Image: An iPhone and BlackBerry Bold smartphone
Apple, Research In Motion
Apple's iPhone, left, and Research In Motion's BlackBerry, with the Bold model shown, are both considered the top smartphone choices by users, with each brand having its strengths.
By
msnbc.com
updated 6/10/2008 9:16:49 AM ET 2008-06-10T13:16:49

They’re the Cadillacs of smartphones, and the choices of the über-hip. How do you decide whether to go the iPhone or BlackBerry route?

With a new iPhone announced Monday, and new BlackBerry models launched this year and still coming, competition between Apple and Research In Motion is hot.

The two companies have the highest customer satisfaction among smartphone brands, according to ChangeWave Research, which surveyed nearly 3,600 consumers in March. That’s good news, but makes choosing between them even more difficult.

Each company has the other in its sights. The new iPhone model announced Monday, and available July 11, is a more business-friendly phone, mainly because of Apple’s iPhone 2.0 software upgrade, which also applies to original iPhone users.

The upgrade includes Microsoft’s Exchange Active Sync software, which can synchronize with a PC for e-mail, calendar and contact info. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Conversely, Research In Motion, a stalwart among business users, has beefed up its consumer offerings with its BlackBerry Pearl and BlackBerry Curve series of phones.

Another model, the BlackBerry Bold, is due for release this summer, and not too far off may be the BlackBerry Thunder, the company’s first touchscreen device.

“The BlackBerry Bold is the first big hedge against the iPhone, and the Thunder is a direct attack,” said Rob Enderle, president of The Enderle Group, a consulting firm that studies technology trends.

If you think you’re ready to buy, here are some points to consider about each brand:

3G: The good news and bad
Perhaps the biggest change to the new iPhone is that it is a third-generation, or 3G, wireless development phone, something the vast majority of current iPhone owners said they wanted so they could have faster e-mail access and Web surfing.

The 3G speed means the phone is capable of more quickly processing data, at rates of up to 2 megabits per second. The original iPhone was 2.5G, which generally transmits data at a rate of between 144 and 384 kilobits per second.

Many smartphones, including BlackBerrys, on the market now, are 2.5G. The BlackBerry Bold will be RIM’s first 3G phone, but it will not be available until later this summer.

Because 3G allows for more intensive uses, “what you give up when you go to a 3G phone is battery life,” said Enderle. Apple has said the new iPhone will have "great battery life," and that the phone will have between 5 and 6 hours' of Web browsing time before needing to be recharged, about about 5 hours' talk time in 3G mode.

The iPhone's battery - like the one on Apple's iPod music player — is not removable. So, carrying a spare is not an option, like it is with other devices, including the BlackBerry.

"People have always been happy to forgive Apple for their battery issues, because other things are so compelling about their devices," said David Chamberlain, principal wireless analyst for In-Stat Research.

The e-mail/Web factor
The iPhone is touted for its facile Web browsing, the BlackBerry for its sturdy e-mail experience.

There’s little question that the iPhone’s Internet capabilities, including the use of Wi-Fi, as well as its Safari Web-browsing software, has made the mobile Internet more appealing.

Apple “catalyzed the telecommunications industry to think more creatively about devices and mobile Web experiences,” Mark Donovan, senior analyst for M:Metrics research firm, said in interview earlier this year with msnbc.com.

M:Metrics, which has been researching the mobile market since 2004, said in a report that the iPhone is “the most popular device for accessing news and information on the mobile Web.”

The BlackBerry, which began life in 1999 as a combination pager and e-mail device, is still considered one of the best mobile devices for e-mail. One of the reasons is its physical QWERTY keypad, which the iPhone lacks, instead providing a touchscreen keypad.

Another is RIM’s e-mail security software. If you’ll be using your phone to check business e-mail, the company’s IT department probably will lose less sleep if you have a BlackBerry.

“With the BlackBerry, especially among enterprise users, there’s a history of what it can do, and that’s a great thing, especially if you’re an IT manager – you know how it can work, and how important security is to you and your network,” said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst for mobile technology and trends at IDC Research.

