Apple iPhone, RIM BlackBerry Smartphones Most Reliable: Study

The Apple iPhone 3GS is the smartphone least likely to fail, but RIM's BlackBerrys are most likely to survive a drop, reports a survey on phone reliability.

Apple's iPhones are the most reliable smartphones in terms of failure rates, according to a new study from SquareTrade, a company that sells electronics warranties.

SquareTrade reportedly conducted the study, which compared the iPhone, Android devices from Motorola and HTC, RIM BlackBerry handsets and "an aggregated pool of all other smartphones" by analyzing data from 50,000 failure reports, in order to help consumers make smart choices.

"A $200 camera that breaks will cost $200 to replace, but an Android phone purchased for a discounted $200 with a new contract could cost $600 to replace if it breaks before the contract is up," SquareTrade CEO Steve Abernethy, said in a Nov. 9 statement.

What SquareTrade found is that smartphones ain't what they used to be - thankfully.

"The problems that plague earlier smartphone technologies have been resolved," states the report. "In fact, iPhone and BlackBerry malfunction rates have dropped over 60 percent in the past two years, and owner accidents, not manufacturer problems, are now the No. 1 reason most smartphones fail."

According to the report, the iPhone 3GS and BlackBerry handsets had the lowest overall failure rates, with 11.8 percent and 13 percent, respectively, reporting a failure over the first year of use.

"The major Android phone manufacturers and the iPhone 4 all failed at similar rates," states the report, "with 14.5 percent to 15.9 percent projected to fail over 12 months." Overall, it continues, the Apple, RIM, Motorola and HTC handsets fared better than the rest, of which 16.9 percent, on average, failed during the first 12 months.

Failure rates, the study continues, are a combination of failures, accidents and normal malfunctions. When it came to malfunctions, Apple led in reliability, followed by Motorola.

"We project fewer than 2.5 percent of iPhone and Motorola owners will report a malfunction in the first 12 months of use, with iPhone 4s leading the pack," states the report. "HTC came next with a one-year malfunction rate of 3.7 percent, and BlackBerry's 6.3 percent was the highest of the four manufacturers examined. All other smartphones taken together fared the worst, with 6.7 percent reporting a malfunction."

When it comes to accidents, however, RIM's BlackBerry prevailed, with a 12-month accident rate of 6.7 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for the iPhone 3GS, 10.2 percent for the "other smartphones" and 12.2 percent each for Motorola and HTC. The iPhone 4, with its front and back glass panes, fared the worst, at 13.8 percent.

From there, SquareTrade broke down the accidents to drops and spills. A coffee slosh is the least threatening, it turns out, to the iPhone 4, followed by, respectively, the iPhone 3GS and, in a tie, the HTC and Motorola handsets. When it came to drops, however, the iPhone 4 proved the most vulnerable by far, with 11.1 percent expected to experience damage from a drop over the course of a year. The iPhone 3GS came in at 6 percent, Motorola at 7 percent, HTC at nearly 9, and BlackBerry-with a score nearly three times better than the iPhone 4's-came in at 3.9 percent.

"The data seems to suggest that the likelihood of drop damage is directly proportional to the amount of glass on the device," reports SquareTrade. "With dual-sided glass, the iPhone 4 has twice the fragile surface area of the other smartphones. Both Motorola and HTC, whose most popular phones feature full glass screens, also have higher than average drop damage rates.

The bottom line? Be careful!

"Accidents accounted for 77 percent of all failures in the four manufacturers that we looked at closely, and nearly 90 percent for the iPhone 4," states the report, adding that cases and screen covers can help the matter.

In some more good news, SquareTrade adds that laptops and netbooks all malfunction with greater frequency than smartphones. Scoring the worst, however, are basic feature phones, which were found to have a one-year malfunction rate of 6.9 percent, compared to 3.9 percent for smartphones and 3.4 percent for digital cameras.