Clash of the handsets: Seven smartphones for business

Apple iPhone, Android G1, AT&T Fuze, HTC Touch Diamond, and three flavors of BlackBerry compete for one pocket. Which should you choose?

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Category: Sliding QWERTY
In: T-Mobile G1
Out: AT&T Fuze (HTC Touch Pro)

I would not have voted for the Android-based T-Mobile G1 when it was new. It was awkward and a pure geek gadget at first, but it is growing up, palpably and non-disruptively, showing that Google understands professionals rely on Android. You'll find no one more skeptical than I, but Android is a real, validated mobile platform, not an open source project whose authors disclaim with "use at your own risk."

The recent arrival of Documents to Go and TeleNav helped morph the G1 into a professional device. When commercial ISVs rely on a platform for revenue, it signals that a platform has made it, that it's no flash in the pan. Those ISVs are essential to the G1, which has a comparatively weak standard app bundle. But just as Apple's App Store makes it easy for users to spackle gaps in the iPhone, Android Market is equipping the G1 to do the same. Android and iPhone are owned, commercial platforms with specific and necessary ties to carriers. It's the only way to pull off downloadable software catalogs that are considered part of the platform.

In use, the Android UI is ingenious, and HTC's handset makes a good, not exceptional, home for it. The G1's combination of touch (no stylus), trackball, and Menu button take me everywhere I want to go with minimal effort. I use the G1 primarily as a touch device, extending the keyboard only to make the display flip from portrait to landscape mode.

AT&T's Fuze (aka the HTC Touch Pro) loses because, like the BlackBerry Storm, the Fuze is a handset I couldn't bring myself to carry after three determined tries. The Fuze is a thick, heavy, sluggish phone, the bulkiest device in this test group, and there's no obvious reason for it. It is markedly slower to boot and less responsive than its keyboardless equivalent, the HTC Touch Diamond. I like the Fuze's keyboard much better than the G1's (in daylight, the G1's backlight is uneven and infrequently lit), but that's not enough to salvage the Fuze.

The G1 is almost exclusively a touch device for me, and as with other widescreen phones, I use it mostly in landscape mode. Android doesn't yet have a platform-standard on-screen keyboard, but in all other regards the platform is perfect for it. The G1 does not have -- and does not need -- a stylus. Touch gestures, a trackball, and the Menu button simplify the G1's basic navigation, but I can't call using the G1 intuitive. It takes some ramping-up time whenever I switch to the G1, and it isn't wired into my brain yet whether taking an app off my screen forces it to exit or shoves it into the background (I have that trouble with Windows Mobile, too).

The G1's insistence that I register the device with a Google ID gives me pause. Google's cloud services aren't yet as focused and organized as iTunes. If my G1 is dependent on Google, what if its consumer-oriented cloud goes wobbly? Does my phone go down? I kept a critical eye on that connection and found that interdependence wasn't that strong. My Gmail inbox, contacts, and calendar stay in sync for me. My participation in Google's cloud is voluntary. Google feeds Android Market and keeps my G1 firmware updated over the air, so there is no desktop client and no need to hook into a PC. The G1 is utterly wireless.

You won't buy and deploy the G1 in gross unless you're setting up custom apps, for which the the G1 is well-suited, perhaps better than any device here. Android won't lock down or manage centrally the way the AT&T Fuze, BlackBerry, and, to an increasing extent, iPhone can. Nor will the G1 hook tightly into Exchange except as a POP or IMAP server. The combination of the Android UI, Android Market, Google's cloud, and T-Mobile's 3G network make the G1 a great choice.

Smartphones by the features
 

Messaging

Browser

Navigation

Apple iPhone 3G (AT&T)

Exchange/ActiveSync, MobileMe, POP, IMAP

WebKit 3 (Safari)

Google Maps

AT&T Fuze

Mail: Exchange/ActiveSync, AT&T Xpress Mail, POP, IMAP
IM: Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo!

Opera 9.5 (default), Mobile IE

AT&T Navigator (enhanced TeleNav)

RIM BlackBerry Bold (AT&T)

Mail (all push): Outlook desktop redirector, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (Exchange, Notes, Groupwise), BlackBerry Internet Services, POP via BIS
IM: Blackberry Messenger, Google Talk

BlackBerry Browser 4.6

AT&T Navigator (enhanced TeleNav)

RIM BlackBerry Curve (T-Mobile)

Outlook desktop redirector, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, POP (all push)
IM: Blackberry Messenger, Google Talk

BlackBerry Browser 4.6

BlackBerry Maps, Google Maps, TeleNav

RIM BlackBerry Storm (Verizon)

Mail (all push): Outlook desktop redirector, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (Exchange, Notes, Groupwise), BlackBerry Internet Services, POP (all push)
IM: Blackberry Messenger, Windows Live, Yahoo!, Google Talk, AIM

BlackBerry Browser 4.7

BlackBerry Maps, VZ Navigator

HTC Touch Diamond

Exchange push/ActiveSync, POP, IMAP
IM: Windows Live Messenger, AIM, Yahoo!

Opera 9.5 (default), Mobile IE

Sprint Navigator (not tested)

T-Mobile G1

Gmail push mail, plus POP and IMAP

WebKit 3 (Android Browser)

Google Maps, TeleNav

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