In December I qualified for an upgrade to my smartphone with AT&T. As a long-time user and fan of RIM’s BlackBerrys, I spent a lot of time deliberating over which phone to get. I even used my 30-day “buyer’s remorse” period to try out one phone and ultimately exchange it for another. Because I know a lot of professionals and business owners use smartphones the way I do—basically can’t get by without them—I thought it might be helpful to any of you that are considering a new phone or switching from the brand you’ve stayed loyal too for me to share my travails.
The context of my deliberation: Like I said, I’ve loved everything about the BlackBerry since getting my first one in 2008. Although I experienced a couple malfunctions (not by any fault of mine, cough cough) that required replacement by AT&T, I was happy overall with the phone’s hardware and software features, operating system and calling ability and quality. I started with a Curve and ended with a Bold (which has since been discontinued). The problem upon upgrade, however, is that RIM hasn’t come out with any groundbreaking innovations in its products. Sure, the Storm is cool and targets the hot touch-screen market, but it left much to be desired (I had the opportunity to review it when it debuted) and strayed from the familiarity that BlackBerry users appreciate.
RIM’s latest BlackBerry is the Torch with OS 6. Going into the upgrade blind, it seemed the natural choice for me. However, the very helpful rep at my local AT&T store in Santa Monica discouraged from doing so, admitting that the first-generation phone suffered from numerous bugs and was being returned by unhappy customers weekly. Reviews I later read online about the Torch confirmed her claims.
In fact, an excited Engadget tech writer did a sneak preview of the Torch in August, only to be left disappointed by the minimal improvements and still-outdated design: “We had high hopes coming into this review that the new operating system would be more than a fresh coat of paint on an aging user experience. For all the improvements in the browser, […] we still feel like this device is a generation behind the market. Instead of meeting the rising stars of the smartphone world (Apple and Google) head-on, RIM has taken something more like baby steps toward innovation. To call the Torch the ‘best BlackBerry ever’ wouldn’t be an understatement, but unfortunately for RIM and the faithful, their best isn’t nearly good enough.”
For someone who relies on her smartphone for daily personal, social and professional function, I can’t have something that “isn’t nearly good enough.” And I’m guessing you all can agree. So, I put some significant thought and research into the market’s “rising stars”: an Apple iPhone or Google Android phone. I retired my Bold in exchange for a Motorola Flipside with Android. After playing with that for a month (literally turned it in on the last day of the 30-day window), I chose the iPhone 4. Here’s why and what I learned about each of the three phones.
As I mentioned, I grew to love the BlackBerry, from its full-size QWERTY keyboard to its friendly UI to BBM (BlackBerry Messenger for all you inexperienced folk). BBM was probably my most-used program; a lot of my friends have BlackBerrys and BBM made chatting with them so much easier and quicker (without having to actually call them). The Bold was my first smartphone—previously I had a Motorola Razr—so I’m sure that played a significant part in my newfound love for the phone. But I honestly think RIM makes a good phone.
- Familiar hardware and software from model to model—good for loyal users
- Globally compatible phone (which came in handy on my trip to Europe)
- Full-size QWERTY keyboard
- BBM for easy data messaging from BlackBerry to BlackBerry
- Flash for camera
- Extensive battery life
- Micro-SD expansion (up to 32 GB)
- BlackBerry Desktop Manager let me sync it with my Macbook programs (iCal, phonebook, etc.)
- Setting up e-mail accounts on the phone is pretty simple
- Mini-USB port makes it compatible with many devices and cords
- Bulky; it was the largest of the BlackBerry phones
- Extremely slow startup
- Discontinued (there must be a reason it’s no longer available)
- Quality of the 2-megapixel camera’s photos was only mediocre
- Behind the times when compared to other smartphone market leaders
- Limited app offerings
Android Motorola Flipside
Those who were around me in the 30 days I had the Flipside, know full well how much I detested the phone. I’ll admit that my unfamiliarity with a completely new UI, OS and touch screen probably had some influence on my experience. But my biggest struggle and complaint was actually with the battery. The battery died all the time and never lasted a full day, often leaving me to borrow a coworker’s charger, use a friend’s phone or get by without a phone altogether. Reading more reviews and talking to other Android users led to similar complaints. Androids in general (not necessarily the Motorola Flipside) simply used a lot of juice. On a positive note, every time the low-battery warning came up, I had the option to view what features were using the most energy—the screen was the main culprit.
Although the phone started up much quicker than my BlackBerrys, the individual programs were slow. Clicking into my text message or e-mail inboxes took several seconds of the spinning hourglass, even after clearing out the inboxes. I opted for the Flipside over other Android-based phones because it had a slide-out full-size QWERTY keyboard. Surprisingly, I used the touch screen keyboard most often.
- Snazzy UI
- Easy drag-and-drop customization of apps and widgets on home screens
- Fun and extensive photo-editing program
- Haptic feedback (like that of the BlackBerry Storm)
- Motoblur syncs all messaging, social networks, contacts and more
- FM radio
- Small compact size and lightweight
- Advanced GPS feature (if you have enough battery)
- Android App Market
- Anything Android just seems more cool
- Very poor battery life (!!!)
- Slow program launch
- Pinch to zoom is limited and not as smooth as the iPhone
- Hardware didn’t seem that innovative, made me think of old slider-phone days
- No BBM, and Whatsapp data texting app is not compatible
- Not easily compatible with my MacBook
Apple iPhone 4
I’ve long been opposed to the iPhone, mostly because of all the hype. Even though I’ve used Macs personally and professionally for the past five years—and love them—I couldn’t bring myself to join the iPhone craze. To me, Apple is like Kanye West: They both produce amazing things, but their “too good” vibes leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with waiting to let Apple work out the bugs in the first- and second-generation iPhone (OK, third-gen and 3GS, too), I will admit that I should have gotten an iPhone sooner. The seamless integration between my MacBook, iMac, iPods and iPhone are amazing; it makes life so much easier. Although BlackBerry Desktop Manager synced my computers with my phone, having all Apple products allows me to do so much more. Because I have an iPod Shuffle and an 80-gig classic, I didn’t initially think I’d use the iPod feature on the phone. But it seems silly to carry both, and a recent snowboard trip confirmed that. Alas, I foresee my classic collecting more dust than it already has.
The iPhone 4’s significant camera upgrades were a big reason I opted for the $199 phone over the $49 3GS. It has 5 megapixels, zoom, a flash, rear- and front-facing cameras and streaming video. The phone is also faster and more powerful, with simultaneous calling and Wi-Fi capabilities. While all these features (and the many more not even listed) are great, there’s definitely a learning curve with the device, even being a Mac user. I need to spend a good chunk of time exploring the device and playing around with its features to really understand its abilities and what I’m doing. In the meantime, I’ll continue harassing my iPhone-owning coworker who shares a cubicle wall with me every time I can’t figure something out.
- Seamless syncing with all my Apple products
- Extensive app offerings (Apple is the pioneer in this space)
- Smooth touch response and movement, with advanced gestures
- Sleek look that Apple products are known for
- Super advanced camera and related features
- Find My Phone feature if it goes missing
- Plug-and-play functionality
- Compatible with Whatsapp (lets me BBM, sort of)
- Intuitive and comprehensive search tool
- Still kinda bulky
- Squared edges are not as aesthetically pleasing as the previous models’ rounded edges
- Too delicate and fragile
- Antenna location often cuts off reception, which makes buying a case necessary