For the eighth time in a row, Apple is ranked with the highest customer satisfaction. The iPhone received 849 points out of 1,000, according to J.D. Powers and Associates. HTC ranked second with 790 points and Samsung earned 782 points, below the 783-point survey average.

The iPhone “performs well in all factors, particularly in physical design and ease of operation,” the ratings firm announced Thursday. The company measured smartphones for performance, physical design, features and ease of operation.

Motorola and Nokia rounded out the top-five smartphones, garnering 777 and 763 points respectively. RIM scored just 740 points, while HP ranked last. LG topped the list of traditional, or “feature” cell phones.

The 2012 Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study also declared that Twitter, Facebook and other social media applications “play a critical role in overall smartphone satisfaction.”

Users of mobile gaming and social-networking apps both give smartphones higher satisfaction ratings and spend more money with carriers. Smartphone owners who use social-networking apps have a satisfaction rating of 810, 55 points higher than smartphone users that do not have social-networking apps, the survey found. Additionally, smartphone owners with social-networking apps spend 100 minutes more per week than smartphone owners that don’t use mobile social media.

Mobile gaming follows the same path of high usage, better satisfaction. Smartphone owners who have a mobile game, rank their handset 61 points higher than among smartphone owners that don’t use gaming apps. Smartphone owners with gaming apps spend 81 minutes a week blasting aliens or smashing pigs into buildings.

“As the capabilities of wireless phones and their applications continue to expand, allowing customers to more often use their device, handset manufacturers have an opportunity to shape the customer experience and impact satisfaction with better application integration and social networking options,” said Uma Jha, senior director of mobile operations at J.D. Powers.

The survey also gave makers of smartphones other advice: price matters and malfunctioning phones can seriously hurt customer satisfaction. Price is now the driving force with nearly a quarter of smartphone shoppers.

The survey found 19 percent of customers say price was their primary reason for buying the smartphone they now own. That’s up from 14 percent in 2011. While price is gaining priority, a smartphone’s features aren’t as important to customers as previously. The survey found 47 percent of customers were interested in smartphone features, down from 57 percent a year ago.

Although the percent of free smartphones inched up to 22 percent from 18 percent, more than 40 percent of traditional mobile phones are free. Carriers looking to entice more buyers have pushed the average price of a traditional cell phone to $56, down from $66 a year ago.

But perhaps most telling is how important it is for smartphone makers to sell a device that works. Almost 20 percent of smartphone owners say they experience software or hardware malfunctions. That frustration can chop 90 points from overall customer satisfaction.

And pity the smartphone maker producing phones that crash. The survey found owners of smartphones with software that crashes at least once per week give an average rating of 663 out of 1,000.

What do you think? What makes the iPhone stand out from the smartphone crowd?