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Report: Pre, Android Closing iPhone Gap

Hear that iPhone? The Palm Pre and Android-powered handsets narrowly beat out the BlackBerry in customer satisfaction, according to a report issued today.

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone is still the one to beat, earning first place in customer satisfaction with an 83 on a 100-point scale. Palm's (NASDAQ: PALM) Pre and the Android category each checked in at 77, beating out Research In Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry at 73, according to the CFI Group's "Smartphone Satisfaction Study 2009."

Under the metrics of the study, a score above 80 is considered stellar while one below 70 is cause for concern. The study did not break out specific BlackBerry, Symbian or Windows Mobile models and defined the Android category as users who were "mostly using an HTC phone."

The Palm Treo scored a 70, more than handsets running Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Mobile and Nokia's (NYSE: NOK) Symbian, which had an overall grade of 66.

In terms of accolades, the iPhone, which is credited for triggering a surge in popularity of smartphones with mainstream buyers, still reins supreme -- 92 percent of iPhone owners said they have the "ideal phone." Around 90 percent have recommended the device, while 35 percent said they bought the iPhone based on word-of-mouth advice.

The tip of a data-incentive iceberg

"The iPhone is the best thing to happen to the smartphone industry because it captured the imagination of a whole new set of consumers that might not have made the smartphone jump," Doug Helmreich, program director with CFI Group, said in a statement. "The iPhone raised the bar not only for other smartphones, but for the networks as well. The new breed of smartphone consumers expect more from their phones, and the iPhone may represent only the tip of a data-intensive iceberg."

High customer satisfaction scores among iPhone owners, however, did not carry over to AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the device, according to the survey, which polled about 1,000 smartphone users during a 7-day period in August. AT&T has struggled to meet the demands of iPhone owners since the launch of the iPhone 3GS in June as the network strains under heavy data use.

Half of all iPhone owners surveyed said they would switch to another provider, but 75 percent of non-iPhone users said they would stick with AT&T. For customer satisfaction, AT&T scored 69 out of 100 among iPhone users, and 73 among non-iPhone owners.

Verizon Wireless also shows a discrepancy in terms of what its customers think of network performance and how they feel about devices running on that network.

Smartphone satisfaction accounts for only about 15 percent of a person's likelihood to recommend the network, the study says.

Verizon is considered the ideal carrier among 86 percent of users questioned, and it scored 79 out of 100 for customer satisfaction. Still, just 38 percent of Verizon subscribers said their phone is the ideal smartphone, the lowest among all carriers.

Page 2: Cash cows and satisfaction saboteurs