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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By contrast, the iPhone makes text selection and copying easy. Tap and hold to move the text cursor anywhere: fields, Web pages, messages, you name it. You even get a zoom view of the text that you can scroll through, so you never lose track of where your cursor is. To select text, tap it; selection bars appear, which you drag for your selection. Tap elsewhere in the text, and Copy and Paste buttons appear automatically. It's that easy.

The winner: The iPhone 4, by a mile. You can really see Apple's attention to usability when you try out another manufacturer's device. Several poor design choices in the BlackBerry Torch UI make it harder to use than is necessary, and limitations such as in text selection further constrain the device.

Deathmatch: Security and management
The BlackBerry is well-known, and deservedly so, for its enterprise-level security and client management capabilities, but the iPhone 4's iOS 4 covers much of what most businesses need in these areas. It has remote wipe, certificate-based authentication, and an assortment of password controls (such as requiring a strong password or disabling access after so many failed attempts to log in) that are manageable through Microsoft Exchange and, soon, through iOS 4-enabled management tools from companies such as Good Technology and MobileIron. Unfortunately, these tools aren't yet shipping, so it's impossible to see how well they perform in practice. Apple has its own utility to deploy these security profiles, but it doesn't scale well beyond a few dozen users, so large businesses will want to look at the mobile management tools as they become available.

iOS 4 also supports several types of VPNs, provides SSL message encryption, and has on-device encryption for data such as email and notes.

The BlackBerry provides all of these capabilities -- with more levels of control and higher levels of encryption -- through its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which works with Exchange, Notes, and GroupWise. The iOS 4 tools are aimed primarily at Exchange environments, given that IBM manages Notes on the iPhone through a separate app and Novell has yet to support the iPhone or other modern mobile devices in its GroupWise server.

Both iOS 4 and BlackBerry OS 6 can track information and apps based on how they were provisioned; thus, corporate assets can be managed separately from personal assets. You need an iOS 4 management app to take advantage of this on an iPhone, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.02 to take advantage of it on the BlackBerry Torch. The iOS 4 management tools have yet to ship, so we could not test them; BES 5.02 just shipped and we have not yet had a chance to review it.

The winner: The BlackBerry Torch, thanks to its very high levels of security. But most businesses don't need that level of protection and will find the iPhone's security capabilities to be sufficient.

Deathmatch: The device
The BlackBerry Torch's large screen -- as wide but not as tall as the iPhone's -- is a good size, one that makes Web browsing and usage of visual apps such as games plausible. Unfortunately, the screen's touch accuracy is not as good as the iPhone's, resulting in more mistaps. The iPhone 4's retinal display is unmatched in its visual richness and quality; the Torch's display is perfectly acceptable. (For more on the iPhone 4 hardware, check out my colleague Paul Venezia's first-look review and "10 days with an iPhone 4" report.)

The Torch's physical keyboard will appeal to traditional BlackBerry users, and it's easily accessed when desired. When pressed, the buttons respond with sufficient feedback, both on the keyboard and on the device's menu buttons, and the sensorpad is an effective trackball without risk of collecting grime. The iPhone 4 has no physical keyboard, which for some is a deal-breaker. The keyboard's inclusion does make the Torch heavier (5.6 ounces versus 4.8 ounces) and thicker (0.57 inches versus 0.37 inches) than the iPhone 4, but it's not out of scale for its class.

As phones, the BlackBerry and iPhone 4 are comparable, though the iPhone 4's now-infamous antenna issues may give you pause, as may the tendency of the iPhone to drop calls (only some of which can be blamed on AT&T's poor network). Conversely, the BlackBerry Torch's data networking, both Wi-Fi and 3G, is slower than the iPhone 4's -- often frustratingly so. If you use a smartphone predominantly as a data device, the BlackBerry is not the best choice.

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