Phone Wars: the iPhone 3.0 vs. Android Cupcake vs. Palm Pre

By Tech_Ubiquitous on 12:16 AM

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The next few weeks are going to be a battle-royal of the titans as Android's Cupcake continues to roll-out, the brand-spankin-new Palm Pre eager at the gates and ready to launch--and of course, the ubiquitous iPhone--this time with a 3.0 set of hardware and software poised to go e-postal. What does this mean? Well, chances are, if you found this blog you've already read many of the fanboy rags which--thus far--have provided little or no analysis and are certainly biased--or worse yet, ill-informed.

In fact, we've read those blogs too--and came to the conclusion that someone (us?) should put it out there for the masses to see: an accurate side-by-side comparison of these three heavy-weights. I know many of you BlackBerry fan-bourgeoisie will become upset that we did not include the torrent of Research In Motion products--but we can save that for another post.

First, you'll see the most comprehensive matrix to-date on the comparison--please leave a comment if you find anything inaccurate so we can update as necessary. We've tried to remain as objective as possible--deliberately leaving out "which phone looks cooler in my Prius" and which phone goes better with my "Google Fan Club" jersey--you get the idea. So, we'll start with this (click image to see full-size):


You might notice a few items missing such as GPS, processor, and a few others. This is because many of these items are well-known and comparable across the handsets. The matrix above gives you a snapshot if you're trying to compare like-item features or simple "must-haves"--however, each phone has a particular "style" and an appropriate fanbase. Indeed, each of these phones possess a je ne sais quoi that only owners can really nail down. Keep in mind, the above chart represents out-of-the-box handsets and not "jail-broken" units as this can void warranties and violates carrier Terms of Service (ToS).

For those of you who want a detailed analysis of the aforementioned features and why we think they're important... well, we're not going to let you down:

Cost:

  • Cost is very important--especially with the economy taking a dump on everyone. We've looked at three factors to define the cost: the price for a unit with a two-year contract; price without a contract; and the total cost of ownership.

  • If you're looking for the best price with a two year contract, the Palm Pre may be the right choice--though it is twice as expensive out of the gate than the G1--but the $99 G1 is only available via Amazon.com--if you go to a T-Mobile store, you'll only save yourself about $30 bucks. The iPhone is the most-expensive choice, but then again, the Prius ain't cheap either.
Battery:

  • Pros and Cons across the board here: Ask G1 owners how their battery life is and they'll complain bitterly. Ask any iPhone owners, and they'll not be far behind--but they particularly gripe about not being able to switch out batteries. On both the Palm Pre and the G1, batteries can be swapped out and replaced without much hassle. On all three units, one can expect the battery to last only about a day with active use--keep that charger handy. Speaking of which, Pre and G1 owners have the luxury of using a microUSB charger--almost any will do including the same one you're likely to have for your sweet Bluetooth Stereo headset--like the Motorola MOTOROKR S9--it is nice not having four different cables in the car, yeah?
Camera:

  • The Palm Pre literally out-shines the G1 and iPhone because it comes with an LED flash. However, the G1 has video capture and allows the user to upload directly to YouTube. Loyal iPhone owners have been asking for this since day-1 and are still disappointed. Why Apple, why? There have been many conflicting reports on video-capture for the iPhone 3.0, but it was never mentioned as one of the "100 new features" at Apple's iPhone 3.0 event back in March. That sure would be strange to leave out, yes? Meanwhile, Pre users may have to wait until year's-end for video capture. As far as which camera has the best processing? Well, they're all good and some of the handsets have third-party apps that add a better back-end. Basically, the analysis of those would be a separate post (perhaps even longer than this one!)
Capacitive Touch Screen:

