Feature – Even if we have seen some serious attempts of larger cellphone manufacturers to replicate Apple’s iPhone this year, the Apple device remains the benchmark in the smartphone segment. But the gap is getting smaller: Google’s Android G1 is challenging some features of the iPhone, but the Google-branded handset lacks a certain kind of finesse to successfully compete and will likely need a bit more work. RIM, traditionally a company catering especially to businesses, is launching what may be the most serious iPhone rival yet – the touchscreen enabled Strom 9500. How does it compare to the iPhone?
Blackberry has become an institution. It’s the de facto business tool, but it’s market is now under attack from Apple whose iPhone outsold Blackberrys and Windows Mobile devices in Q3 and is making progress with business users. Apple is now the #3 cellphone vendor in terms of handsets revenue and the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor with a 17.6% market share, behind Nokia (38.9%) and ahead of RIM (15.2%). The iPhone recently surpassed Motorola’s Razr to become the nation’s most popular consumer handset and the latest ChangeWave research shows that Apple is gaining ground in the enterprise market: The company is estimated to have increased its corporate market share at the expense of both RIM and Palm and is now the #2 smartphone supplier to businesses, with a 14% share of the market (RIM: 76%, Palm: 11%).
RIM has been long expected to come up with a reply – which has been released today: The Blackberry Storm 9500. Generally seen as an “iPhone for business users,” the Storm has all the ingredients, from the design and overall aesthetics, to hardware and a great screen to business features and compelling applications. We compared the Storm and the iPhone side by side and wondered: Has RIM now an iPhone for business users?
Aesthetics is Apple’s game. We have plenty iPhone lookalikes and, at the same time, we are a bit disappointed when we see challengers like the HTC-built Android G1, which clearly need to do some extra work in this category. With that in mind, the Storm is in a category of its own. It does not look like a copycat. On the contrary, the phone raises the bar in the design arena and looks stunning from any angle, with its stylish brushed aluminum back, a huge transflective and clickable screen and a stylish black finish. Looks are a matter of taste, so we leave it up to you to decide which phone has the edge here. But subjectively, the Storm is just as much a fashion statement as the iPhone.
Clickable screen vs. touchscreen
Storm sets itself apart from the iPhone and the mass of touchscreen clones with its unique clickable screen that reacts to both touch and pressure. You don’t just touch to select something, but press slightly until the entire screen clicks down slightly. The effect can be compared to the glass trackpad on the new Macbooks that also clicks down when pressed. The clickable screen provides the Storm with an extra form of input, in addition to touch, giving the device Storm a slight edge over the iPhone in some aspects of the user interface. For instance, the bold icons in the GUI are large enough to be comfortably selected with your thumb, they glow when touched but the selection is not made unless you click.
Two types of multitouch
The reason why no other phone besides iPhone has multi-finger gestures is because Apple has patented the technology for use in mobile phones. Multitouch in the Storm is very limited and the claim to support this feature just because you can select text with two fingers may be an exaggeration. The Storm lacks multi-finger gesture support like pinch zoom, which remains an iPhone trademark.
SureType vs. QWERTY keyboard
In terms of text input, the Storm combines the best of both worlds. The phone offers a virtual keyboard also found on the iPhone, in addition to RIM’s trademark SureType keypad. The latter, the default input method in portrait mode, combines a traditional phone keypad with a QWERTY layout that features two characters per key. When you press an intended key, a blue glow is shown. Those users who have grown used to SureType will see this as a clear advantage for the device. However, for everyone else, it takes practice to master SureType.
When you change the handset orientation to landscape, Storm displays a full QWERY virtual keyboard for composing email, editing documents, entering text and URLs, etc. The iPhone lets you use the virtual keyboard in landscape mode only in Safari, not in Mail or other applications. This irrational misstep frustrates even die-hard iPhone fans and is especially annoying when writing emails. It is beyond our comprehension why it is taking Apple so long to fix this issue in its software. Simply put, the Storm has the edge in data input – even with SureType out of the picture.
Read on the next page: 3G – Wi-Fi, cameras, web browsers, media player, MMS – SMS
3G vs. Wi-Fi
Unlike the iPhone, Storm lacks Wi-Fi. A huge omission in our opinion, though some point to the fact that business users mainly rely on 3G, which has a much greater coverage than Wi-Fi anyway. But even if we forget for a moment that Wi-Fi provides higher data transfer rates than 3G networks, the lack of Wi-Fi degrades Storm’s usefulness in areas with weak 3G coverage or at home where you would want to switch your cellphone to a home Wi-Fi network.
