Acquiring and Storing Music
Undoubtedly because it is part iPod, the iPhone has a lot of storage -- it comes with either 8GB or 16GB of built-in memory, although it doesn't have a slot for add-on memory cards. By contrast, as is more typical with smart phones, the other three devices have only nominal on-board storage -- 128MB was the most any of the three devices had.
However, those devices all have slots for microSD cards, which have storage capacities of up to 8GB (and which typically cost between US$25 and $40). The HTC Touch Dual and the Nokia E71 have easy-to-access slots on the sides of the devices, but the BlackBerry Curve's slot required taking off the battery cover and removing the battery before inserting the expansion card.
The iPhone was best designed for acquiring media; you can sync with iTunes or even download music directly to the iPhone from iTunes over the air using the built-in iTunes application. Both the Nokia E71 and the HTC Touch Dual can sync media files with your Windows PC using Windows Media Player (the Nokia also comes with PC software that can sync music). Both also play music from subscription music services such as Rhapsody and Napster, which use Digital Rights Management developed by Microsoft. The Curve 8310 can't sync music with a PC -- you'll need to copy music directly to the storage card -- and it doesn't support playback of subscription music.
Note that these phones reflect the division in the digital music world. All support the MP3 format, but the iPhone won't play music from online subscription services such as Napster and Rhapsody. By contrast, the other three phones can't play music downloaded from iTunes.
Music Playback Quality
The iPhone's sound quality was notably crisper and cleaner than the other three smart phones. It also has a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack, which is the standard size for stereo headphones, so you can enjoy your music using your favorite set of headsets.
The Nokia E71 also has bright, crisp audio playback quality that was just a hair lower in quality than the iPod. However, its headphone jack was the smaller 2.5mm size. It came with a set of in-ear headphones that sounded better than the headphones included with the other phones, but that's not saying much. If you want better sound quality with the E71, you'll need to buy a Bluetooth stereo headset.
The BlackBerry Curve has a standard 3.5mm jack, but its playback quality was not quite as crisp as that the E71's or the iPhone's. The HTC Touch Dual had serviceable audio playback quality but, strangely, it doesn't have a jack of any size for plugging in a headset. Rather, it comes with in-ear headphones that plug into the device's mini-USB port. The quality of those headphones isn't very good, so music fans will have to depend on Bluetooth stereo headphones.
With its built-in application for YouTube, the iPhone was clearly the champ in this test. Playback quality was flawlessly crisp and smooth. And it was the only device that could play back the video in landscape mode, providing a more spacious viewing experience.
Video playback on the Nokia E71 was strong, with crisp clear image quality and no distortion or jerkiness, although the screen is smaller than the iPhone's. The HTC's playback was poor, however. Images were distorted and sometimes were halting and jerky.
The BlackBerry Curve 8310 does not support playback of YouTube videos, although the higher-end Curve 8330 does have that capability.
This story, "Which Smartphone OS Works Best?" was originally published by Computerworld.