  • iPhone pioneered the screen and has huge props for that. So much so that the Palm Pre has nearly an exact copy, eh, flatteringly similar screen. So much so in-fact that Apple was rumored to threaten litigation against Palm only six months ago over the technology. More interesting: it is widely accepted that Google agreed not to have multi-touch gesture controls on the G1--even though the HTC hardware natively supports it--due to diplomatic relations between Apple and Google. Results: Both the iPhone and Palm Pre have comparable touchscreens with similar multi-touch gesture control; the G1 has not "officially" utilized this on Android 1.5 though many of the basic gestures are the same on all three units.
  • As far as the screen size and resolution go: iPhone wins here, with the G1 and Pre being about equals.
GSM/Global:

  • Both the iPhone and G1 use GSM technology that allows the user to swap out SIM cards. Here are some interesting facts: one can "jail-break" an iPhone (violating AT&T's ToS) and use other carrier SIM cards--but it is even more difficult to use one outside its country of origin--but you can feel free to roam on AT&T all over the place, but it'll cost you! The G1 can be purchased (w/o violations of any ToS) already unlocked. Moreover, if you've been a T-Mobile customer for more than 90 days, they'll unlock it for you!
  • Why is this important? Because you can buy pre-paid SIM cards at any tabac shop in France or any petrol station in Tokyo--saving you a huge bundle on data and giving you a local number too! Both AT&T and T-Mobile offer international roaming.
  • The Palm Pre on Sprint, however, is another story. Though Palm is said to be releasing a "GSM-friendly" version of the Pre, this will not be the one you get at the Sprint Store--which will most likely be limited to Sprint's US-only CDMA network. That means you've got a fancy phone but no passport. But if you're in the 75% of Americans who don't actually have a US Passport, this may not be a big factor. UPDATE: Jon Rubinstein (Palm) announced that there would be a "European-specific" GSM version of the Pre in a "few months"--it'll cost you though as Sprint will not be offering the device.
3.5mm Headset:

  • You think this would be ubiquitous in all mobile phones, right? Wrong. Manufacturer HTC--who lovingly makes the G1 is notorious for their special love for microUSB. Why? Good grief, we've been asking that same question for a while now. Indeed, any G1 owner will have to plug in the supplied adapter to use their 3.5mm headphones. Pre and iPhone owners know of no such troubles. That said, we think everyone will be sporting some cool Bluetooth Stereo headsets--so it may be a moot point--but one we like to gripe about anyway:-)
Multi-Tasking:

  • Here comes the hammer: both the Pre and G1 can manage background processes and multi-tasking. Many argue that this isn't that important of a function and that it really does kill the battery. No to the first; Yes to the second. Why is it so damned important to multi-task? We found a funny response on a blog that captures it pretty well--though it is potty humor:
I think multitasking is pretty important. One glorious evening I was sitting on the toilet with my ipod touch reading BGR and figured I would also incorporate a little pandora while surfing, needless to say I was shocked to constipation when I realized I couldn’t do both at the same time. Could this be so, was Apple serious? I can’t poop, listen to pandora, and read BGR at the same time
  • Though this may not describe you, the ability to listen to tunes while tweeting, texting, surfing, blogging, reading, gaming, or any other activity does not exist on the iPhone. Uh, lame.
  • However, both the Pre and G1 do this very well. So do most BlackBerries for that matter--but that's another story. That said, the Pre has a better native interface for handling the multi-tasking/background apps than the G1--A nice "card" system it employs at the bottom of the screen which is similar to the G1's "window shade".
Copy & Paste:

  • You'd think this is a no-brainer--a basic feature if nothing else, right? Well, iPhone users have not been able to have this basic feature from the get-go and are looking forward to 3.0. It was on the original G1, but it has been improved upon with Cupcake (Android 1.5) and the Pre has it right out of the gate.
Notification Management:

  • Both the Palm Pre and G1 do this job very well and in similar ways. The aforementioned "window shade" that the G1 uses is similar to the stack notifications at the bottom of the Pre's screen. The difference is that the Pre can "stack notifications" whereas the G1 has the "window shade" that can be pulled down. Both units easily handle multiple notifications and can stack them up pretty well. The image below shows the window shade being "pulled down" on the G1 and shows a "stack" of notifications on the Pre:
  • The iPhone does not have any useful notification system--but rather a pop-up push notifier in the middle of the screen. This will become precarious at best as the iPhone 3.0 begins "push notifications"--multiple notifications will be a big challenge. Apps ranging from email to Twitter and RSS feeds will interrupt whatever the iPhone user is doing with a "pop-up" message over the task at hand. For some of us, that would be hundreds per day. We hope that Apple fixes this sooner rather than later, but as of now, it ain't lookin' like we'll opt to have push-notifications turned on.

