Retail Therapy | Battle of the biggies

We look at the pros and cons of the major smartphone platforms, and their flagship phones
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First Published: Sat, Feb 16 2013. 12 14 AM IST

In mid-January, Nokia brought the new Lumia 920 to India, and on 30 January, the BlackBerry Z10 was announced (it is expected to be available in stores by the end of this month).
For BlackBerry, the Z10 could determine the fate of the company.
The announcement of the BlackBerry Z10 and the BB10 operating system has certainly raised a lot of interest, and most early reviews have been positive too, but it’s hard not to think back to the BlackBerry PlayBook, launched in 2011. It was lauded for its innovative interface, OS and design, but would go on to be Research In Motion’s (RIM’s) biggest disaster, costing them an estimated $485 million (around Rs.2,600 crore now), according to some reports.
There are a lot of good things about the Z10—its hardware, while not cutting edge any more, is definitely top notch and the gesture-based system really flows from task to task.
However, the Z10 is also launching into a particularly competitive atmosphere. Today, it’s competing with the iPhone, a host of Android devices (led largely by Samsung) and even Windows Phone handsets. Each of these operating systems has a different personality, and while BB10 certainly has its own place in this scheme of things, the simple fact that things are different is going to make it hard for people to switch.
BB10/BlackBerry Z10
The BB10 is meant as a general purpose smartphone to appeal to anyone, and a viable upgrade for existing BlackBerry users, who’ve not switched to an iPhone or Android because of work. You can have separate apps and access levels for business and personal sections on the phone, letting your office integrate it into their secure systems.
There are no physical buttons; they ditched more than just the qwerty keys, and the functions of buttons like home have been taken over by gestures. The net result is really smooth, but it takes a little getting used to.
BlackBerry has added some fun features, such as a camera mode which lets you take a quick burst of photos with a single click—you can then click on a face and “rewind” that part of the image to get a perfect group shot.
It looks and behaves a little differently from the phones you’re used to, and there’s also the issue of apps. The Z10 launches with many apps already available but it’s still a lot less than the competition.
If the app you want isn’t available, there are usually good alternatives. But after taking the time to learn how the iOS or Android apps work, setting them up and uploading data, switching now feels like a pain point.
The BlackBerry Z10 is impressive hardware, and for all the people who held on to their Curves and Bolds, it feels like a great step forward. While it fundamentally changes the user interface, there’s a certain familiarity, and BlackBerry is also trying to bridge the gap in apps. An Instagram app is due soon, something Windows Phone can’t boast of yet.
Weight: 137.5g
Display: 4.2 inches, 1,280x768 pixels
CPU: Dual-core 1.5GHz
Camera: 8 MP
Price: To be announced (expected Rs 40,000)
WP8/Nokia Lumia 920
The WP8 looks unique. When everyone else switches on their phone and sees row after row of icons, the tile-based WP8 will draw attention. It’s minimal, with mostly text and solid backgrounds, few to no shadows, and no distracting wallpapers; yet also extreme, with the tiles flickering to display information or images; and big bright splashes of colour.
On the downside, it’s different, even more than BB10, and it can be hard to get used to. The HTC 8X and the Nokia Lumia phones also take this further—the flagship Lumia 920 is available in a variety of colours that stand out no matter what. Also, the Lumia 920 is right now the heaviest flagship phone available, and while it’s not impossible to use comfortably, it can be a little inconvenient.
Like BlackBerry, Nokia has also chosen to focus on imaging as a particular selling point. The Lumia 920 comes with features such as optical image stabilization and a nearly 9 MP camera with really impressive low light performance. Your indoor photos, particularly at night, are going to look better than ever, and you also get the ability to make animated pictures and smart photos where you can edit parts selectively right out of the box.
Like BlackBerry, Microsoft’s battle is going to be in convincing customers to overlook missing apps. The current YouTube “app” is a link to the mobile Web page, and the lack of Pocket is a major blow. Alternatives abound—you could use SkyDrive and Nokia Music, and do just fine, but if you’ve already got accounts on Dropbox and Google Music, then switching isn’t easy. Microsoft at least has the deep pockets necessary to give the ecosystem time to grow, but the question is, will it?
Weight: 185g
Display: 4.5 inches, 1,280x768 pixels
CPU: Dual-core 1.5GHz
Camera: 8.7 MP
Price: Rs38,199
Android/Samsung Galaxy S3
Android got the Jelly Bean update in November, and there are cool new features and improvements that make this perhaps the most polished OS today. Gone are the days when Android was for geeks—it’s as polished as iOS in many areas, and ahead in some ways. There are still a few drawbacks, but that’s also true for iOS.
Switching between Android and iOS is getting easier than ever—many apps work on both platforms now, and with the Cloud (for example, books on Kindle, media on Dropbox), it doesn’t matter which system you’re using.
If you’re looking for a more customizable experience, Android is definitely the right choice, and it runs on a wide range of devices. However, malware is still more prevalent on Android, and the Google Play Store is still a terrible experience when compared with the App Store.
The leading Android handset is still the 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S3, which was launched in May. The next model is expected to surface around May, but not too much is known about it at the moment. It’s also the only quad-core flagship right now—though most users won’t notice the difference between quad-core and dual-core phones.
Weight: 133g
Display: 4.8 inches, 1,280x720 pixels
CPU: Quad-core 1.4Ghz
Camera: 8 MP
Price: Rs 29,480
iOS/iPhone 5
The iPhone experience trades off on some of the customizability of Android (apps such as Llama, which can access basic phone functions, and apps such as custom keyboards, are never going to show up) but makes up for it with even more polish, and a tightly controlled app experience.
While the Android top 100 apps contain dozens of pornographic apps, Apple takes things to the other extreme, and has often been criticized by industry experts for its “walled garden” approach to the app store. The company has strict rules about the content it permits —Apple recently banned 500px, a popular photo-sharing application, because it was used by a few users to upload pornography. This seems reasonable, but the excessive control Apple has over the content that users may or may not access can be worrying.
From a hardware perspective, the iPhone 5 is the least powerful phone in the line-up. It’s also the one with the best line-up of apps, and definitely makes good use of the hardware. Also, if you’re interested in gaming, then iOS is still the best mobile platform around, as most developers target it first.
Rumours suggest that a new version will be unveiled by June, which will bring in further updates, but the iPhone 5 is still a good option.
Weight: 112g
Display: 4 inches, 1,136x640 pixels
CPU: Dual-core 1.3GHz
Camera: 8 MP
Price: Rs45,500
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First Published: Sat, Feb 16 2013. 12 14 AM IST