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Gadgets Tested is a new blog dedicated to bringing the most extensive and relevant product information to you - the all important consumer!

I am here to review the tech, show the consumer, and test to death the latest technology, including mobile phones, MP3 players and even some miscellaneous gear such as outdoor gadgets, gaming gear and musical equipment.

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Friday, 15 July 2011

RIM Vs. Android – Two expanding giants go head to head

I never thought I’d see the day when every other high-schooler was wielding a Blackberry smartphone, but with a combination of advanced technology being readily available to pretty much everybody, a couple of years of some very attractive handsets, and a generation of people who find it easier to communicate using two thumbs rather than with the aid of speech – It had to happen.

In the closing years of the last decade, with three very sleek handsets, each made to match a different personality, a new generation of blackberry user was created. The Blackberry Bold 9000, the Curve 8900 and the Pearl 8100 were designed to expand the so-called ‘business phone’ and take full advantage of its capabilities with the integration of social networking. Little were we expecting, these handsets elaborated on earlier attempts to grab a new audience and change things forever.

Since these three devices hit the market, numerous updated models have been released and popularity is still rising for Blackberry – But even newer to the smartphone industry is the Android OS, and Android powered devices are taking Web/Email oriented devices to new levels, catering for every type of customer.

The now classic design of an upright phone with a full qwerty keypad has been utilised by many mobile phone manufacturers, from Nokia’s E Series to the budget handsets produced by Alcatel, every type of user can potentially find a qwerty phone to suit their needs.
 One of the latest qwerty-equipped phones to arrive is the Samsung Galaxy Pro – Packing an 800Mhz processor, a 3MP camera, 2.8’’ full touch-screen and Android OS V2.2, this handset seems to scream ‘Blackberry alternative’! The first thing that stands out on this phone is its very efficient design, although this is not a new form factor, Samsung seem to have succeeded in giving this model individuality, with the textured rear, large screen and the four ‘Android’ hardware keys, its unmistakeably a Samsung! As this phone is a true example of a mid-budget, mid-spec ‘one for all’ device I felt it was perfect to represent Android OS in an RIM Vs. Android shootout. Yes, there are better Androids out there, but I’ll be evening it out by using the popular Blackberry Curve 8520 as an example of RIM.

Round 1: Emails & Social Networking
As Blackberry is being compared here I feel Email & Social networking would be an appropriate starting point. Social networking right now, is done on mobile phones more than it ever has been before, all the major social networks are available for free on both platforms in app-form, covering blogging, instant messengers and tweeting sites. Alternatives are available for consolidating accounts etc. but quality and cost are issues on RIM and Androids... Performance-wise I’d say RIM have the real charm here, the simplicity of sending a message or tweet, regardless of what type of account is completely idiot-proof, and battery consumption is practically nil on the Blackberry platform even if all social network apps are running. Androids without a doubt offer most choice of Social networking apps, and Android seems to have the wow-factor of appearance, functionality isn’t lacking by most people’s standards but regular use can drain most Android handset batteries in less than a day.

As for general Emailing, on both operating systems, initial start-up involves a request to setup a primary Email account, which personally, I felt was a little more user-friendly on the android due to the option of creating a new email account in a matter of seconds. Once the initial Email setup is complete, sending and receiving emails is as easy as texting for both RIM and Android, though one thing does get my goat – once opened, Emails will be marked as open on the server site, for RIM only! Also, Emails can be deleted from the server on RIM with ease – Which is another reason why I am handing this round to the Blackberry crowd!

Winner – RIM.

