A recent study released by SquareTrade says that the current crop of smartphones are the most reliable ever, with iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry all having resolved many of the manufacturing glitches that had plagued the platform and their respective devices a few years prior. Fast forward to 2010 and in just two years, Square Trade notes that malfunction rates for these devices have dropped more than 60%, and that the cause of many smartphone afflictions is due to accidents–think clumsy hands and slippery fingers–rather than manufacturing defects.
The study points out that the iPhone 3GS and BlackBerry devices seem be the least likely to fail, followed closely by HTC and Motorola Android devices.
In terms of product reliability, Apple’s iPhone came out on top, with just 2.1% of iPhone 4 owners projected to have a non-accident malfunction in the first 12 months. Devices made by Motorola and HTC, the two major Android handset manufacturers, were also very reliable with failure rates of just 2.3% and 3.7%. BlackBerry and other smart phones proved less reliable, with 6.3% and 6.7% failing in their first year.
According to the company, “Manufacturers have solved many of their previous technology problems, and smart phones are now more reliable than many other categories of portable electronics.” Smartphones are said to be more reliable than laptops, netbooks, and even basic feature phones!
In terms of reliability from owner abuse, also known as surviving drops and dings, BlackBerry devices are among the most resilient to the main cause of modern-day smartphone failures. SquareTrade highlights that this is due to the fact that most BlackBerry devices still lack a touchscreen while devices running iOS and Android have glass touchscreens, which may be more likely to break upon impact when dropped.
For phones, drops accounted for the bulk of SquareTrade’s accidental damage. Spills also contribute to damages as well.
This is what SquareTrade concludes with:
SquareTrade’s data on smart phones suggest that there is a good deal of variance in the failure rates of different smart phones. The iPhone 4 is the most reliable phone in the study, but also has the highest risk of accidental damage. Blackberrys had the least risk of accidental damage, and may be the best choice for the clumsiest consumers, but had a relatively high malfunction rate.
Unlike other electronics, smart phones are an investment that extend beyond the upfront cost of the device. For starters, nearly all smart phone users are locked into a 2 year contract with their carrier. Moreover, a higher failure rate imposes an extra cost to consumers because the subsidized price of a new phone with contract is much lower than the replacement cost. A broken $200 camera will cost $200 to replace if it breaks, but a broken Android phone purchased for $200 may cost $600 to replace without a new contract.
Fortunately for consumers, smart phone reliability has improved significantly in the past 2 years, so manufacturer reliability is no longer a big issue in determining failure rates.
The bigger issue for consumers is the vulnerability of phones to accidental damage, especially as the market evolves more and more to include large glass displays. Accidents accounted for 77% of all failures in the 4 manufacturers that we looked at closely, and nearly 90% for the iPhone 4. Some of this risk can be mitigated by the use protective cases and screen covers, especially for devices that have the highest risk of accidents in SquareTrade’s study.
Finally, as the smart phone market continues to evolve, we will continue to monitor and report how changes in technology and construction affect future reliability.
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