15 Jan 2011

The Battle of the Smartphones, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Touchscreen

It was that magical moment in life when your mobile phone (and contract) was due for an upgrade and there were many lovely, shiny new phones from which to choose...

In deciding which new phone to get (I was upgrading from my Blackberry Curve 8900), I decided to look at the top phones currently on the market, the BlackBerry Torch, the HTC Desire HD and the iPhone 4.  Here's how I made my decision:

Since '05, I've only used BlackBerrys. I work for Vodafone, so as well as having a personal BlackBerry, I also have a work BlackBerry. Also, during my time in the US Air Force, I worked in IT from '04 to '07 and was the lead "BlackBerry guy" at RAF Lakenheath (one of the larger bases in the AF).  Thus, I've been able to have and use many different versions of the famed smartphone (including the 6230 [this was the first BB I ever used...it had a *gasp* black & white screen!], 7230, 7250, 8700 [these three were the BBs of choice among Commanders on Lakenheath during '05 to '07], the first "Pearl" 8100, the Curve 8320 [my first work BB], the Curve 8900, the Storm 9500 [ugh!] and the Bold 9700 [my current work BB]).

I've always loved BlackBerry phones and it's true that they were, and still are, the best smartphone around for email (especially for businesses utilising a BlackBerry Enterprise Server).  Also, of major importance for me was that BlackBerrys have full physical Qwerty keyboards.  I type fast, and had never previously been able to find a phone with a touchscreen that allowed me to type fast and not make tons of mistakes.

There are many more things to consider in a smartphone, though. For me, they are:

Screen (size and quality)
Operating System
Ease of Use

It used to be that all were of equal importance and that the BlackBerry was great at some and not so at others.

There were then three paradigm shifts in the past few years to affect not only myself but many smartphone users: the rise of the App, the improvement of touchscreen keyboards and the advent of social networking on smartphones.

It is without question that the variety and quality of available Apps are among the most important things to now consider when buying a new smartphone. Whether it is for communication (Skype, Google Talk), games (Angry Birds, Robo-Defense), utilities (Google Maps, Sat-Nav, Google Translate), etc., Apps used to be a "cool" thing to have...they're now essential. Now, I know that Apps aren't the most important thing for some smartphone users (read: Windows 7 and BlackBerry users!) and that for some, voice quality and signal capabilities (HSPA, 3G, etc.) are still the number-one consideration when buying a new phone, but if call quality is your most important factor, why are you wasting your time with a SMARTphone? Buy something cheaper!

Secondly, the improvement in the usability of touchscreen keyboards is incredible.  Even as recently as the iPhone 3GS, the greatest touchscreen keyboard in the world wasn't as good as the worst physical keyboard.  This is not so, anymore, though. While I would assert that a BlackBerry's physical keyboard is still better than any touchscreen, the gap is nowhere near as big as it once was. The responsiveness of the latest touchscreen phones is fantastic, with the iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy and HTCs leading the way.

Lastly, the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, the ubiquity of IM applications such as the aforementioned Talk, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook Chat, etc., on smartphones have all put a huge "dent" in the frequency of my personal email use. In short, I rarely use email at all anymore (even on my home PC), except when signing-up for things online, for which you almost always need a valid email address. This means that BlackBerry's key differentiator of being "the best for email" is no longer wholly relevant outside of business use.

(As a side note, it must be said that the great strides made in the last two or three years in smartphone operating systems makes choosing the right OS for your needs an important factor as well)

Anyway, for me and many like me, because voice quality, email capabilities, cameras, network capabilties (such as HSPA, WiFi, etc.) are pretty much the same across most of the high-end smartphones, Apps and the OS are now the top considerations. This then, meant that in choosing a new smartphone, a new BlackBerry was no longer an option (lack of Apps or a cutting-edge OS) and neither were the new Windows 7 phones (lack of a wide range of Apps). So it was a direct choice: iPhone 4 vs. the HTC Desire HD. Why the Desire HD? As my provider is, of course, Vodafone, I wanted to compare the iPhone 4 with the best Android phone Vodafone offers, which is the Desire HD.

Luckily, Courtney wanted an iPhone 4, no question. So, in early December I got her one and was able to play with it and have a really good look at its capabilities before making my decision.

There's no doubt in my mind that Apple's iOS is great. It's user-friendly, intuitive and graphically attractive. This is not say it's without its faults, though.  The complex and sheer number of menus and sub-menus is a little off-putting, and the lack of a dedicated 'Back" button means navigation can be tiresome. 

Apple's Retina Display, though, is simply magnificent and the best display on the market, hands-down. Email is a breeze (thanks to the iOS finally allowing delivery of all email accounts into one inbox, a feature conspicuously missing from pre-iOS 4.0...) and the quantity of Apps is second-to-none.

However (!), Apple have, in my mind, done the unforgivable, and locked their device down so tightly that trying to sync or add/remove media is so fucking complex and long-winded, not to mention that it MUST be done through iTunes, that I wanted to throw the fucking thing out the window when I was trying to put some music on it! You see, I'd made the mistake of setting up the phone using my laptop and iTunes library. So when it came time for Courtney to use her laptop and her iTunes library, I had to metaphorically jump through flaming hoops of solidified dogshit for her to be able to do this.

This was a real turn-off for me and was one of the main reasons behind my deciding to say eff it, and go with Android (the other being the fact that it would be cool for me and the wife to have an iPhone and an Android phone, as opposed to the same phone), meaning that:


...I decided to pick up the Desire HD the very next day. So let's make this short and sweet:

The Good
Display - not quite as good as iPhone 4's, resolution-wise, but still HD and it's bigger
Apps - I would argue the Apps are better because 1) the native Google Apps are awesome and 2) many of the iPhone's paid apps are free here (such as Angry Birds). This is not to mention that Android are right behind Apple in sheer number as well
OS - y'know those issues I was having with the iPhone 4 being so locked down? Non-existent on Android...I can do whatever I want, however I want. Period.
UI - HTC's minimal overlay on Froyo is also very user friendly with the added bonus of having four dedicated keys (Home, Back, Menu and Search) that make navigation around the OS so much easier
Camera - 8MP and better than iPhone 4's
Camcorder - 720p HD (same as iPhone 4's)
Email - choice of dedicated apps OR single inbox (better than iPhone 4)
Speed - with the 1GHz processor and 750 MB of RAM (overkill? Perhaps...) the Desire HD is the fastest phone on the market

The Not-So-Good
Weight - Thing is heavy as shit! (But so is the iPhone 4)
Audio - seems a little low to me, but with HTC Sense (only available on Android phones) the phone knows when it's in your bag/pocket and so rings louder!

The Bad
Battery - I have to charge this damn thing anywhere from two to four (!) times a day!
No Front-Facing Camera - inability to do Video Calling is a big thing

So in the end, the choice was obvious, for me. I say "for me", because after all, that's what it's really about, isn't it? Many people I've spoken to since I got the phone have asked, "Which is better? Android or iPhone?" And I always say the same thing:

If you aren't a tech-geek or smartphone-savvy and you want a smartphone that has all the bells and whistles, you should always get the iPhone 4.

If you know you're way around smartphones and are tech/PC-literate, you should always go for Android.

1 comment:

Kiran said...

New iPhone 5 Features checkout here