Round 2: Apps & Games
Recently RIM confirmed just under 36000 items are available to download on Blackberry App World, just over 12000 reported to be apps including currency converters, maps, travel aids, games etc... Android on the other hand surpassed the 200000 mark earlier this year. On RIM and Android, app capabilities do vary from device to device, though the majority of the apps are available on all models of each platform, but between both Operating Systems things are very different – for example, Android relies heavily on its touch screen capability to deliver a real interactive experience, where to get a similar experience RIM relies on ‘gestures’ by using the trackpad/trackball in various ways.
The majority of apps and games available on the Android market are free to download, this includes the full Google suite, Sky Plus, on demand TV services, social networking, games and anything you can imagine possible on a device – all available for free. Some apps & utilities do come at a small cost but most things worth downloading are free. Gaming on Android is usually a pleasant experience, using touch-screen controls to directly control moveable components, and in the absence of necessary hardware buttons, ‘virtual controls’ are usually available – for example on retro games console emulators. ‘Predominantly touch-screen gaming’ doesn’t sound like a great feature of a mobile media device but surprisingly enough, this format has made games more accessible for those who wouldn’t usually play games on their phone.
Blackberry App World is a lot lighter on downloadable content and unfortunately, most things worth downloading are NOT free, some apps that appear in App World at a cost seem to be the sort of Application which you would think twice about before downloading for free on Android, though there are a few Google apps etc... Which are free as on Android.
Gaming performance on Blackberry devices is really dependant on what type of gamer you are! There are a variety of great games such as Texas Hold em’ poker which require very little graphical content or finger dexterity, that work great, but any more complicated and it’s not really worth it – for example the pathetic Angry Birds rip-off ‘Angry Farm Lite’ (I was not prepared to purchase the full version) is too complex and hard to judge the controls due to a poorly ported control format.

Winner – Android.

Round 3: Operating system – appearance and customisation
It is hard to describe just how different RIM and Android are from each other, on first appearance what separates the two is the use of widgets and icons – Android generally has a fully customisable interface with room for 16 icons (though some Android overlays have additional features), or any number of widgets, which are icons which may incorporate up-to-date information or interactive elements, generally covering more of the area of the screen. The RIM interface is very much solid and set out for you, the only customisation of the interface available is the ability to change the theme, wallpaper and to show by default how many app icons are visible on the standby screen.
Both Operating systems work on a similar principle, including the drop-down alerts & notifications bar, apps display and folders etc... It is pretty close as to whose OS runs better for this reason. RIM being very lightweight makes Blackberry handsets operate generally smoothly, though Androids customisation options make it simpler to make your handset your own.

Winner – Android.

Round 4: Additional tools
When it comes to RIM device by device, not much changes in terms of adding features to more expensive handsets, Megapixels get higher, screen resolutions rise, and processing power goes up, just general performance is improved.
The beauty of android is that it incorporates a universal formula with room for adding physical aspects to some handsets, such as the ability to support resistive & capacitive screens, multitouch, front-facing cameras for video calling, gyroscopes, accelerometers, external storage and so-on. Development of Android phones is ongoing and the constantly expanding Android Market has supporting software for every new development.

Winner – Android.

Round 5: Design
Earlier in this article I described the Blackberry design as ‘now classic’. The design of RIM handsets has been an inspiration for many years as it is simply effective, over the years the numerous updated handsets have only got better looking, smaller, smarter etc... But one could argue – other than the classic Blackberry qwerty/bar design nothing else has really caught on, for example, the Blackberry Pearl Flip, the Storm and now the Blackberry Torch.
Android Handsets have the ability to really innovate, the formula calls out for a touch screen, a camera and that’s pretty much it, the rest is up to the manufacturers. There are tons of Android phones in all form-factors such as bar, qwerty, flip, micro etc... There is an Android out there for everyone.

Winner – Android.

 The overall winner, in terms of Operating System and capability, in my opinion is Android, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Android is the only way to go. If you are a Business user in need of a ‘no-frills’ experience, or are into social networking and are happy with your handset the way it was created then indeed, RIM is up your street – They provide a second to none service of emails which to this day, I am still impressed with. If you’re after a device which you can customise, use to pass the day, play on and you’re in to freebies then go for android.


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