ChangeWave Research, in its survey, found that “by a huge margin,” BlackBerry owners say the device’s “exceptional access to e-mail is the feature they like best,” while for iPhone owners, it’s the “extraordinary integration of phone, iPod and Internet browser capability.”

Rubicon Consulting surveyed 460 iPhone owners in March who said that reading — but not writing — e-mail is the No. 1 function on the iPhone.

That’s not a surprise, the firm said, because the iPhone lacks a physical keyboard.

Phone carriers, choices and costs
If you like AT&T Wireless’ service and network, and you want an iPhone, you’re set. In the United States, Apple and AT&T Wireless are wed to each other for the next four years with an exclusivity agreement.

One of the things some iPhone owners haven’t been particularly crazy about is the marriage between the two companies.

In its survey of what iPhone owners dislike most about their phones, ChangeWave Research found the largest number — 21 percent — said they were unhappy with the speed of AT&T’s network. By going to 3G now, that will improve. But second on the list of dislikes, by 17 percent, was the requirement to use AT&T Wireless.

One-third of the iPhone owners in the Rubicon Consulting survey said they carry a second mobile phone with them, although they were not asked why. The firm noted that among those who carry another phone, the BlackBerry “was the most popular, carried by almost one iPhone user in 10.”

“As Apple adds Microsoft Exchange compatibility to the iPhone, it's possible that some of the dual users will discard their BlackBerrys,” the firm said. “On the other hand, the people carrying both may be doing so because they want to use the BlackBerry's built-in keyboard to type messages.”

There are two models of the iPhone, one with 8 gigabytes' storage, the other with 16 gigabytes. Pricing will be dramatically lower for the 8-gigabyte phone, at $199, down from $399. The 16-gigabyte iPhone will retail for $399, down from $499.

In contrast, there are several models of BlackBerrys that are offered by many cellular carriers, including Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel and AT&T Wireless.

When it comes to pricing, $200 — after rebates and signing up for a two-year contract — seems to be the current sweet spot for a BlackBerry, with some models as low as $100.

Due out this summer is the 3G BlackBerry Bold 9000, which has a black, glossy, ultra high-tech look while still providing a keyboard. Its 2.66-inch display is smaller than the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen, but it will match the iPhone’s 480-by-320 pixel resolution, so its resolution should be sharper. It will also display pixels at 217 pixels per inch, compared to the iPhone’s 163 pixels per inch.

There is no word yet on pricing for the Bold, which will be carried by AT&T.

Yet another BlackBerry is in the works for release this year, one that has been code-named “Thunder,” and would purportedly be RIM’s first touchscreen BlackBerry.

Mark Guibert, RIM’s vice president of corporate marketing, declined to comment on the Thunder. “We have so much to talk about that’s being delivered today, we don’t comment on any of those rumors,” he said.

GPS, Wi-Fi and camera
The new iPhone is GPS-enabled, a feature that is high on the wish list of many cell phone users.

Figuring out which models of BlackBerrys have GPS is a little tricky, especially with the devices’ numbering system. The BlackBerry Curve series, for example, has two models, the 8310 and 8330 that have it. But the Curve 8300 and 8320 don’t.

It’s the same with the BlackBerry Pearl series. Two models, the 8110 and the 8130, have built-in GPS, but the Pearl 8100 and 8120 do not.

The iPhone has Wi-Fi, for Internet access using wireless networks. Only one model of the BlackBerry Curve, the 8320, has Wi-Fi. Of the BlackBerry Pearl’s four models, there’s also only one, the 8120, with Wi-Fi.

The BlackBerry Bold 9000 will have both GPS and Wi-Fi, RIM has said.

The iPhone has a 2-megapixel camera, as do all models of the BlackBerry Curve, and all but one model of the Pearl (the 8100, which has a 1.3-megapixel camera). The Bold’s camera will be 2 megapixels.

Even if you’re itching for an iPhone, Enderle recommends buyers wait a few weeks after it goes on sale.

“Read some of the reviews of the product, and find out if there are any problems or bugs, which isn’t unusual,” he said. “Some people may want to get another device that might better fit their needs. It’s just better to make an informed decision.”

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