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Is A Smartphone Really All That?

June 19, 2009
by Gwen Darling
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I have a confession to make. Thus far, I have resisted the alluring siren song of the smartphone. As a card-carrying member of the Early Adopters Club, this is almost painful to admit, because between you and me, I’ve always felt a bit of a rush being first in line when an exciting new technology is introduced.

No, currently, my cell phone is not very smart. Actually, it’s not smart at all. Now don’t get me wrong – it’s a great little phone. My Samsung Sync sports many a cool and useful feature such as a megapixel digital camera, airplane mode, Bluetooth connectivity and a hands-free speaker. Oh, and it’s red – which I am convinced makes it sound at least 57% clearer than a dull, lifeless black phone. The way I’ve always looked at it is that my phone depends on me to be the smart one. Not it. And I like that balance of power. But with all the buzz about the new Apple iPhone 3G S (“S” for speed) the pressure is on, because according to this CNET review of the best smartphones, “You're intelligent enough to know that carrying around a cell phone and a PDA is inefficient. Lighten your load by picking up an all-in-one device. Whether you use it as an organizer, an e-mail device, a cell phone, or all of the above, getting a smartphone is a smart move.”

That's just great. I’ve always thought of myself as smart. The thing is, I’m not sure I want total access to. . . well. . . everything and everyone all the time. It’s bad enough that I can no longer use the excuse, “Sorry kids, I would have said yes, but I was outside when the phone rang and so didn’t know that you wanted to invite ten of your loud, snack-guzzling, accident prone friends over for a sleepover.” Nope. That one doesn’t work because my cute little red Samsung fits nicely in any one of my pockets and tends to reside there at all times. And then there’s that dumb family rule I made about answering the phone – you know the one: “If I call you, you need to answer. I won’t call you often, but when I do, you need to answer. And I’ll do the same.” What was I thinking? And that’s just the personal side of the equation. Professionally, although I do try to be as accessible as the next guy/gal, there are times when I’ve regretted sharing my cell phone number with clients who seem to have a difficult time understanding the “normal business hours” concept.

So. If carrying a cell phone already provides moments of “you can run but you can’t hide” angst, then what level of trauma could a smartphone potentially induce? How would having uninterrupted access to email and Twitter and all those other Social Media tools I’m always crowing about figure into my “down” time? My inability to answer this question has kept me from that long, winding line at the smartphone store. And seriously. Is a smartphone really all that?

As I write this, however, a simple thought has occurred to me. Those clever marketing people who coined the phrase can call it a “smartphone,” but the only one who has the intelligence necessary to maintain a sensible work/life balance for me is…me. Wow! This is quite the epiphany. The question I really need to be asking then, is this: Am I smart enough for a smartphone?

Suddenly my cute little red Samsung is looking a bit…scuffed. And tired. And outdated. Have you seen the new iPhone 3G S? It’s gorgeous. I’m thinking the “S” stands not only for speed, but for sexy, smart, and sophisticated, as well. And then there’s the Blackberry. And the Palm Pre. And the Nokia E71x. Uh-oh, here comes the rush. . .

Final Note: I conducted an informal poll of my Twitter followers, asking which smartphone to purchase – the results were split exactly down the middle – 50% Blackberry, 50% iPhone. If you have strong feelings one way or the other, I’d love to know why before I take the plunge!



Joe - I returned the BB Storm to Verizon withing 2 weeks as the Storm is not ready for prime time. I found it hard to use and not as functional as my old BB.
So...Looks like the iPhone wins Gwen. Which one are you planning to buy now?

Gwen: I have been a long-time Blackberry user and I'm currently using the Blackberry Curve which has (for the most part) served me well. Since I use the keyboard for e-mail daily - I can attest to the value of the BB. On the other hand, my wife uses the iPhone and I must admit as a Smart Phone it has many features that are far superior than the BB I have come to know and love! It's a very easy phone to use, web browsing is a no-brainer and it is by far much more intuitive that the BB. My challenges with the iPhone are two-fold. One is its keyboard which I find much more difficult to use and much slower than the BB when writing longer e-mails. The other is the battery life. If you can get by with short e-mails and keep a battery charger handy you may want to consider the iPhone. I really like my BB because of my heavy e-mail usage and plan to keep using it as my Smartphone. If you are looking for a phone with lots of functionality and one that's fun to use - go iPhone. On color ion, I'm not sure about getting one in Red...
Now I have totally confused you....