3.1 megapixel vs. 2 megapixel camera
Steve Jobs defended the iPhone’s prehistoric 2 megapixel camera with no zoom controls and video recording by saying it takes excellent images and this is mostly true, that is – if you are shooting under reasonable light conditions. Unlike Apple’s handset, the Storm has a 3.1 megapixel camera with flash and 2x incremental digital zoom that is controlled by the volume buttons on the right-hand side of the device. No matter how you spin this, 3.1 megapixels should still result in greater detail than 2 megapixels. The Storm lets users rename or email images right after shooting, a welcome addition. The ability to shoot video is the icing on the Storm cake. However, digital cameras in cellphones remain snapshot cameras at best.
Speed dial vs. slow dial
It a fact that making phone calls involves multiple steps on the iPhone: You have to wake-up the handset, unlock it, touch the phone icon, choose between recent calls, favorites, contacts or the keypad, choose a contact and then tap a desired number. The Storm has physical buttons for accepting and canceling calls typically found on traditional phones. Simply press the green phone button and a keypad appears with recent calls and contacts – and then just a tap away. Another button on the Storm activates voice dialing or voice memos, two features the iPhone still lacks, though there are some third-party apps fixing this issue.
Storm features a vastly improved web browser, but it falls behind iPhone’s Safari in terms of speed, rendering accuracy, compatibility with websites and overall design. Storm’s browser lets you drag the finger across the screen to move a page around and zoom in and out by double taping, like the iPhone, or using the on-screen magnifier, like Android G1. Sorry, no pinch gesture for zooming in.
Media player vs. games, games, games
Both phones have a 3.5 mm headphone jack and the same 480×360 pixel screen with vivid colors. At this time, we believe the iPhone has the better and more compelling multimedia features. Storm does not match the iPhone’s crisp sound and it lacks features such as cover flow and other eye-candy. Both handsets come with sub-par headphones, but the Storm’s are clearly below an acceptable level so you will likely have to replace them for better ones. Storm’s multimedia features are seriously limited by the 1 GB built-in memory. However, there is an included 8 GB memory card. When it comes to gaming, Apple’s handset is superb and the Strom can’t follow.
MMS vs. SMS
Storm does MMS, unlike the iPhone which is frequently bashed for the lack of it. True, most users do not send pricey MMS (Multimedia Messaging System) messages, especially business users, and email images instead. However, some do prefer the possibility to attach audio, video and images to text messages. Apple recently allowed a Swedish carrier to address the MMS feature with its own application and a patent filing hints the company is indeed developing a system-wide MMS feature. But until MMS materializes in the iPhone software, Storm has the upper hand.
Read on the next page: Copy-and-paste, editing, syncing, storefornts, Conclusion and Features
Copy-and-paste vs. no copy-and-paste
Copy-and-paste is probably the most wanted feature the iPhone lacks. Apple confirmed that copy-and-paste support on the iPhone will be available soon. Until it arrives, Storm has an important advantage. How do you copy and paste with Storm? You first highlight text with two fingers, then press the Menu button to choose between cut, copy or paste operations. You could argue this isn’t the best solution, but it works and it’s there when you need it. Apple is defending the lack of copy-and-paste on the iPhone with the desire to find the right way to implement the feature.
Editing vs. viewing documents
Storm wins this one since it lets you edit Office documents, courtesy of Dataviz’ Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow to Go that come preloaded on the handset. These applications allow you to open, edit and save documents on the handset so you can email them as attachments, another thing iPhone lacks. Although you can view both Office and iWork documents on the iPhone, a lack of editing capabilities and virtual keyboard in landscape mode in other applications besides Safari make the handset less usable as a content creation device.
Storm syncing vs. iPhone+iTunes combo
Although Storm comes with decent software that lets you sync content with a PC, it is no match for the ease of use and elegance of the iPhone + iTunes combination. Storm also falls behind with traditionally poor Mac support. This means Mac users will have to spend $39.95 on Missing Sync for BlackBerry, an excellent third-party solution that lets you sync contacts, calendars, notes, tasks, photos, music, folders on your Mac – including iTunes tracks.
Storefront vs. App Store
Both handsets gave birth to an entire ecosystem of third-party developers. Applications for Storm are mainly focused on business, but there are consumer programs like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and various instant messengers as well. The software for the iPhone on the App Store is mostly focused on gaming, multimedia and photography. There are business applications for the iPhone, but the offering is not as varied and comprehensive as for the Storm.
