Which Smartphone Should I Get?

It's time to ditch my battered BlackBerry 9000. Whether the successor should be a newer BlackBerry, an iPhone, an Android handset, or something else entirely is up in the air. Is it worth waiting for something that's not out yet, like the Windows 7 phone?

My wish list for a new phone includes reliability, a speedy Web browser, lots of options for apps, a decent camera, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Easy access to Gmail and Google Docs would be great.

Many shiny, new handsets beckon, but I don't want to take a leap of faith or greed without advice. Which smartphone should it be? (You can help by voting at the end of this post.)

iPhone 4

The legendary loyalty of iPhone users doesn't stop with all-night lines outside of Apple stores prior to the launch of a new handset. Despite the "antennagate" debacle and complaints of a bad proximity sensor, surveys show that most owners remain satisfied with their iPhones. (Yet, maybe the surveys spoke too soon.)

The slim iPhone 4 for AT&T has a 3.5-inch display with the best resolution available on any phone. Multitasking and cut-and-paste functions make this 1GHz, 802.11n model more work-ready than its predecessor--even if multitasking isn't up to snuff. The 5-megapixel camera and HD video, plus the FaceTime videophone app, add to the appeal.

With more than 200,000 iOS apps available, the iPhone has the largest marketplace of mobile downloads. These include practical tools for work as well as less useful ones for play. The apps easy to discover and a snap to download and buy, and organizing them has improved with the introduction of Folders.

Among the drawbacks to the iPhone are the touchscreen-only keyboard, which can lead to a minefield of typos, especially when larger fingers are tapping. The lack of Flash support is more annoying on the iPad than the phone, but irksome nonetheless.

Also, do I really want a smartphone that drops calls if held a certain way, or that requires wearing a funky case to function properly? It's hard to stomach the chairman and CEO of a company address a product flaw by pointing fingers at rival companies, and offering customers little but a Band-Aid workaround and a short, 30-day return window.

Droid X

Unlike with Apple's iOS, you can choose from among many phones that run the Android operating system. Among these, the sold-out Motorola Droid X for Verizon is perhaps the most appealing.

Comparisons abound between the competing handsets from Apple and Motorola. A speedy, 1GHz processor and HD video are among their shared selling points. Yet, the Droid X comes with a 16GB microSD card, while the iPhone lacks expandability. The Droid X's call quality attracts better ratings than that of the iPhone 4, it's supposed to offer an hour longer of talking time, and it's got an 8-megapixel camera. Its 4.3-inch display dwarfs that of the iPhone 4.

Flash support will come later with Android 2.2 and more business-friendly features. In addition, the Droid X can serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot. However, I've heard users complain about limited battery life and new Motoblur software.

There's no push-button keyboard on the Droid X, but Swype for Android lets you "type" by dragging your finger across the screen from one letter to the next. This is faster than touchscreen "tapping", even if it leads to hilarious typos.

While the Android apps marketplace is smaller than the iPhone app store, it's bound to grow, especially because Google App Inventor's interface makes it easier for budding developers to build apps.

Unfortunately, rogue apps are reportedly leaving Android phones dangerously hackable. Do you really want to integrate your professional and private life on a device that's prone to invasion? Then again, recent headlines about Android security threats have been overblown.

BlackBerry Torch 9800

Maybe the best replacement for a BlackBerry is another BlackBerry. RIM had fallen behind on the "wow" factor in the smartphone market, but its new handset blends next-generation features found in Android devices and the iPhone. The 624MHz BlackBerry Torch 9800 slider combines a QWERTY button keyboard and a large touchscreen display,a nd it has 802.11n Wi-Fi. The BlackBerry 6 operating system includes the WebKit browser with tabs for online multitasking, as well as remote data-wiping options in case of theft or loss.

Unfortunately, BlackBerry App World is a disappointment, not just because it's clunky to find and buy apps, but because, in general, their volume and quality pales next to the options for Android and iOS. Despite the other bells and whistles on a new BlackBerry handset, it's hard to imagine RIM catching up in the apps arena anytime soon.

And, although BlackBerry remains the best choice for those whose companies lean on its mobile infrastructure, that's not the case with my job.

Carriers

Since I have an AT&T account with a legacy, all-you-can-eat data plan, I'm not tempted to switch carriers and get nasty surprises on the next bill. But if AT&T doesn't supply the best phone for me, would another carrier's plan be affordable? Could it even cost less than the $130 I shell out each month? That's what I paid in the last billing cycle to talk for 841 minutes, send 523 text messages, and receive 481 texts. I also sent or received 11 MMS messages, and Internet data usage reached 17.74 MB.

The Choice

Of course, these aren't the only options for a BlackBerry 9000 replacement. Maybe the Microsoft Windows Phone 7, upon release, will look more alluring than in its recent iPhone-mimicking preview. Could Palm's WebOS even see a resurgence?

Then again, since I don't use my mobile phone often for calls, maybe a better investment is a hybrid tablet-phone. As a phone, the Dell Streak is a bit clunky--still more portable than Gordon Gekko's Motorola DynaTAC--but it might do the job.

Which smartphone should I get? Chime in by taking this poll:

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments