* 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, the influential reviewers' group that blasted the iPhone 4 for a faulty antenna, on Friday gave Apple Inc's latest smartphone a thumbs-up despite echoing widespread complaints about its patchy mapping service.
The organization, which in 2010 withheld its recommendation for the iPhone because of spotty reception when the gadget was held in a certain way, said laboratory tests confirmed that the new iPhone 5 ranked among the best smartphones but its mapping function clearly fell short.
Apple's latest iPhone, sporting a larger 4-inch screen and 4G capability, drew scathing reviews for glaring errors in a new, self-designed mapping service. Chief Executive Tim Cook apologized last week and directed users to rival services run by Google Inc and others.
"Despite the widespread criticism it has received, Apple's new Maps app... is competent enough, even if it falls short of what's available for free on many other phones," reviewer Mike Gikas wrote on the group's website on Friday.
"As Apple has recently apologized and promised to fix these and other map glitches, we expect the Map app to improve in time," he wrote.
Apple's shares were down 1.3 percent at $658.43 in early afternoon trade on Nasdaq.
The consumer electronics juggernaut began selling its latest smartphone last month. Sales of over 5 million in its first three days in stores fell short of outsized expectations as it struggled with supply constraints.
Its homegrown Maps -- stitched together by acquiring companies and employing data from a range of providers including TomTom NV and Waze -- was introduced with much fanfare in June by software chief Scott Forstall. It was billed as a highlight of the updated iOS 6 software.
Errors and omissions quickly emerged after the software was rolled out. They ranged from misplaced buildings and mislabeled cities to duplicate geographical features. Users also complained that the service lacked features that made Google Maps so popular, such as public transit directions and street-view pictures.
The last time Apple faced such widespread criticism -- including from Consumer Reports -- was during 2010's "Antennagate" furor, when users complained of signal reception issues on the then-new iPhone 4. This year the consumer group, which reviews everything from cars to kitchen appliances, also warned initially that Apple's new iPad threw off too much heat.
A defiant Steve Jobs at the time rejected any suggestion the iPhone 4's design was flawed, but offered consumers free phone cases at a rare, 90-minute press conference called to address those complaints.
"Now that our auto experts have completed their tests, including some carried out some days after the launch, they describe the app as relatively streamlined, and concluded that it generally provides clear guidance, including voice and on-screen directions," Gikas wrote.
"However, they did find that it lacks the details, traffic data, and customization options offered by the free Google navigation app found on Android phones."
(Reporting By Edwin Chan; editing by Andrew Hay)
Keywords: APPLE IPHONE/