Consumer Reports Warns Readers from Verizon’s iPhone 4

Consumer Reports doesn’t like the Verizon iPhone 4 any more than it liked the GSM version of the device that AT&T sells. In a blog post this week, the magazine criticized the iPhone 4 for being a mid-cycle replacement, and for being a CDMA device in the first place, like every other device Verizon sells. Indeed, the piece is full of what appear to those of us on the outside as inconsistent criticisms that hold Apple to standard no other handset maker is held to.

Being Middle Aged

First up is the fact that the device is a mid-cycle replacement. The original iPhone 4 was introduced in June 2010, following Apple’s yearly product cycle for the device. Apple is expected to introduce its successor this summer, as well, and that’s a problem for Consumer Reports.

“It may be quickly replaced by a newer, cooler version more quickly than is customary even for the die-young life expectancy of most smart phones,” Paul Reynolds and Mike Gikas wrote for the magazine. “With Apple likely to ship a new iPhone generation in June or July, as it always has for the iPhone, this is a transitional phone to tide Verizon through until the summer.”

This is true, as far as it goes, and it’s the main reason this reporter erroneously thought Apple would wait for the iPhone 5 to come to Verizon. The curious thing about Consumer Reports complaining about it, however, is that the magazine doesn’t similarly warn customers not to buy devices from Motorola, Samsung, HTC, etc. when those companies regularly introduce new models every 6-8 months.

By the reasoning they supplied, no one should ever buy a new phone unless it’s the iPhone, and only when it’s a few weeks old. Still their warning does have merit. Anyone buying an iPhone 4 on Verizon in February or March (let alone April and May) may get hurt feelings when Apple introduces a new device this Summer.

CDMA Means 3G, Which is Bad

Moving on, Consumer Reports criticized Verizon’s iPhone 4 for being a CDMA devices, noting, “The smart phone market has changed in ways that make the iPhone 4 show its age. It works on third-generation data network at a time when carriers—Verizon among them—have launched faster 4G networks and phones that work on them.”

The problem with that is Verizon isn’t shipping any phone that works on its LTE “4G” network, which was announced in December. In fact, Verizon doesn’t expect to have any phones that work on its LTE network until mid-2011, but Consumer Reports isn’t dinging every other device that Verizon sells for being 3G. In fact, it’s not dinging any other device that we’ve seen for being 3G.

More on CDMA

The magazine continued its litany by emphasizing other CDMA problems, noting, “[The iPhone 4] suffers CDMA’s shortcomings. Because it uses this network technology, the Verizon iPhone 4 lacks a few tricks that GSM phones, including the [iPhone 4 for] AT&T, can do. You can’t simultaneously access the Web and place a voice call on a CDMA phone. And where you can use GSM phones with relative ease in much of the world, the same isn’t true of CDMA phones, which won’t automatically roam onto wireless networks abroad.”

All of this is true, and it’s one of the reasons this reporter won’t be switching from AT&T, but it’s also true with every other Verizon smartphone sold. They are all CDMA devices, as noted above, but Consumer Reports isn’t warning its readers away from those devices.

Of Screens

Another “drawback” listed by Consumer Reports is the iPhone’s screen, one the most highly regarded displays on the market even seven months after its release.

“The iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch screen in an era where the number of smart phones with 4-inch-plus screens has swelled,” CR wrote.

Our friends at AppleInsider put together a handy table showing that there are precisely two devices sold by Verizon with 4” screens, both of which have lower resolutions than the iPhone. If “two” inferior displays somehow represents a “swelling” of the ranks of devices with displays that big, CR might have a point, but even there the magazine isn’t dinging other devices sold for not having 4” displays.

This, more than the other criticisms we’ve noted, has the biggest appearance of the writers grasping for straws on things to complain about.

The Good

CR did have a couple of good things to say about Verizon’s version of the iPhone. The magazine applauded the fact that the device will be on a “a fine carrier,” even though it criticized many aspects of that carrier’s network and listed as “Question Mark” whether Big Red could handle the iPhone data load. The inconsistency went unremarked by Messrs. Reynolds and Gikas.

The hotspot feature that Verizon is enabling that allows the iPhone to serve as a mobile hotspot for up to five other devices also won kudos from CR, but that seems to be the only thing the magazine liked.

What’s a Reputation?

Generally speaking, Consumer Reports has a very good reputation for offering unbiased advice and recommendations for consumers. For decades, the magazine has stringently tested products and refused advertising dollars that could compromise their opinions.

When it comes to the iPhone 4, however, CR is increasingly running the risk of appearing biased. From not letting go of Antennaegate to the selective and somewhat bizarre criticisms in this week’s blog entry, the company isn’t being reasonable when it comes to the device.