Apple's iPhone 4 is the most reliable of all major smartphones in normal use, yet it's also the phone most likely to break when dropped by a user, according to new research.
As the leader of the pack in "reliability," the iPhone 4 was followed closely by the iPhone 3GS and major Android OS phone makers Motorola and HTC, in that order. "BlackBerry and other smartphones were less reliable," contends a report issued by SquareTrade this month.
SquareTrade, however, is a company that issues product warranties, and its "reliability" ratings are based on the percentages of each device experiencing a "non-accident malfunction in the first 12 months." Further down in the report, the results are quite different when SquareTrade takes a look at the comparative accident rates for various types of smartphones.
Since the iPhone 4 and some other phones studied haven't been on the market yet for 12 months, SquareTrade didn't have a full year of data on some phones, so some projections needed to be made.
iPhone 4 Has the Highest Reported Accident Rate
With all of that in mind, the iPhone 4 emerged with a higher reported accident rate after 12 months -- at 13.8% -- than any of the other phones considered. Phones from Motorola and HTC tied for second place on that score, at 12.2%. each. The iPhone 3GS was somewhat less accident-prone, at 9.4%, whereas RIM's BlackBerry experienced a reported accident rate of merely 6.7%.
Square Trade's accident data takes into account both drops and spills. Actually, the iPhone 4 showed itself to be less likely than any other major smartphone to suffer spill-related damage. On the other hand, the iPhone 4's score of 11.1% for drop-related damage was almost three times the RIM BlackBerry's rate.
Without saying so for sure, the researchers suggested that the iPhone 4's higher vulnerability to drop-related damage is probably due to the phone's dual-sided glass.
"With dual-sided glass, the iPhone 4 has twice the fragile surface area of the other smart phones," according to the report.
"At the other end of the spectrum, the average BlackBerry device has both the smallest screen and he lowest rates of drop damage. Of course, correlation is not causation, and there are numerous external factors like protective case use, but the data seems to support the fairly obvious observation that glass breaks much more easily than plastic."
The fragility of the iPhone 4 wouldn't have stood out as strongly if SquareTrade had combined the iPhone 4 and 3GS into a single category, in the same way that all Motorola phones got rolled in with each other, for instance.
Fragility of Dual-sided Glass Showed Up Earlier
Clearly, though, the differences in accident rates between the two iPhone models had already started turning up long before the November report. In an earlier study, published in October, SquareTrade found that "the iPhone 4 appears to be significantly more likely to break than previous versions, as we speculated back in our June iPhone report."
As its report elaborated, "Not only has the scratchable surface area doubled, [but] the new aluminosilicate Gorilla glass used in the iPhone 4 doesn't seem any less likely to break than [the glass in] previous models."
SquareTrade's recent reports haven't mentioned the problems with the iPhone 4's external antenna which have meanwhile caused Consumer Reports to continue to "avoid recommending" Apple's latest phone this month. Back in September, Consumer Reports publicly chastised Apple for not providing "a permanent fix to the phone's reception issues."
Smartphones More Reliable than Netbooks or Feature Phones
In SquareTrade's report in November, outside of accidents, the iPhone 4 showed only a 2.1% malfunction rate for the first 12 months of use. Comparable numbers were 2.3% for Motorola, 3.7% for HTC, and 6.3% for RIM BlackBerry.
Moreover, with an overall non-accident malfunction rate of 3.9%, the smartphone category as a whole turned up as "more reliable" than either laptop PCs (4.5%), netbook PCs (5.8%), or "basic feature phones" (6.9%). Only digital cameras, at 3.4%, emerged as "more reliable" than smartphones.
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