Thursday, August 4, 2011

Which Smartphone is Right for You?

Edited by Arvin Can.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone.  Which one should I get next?!?  Like everyone else who’s in the market, I’ve asked the same question. 

Today’s smartphones can do so much but with the barrage of choices, which one is right for me? Choices are good but too many choices can be confusing for anyone.  Friends and family offer good recommendations, even if what they recommend is their own phone. There’s little wrong with that; they like it and want others to enjoy it. However, not everyone is the same. You may like vanilla, I might prefer chocolate and someone else loves strawberry. It’s hard to pick one without tasting them first, so let me tease your palate by sampling each one.

Bold 9900
RIM’s Blackberry (BB) is the oldest system out of the four. Data networks were slower when the first Blackberry came out compared today’s networks, thus BB uses the least data with the help of heavy compression. This means you don’t need to get an expensive plan as the smallest will suffice. BB is also known for it’s hardware keyboard which has no equal, though some have come close such as Motorola and HP (formerly Palm). Smaller screens plus slower processors equals great battery life. Some users don’t need charging for a week at a time! For email, BB is solid, secure and reliable, but the competition is catching up. BBM is a built-in instant messenger exclusive to BB only. This is BB’s killer app since its does not cost extra to use with a BB plan and it works internationally. With all these good things going for it, why is it that the majority of people looking for a new phone are BB users? Blackberry used to be a business device, then they released a couple of phones for consumer use and picked up lots of users from there. This was before the iPhone.  Apple found that consumers want consumer features.  BB users felt left behind and this is why they are jumping ship. Others refuse to leave because of BBM. Blackberry’s App World selection and quality are poor.  In addition, they make it hard for developers to make them so there are less of them. They also don’t have an ecosystem. They use Microsoft’s Bing! for search, Google Maps and had no music, video or ebooks. They aren’t moving fast enough to meet consumer demand.

iPhone’s release changed the landscape. Apple didn’t invent anything new but the way they packaged and simplified things was “magical” as the marketing goes. It has the best touch screen with a simple, fast and accurate onscreen keyboard. Apple had the luxury of starting from scratch and the User Interface paradigm they introduced was like nothing else.  It was simple, smooth, flashy and very finger friendly. They used their experience with the iPod to deliver stunning music and video on the iPhone. They later introduced books and magazine subscription with the release of the iPad. The second generation iPhone came with apps and the App Store™ which exploded bigger than anyone ever expected.  From a simple and useful tip calculator to an unbelievable augmented reality and fun games, the apps creative developers made changed perceptions of what mobile phones can do, leading to the birth of “There’s an app for that!”. With a huge screen and powerful processor, the iPhone needed to be charged often, in most cases once a day! Even though they improved battery usage in the latest generation, to 40% at end of the night instead of 15%, you will still need to charge it at night to be able to use it the next day. They don’t come out with all the features under the sun, but they constantly release updates. With the latest upcoming update, they finally fixed the annoying notification system and many minors features to make it more complete. The iPhone has a great industrial design, but it’s one design. There’s only one new iPhone model a year, and it looks just like the previous iPhone with some minor changes. As always, there’s no keyboard, no extra buttons and same screen size. It is also a closed system, anything you want for it must be approved by Apple. The types of apps are limited, there’s no other music player or email reader or anything that enhances it’s functionality.  And for those who don’t like it, they have the option of jailbreaking. But I’m not going to talk about that.

HTC Dream
Android is a Google product. They don’t make phones like RIM or Apple, they just provide the OS like Microsoft makes Windows. Android’s original design and concept was more similar to Blackberry than iPhone. But when iPhone was launched with the help of Google (they provided the map, YouTube and search) and became a huge success, Android team changed their strategy and release the first phone with HTC called the G1 a.k.a HTC Dream. This phone resembles the iPhone but with a slide-out keyboard. This was back in 2008, today there are hundreds of Android phones to choose from by different manufacturers and carriers. Google does not limit the kind of application that’s allowed on Android. This results in a variety of utility apps that does not exist for the iPhone, such as touch keyboards, schedulers, automation and widgets. Widgets is a small app that runs on the home screen. These widgets can be really useful, a quick way to change settings & play music, or quick glace to your appointments, messages and weather, all without launching a single app. Since Google has a great repertoire of web-apps, their inclusion into the Android is fantastic, like Google Maps, Youtube, Gmail, Calendar, Docs and most recently Google+. And everything is done over the air, meaning you never have to plug your phone to your computer for backing up and syncing. And when I find a good app on my computer’s web browser, I can simply click the install button and it’s there on my phone ready to be used. Media and Entertainment is where Google fails to offer the same great service. They do not have a music store though they just announced Google Music beta for the U.S. market but this is only a service to store your music on the cloud. 
Google Nexus S
As for movies, it’s coming soon to the U.S. Books and magazines are a growing library however. Google does not review Android apps resulting in many poorly programmed, or worse, malicious apps which Google had to remove after users fell victim. Developers continue to focus on iPhone apps which leads to Android versions lacking features found in their iPhone counterparts. Some apps are direct ports which do not conform to Android guidelines, making user experience nonuniform across different apps. A common practice amongst manufacturers and carriers are to modify Android by skinning and pre-installing apps, which may give values to some users but makes it less responsive for most. These shortcomings are not Google’s fault, but they did make Android “open”. 

