* iPhone 5 "a winner" despite error-prone maps, says group
* Consumer Reports expects Maps app to improve
* Apple shares drift lower
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Consumer Reports, theinfluential reviewers' group that blasted the iPhone 4 for afaulty antenna, on Friday gave Apple Inc's latestsmartphone a thumbs-up despite echoing widespread complaintsabout its patchy mapping service.
The organization, which in 2010 withheld its recommendationfor the iPhone because of spotty reception when the gadget washeld in a certain way, said laboratory tests confirmed that thenew iPhone 5 ranked among the best smartphones but its mappingfunction clearly fell short.
Apple's latest iPhone, sporting a larger 4-inch screen and4G capability, drew scathing reviews for glaring errors in anew, self-designed mapping service. Chief Executive Tim Cookapologized last week and directed users to rival services run byGoogle Inc and others.
"Despite the widespread criticism it has received, Apple'snew Maps app... is competent enough, even if it falls short ofwhat's available for free on many other phones," reviewer MikeGikas wrote on the group's website on Friday.
"As Apple has recently apologized and promised to fix theseand other map glitches, we expect the Map app to improve intime," he wrote.
Apple's shares were down 1.3 percent at $658.43 in earlyafternoon trade on Nasdaq.
The consumer electronics juggernaut began selling its latestsmartphone last month. Sales of over 5 million in its firstthree days in stores fell short of outsized expectations as itstruggled with supply constraints.
Its homegrown Maps -- stitched together by acquiringcompanies and employing data from a range of providers includingTomTom NV and Waze -- was introduced with much fanfarein June by software chief Scott Forstall. It was billed as ahighlight of the updated iOS 6 software.
Errors and omissions quickly emerged after the software wasrolled out. They ranged from misplaced buildings and mislabeledcities to duplicate geographical features. Users also complainedthat the service lacked features that made Google Maps sopopular, such as public transit directions and street-viewpictures.
The last time Apple faced such widespread criticism --including from Consumer Reports -- was during 2010's"Antennagate" furor, when users complained of signal receptionissues on the then-new iPhone 4. This year the consumer group,which reviews everything from cars to kitchen appliances, alsowarned initially that Apple's new iPad threw off too much heat.
A defiant Steve Jobs at the time rejected any suggestion theiPhone 4's design was flawed, but offered consumers free phonecases at a rare, 90-minute press conference called to addressthose complaints.
"Now that our auto experts have completed their tests,including some carried out some days after the launch, theydescribe the app as relatively streamlined, and concluded thatit generally provides clear guidance, including voice andon-screen directions," Gikas wrote.
"However, they did find that it lacks the details, trafficdata, and customization options offered by the free Googlenavigation app found on Android phones."
(Reporting By Edwin Chan; editing by Andrew Hay)
Keywords: APPLE IPHONE/