What it all means
A cell phone's SAR, or its Specific Absorption Rate, is a measure of the amount of radio frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body when using the handset. All cell phones emit RF energy and the SAR varies by handset model.
For a phone to receive FCC certification and be sold in the United States, its maximum SAR level must be 1.6 watts per kilogram. In Europe, the level is capped at 2 watts per kilogram, while Canada allows a maximum of 1.6 watts per kilogram.
The SAR level listed in our charts represents the highest SAR level measured with the phone next to the ear as tested by the Federal Communications Commission. Keep in mind that it is possible for the SAR level to vary between different transmission bands (the same phone can use multiple bands during a call), and that different testing bodies can obtain different results. Also, it's possible for results to vary between different models of the same phone--as in the case of a handset that's offered by multiple carriers. CNET lists the exposure for voice calls only; the SAR for data use can differ. Different manufacturers also often have different methods for testing; some hold the phone 2cm away from the body, while some recommend holding it at around 25mm away. Check out our sampling of user manuals for some of the recommendations.
It's important to note that in publishing this list, we are in no way implying that cell phone use is harmful to your health. Research abounds, but there still is not conclusive or demonstrated evidence as to whether cell phones cause adverse health effects in humans. While some studies have found a possible link between long-term (10 years or longer) cell phone use and brain tumors, decreased sperm count, and other ailments, other research has found no such effects. The science will continue, and we will continue to monitor the results, but it can take years of exhaustive research before studies actually prove anything (if they ever do).
If you're concerned about limiting your SAR exposure, you can take a few easy steps. You can text instead placing a voice call, use a speakerphone or headset whenever possible, and carry your phone at least 1 inch from your body (making sure the antenna is facing away from you). If you're pregnant, you should avoid carrying a phone next to your abdomen. Some researchers also caution against using your phone in areas with a weak signal since phones emit more electro-magnetic radiation during those times. Children, who have smaller and thinner skulls, should limit cell phone use, and people of any age should not sleep with an active phone next to the bedside or under the pillow.
Buying a phone with a lower SAR may make you feel more comfortable, but there's no guarantee that it is inherently safer. Also, during a call the phone may never reach the listed SAR and the SAR can change constantly depending on several factors.
If your phone isn't listed here (U.S. customers) and you've purchased it within the last few years, consult your user manual. Alternatively, you can request the SAR information from the FCC, the manufacturer, or your carrier. You'll need the model number and FCC ID number, which is usually--but not always--listed in the owner's manual or under the phone's battery (you must pop the battery out). We'll continue to update the list as new phones are announced. For more information, consult the FCC, Food and Drug Administration, or the Environmental Working Group.