Mobile deathmatch: RIM BlackBerry Torch 9800 vs. Apple iPhone 4

The new BlackBerry doesn't try to be an iPhone, but does work better with touch

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Both the iPhone 4 and BlackBerry Torch have business-class security and management capabilities using separate server tools (RIM's BES for BlackBerry, and any of a half dozen third-party options for the iPhone). But the BlackBerry offers more controls than the iPhone, so industries with very high security requirements will prefer the BlackBerry. It's key to note that BES supports Novell GroupWise and Lotus Notes, in addition to Exchange, while the iOS natively supports only Exchange among this group. IBM does offer a free Notes client for the iPhone, and Novell is working on one to go with its forthcoming mobile-capable GroupWise server.

Email messages. Although RIM has updated the BlackBerry OS, it retains some of its puzzling time-stamping of email messages: It lists the messages according to when the device receives them, not when they are sent. That can be a bit confusing as you switch from a computer to your BlackBerry. (If you open the message, you can see the real date and time.) But when you reconcile messages -- that is, load older ones from the server -- the new operating system uses their original time stamps, rather than the import time.

[ "Bring your own smartphone" is fast becoming the norm. InfoWorld's Galen Gruman explains how to make it work in your business. | Also: Discover how to deploy (almost) any smartphone in your business. ]

Navigating email remains difficult on the BlackBerry. I use folders extensively to manage my messages, and the iPhone makes it very easy to navigate among folders. The BlackBerry lets you navigate down but not up, so it's hard to flip from any one folder to another. It's even harder if the physical keyboard is not slid out; the touch keyboard automatically opens up and obscures half the screen when you go to folder view. The reason is that so you can search, but it would be better if the keyboard popped up only if you actually tapped in the Search field. The Torch is inconsistent in this behavior: Some apps don't pop up the virtual keyboard automatically but wait for you to tap a text field, while others pop up the virtual keyboard automatically.

Both the iPhone 4 and BlackBerry Torch let you search messages, but the BlackBerry offers more search options to more precisely narrow down your results. Both also identify URLs and phone numbers in messages and let you open the Web pages and call the numbers through a simple tap.

Reading email was easier on the iPhone. One reason: When you're reading a message, the iPhone has touch buttons to go to the previous or next message, but the BlackBerry does not. The BlackBerry's physical Menu button opens a menu that has the Next Unopened Item menu, but getting to it requires a lot of scrolling. Another reason the iPhone is easier: It lets you tap the top of the screen to get to the top of your message, while the BlackBerry forces you to scroll (unless you have the physical keyboard open; in which case, just press T).

The BlackBerry Torch does have new onscreen controls to reply, reply all, forward, and delete messages; the iPhone has onscreen buttons to refresh, move to a folder, delete, forward/reply (a menu appears giving you options to reply, reply all, and forward), and compose a new message. The Torch uses menus for additional options: You get the full set of options by pressing the physical Menu button, or you get a subset by tapping and holding on the touchscreen to get a pop-up grid of options. When you're reading email, the Torch also has an onscreen button to open the virtual keyboard -- but that keyboard has no button to close it when done. You have to use the physical Menu button, then choose the Hide Keyboard menu option.

When you compose a message, such as for a reply, the BlackBerry Torch has Send and Cancel onscreen buttons in your message, but none to send or file the message as a draft. You either need to press the physical Menu button and choose the appropriate option, or tap and hold on your message until a pop-up grid appears with the Save Draft, Send, and Full Menu onscreen buttons. I found it very bizarre to use in-message touch controls to start a reply and a different menu entirely to finish it. This "start with onscreen buttons and finish with menu-based buttons" approach is used throughout the Torch, not just in email. The bouncing back and forth between interface approaches felt awkward and unnatural, and I was frequently frustrated in having to switch mental gears during an action.

The BlackBerry and iPhone are mixed bags when it comes to navigating messages. Both the BlackBerry and iPhone offer a quick way to jump to the top of your message list, but only the BlackBerry has a way to jump to the bottom. However, on the Torch, that jumping only works if you are using the physical keyboard. The iPhone makes it very easy to select multiple messages to delete or move them, while the BlackBerry can only multiple-select contiguous messages, which in practice means you can't work on many messages at once. There is a work-around for some situations; you can search your messages by name, subject, title, or attachment status, then select those files -- still contiguously -- to work on them. The iPhone's search is not so flexible.

Email management. Both the iPhone 4 and BlackBerry Torch provide a unified inbox so that you can see all new messages from all email accounts. The iPhone also provides a unified view of your mailboxes, so you can easily move among accounts from one pane. The closest the BlackBerry gets to this is its list of email accounts in the Home screen. But the BlackBerry does have a nice capability on its Home screen: If you click the waiting-message indicator, you get a list of all unread emails, upcoming calendar appointments, and unread social media messages for easy access to any of them. By contrast, the iPhone makes you open each app separately to see what's new in each.

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