Expandable Storage:

  • Control freak/lock-down time. At least this is one of the reasons we've been told as to why the Pre and iPhone do not support expandable storage like the G1's microSD card. Perhaps this is for good reason as one can easily (without "jail-breaking") install third-party apps on the G1 that are not allowed on the Android Market (or, more specifically, not authorized by the carrier). This is how many folks have installed laptop tethering apps, sweet game emulators, and other sundries to the G1--in some cases, the Cupcake update itself.
  • There are many useful applications with expandable memory though--file sharing via microSD became an important one here at TechUbiquitous last week: Two of our contributors own the T-Mobile G1--which is currently rolling out the Cupcake Android 1.5 firmware--which we're reviewing for you here. One of us got the OTA update, the other was still waiting. Rather than wait impatiently for T-Mo to randomly update G1 #2, they swapped microSD cards and installed the update manually. As the G1 supports upto 8gb microSD cards, it is conceivable to carry unlimited storage with you, depending on how many microSD cards you want to carry. That is a lot of music in video--surely more than the battery can deliver in one charge :-)
Music Management and Synchronization:

  • This has become increasingly important as more and more mobile phones come with MP3/music players. Let us not forget that the iPhone was born from the iPod...and it shows! Indeed, the iPhone syncs up perfectly with iTunes on the user's computer. Everything from acquiring music via iTunes to searching for it is a snap on the iPhone. Drawbacks: not too many. Although DRM has been an issue for some--80% of the iTunes catalog is DRM-free. Essentially, the iPhone rocks in this department with 10 million songs at the iPhone user's fingertips! Just don't expect iPhone to let you to jam out to your tunes while browsing the net.
  • It should be noted that both the Pre and G1 come pre-loaded with the Amazon MP3 Store which allow for searching, browsing, sampling, and purchasing over T-Mobile's data network and downloads over wi-fi. This gives users of both devices a 100% DRM-free catalog of over 6 million songs--not too shabby. That said, music and other media files are not nearly as organized as they are on the iPhone. UPDATE: The Palm Pre will now synch seemlessly with iTunes on your Mac or PC!
  • Streaming Music: This blogger feels that this is really the future of mobile music. iTunes is nice and the Amazon is a navigable river, but once you've tasted Pandora for the first time, there is simply no going back. Many streaming apps are already at the million+ user level: Last.fm, iMeem, and Pandora are the three that come to mind. Not to pick favorites (we'll save that for another post) but Pandora is simply amazing. The iPhone and Palm Pre have Pandora apps working or ready to go. Android is still waiting for Tom Conrad to come around and dedicate some of his dev staff to developing the Android Pandora app ("Pandroid"?) and meanwhile G1 fans can use iMeem and Last.fm. As was mentioned earlier, both the Pre and the G1 allow the user to listen to music (streamed or downloaded) while using other applications.
Stereo Bluetooth:

  • As mentioned earlier, all three devices have A2DP Stereo Bluetooth. This should have been a no-brainer for the iPhone 3G, but it wasn't. In fact, it wasn't on the original G1 either. Nope, not until Android 1.5 was this a reality for the G1 and iPhone users are highly anticipating (throwing temper tantrums in some cases) waiting for this new functionality. Why? For those of us who have Bluetooth-enabled car stereos--it is awesome: no wires. Also great if you're sportin' the fancy-pants stereo headsets. In fact, I had to rely on my old-school BlackBerry Pearl for this function until Cupcake came out.