Apple’s App Store has set a new benchmark in the application distribution model and RIM has yet to follow with its own online store dubbed Storefront, scheduled to be introduced in about six months. Until then, you will have to install additional applications on the Storm using the Application Center app. A few dozen Storm applications are available, but they are certainly no match for the 6000+ iPhone apps in Apple’s candy store.
Storm is not another wannabe iPhone-killer. This is actually the first handset that we would recommend to anyone looking for an iPhone-killer. It may lack the overall iPhone’s elegance, ease of use and lust factor, but it makes up with a better camera, clickable touchscreen, in addition to software features like a dialer and syncing. The Storm also appears to be more reliable and is definitely better as an email machine and a business tool, which isn’t surprising given RIM’s lead in the enterprise segment. The handset can also work as a tethered modem.
The Storm falls behind the iPhone in consumer-focused features like web browsing, multimedia, syncing content with a computer, gaming, user interface, touchscreen gestures and third-party applications. The Storm could put off many users with its lack of Wi-Fi and only 1 GB of memory (an 8 GB microSD card is included). Overall, it appears as if RIM’s engineers built Storm in such a way to amplify the iPhone’s weaknesses.
However, it should be noted that Apple has done a good job so far addressing the most critical iPhone issues. The next iPhone firmware will correct more flaws and bring new features. Most areas where the Storm tops Apple’s handset can be fixed in software. That could be copy-and-paste, a landscape keyboard, Office documents editing and saving, MMS, instant messaging, background application execution and notifications as well as n improved dialer. The company might even enable video recording since unofficial applications already do this.
Right now, the Storm is the ultimate iPhone for business users. It is also a great smartphone that turned out to be a worthy iPhone challenger without ending up as a sad iPhone copycat.
BlackBerry Storm 9500
Dimensions: 62 mm x 113 mm x 14 mm
Weight: 155 g
Screen type: Transflective “clickable” touchscreen
Screen resolution: 480 x 360 pixels
Usable screen area: 61 mm x 49 mm
Input: Virtual keyboard – SureType in portrait, full QWERTY in landscape
Memory: 1GB + 128 MB flash, ships with 8 GB microSD card
Sensors: accelerometer, ambient light
GPS: YES, turn-by-turn navigation
Bluetooth: v2.0 + EDR, mono/stereo headset, handsfree, phone book access profile, and serial port profile supported
Tethered modem: YES
Frequencies: Quad-band GSM, 3G EV-DO Rev. A , 2100Mhz UMTS/HSPA, quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM
Camera: 3.1 megapixel with flash, 2x incremental zoom, video recording
Connectors: 3.5mm headphone jack, mini USB, microSDHC slot
Email: Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, Novell GroupWise, POP3/IMAP
Battery life: 15 days standby, 5.5 hours talk time
Availability: Verizon retail stores
Price: $200, including a $50 mail-in rebate and plus a 2-year service contract
Points of sale: Verizon online and retail stores
Pros: unique clickable touchscreen, better camera, unmatched email, better phone features
Cons: No multi-touch gestures, lacks Wi-Fi, only 1 GB of memory by default
Dimensions: 62 mm x 115 mm x 12 mm
Weight: 133 g
Screen type: Multitouch-capable touchscreen with multi-fingered gestures
Screen resolution: 480×320 pixels
Usable screen area: 64 mm x 49 mm
Input: Full QWERTY virtual keyboard, available in landscape mode only in Safari
Memory: 8/16GB, depending on a model
Sensors: accelerometer, ambient light, proximity sensor
Wi-Fi: YES (802.11b/g)
Bluetooth: v2.0, headset support
Tethered modem: NO
Frequencies: UMTS/HSDPA (850, 1900, 2100 MHz), GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
Camera: 2 megapixel with photo geotagging
Connectors: 3.5mm headphone jack
Email: Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe, Gmail, Yahoo, POP3/IMAP, and other via 3rd party applications
Battery life: 12.5 days standby, 5 hours talk time
Availability: Best Buy, AT&T and Apple online and retail stores
Price: $199 with 2-year service contract (8 GB)
Pros: Elegant and easy to use user interface, the best web browser on a mobile platform, Wi-Fi, multitouch, multimedia features, solid enterprise support, thousands of additional applications and games on the App Store
Cons: Sub-par camera, no video recording, lacks MMS and notifications, documents can’t be edited