The Apple iPhone was the only smartphone to receive a five Power Circle Rating from J.D. Power and Associates, following the release of two new reports, its 2012 "U.S. Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study" and "U.S. Wireless Traditional Mobile Phone Satisfaction Study." Both reports measured satisfaction with devices used for less than a year.
In the smartphone category, Apple, with a rating of 840 out of 1,000 points, was followed by HTC, with four circles and a rating of 793. Samsung and Motorola took third and fourth places, each with three circles and ratings of 789 and 758, respectively.
Among feature phones, LG Electronics and Sanyo tied for top billing, with scores of 716, followed by Sony Ericsson with a 712 out of 1,000. All three earned five circles.
The firm found battery performance to greatly affect customer satisfaction. It also found the latter to be a "least satisfying" aspect of the smartphone experience for consumers. Between the firm's 2011 and 2012 studies, overall customer satisfaction was found to have fallen to 6.7 out of 10 from 6.9--a difference J.D. Power calls significant.
"Both carriers and manufacturers recognize the fact that battery life needs to be improved," Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power wrote in a March 15 statement. "However, the study uncovers the need for a greater sense of urgency--short battery life can result in perceived phone problems, higher rates of merchandise returns and customer defections."
The study additionally found customer satisfaction levels with battery performance to differ between owners of 3G- and 4G-enabled devices. Partly, this was explained by the "substantial battery life" the latter use up in searching for harder-to-find 3G signals. Another cited reason was that owners of 4G devices use them more--for Web surfing, talking, emailing and texting--than their 3G-owning counterparts.
Only 25 percent of 4G smartphone owners said they were "highly satisfied" with the device's battery life and would "definitely" purchase another device from the same manufacturer.
Two out of 10 smartphone owners also reported experiencing software or device malfunctions, which likewise significantly affected their satisfaction ratings. The gap between users who have experienced malfunctions, and those who haven't, was 77 points.
Following Motorola in the smartphone rankings were LG Electronics and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, each with two circles and a rating of 733. Nokia followed with a 702 and two circles, and the now-defunct Palm brought up the rear, with a 697 and two circles.
Apple's high rating made for an industry average, of 774, that only Apple and HTC came out ahead of. Among feature phones, the top four manufacturers exceeded the industry average rating of 700, with only Motorola, at 687, Nokia, with a 684, and Kyocera, with 656, coming in below it.
In both studies, a number of factors were used to determine customer satisfaction. Smartphone owners determined these to be: performance (35 percent), ease of operation (24 percent), features (21 percent) and physical design (20 percent).
Feature phone owners voted much the same, though gave slightly less importance to performance--31 percent, versus 35--and put physical design ahead of features.