Search: Its Lost in My Phone!
  • The iPhone is bringing out Spotlight which is a great phone-wide search capability that gives the user instant access to finding lost stuff! From contacts to iCal appointments, music, media--everything! Likewise, the Palm Pre has a Universal Search that looks both inside the phone and outside: tying in Maps, Wiki, search engines, etc. Surprisingly, the G1 phone that was built around the concept of "search"--with a dedicated "search" button on the keyboard and a Google Voice Search widget on the home screen--does not have a good native phone-wide search capability. One plus for the the G1 is that it can search email contents where the others can search only for subject lines and To/From fields. All three phones do a great job of external searching.

Digital Compass (Magnetometer):

  • I have a GPS, do I really need a compass. Really, am I going to triangulate my location using the Tans-America Building, the Golden-Gate Bridge, and this little cafe? The answer to that question is probably not--unless you're a Boy Scout that never outgrew his uniform. However, augmented reality applications need this feature to truly augment our realities. The G1 and the iPhone 3.0 both sport this feature--the Pre does not :-(

  • Simple Example: Google Maps Street-View function uses the magnetometer--as you move the phone around 360°, your view of the street moves too!

  • Nerdy Example: the G1 now has a "metal detector" app--and yes, it really works :-p

  • Cooler example: The Sky Map app uses the GPS, accelerometer and magnetometer so when the user points the device at the night sky, it is showing an astronomically-correct view of that same sky--including constellations and other celestial features.

  • Wikid-cool example: Wikitude AR Travel App: Using the camera, anything the device is pointed at in a major city will have pop-up references to landmarks, good eats, you name it--right there in real-time on your camera viewscreen. The user can select a range using the "radar" from only a few meters to a couple of hundred miles for that mountain-top vista:

Tethering to a Laptop:

  • Well, the carriers are not too fond of this capability: They'd rather you fork over $50 bucks a month for a little USB dongle to stick out the side of your laptop. Basically, tethering allows for your laptop to use the data network on your iPhone, Pre, or G1 wherever you have coverage. Though tethering was fairly ubiquitous on BlackBerries (T-Mobile didn't even charge extra for this feature)--it is highly frowned upon with the latest 3G devices. That said, AT&T is rumored to be relenting for the latest iteration of the iPhone, and T-Mobile can't really stop G1 users from installing a non-Android Market app that allows this. Unfortunately, Sprint removed this feature from the Pre on February 19th--again, why give you something for free when they can charge you another $50 bucks a month?
  • Tethering can be accomplished via USB cable or Bluetooth.
Keyboards--QWERTY:

  • Keyboards come in two fashions here: soft and hard. No, this isn't that kind of blog. Soft keyboards are software-driven, touch-sensitive keyboards that are located on the screen of the phone itself. They are especially useful for typing in a language other than English (Korean, for example). Hard keyboards have actual buttons that the user presses, as previous BlackBerry devices have sported and give a more tactile response to the user. Casio keyboards are great for generating some '80s funkadelic sounds.

  • The iPhone has always been equipped with only a soft keyboard as it is not a slider. The Pre will only have a hard keyboard, and the G1 has both types of keyboards (including a "vibrating" tactile response from the soft keyboard). The figure (above) shows each phone with its keyboard capabilities. As of this blog, neither of the three phones sport a Casio keyboard--we'll have to suffice with iTunes delivering us some old-school A-ha singles.
Peer-to-Peer Bluetooth:

  • As of now, only the iPhone has actively supported this feature--allowing users to share content and--more importantly--control accessories ranging from glucose meters to monitor blood/sugar and iPhone based special effects for guitars. Though the hardware and software for the G1 and Pre should be able to support these features, they aren't actively being championed.
Over-the-Air Updates (OTA):

