by Rebecca L. McClay
Friday, July 16, 2010provided by
A look at the main strengths — and drawbacks — of three popular smart phones
Deciding to buy a smart phone is the easy part. With dozens of models on the market — add one more after Motorola's Droid X went on sale Thursday — picking your perfect phone requires hours of research on countless details.
But if you prioritize your favorite features, the decision-making process may be less painful.
Nearly one in ten cell-phone users own smart phones, a computer-mobile phone combination that has more advanced applications than the basic feature phone, according to Nielsen Mobile. As prices fall and functions and apps become more useful, many of the 90% of cell-phone owners who don't own a smart phone may be considering an upgrade.
While there are many pricing variations on a slew of different phones, the top models all cost about the same — about $200 for a phone if you also buy a two-year contract, though the service costs will vary.
There also are a slew of other models available at lower prices. For instance, the Samsung Omnia and the Nokia Surge are as cheap as $30 with a two-year contract.
Don't forget that smart phones require data plans that range from about $15 to $70 per month. Additional monthly costs could include extra storage space or wireless "hotspot" access.
So, first narrowing down your choices based on a phone's functions, and then comparing costs, may be time better spent.
How quickly do you need to access email messages? Is browser speed important to you? Would you prefer a large, readable screen or a raised-button keyboard? Do you need a high-quality camera or two-way video chat?
Among the Droid X, iPhone 4 and Blackberry smart phones, the quality of those features varies, said Michael Gikas, senior electronics and technology editor at Consumer Reports.
Here's a look at some of the main strengths - and drawbacks — of these three phones:
HTC Droid X: for avid Internet users
With its fast Google-driven browser, Verizon's fourth Droid model may be a great buy for those who like to use their phone to access the Internet. The Android-powered devices were billed as the iPhone killer, and they do have several features that make them competitive. Motorola (NYSE: MOT - News) added several more to the Droid X model, such as an 8-megapixel camera.
Strengths: At 5 inches long and 2.6 inches wide, the Droid X has a 4.4-inch display that would suit users who want readability. "It's a handful, but a manageable one," Gikas said in his review. Gikas also likes the device's keyboard, which has a "Swype" feature that makes its touch-screen keyboard easy to use. The time-saving tool allows users to slide their fingers over the keyboard, rather than lifting them, when typing a word — and yet still avoid typos.
If you're looking for a phone with a big screen, great search tools and on a reliable network, get the Droid X," said Paul Eng, who also reviewed the phone for Consumer Reports.
Drawbacks: Droid phones are notoriously clunky. One of the largest phones on the market and weighing in at 5.5 ounces, it's not a good pocket phone. Also, if you prefer carriers other than Verizon, this model's not for you. Finally, some reviewers note that the screen's resolution is not as fine as the iPhone 4's resolution.
IPhone 4: for photo/video and app lovers
It's no secret that the Apple iPhone (NASDAQ: AAPL - News) line is beyond popular. As with other Apple product launches, many people waited in long lines to snag the latest iPhone model released June 24. Apple sold more than 1.7 million units of the device in its first three days on the market.
If you're into taking pictures and watching videos with your phone, the iPhone 4, with its high resolution and fast streaming, would be a good bet.
But staunch fans of Verizon should keep shopping. It's unclear when the iPhone will open to Verizon's service. For now, AT&T is iPhone's exclusive carrier.
Strengths: A high-resolution touch screen makes it easy to read text; two cameras allow video chat; and a 5-megapixel camera with a flash takes great pictures. Gikas said he likes the phone's video-editing feature. And it's a good phone for people who like to play with apps — the iPhone serves as a platform for more than 300,000 applications.
"If your looking for a sharp screen, great multimedia features and a great source for content, choose the iPhone 4," Gikas said on Consumer Reports' website.
Drawbacks: Users have no carrier choice outside of AT&T. The iPhone 4 has that antenna issue. CEO Steve Jobs said Friday at a press conference that the company will give free protective cases to iPhone 4 buyers to alleviate the problem.
The BlackBerry: for email addicts
Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM - News) BlackBerry, which often hooks users with its instant email, has its own set of features. Foremost is that "push" email function, which feeds messages instantly instead of checking in with a server every 15 minutes or so. It's a hot phone with business executives, and Gikas said information-technology managers love them for their security features.
Strengths: In addition to its "push" feature, BlackBerry's email capabilities include linking several accounts to one master inbox, so users don't have to check multiple sources. BlackBerry users can choose from dozens of small and large carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Cellular One and T-Mobile. If you like using your thumbs to text, most Blackberry models have a physical QWERTY keyboard ideal for thumbing. BlackBerry also has two touch-screen models.
Drawbacks: Some reviewers say the BlackBerry models are clumsy with video streaming and slower with Internet use. The models that do have a camera don't offer much in the way of megapixels. For example, the BlackBerry Curve, one of the most recent models, has a camera with only 2 mega pixels. Finally, for those who prefer smaller phones, most of the BlackBerry models, which average 4.3 inches high and 2.4 inches wide, may be too large.
Rebecca L. McClay is a MarketWatch reporter based in San Francisco.