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Testing specialists Broadband Testing have turned their attention to what remains the killer app for mobile phones - the ability to make phone calls - and has discovered that some smart phones are not so bright.

While all mobiles have to pass radio conformance testing that only covers the minimum of capabilities, in exhaustive testing on six of the leading smart phones Broadband Testing discovered huge differences in the ability to connect to the voice network as well as maintain connections during a call - with Apple's iPhone being an unexpected star of the show.

The company tested two phones from RIM, the Bold and Storm, Apple's iPhone, a Nokia E71, a Samsung SGH-F48 and a Sony Ericsson C905. The tests involved trying to maintain a 3G call while walking, as well as travelling in a car at 120kph and handing off to 2G networks in both scenarios for when 3G lets one down.

Most notable from the results is the huge increase in call quality between the iPhone running version 2.0 and 2.2 of mobile OSX. While version 2 would drop around 35 per cent of calls made while strolling along, that figure drops below ten per cent with version 2.2, comparing very well with the E71 which was unable to maintain a connection throughout the gentlest perambulation.

Also notable was the difference between the BlackBerry Storm and Bold, with the former almost incapable of handing off from 3G to 2G networks at speed and struggling even when walking, while the Bold took both activities in its stride.

Network operators have their own radio testing divisions, which subject new handsets to rigorous tests to ensure they conform to the GSM standards, though in reality once a handset has been approved by one of the bigger operators it will get the nod from the others. The testing divisions are under huge pressure to do their work quickly, and there are never enough prototypes to go round once senior management have grabbed their share.

Perception of call quality is generally down to hearsay and word of mouth, with the ability to remain connected to the network often being an area that engenders brand loyalty - Nokia's radio experience has, historically, made their handsets good for phone calls, though the E71 results would seem to belie that. That makes the difference between the Bold and Storm handsets troubling; though the radio chipsets in the phones are different, a customer might reasonably expect similar performance from two BlackBerry-banded handsets.

Broadband Testing will sell the details of the tests on the six handsets in its first report on the subject, and plans a subscription service as it tests more handsets in more environments - hopefully bringing more attention to the function that actually makes people go out and buy a mobile phone. ®

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