Live Tile
Microsoft takes a move from Apple’s playbook and created Windows Phone 7 (WP7) from scratch. It’s predecessor, Windows Mobile, tries to miniaturize Windows’ desktop experience. While WP7 takes a whole new approach by introducing Metro UI, hubs and live tiles. With people hub, users have a centralized place to communicate. You may start a conversation with a friend using Facebook chat, but when he goes offline, you can continue the same conversation using SMS in the same thread. Developers can extend this functionality by adding Yahoo! Chat for example. If you communicate with this person often, you can pin this contact to the live tile. Live tile is the WP7 home screen. It shows hubs, application notifications and shortcuts presented in a tile format. A tile can show unread messages, status updates and upcoming appointments. Bing! is Microsoft’s response to Google’s search and in WP7, Bing! has a dedicated search button. Searching for a movie, will show a synopsis of the movie and a link to IMDB app. Tap that app and you’ll jump directly to the detailed page of the movie complete with trailers and cast list. Hitting the back button, returns you to the synopsis page where you may find a list of show times with a link to Cineplex app. Tapping this app, you’ll jump directly to purchasing the ticket, then you can pin the e-ticket right on the live tile ready to be used. This is how WP7 experience feels more integrated and seamless instead of jumping in and out of app silos. Zune is Microsoft’s version of iTunes and this is the place where you can get your music, movies, tv shows and podcast and sync it to your WP7. Mobile casual games really exploded with the introduction of powerful phones and WP7 integrates Xbox into its games hub. Microsoft relies on their hardware partners to build the phones, and Nokia will be releasing smartphones using WP7 replacing their own Symbian OS. This is a huge support from Nokia which is the largest phone manufacturer in the world. 
Metro UI & People Hub
With less than 5% of the smarphone market, Microsoft needs all the support they can get.  There are many people who don’t even know WP7 exist.  For some others that do know, the Microsoft and Windows name is a deterrant. Despite a growing list of applications, it’s still very small compared to the iPhone. WP7 is a closed system like the iPhone, so the type of apps are limited, but Microsoft is opening up more to developers with each release.  The future is bright for WP7 but they have many hurdles to get over before it can become a success. 

Now that you’ve got a little taste of each, you see how there are pros and cons for each platform. It really comes down to what’s important to your individual needs and expectations. If corporate email is the most important thing to you, go with Blackberry. But don’t dismiss the others, since most corporate email runs on Microsoft Exchange, iPhone has a great support for it and WP7 has a built-in Outlook client. If your primary email is Gmail, then Android it is, as it’s the only one with Gmail app that supports the label, star and priority inbox. If you’re still using Hotmail, then WP7 is the only one that support push notifications. Like to chat a lot? If you’re addicted to BBM then Blackberry is your only choice, otherwise iPhone should be your weapon of choice. With it’s approach to push notifications, you can have multiple IM apps installed and it won’t cost you more on memory or battery. WP7 uses a similar approach, so check if your favorite IM is supported and integrated with the people hub. Are you into social networking? Then WP7 is for you with its built-in integration with Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and others in one centralize experience so  you don’t jump in and out of multiple apps. Apple’s ever growing and popular App Store™ is the place to get the best apps and games. iTunes is Apple’s huge advantage for music syncing, but if you like to just drag and drop songs, then Android will be for you,  but spend $5 to buy a better music player, as the stock one needs work. If you don’t like the routine of charging your phone every night then Blackberry is by far the best in this category.  Then again, you could just carry an extra batter for your iPhone or Android device. If you’re not a technical person and you just want to use a smartphone without tinkering, then get the iPhone or WP7. They both have a nice, clean and simple interface and minimal customization. If you’re the kind of person that likes to tinker with your gadgets and modify it to your heart content, don’t settle with anything less than Android.

If you’re like me, you have a general idea on which you like, so don’t listen to anyone else. Don’t listen to the sales person no matter how much they tell you they want to help you get the best phone. They have a quota to meet, commissions to make,  and units to clear out.


  1. The HTC Dream introduced me to a magical world of Android, full of little green robo-men, widgets, and 100% compatibility with all my Google web apps--all while I'm awake. If your data lives on Google's servers (e.g. Gmail, Contacts, Maps, Calendar) there's no better choice than an Android phone.

    Take it from that perspective: go where your data is stored because most smartphones do practically the same thing.

  2. I agree with 100% compatibility. Just a reminder that you can still sync gmail, contacts and calendar with other platforms. Just don't expect label and priority for gmail. There's also the Google web apps that's pretty good on iPhone's Safari browser.

    If you bought songs from iTunes, you can't transfer DRM music to Android or Zune.

  3. UPDATE 1: RIM release a new set of Blackberry devices running on OS 7 and it's quite smooth "liquid" as they say. Browser experince is improve drastically and touch screen all around. It does come at a price however, battery life has come down to the same level as the rest of the players.

    UPDATE 2: A few have asked howcome I didn't add WebOS in there. Well I personally think that it didn't have what it takes to compete. And yesterday HP agrees and canned all WebOS hardware developement and production. It's quite sad but you can see this a mile away!