Clash of the handsets: Seven smartphones for business

Apple iPhone, Android G1, AT&T Fuze, HTC Touch Diamond, and three flavors of BlackBerry compete for one pocket. Which should you choose?

Category: Touch

In: iPhone 3GOut: BlackBerry Storm, HTC Touch Diamond Here, the choice is easy. The BlackBerry Storm is RIM's first tilt at touch. It comes so close to working that it pains me to slam it, but it's unavoidable. The display is ideal. The device has a clean, if oversized, look. But a simple, fundamental flaw makes the device a poor contender. The trouble is, the Storm's screen is hinged at one end (the top, left or right depending on how you're holding it) rather than floating at the edges. The hinge and the touch screen don't mix.

RIM decided to go its own way with a touch screen that you press down to activate whatever control you've highlighted with your finger. Instead of the iPhone's lift and tap, the Storm is point and press. The screen becomes much harder to click as you get closer to the hinge. Typing with the landscape on-screen keyboard is a real challenge. I ended up mashing in the same place multiple times to get a response: "I said (click)... I said (click)... I SAID..." If RIM had done the Storm with tap instead of mash-to-click, it might be a different story.

HTC's Touch Diamond is, as I said, the AT&T Fuze (HTC Touch Pro) without a keyboard. It is much lighter and easily the most pocketable device of the lot. It gets voted out for a couple of unfortunate, fundamental design shortcomings. Its front panel buttons -- home, escape, call, and disconnect -- are blacked out, invisible unless they're lit. Unlike on the BlackBerry, the controls go dark whenever the screen does. To light and use the buttons, I had to press the power button and rub my finger around the control panel until Touch Diamond heard me. Then I'd only get a few seconds with the controls before they vanished. The navigation ring is an alluring substitute for up, down, left, and right buttons, but it's imprecise, and it had a frequent tendency to activate home or escape when trying to navigate left or right. The Touch Diamond is redeemable. It's just more work than I'm willing to put into using a phone.

If the Touch Diamond had an app store, I might be more forgiving. Apple endowed the iPhone with many grand qualities, but App Store makes the device. The selection of apps sets a pattern that I wish would become an industry standard. I keep coming back to it, but it's key: A phone should get better and do more the longer I own it. Apple is still keeping my first-generation iPhone and iPod Touch up to date, avoiding the legacy ball and chain by using frameworks and dev tools that make underlying platform changes transparent to developers and users. When developers do make changes to their software, App Store pushes updates to me for free, and applications that I buy are licensed for use on five devices.

The iPhone's low point is its power management. The device has short battery life, an inaccurate battery gauge, and long charging time. The result? Both of the iPhone 3G units I have here -- this way I know that it's not trouble with one phone -- can unexpectedly drop from a quarter tank to dry as a bone without any warning. The iPhone is the phone most likely to die on standby, and it does so without a whimper.

Still, I forgive it. The iPhone 3G has App Store, and great Office and PDF document viewers. It's the only device that does a serious job of playing video. I like writing code for it, and after lengthy use and extensive work with enterprise management tools, I no longer have reservations about recommending the iPhone 3G for enterprise deployment. I do recommend keeping the numbers small until you get the hang of Apple's management tools.

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