Samsung Galaxy S III and iPhone 4S

What a difference a year makes. Apple topped American Customer Satisfaction Index's smartphone rankings back in 2012, but Samsung has taken the lead in 2013 by a slim margin. Owners responding to ACSI's national survey gave an 84-point score to both the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, putting the two Samsung phones just past the 82-point iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S. Researchers haven't explained the changing attitudes, although they add that the Galaxy S 4 and other newer phones didn't ship in time to count. It's at least clear that the American sentiment doesn't extend worldwide -- ACSI notes that South Koreans ranked the iPhone 5 higher than the Galaxy S III despite Samsung's home turf advantage. Apple also maintains the lead in ACSI's device-independent scores at 81 points to 76, although Samsung is quickly catching up. It's safe to say that neither smartphone maker can afford to relax.

Samsung edges past Apple in US smartphone satisfaction, but reverse is true in Korea

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Samsung Beats Apple in New Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study from ACSI

ANN ARBOR, Mich., (July 31, 2013) – Samsung hits a home run with its Galaxy S III and Note II, according to a smartphone brand study released today by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The new study provides 2013 customer satisfaction benchmarks for 10 of the past year's top-selling smartphone models in the United States.

Samsung's flagship model for 2012, the S III, receives an ACSI benchmark of 84 (on a 0 to 100 scale), beating Apple's iPhone 5 at 82, the company's most recent smartphone offering. Another Samsung model, Note II, shares the top of list at 84. Galaxy S4 is not included because the ACSI study was fielded just prior to its launch.

While U.S. customers give Samsung's smartphones the top scores, Korean consumers prefer Apple. According to the National Customer Satisfaction Index (NCSI) in South Korea, which uses the same technology as the ACSI, the iPhone 5 has higher customer satisfaction than Galaxy S III.

The smartphone segment of the cell phone market is growing at a rapid clip, and ACSI data suggest that smartphone users are much more satisfied than are feature phone users. Overall, smartphones earn a customer satisfaction score of 76 compared to 69 for feature phones.

"While feature phones are cheaper, and therefore viewed by many customers as better value, smartphones excel in quality," says Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and Chairman. "Smartphones receive strong marks for feature variety, design and ease of use, with battery life as their only real shortcoming."

The iPhone 4S matches its successor-iPhone 5-with an ACSI score of 82. Apple's iPhone 4 is just a point below at 81. On the other hand, at a score of 78, customer satisfaction with the Galaxy S II, precursor to the S III, is lower. Motorola Mobility's Droid Razr Maxx HD comes in at 80, while the Droid Razr scores 77. The low end belongs to BlackBerry, far below competition, with 67 and 64, respectively, for its Curve and Bold smartphones.

"Not only does Samsung edge ahead of all iPhones, Apple customers themselves don't see much difference between the iPhone 4, 4S or 5," says ACSI Director David VanAmburg. "The latest earnings report from Apple was better than expected, but the name of the game for Apple has always been innovation. Samsung, on the other hand, shows a strong upward ACSI trend from the Galaxy S II to the Galaxy S III. If the S4 performs as well-or even better-in the eyes of customers, Samsung could threaten Apple's dominance in overall customer satisfaction."

The smartphone brand study complements and expands the ACSI's coverage of the cell phone industry, updated in May 2013, gauging customer satisfaction with each company's complete array of product offerings-smartphones and feature phones. As reported earlier, Apple's overall ACSI score is 81, a 2% drop compared with 2012, but strong enough to retain the industry lead.

Unlike Apple, which has a smartphone-only lineup, Samsung offers both feature and smartphones. At 76, Samsung continues to lag Apple for overall customer satisfaction. Nevertheless, the company's 7% gain in 2013 is a clear reflection of the strength of Galaxy S III.

"Like Apple, BlackBerry offers smart devices only, yet the company stays firmly entrenched at the bottom of the industry in customer satisfaction," says Fornell. "This does not bode well for BlackBerry considering that smart typically outperforms feature when it comes to cell phones."

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Samsung edges past Apple in US smartphone satisfaction study, but reverse is true in Korea