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Monday, March 29, 2010

iPhone 3GS versus Nokia N96: Summary

I managed to get off to a good start with a packaging comparison on the two devices, but actually using the iPhone, and learning to dev for it has been a more tempting use of my time than writing a series of comparison posts, sorry ;)
Instead, here's a rundown of how I see the two phones shaping up against each other in some of the areas in which I'm a heavy user.

General use
There's no denying it, some people will struggle with a touch screen, and if that's a sticking point it's likely typing will be considered a pain, even though Apple's provided some great aids to make touch screen typing easier. Navigation is far more intuitive with touch and gestures than a key based system ever could be, and that works in the iPhone's favor. While in the past I have found switching to a new brand of phone usually takes some getting used to, figuring out how certain things are a achieved and where things are hidden in the menus, the iPhone's flat menu system and general approach means most users will be up and running at full speed in no time.

Winner: iPhone

Being born of the iPod, the iPhone naturally has a great music app, which also integrates well throughout the system. All the expected artist, genre and manual playlist support is in there, with Genius being a great addition which builds dynamic playlists based on a selected song. Podcasts are explicitly supported, with a separate podcast section in the library. One of the best aspects of this player is how light it is on battery, so much so that I now no longer carry music on an external drive to listen to on my PC at work-I just use my iPhone, and still have plenty of juice after two hours of commute podcasts and 8 hours of music. One thing I felt was missing was the ability to find and download podcasts directly, rather than having to subscribe through iTunes on a PC or Mac and sync episodes over. Nokia's podcasting app is really great in this area, allowing podcasts to be easily downloaded over a wifi connection without ever being anywhere near a PC. It's a sacrifice I can live with though, considering the amount of time I spend on a PC anyway.

Winner: Tie
I've never been particularly impressed with Nokia's browsers, and the first application I install on any new Nokia is usually Opera Mini. While it's sad that Apple has rejected Opera (and any browser not based on their own web component) from the App store, the truth is it's not that big a deal from a user's standpoint because Safari is an excellent browser. Opera's reformatting of pages is also generally not needed due to the huge screen, and easy touch & pinch navigation and zooming. Browsing standard web pages is actually bearable on the iPhone, and many major sites have iPhone/Android optimized versions to make it even easier.
Winner: iPhone

While the iPhone's photo library, with it's gesture support and fancy pinch zooming is a huge improvement on Nokia's media browser, the same just can't be said for the camera. This is one area where less definitely isn't more, and the lack of manual zoom or any kind of flash, not to mention a relatively low resolution camera is a massive letdown. Nokia's zeiss lense based cameras with their monster resolutions and integrated flash are far superior.
Winner: Nokia

Keeping organized
In all my years of Nokia use I never managed to get quite the level or integration I wanted with my contacts, email and calender systems. I lost count of the number of times I had to clean up duplicates due to a bad sync with an online provider or deal with other oddities. The iPhone is a whole other story. If you use Gmail, or any system that supports the exchange protocol, everything really does just work. The mail, contacts and calendar apps on the iPhone natively sync with these systems over the web, keeping you organized wherever you are. The applications themselves are a pleasure to use, and do everything you'd expect them to. The only criticism I have of the iPhone's organizational 'ecosystem' is that it would be great to see better use of the standby screen, such as populating it with upcoming appointments.

Winner: iPhone
Third party software
This is a hard one to call. If you want the ability to run multiple apps at once, Apple's one-at-a-time approach is going to irritate you, though with push notifications it's doubtful how much you'll really lose by not having apps running concurrently. There are apps that offer push notification support for Twitter, IM, and just about everyhing else you could want always-on, and it's definitely less of a drain on battery life (trust me, I used to tear through battery with all the stuff I'd run simultaneously). The iPhone App Store introduced a great, unified way to find software for your device, and while Nokia has copied this with the Ovi store, it's not quite as polished yet. With support for both J2ME and Symbian apps, most high end Nokia devices do have a massive library of applications to choose from, though iPhone has rapidly cought up, with around 150000 apps in the store. In both cases, if 5% of the available applications are worth looking at it would be a lot. iPhone wins this one for me, purely because the Apps I need were easy to find, and there really is an App for that-regardless of what 'that' might be.
Winner: iPhone
For years, I've tried to use my phone as a replacement gaming system and never really been 100% happy with the results. Nokia finally came close to having the right idea with the NGage service (not the NGage hardware) but they never really provided the necessary incentive and support to developers and the NGage brand was eventually retired last year (though it's supported through to the end of 2010). Ovi is of course expected to take it's place, but as mentioned above, it still has a number of wrinkles that need ironing out. Support for the iPhone as a gaming platform - both in terms of quality and quantity - has been absolutely spectacular. Long time mobile publishers like Gameloft have come into their own and been turning out quality titles, independent developers have made good use of the consistent target and straightforward sales model, and big console and handheld publishers have jumped into the ring too. The result is a huge range of games to suit all choices, and generally at reasonable prices ($7 for a full GTA game!). The rise and success of third party social gaming systems like OpenFeint and Plus+ has also given iPhone games the sort of social dynamic that Microsoft pioneered on the Xbox 360 and Nokia never quite achieved (though not for lack of trying) with NGage. To sum it up, I am so impressed with the iPhone as a gaming platform, that I finally parted with my PSP, which really is saying something. The next time I'm asked for advice on a portable gaming system, my advice will be simple: iPhone or iPod Touch.
Winner: iPhone
Finally, a look at mapping. This is one area where Apple needs a serious wakeup. Years ago when iPhones 'Maps' app was launched with a Google Maps backend, it was probably on par with what Nokia was offering. By now though, it is in desperate need of an update. One of Nokia's gems is the Ovi Maps system, the successor to Nokia Maps. Here is a list of just a few of the reasons Ovi Maps is far superior to iPhone Maps:
  • Maps can be preloaded, no wasting bandwidth
  • Turn by turn voice navigation (free as of last year)
  • A comprehensive list of points of interest
  • Up to date maps, seemingly even in remote backwaters
  • An excellent routing system
  • Traffic data
I have used 'traditional' single-purpose GPS's, and even they seem archaic after using Nokia's solution. Apple has a lot of work to do to catch up in this area, thought convincing Google to port it's Android Navigation app to their platform would be a good start. It is worth mentioning that there are better GPS solutions available on the App store, but they're pricey, and when compared with what Nokia now bundles at no cost, the winner is clear.
Winner: Nokia
Calling it
I think it's clear by this point where I stand, but that's largely because the iPhone's strengths fit in nicely with my priorities for a device. If any of the areas where it's relatively weak (mapping or photos basically) are most important to you, or you really can't stand the thought of not having a hardware keyboard, you may want to stick to a Nokia instead.

Posted via email from Matt's thoughts

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