WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- When Consumer Reports announced a week ago that it "can't recommend the iPhone 4" because of Apple's (AAPL) antenna issues, the media reaction was a collective "Oh, snap!" But what did Consumer Reports really mean?Despite finding that touching the side of the iPhone 4 on the lower left reduced reception "enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal," Consumer Reports kept the iPhone 4 atop its ratings. That decision came, the publication said, "in part because it sports the sharpest display and best video camera we've seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller." They've concluded that, while the iPhone 4 is the best-performing phone on the market, the antenna flaw actually makes it a misfit toy compared with the next phone in line -- oddly enough, the iPhone 3GS. Consumer Reports' "Recommended" label gives special consideration to "high-scoring models that combine performance, features and value." The iPhone 4 isn't alone among unloved leaders, as Consumer Reports has slapped its "recommended" label on second-best products in categories ranging from MP3 players and LCD televisions to pickup trucks and two-slice toasters. "We test thousands of products every year, many score well, but that doesn't always mean every product that scores well receives a Consumer Reports Recommends designation," Consumer Reports spokesman C. Matt Fields says. "It can be confusing." It can, especially when Consumer Reports slaps a product with the "Don't Buy" designation, as it did with Toyota's Lexus GX earlier this year after a rollover test exposed flaws in the vehicle. The designation was removed after a recall, but it shows the thin line between Consumer Reports not supporting a product and being completely against it based on safety or performance. TheStreet combed through Consumer Reports' ratings and, while we found more instances of the top-rated product not getting a recommendation, we've focused on 10 instances in which the better product wasn't the better buy. AT&T SMARTPHONES Poseur: iPhone 4 Perfect: iPhone 3GS As mentioned earlier, the iPhone 4's high-clarity Retina display, 720p HD camera and front-facing camera are improvements over the 3GS. The antenna issue was a sticking point for Consumer Reports, though, even after Apple called its press conference last week and gave away $87 million in free cases. In its initial criticism, Consumer Reports wanted Apple to come up with "a permanent -- and free -- fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone." Apple got the "free" part right, but the stopgap measure earned golf claps from Consumer Reports. It credited Apple with a "good first step" but scoffed at the short-term solution, its Sept. 30 refund deadline and lack of reimbursement for customers who bought third-party cases. "We look forward to a long-term fix from Apple," in consumer speak, translates roughly to "we're not recommending this, so spend $100 less on the old model."
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