I was at a party over the weekend and was asked which cell phone has the lowest SAR rating. The woman asked in the midst of four or five of us talking about iPhone rumors and the viability of mobile TV services. "I don't care about that stuff," she said. "I just want the phone that has the lowest SAR rating possible."
For those of you who don't know, Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is "a way of measuring the quantity of RF energy that is absorbed by the body," as the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) puts it. Handsets get a SAR rating when the FCC certifies them, and anything with a SAR above 1.6 watts per kilogram won't pass muster with the feds. In Europe, the maximum acceptable SAR level is 2W/kg.
Now there's no evidence to conclusively back the assertion that high SAR levels are - or aren't - harmful to humans. Lots of research as been done on the topic, and some tests have shown that cell phone RF emissions may contribute to cancer in lab animals. But no hard evidence exists to show that cell phone emissions are detrimental to human health. At least none that I know of or could find online.
That said, SAR levels are the measure that consumers most often look to in determining the relative level of RF energy that's absorbed into a person's body during cell phone use. You can learn much, much more about SAR levels by doing a quick Google. Bear in mind that there's a cottage industry devoted to phone accessories that claim to reduce "harmful radiation emissions," so you may well wind up reading what looks like empirical evidence on the FAQ page of a company hoping to sell you a "SAR Shield" type device. I'm not saying anyone's lying to consumers - I'm just saying to be smart about recognizing who wrote what you're reading and what their motives might be.
So - to answer the question: What phone has the lowest SAR level? Looks like it's the LG Chocolate, but NOT the version that Verizon carries. The unlocked GSM Chocolate has a SAR rating that's only a fraction of its Verizon (CDMA) sibling. Crazy, huh?
I found a few different charts that claim to have the answer, and decided to go with the one on the most reputable site: CNET (full disclosure: CNET is a PhoneDog partner). CNET's got a few different SAR ratings charts online, so I'll give you the highlights along with links to the full results:
Lowest SAR Rated Handsets in the US:
1. LG KG800 ("Chocolate" - Unlocked GSM Version) : 0.135 SAR level
2. Motorola RAZR V3x : 0.14
3. Nokia 9300 : 0.21
Highest SAR Rated Handsets in the US:
1. Motorola V195s : 1.6
2. Motorola Slvr L6 : 1.58
3. Motorola Slvr L2 & W385 : 1.54
Other Popular Handsets:
Apple iPhone (4GB and 8GB) : 0.974
T-Mobile Sidekick 3 : 0.5
LG VX8500 ("Chocolate" - Verizon Wireless Version) : 1.13
LG VX8500 ("Chocolate" - Sprint Version) : 1.29
RIM BlackBerry Curve (AT&T and T-Mobile Versions): 1.51
RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T and T-Mobile Versions) : 1.22
RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8230 (Verizon Wireless Version) : 1.48
CNET's Ten highest-radiation cell phones in the US, with links to ratings by manufacturer, is available here.