Consumer Reports, a U.S. monthly influencing purchasing decisions with its reviews and comparisons of consumer products, announced today that it rated AT&T the worst among wireless operators in the United States. In a repeat of last year’s ratings, rival Verizon Wireless ranked highest. The nation’s remaining major wireless carriers – including Sprint (the only carrier offering unlimited data to iPhone customers in the U.S.) and T-Mobile USA – fared “significantly better” than beleaguered Ma Bell.

Of the four major U.S. national cell-phone standard service providers, Verizon again scored the highest in this year’s Ratings, followed closely by Sprint. Survey respondents gave very good scores to Verizon for texting and data service satisfaction, as well for staff knowledge.

It feels like 2010, all over again.

The findings are based on the newest satisfaction survey of some 60,000 Consumer Reports online subscribers with both standard and no-contract providers. Readers were polled about their service and customer support experience. Note that 18 percent of their readers, nearly one-fifth, said they don’t yet own a smart phone (but want one).

AT&T users are dissatisfied with their service, customer support and value for money.

So, who’s the happiest with their cell phone service? Surprisingly, it’s subscribers to prepaid services and customers of smaller standard-service providers rather than people with brand spanking new high-end smartphones on pricey plans. The magazine’s electronics editor Paul Reynolds explains:

However, these carriers aren’t for everyone. Some are only regional, and prepaid carriers tend to offer few or no smart phones.The major carriers are still leading options for many consumers, and we found they ranged widely in how well they satisfied their customers.

The magazine recently recommended the new iPhone 4S, saying “it doesn’t suffer the reception problem we found in its predecessor in special tests in our labs”. However, Consumer Reports also ranked several Android phones higher than iPhone 4S – including Samsung’s Galaxy S II and Motorola’s Droid Bionic, based on the ‘features’ such as large four-inch displays, for example. Their justification?

These pluses were not enough, however, to allow the iPhone 4S to outscore the best new Android-based phones in our Ratings. Those top scorers included the Samsung Galaxy S II phones, the Motorola Droid Bionic, and several other phones that boast larger displays than the iPhone 4S and run on faster 4G networks. (Technically, only the AT&T version of the iPhone 4S supports 4G, running on the carrier’s HSPA+ network at download speeds of about 14 megabits per second, the bottom rung of what is considered to be 4G network speed.)

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