  • Over-the-Air updates are a convenient way for both carriers and users to have the latest firmware on given handsets and quickly distribute patches for bugs, security flaws, etc. In the case of the G1, no less than 8 patches and major updates (including "Cupcake" 1.5 firmware) went out in only 6 months. The iPhone has released several OTA updates as well. Meanwhile--for reasons we do not understand yet--the Palm Pre does not support OTA updates. This could make obtaining critical updates and enhancements difficult for the user should they not actively sync with their Macs or PCs.
Auto-Rotate:

  • Each of the phones can perform auto-rotation via the supplied accelerometers in each unit. Though vertical reading is fine for short emails and phone calls, having a landscape mode swiftly translate on its own is great when typing lengthy messages or watching video.
Non-App Store/iTunes/Android Market Applications:

  • What exactly do we mean here? Well, should you want to install an application that would make your life easier, richer, or more fulfilling but know full-well that it will not make your carrier "richer", then installing third-party applications via "unofficial channels" is your best bet. However, in the case of the iPhone, you will have to Jail-Break it which means losing that warranty and violating the terms of service. For the Pre, there is no easy solution yet as the device does not have external removable storage and we do not know what kind of access will be given via USB. The G1 currently supports installing applications via the microSD card--some perfectly legit--others violating T-Mobile's ToS. A tethering application is an example of this.
Flash Support (Adobe):

  • Adobe Flash is a popular multimedia platform that widely distributes animation, audio, and video; it is ubiquitous on the world wide web.
  • Each of the phones fail to offer this--so why is it even here if we're supposed to be "comparing"? The answer lies in rumors and promises to the iPhone, Pre, and Android communities. In March 2008, Steve Jobs mentioned that there would be a "Flash Lite" capability referring to a slimmed-down version of Adobe's popular Flash platform in the future SDK. Previous hardware limitations made this unfeasible for the iPhone, but the latest iteration may in fact be able to support this. Still, nothing in 3.0.
  • Likewise, in November of that same year Andy Rubin, Google's chief mobile platform guru, gave a live demonstration of Flash yet it was not included in the Android 1.5 update. However, Adobe announced in February 2009 that it would be supplying Adobe Flash Player 10 on both the Android and Palm handsets--but that they were "still not close" to bringing it to the iPhone. This--according to Adobe--has to do with Apple favoring its own Quicktime platform and not giving Adobe access to lower levels of the operating system. Both Palm OS and Android are fairly open systems.
  • Finally, the both Adobe and Palm stated back in February that the Pre would be one of the first smartphones to sport a Flash Player--though like video recording for the Pre--it isn't anticipated until the end of 2009.
Network Coverage:

  • 3G Network coverage across the United States is still rapidly growing. Sprint arguably has the greatest network coverage of the three carriers discussed here, with the first 4G network rolling out soon on Sprint. Keep in ming though, the Sprint version of the Palm Pre is limited by two oceans--it will not work on GSM carriers abroad.
  • If a user feels they will need to travel abroad and needs a large 3G network here in the States, AT&T is the best right now. T-Mobile is continuing to roll-out its 3G network, but got a very late start as the G1 was their first 3G offering.
There's an App for That:

  • Apple has--by far--the largest amount of applications available now at their AppStore. Granted, the AppStore has become quite bloated with redundant apps and plain-old useless apps--but the Android Market is running into this same issue now that it has grown to a substantial offering.
  • The primary difference between app development for Android and iPhone is the open-source nature of Android's SDK. Essentially, anyone who wants to has full access to the SDK and can submit applications to the Android Market. While the Apple AppStore is a bit more restricted, developers are hardly intimidated as Apple has the mass market and developers will do whatever they have to for such a large captive audience.

  • The jury is still out on the Palm Pre App Catalog (its official name) though initial indicators are encouraging: Pandora has already developed its streaming music player for the Pre--an initiative they have yet to take for the Android platform.
That about does it for this post--for now. Next, we'll attempt to examine what the top applications are for the three units before we move on to tackle another project entirely :-) Thanks for reading and feel free to let us know if you have any comments, concerns, grips, or foul language for us!

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