Consumer Reports has come down hard on Apple in the past, but not this time. The iPhone 5 is "the best iPhone yet" and among the best smartphones in its official rankings, the consumer watchdog announced in an Oct. 5 blog post.
"A larger 4-inch display; a thinner and lighter profile; 4G LTE [Long Term Evolution] access; and a host of innovative features all helped the iPhone 5 move up in the ranks," wrote CR's Mike Gikas, "surpassing not only the previous iPhone 4S but also a number of other new Android-based smartphones."
Apple even improved on areas where the iPhone 4S did well, CR found in its tests, noting improvements to Siri and the iPhone's camera.
"In fact, excluding the phenomenal 41-megapixel camera we tested on the Nokia 808," wrote Gikas, "the iPhone 5's 8-megapixel camera is the best we've seen on a smartphone. In the full battery of tests we give to smartphone cameras, the iPhone 5's camera proved capable of capturing beautifully sharp and vibrant photos."
The iPhone 4 featured an entirely new design that ultimately wound up causing problems with its antenna. While then-CEO Steve Jobs initially played down the problem, calling it "Antennagate" and saying that if the signal dropped when the phone is held a certain way, then one should just avoid holding it that way, Consumer Reports found the issue serious enough to prevent it from recommending the phone.
"When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower-left side—an easy thing, especially for lefties—the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal," Gikas blogged in July 2010. "Due to this problem, we can't recommend the iPhone 4."
The iPhone 5 is not without its imperfections. In iOS 6, Apple swapped out Google Maps for its own Maps app, which quickly revealed itself to be not ready for primetime. The app was so laughably not up to snuff—it even inspired Tumblr sites of particularly ridiculous mapping images—that Apple CEO Tim Cook posted a letter to the Apple site, apologizing for it.
"At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers," he wrote. "With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment. We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused."
This time, however, Consumer Reports was more generous about Apple's gaffe.
"The new Apple Maps app has drawn much criticism, and our initial impressions concluded that it fell short of the best third-party navigation apps," wrote Gikas.
Testing out the app, CR's auto experts found it "relatively streamlined," and to offer clear guidance, both voice-guided and on-screen.
"Despite instances of 'melting' buildings, bridges and other landmarks in 3D mode, more often than not, our testers found [the Flyover feature] delivered rather intriguing 3D representations that bring a map to life," he added.
Lest anyone think CR has gone soft on Apple, Gikas tapped Cook and company on the knuckles, regarding a claim about the iPhone 5's rear-facing camera.
"Contrary to Apple's claims," he wrote, "our tests did not find the iPhone 5's low-light and flash shots to be notably better than those from the iPhone 4S."