high-scoring competitors such as the Palm Pre and BlackBerry Storm thanks to a superior display, reinforced by top-notch multimedia, navigation, Web browsing, and battery life. However, the Pre, the Storm, and other BlackBerry models bested the iPhone in messaging, and the Pre, with its new deck-of-cards handling of multiple applications, is a superior multitasker.
To better display those differences, we recently added more attributes to our Ratings and put more emphasis on the display, ease of navigation, and multimedia and messaging prowess. In turn, we've somewhat reduced the contribution of talk time (as reflected in our battery life results) and voice quality, in part to reflect the growing importance of non-voice use of smart phones.
The iPhone 3G and some other older phones have moved up due to these changes, while others, including the Samsung Blackjack II and BlackBerry Pearl Flip, have dropped in their ranking.
One of the few changes to our test protocol involves phone sensitivity, as one reader already noticed and commented on. During our Ratings revamp, we concluded that our existing tests of this attribute no longer adequately replicated real-life reception experience. Creating reliable reception tests has become steadily more challenging as smart phones add more tasks and use a growing range of reception technologies.
We've removed sensitivity scores from our Ratings while we develop tests to more accurately evaluate this attribute. Until then, we suggest anyone concerned about this (like the reader who commented on our blog) inquire about return provisions for phones, and take advantage of them as needed.
In addition, we're wrestling with ways to further evaluate phones' speed and versatility—growing concerns as the devices acquire more sophisticated operating systems and a host of third-party applications.
Such challenges are not unique to smart phones; they crop up periodically for all products, as they, and consumer expectations for them, change. Smart phones are among the most complex products we test, and perhaps the most subject to personal preference. Their Ratings have prompted debate and sometimes disagreement in the past. We welcome your comments and questions on the changes we've made this time around. —Paul Reynolds