Study: iPhone 4 is the most reliable smartphone, but don’t drop it

Despite its antenna problems and glassy back crack issues, the iPhone 4 has been deemed to have fewer malfunctions than any other smartphone, according to SquareTrade Research. The company analyzed the failure rates of more than 50,000 smartphones and determined that Apple had the least number of malfunctions. Motorola and HTC also performed admirably.

squaretrade-research-smartphone-malfunction-rate-chart-2010

A mere 2.1 percent of iPhone 4s are projected to malfunction in their first year, says the research company. Motorola almost tied Apple, clocking in at 2.3 percent, followed by HTC at 3.7 percent. BlackBerry phones were more prone to malfunction, with 6.3 percent projected to have a problem.

However, it’s not all rosy for the iPhone 4. It has a higher accident rate than any other phone, logging in at 13.8 percent. The vast majority of these accidents are drop damage. The iPhone 4 case is mostly glass, leading to an easy break should one drop the phone. This is a rise from the 9.4 percent accident rate of the iPhone 3GS. Drop damage is responsible for 77 percent of all smartphone accidents and 90 percent of accidents involving the iPhone 4.

Of course, one wonders how SquareTrade can possibly project the number of malfunctions for devices that are not yet a year old, but it has a formula. Having only studied the iPhone 4 only four months and HTC/Motorola for about eight months, the research company is confident in its 12 month predictions, which take into account the failure rates of past phone models from each major manufacturer.

The Droid, Droid X, and Cliq were used to evaluate Motorola. The Nexus One, Evo, Droid Incredible, Aria, and Hero were used to evaluate HTC; and the Curve, Bold, Storm, Torch, and Pearl were used to evaluate BlackBerry.

Smartphones vs other electronics

When compared to other electronics, the average failure rate of smartphones is quite low at 3.9 percent. Only digital cameras performed better (3.4 percent). Laptops (4.5), netbooks (5.8), and regular feature phones (6.9) all have higher malfunction rates.

SquareTrade points out that though smartphones fare well compared to other electronics, they have a higher hidden replacement cost. “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.”

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