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Consumer Reports' Mobile Shopper a mixed bag

Mel Martin

This is the second foray into iPhone territory by Consumer Reports. The first app pretty much duplicated the currently-available online content, and was free. This second app, called Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper is US $9.99, and puts the impeccable brand and product reviews in a more iOS-specific form.

The app allows you to browse through CR ratings of thousands of products, and allows searches by brand name or model. You can also scan the UPC bar-code using the iPhone's camera. The app also gives you best prices both online and locally using PriceGrabber for online price comparisons and Milo for local purchases.

It all sounds great in theory, but there are some rough edges. I thought the scanning worked well enough, and it's a fast way to get to the product you're interested in. Typing product names is easy enough too. Of course you won't find details on everything, since you're always limited to what they've reviewed. In some cases there are big holes -- if you go to the car category, all you get are tires, batteries, and GPS units. Huh? Aren't cars one area where CR has a tremendous amount of information?

Gallery: Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper | 4 Photos

Then there's that price of $9.99. Buried in the text is information that this is a one-year subscription at an introductory price, which means it will likely get more expensive. Many are buying the app just seeing the $9.99 price and have an unpleasant surprise coming when it stops working. That sounds a bit like the kind of bait-and-switch CR so disdains. Also, for system requirements, CR states it works on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad with iOS 3.0 or greater. But not so fast -- at another place on the iTunes page, CR says the app only works on phones with iOS 4.0. Nice.

By the way, the original CR app is nowhere to be found in the App Store. If you have it, and like it, hang onto it. A Consumer Reports spokesman confirmed to us that the free app has been pulled and replaced by the current paid app.

Despite my criticisms, I still found the CR app useful. It was nice to have easy-to-find reviews when I was out and about. I think the app is too expensive, especially since CR doesn't plainly bother to disclose that it's the first payment of a subscription product. Here's another corker, too: when you click on the link for app support, you're taken to the standard CR web page, which requires you to log in, and only subscribers can do that. There's nothing that even remotely resembles support for this app.

You have to wonder if this app meets the sort of disclosure requirements CR demands of products they review? At any rate, it's a clever idea, and at a lower price and a more honest description of its limitations, I'd recommend it. For now, I'd pass.

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