If the question is, Today, which Smartphone to buy, given no other information, the iPhone is the leader.

I agree with Tim that BB has many more years of experience as a mobile email tool. I've been struggling for the last 2 months with a BB Storm. It's a first generation product. It was released before it was competitive. My prior BB, an 8830 with a real BB keyboard was much better but it bricked. (That BB stopped working completely in less than 2 years. The repair process was abusive.)

You are right. The SmartPhone space is immature. There are significant differences in major dimensions:
1) coverage areas between ATT and Verizon
2) utility as a media player (education and entertainment)
3) range and functionality of available apps
4) tools to deal with mobile information access and personal organization
5) suitability of the user interface and hardware for its goals

The above are obviously overlapping. The tide is rising. I think David Pogue's recent (humorous) observation that the Pre on Verizon is closest to the vision we all want. We'll probably be able to get most of the way there on BB, iPhone and Palm platforms.

My cellphone is not all that smart either, I broke my LG phone and have to temporarily use a Motorola Razr! I was going to buy a Blackberry Curve, but then was bombarded with news of a new Blackberry Tour coming out! Here's the issue, does NOT having a smart phone make you look LESS smart to a client? I think we need to conduct a study on this!

The interesting thing is, the Blackberry Tour 9630 is touted as the "best" blackberry in the market. With that being said, the device is being sold as having vast "social-networking" capabilities, mainly Twitter, facebook, etc. The question is, do we really need the device to tweet? Afterall, you can text your Tweet to "40404" and it has virtually the same effect.

Anyway, great post!

Sachin Raval

Gwen, I have both a Blackberry and an iPhone. But my Blackberry is now collecting dust and is my backup device. It's been made obsolete by my iPhone. Why? Because every single thing for which I depend on my smartphone, the Apple iPhone is clearly superior.

For email, Web surfing, quick access to phone numbers, and now, more important, a rich variety of highly useful applications, the iPhone is clearly superior. I used the think that the Blackberry was unassailable for email. But I've encountered way too many Blackerry system failures and outages, and direct access to our company's Exchange server has proven to be much more reliable. Web surfing? Apple is the clear winner here. Applications? No contest - Apple's third party developers have created an incredible array of highly useful programs that I can't live without.

On the matter of the keyboard, I'll admit - it took a week of practice to get up to speed with the iPhone's touchpad keyboard. But once I got the hang of it, I found myself typing faster on the iPhone than I ever did on the Blackberry, and the Blackberry does indeed have a good physical keyboard. Now that Apple has come out with its iPhone 3.0 OS, I can use the iPhone's keypad in either portrait or landscape mode, giving me access to much bigger keys than on the Blackberry. With this new update, I think Apple has a clear advantage for me.

Battery life? Some people worry about not being able to swap out the battery on an iPhone. Frankly, I've never bought a supplemental battery for any phone I've owned, so to me, this worry is overblown. The new iPhone 3Gs (which I highly recommend) has significantly improved battery life. And if you need more battery life, several vendors have developed a carrying case for the iPhone that hides an external battery pack which doubles the phone's battery life. And all without noticeable bulk or weight.

I've left aside other luxuries that put the iPhone miles ahead~ music, movies, TV shows and podcasts. It's an area where the Blackberry simply cannot compete.

Other phones might have more of this or more of that than the iPhone. But the user experience on an iPhone is simply better than any competing smartphone, including the Blackberry, Palm Pre or Google Android phones. (I disqualify the Microsoft-based phones - they are simply too complex and primitive to be included here). Don't get me wrong - I think some of the new competitors to the iPhone are big improvements. But with the latest software update and faster hardware, the new iPhone 3Gs is the best smartphone available. Period.