Tactile versus Touch Input
Gosh, I miss a tactile keypad. The iPhone may have a top-notch virtual keypad compared to other touchscreen devices, but it simply can’t compare to the Research in Motion’s work on perfecting their keypads. After a few minutes of pounding out test memos to myself, my accuracy was already miles ahead of what I can achieve on the iPhone after several months of practice. Being able to see where the alternate (punctuation) symbols are before pressing any alt or function key makes writing properly formed messages far easier. And ya I prfer wrtng well-formed txts kthx. I can only thank the iPhone’s (usually) great auto-correction feature for saving me from a world of typing frustration. The keypad would be one of the biggest reasons to switch from iPhone to Bold for me.
On the other hand, the keypad actually feels a bit tiring after having used a screen that responds to the lightest of touches. Typing is a bit more relaxing on the iPhone (not being able to type as fast on the iPhone also contributes to that effect). BlackBerry thumb? Yeah, I know how that could come about. Through the experience, I can also understand why there are rumblings about the ‘tactile’ touchscreen the BlackBerry Thunder/Storm will sport. Not only will it require the finger work of the BlackBerry’s keypad, I can only imagine how that will transfer to mashing on an entire display. I’m reserving judgment until I get my hands on one, but I’ll be more surprised if they pull it off than if they don’t.
The trackball feels a bit different from the Curve. It now requires a bit of downward force when scrolling in order to register movement. You can move the trackball if you brush it lightly, but it won’t register with the device. I thought it was a bit broken at first, but I soon got used to it. Perhaps RIM realized many people idly play with the trackballs without intending to use their BlackBerries.
Faster than a Speeding Bullet, More Powerful than a Locomotiveâ€¦
Three words: fast, faster, fastest. The Bold is an amazingly fast device. Opening and closing applications incurs no weird lag issues. It’s faster than the iPhone 3G in the vast majority of use cases. That’s what you get by putting in a 624MHz Marvell Tavor (previously Intel XScale) chip and limiting fancy-shmancy screen transitions. Compared with all the dumbphone and smartphone devices I’ve used, this is the fastest. I had a chance to use a Curve again and I couldn’t understand how I put up with the performance. It’s Bold > iPhone >> Curve from a performance standpoint. The iPhone may have been touted to be slick and responsive, but the 3G version I have has some serious lag when switching to some applications (contacts, SMS, Safarai). The Bold feels much more responsive overall, even if it is at the detriment of some eye-candy.
The Bold comes equipped with OS 4.6, which is very much evolutionary. Menus are still text-based and while the default theme is pretty attractive, many manufacturers are going far above and beyond. Then again, this is a predominantly business device, so superfluous eye-candy may not be welcome at the cost of responsiveness. For example, HTC’s TouchFlo 3D is certainly beautiful, but I don’t think it’s worth it if it makes the UI slow. For the Bold, the biggest single effort at beautification seems to be menu transparencies (yay…). I remember reading an early preview of the Bold and the author said OS 4.6 felt more like 4.5 with a new theme than anything else. He was right on the money. Iâ€™d chalk up the speed improvements to the faster processor and more memory rather than a more efficient operating system.
Signal quality seems a bit better than the iPhone, at least from their respective signal strength displays. Still, I had some issue with how Apple displays signal strength on the iPhone (terrible signal strength and lots of dropped calls even on ‘5 bars’), and I’d trust the Bold to be far more accurate in that regard. Call quality is great and the speakerphone blows the iPhone out of the water. I donâ€™t really use speakerphone much, so itâ€™s not that big of a deal.
That’s a huge difference.
The BlackBerry Bold has an absolutely massive battery that takes up the majority of the back of the device. The battery door has the latch now and is much easier to operate than the Curve’s door latch. Based on the size of the battery alone, I’d say the Bold should make up for the addition of 3G over the Curve.
The BlackBerry web browser is now usable. It renders most pages pretty well, in a zoomed out view. Unfortunately, navigating the page is no where near as slick or easy as with the iPhone. The trackball controls a small cursor that can be used to click on links. Clicking the trackball zooms into a portion of the page. Again, the iPhone handles zooming much better, either by pinching or spreading the fingers or double-tapping to zoom to a specific element (great for column-based layouts which are most common). The Safari browser on the iPhone is still the example of the field and there’s a pretty big gap separating the BlackBerry browser from it.
With a data plan and A-GPS in the iPhone, I’ve become accustomed to using Google Maps to pinpoint my location when I’m lost in the big, unfamiliar city (Toronto). Mapping capabilities will be a welcomed feature for any future device of mine. Unfortunately, BlackBerry Maps was terrible and I couldnâ€™t get a GPS lock at all, even after several minutes of waiting, for some reason. The iPhone had no problem picking up my location. Granted, the iPhone’s GPS sometimes has a hell of an inaccuracy level, but most of the time it’s pretty good. I was disappointed the Bold performed so poorly in this regard.
One thing Iâ€™ve found annoying with the iPhone calendar is the inability to create recurring weekday-only events without creating one for every individual day. I could make those appointments with my Curve and RIM saw no reason to change a good thing.
There are a lot of pre-installed consumer-oriented applications as well, including Google Talk, Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and Facebook. RIM has been making strides in working with application vendors to get popular consumer applications supported on the BlackBerry. Of course with Apple’s limitation on background behavior for 3rd part applications (i.e. none), the instant messaging capabilities of the Bold are far, far superior.
Will I Be Switching?
Based on all the issues Iâ€™ve had with my iPhone, I really, really wanted to like the Bold more, but I simply have to admit there are things that I wouldnâ€™t be used to â€“ the smaller screen, terrible maps and GPS, and less intuitive navigation (itâ€™s pretty hard to beat a well thought-out touch interface). In the end, I still lean slightly more consumer than business, so the iPhone’s a bit better suited for me.
On the other hand, if you want to exude business and class, you canâ€™t go wrong with the Bold. Iâ€™d probably describe it like an executive phone. On the other hand, the iPhoneâ€™s a bit more fun, but then again, thatâ€™s exactly how the two devices target two different markets. It might not be completely fair to pit these two devices head on as I’ve just done. But these two devices are some of the most desirable ones on the market and the comparison is bound to be made.