Monday, August 8, 2011

Picking a smartphone by form factor

Picking a smartphone can be though these days. There are more options than ever. One way to go about it is by deciding what is the best smartphone form factor for you? When I used to use my mainly phone for calls, SMS, email, editing documents and following Twitter feeds, a physical QWERTY keyboard with a decent sized 2.4 to 2.6 inch screen was a my favorite option.
Today, we use our smartphones to do much more. With larger screens, we are more likely to browse the web, edit photo's, play games, watch video's and social networking has evolved into a multimedia experience. To enjoy this expanded functionality a larger screen goes a long way to improving the experience. Apple chose the 3.5-inch screen size. Google's Android designs started with 3.2-inch screens, than 3.7-inch screens, and now the Google Nexus S is using a 4-inch screen with current Android flagships sporting screens as large as 4.3-inches. Windows Phone 7 devices range from 3.7-inches to 4.3 inches. To make room for the larger screens, two approaches were taken:

  1. Get rid of the physical keyboard.
  2. Use a slide out keyboard.

The QWERTY messenger. If you are a proficient touch typist, a virtual keyboard wont allow you to type as fast as a gold old fashion phyical QWERTY keyboard. Word prediction technology will get you by, so if you really have no plans of going beyond call, SMS and email, a physical QWERTY bar phone like a BlackBerry Curve or Bold, would still be a viable option. BlackBerry's push email is still the best email on a phone option.

Nokia makes some really nice QWERTY messenger phones, but this is a thing soon to be in their past, while BlackBerry will probably be supporting this form factor for a long time to come. If you decide on a touchscreen later, RIM will be ready to supply you a familiar looking device sans the keypad.

There really is no Apple iOS option in this category and Android on a small screen is not a great option.

In sum, if you want a QWERTY messenger phone, go with a BlackBerry.

The slide out keyboard. If you like slider phones, RIM has its Torch. There are several Android phones made by HTC, Motoral and Samsung which will combine a large screen and keyboard. There are even some Windows Phone 7 offering available. Android is a much better touchscreen OS than RIM's OS 6. We will have to wait and see how good RIM's OS 7 is. Android will have a much larger market share, and consequently, apps market.

In sum, if you want a sliding keyboard phone, go with a Android.

Pure touchscreen. The most common form factor for smartphones today is the pure touchscreen phone. Apple's iPhone is always a good choice. It is fast, stable (but 3rd party apps can crash) and has the biggest app market in the world. There are several subjective reasons you may not want an iPhone:
  1. You only have one option on screen size, 3.5-inches, if you want something bigger on a phone, you cannot get it from Apple. 
  2. Informative home screen. If you came from Windows Mobile, Symbian or BlackBerry, you might find the feature of being able to have your next appointment displayed on the home screen, or a large clock or some other informational widget. iPhone do not have widgets.
  3. Cost is another factor. In the US with carrier subsidies an iPhone is pretty inexpensive. It costs a bit more in other countries. If you go prepaid it can be terribly expensive.
If the three reasons above apply to you (in my case it was all three), Android is a good option. 

Windows Phone 7 is viable, but I would wait and see what the future hold for Windows Phone 7. I think Windows Phone 7 may have been more successful if they launched to OS with mid-level phones.

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