Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Apple iPhone vs HTC Diamond 2 vs HTC Magic

This is my comparison review of three phones, the iphone 3g, HTC Magic (Sapphire), HTC Diamond 2. These are considered by most to be the leading touch screen phones at the moment.

There is another similar contest that could be had for keyboarded phones, but this is a slightly different market.

Firstly, I have used all these phones in real life. Some may point out many of the other touch screen phones, but many of them are just out and I haven't had a chance to look at. Two obvious rivals are the Blackberry Storm and the Nokia 5800. Nokia has obviously decided to target the mid-market. While the 5800 is a good phone for its position, and well specified, the build quality and user experience don't quite make it to the top tier yet. The Blackberry Storm is another contender. I have not used this in real life but reviews and others experience leads me to believe that Blackberry has someway to go in the consumer, hacker or interface aspects of this phone.

Style and look and feel
All three phones are very stylish and well built. Its really personal taste. The iphone is beautiful and in my opinion trumps the others with its glass screen, which just makes one more at ease when using it. However since Apple ditched the metal back, which had real character whilst it scratched :), the latest plastic back does not have the edge any more. The Apple packaging is also not as high rent as it used to be.
The first thing that struck me is that the HTC Magic doesn't have a stylus. For an HTC devotee this comes across as a bit of a shock. The Magic looks better in the flesh then in pictures, and is very compact. The white is nice and gives it a fun feel and its surprisingly compact. I very much applaud the inclusion of a track ball. I always like alternative means of input, and its much easier to scroll with a ball. Continually swipping fingers to scroll across these large screens to is tiring and ensures that long finger grease marks are maintained on the device.
The packaging of the Magic is also minimal. In fact it seems that manufacturers have given up on good packaging across the board - probably good for the environment. The last shock with the Magic is that it comes with no cd/dvd. This fortells the unique aspect of its philosophy which I will come to later.
Last but not least, the Diamond 2. HTC have been conservative with styling and it has paid off. It is very compact despite the super crisp 800x480 display. It also has real metal at the bottom for the main keys. Its a strong contender for the most stylish with an understated appeal. There is no d-pad or scroll wheel/ball. Disappointingly HTC have dropped the stylish metal stylus of the diamond with its cool magnetic holder and we are left with frankly a cheapo plastic one.

Features and specifications.
The Apple and Magic have 480x360 screens. It would be nice with current devices to have at least vga. However in use you hardly notice the difference. The Safari browser on the iphone fools you into thinking the resolution is much higher. The large 800x480 resolution of the Diamond 2 wins out here.
The Apple and Magic also have capacitance screens rather then the resistive of the Diamond 2. Capacitance screens are said to be less accurate but more sensitive. In actual usage the new sensitive screen of the Diamond 2 does not appear to be different from the others in real life usage.

All the phones are decked out with all the specs you need. The magic and diamond 2 have 528 cpus, the iphone 3g has 428 and the 3g s has 624. Ultimately the Diamond 2 pips the others in sheer power, including a whopping 288mb of ram and 5mp cameria. For me the pictures from the magic seem to be the clearest, with the diamond 2 next and the iphone good but trailing. I have not tested the iphone 3g s but it is an upgrade.
It is fair to say that all these three phones are very slick and no real performance limitations come to mind.
The iphone 3g s and Magic have one extra feature in the form of a digital compass (thanks jriihi ).

Operating systems and usage
HTCs touch flow system in the diamond 2 is excellent, with the base of windows mobile giving access to perhaps the biggest software library of all these devices. However apples and androids app delivery system is more advanced. Microsoft will launch a new app delivery system with windows mobile 6.5 which will be free for diamond 2 owners. Windows mobile 6.5 will give a much needed boost to the native UI and shows that Microsoft is standardising its mobile devices around the look and feel of the excellent zune interface - not a bad thing at all.
Both android in the magic and osxlite in the iphone however take usability to the next level. Whilst the iphone has the magic beaten in terms of out and out newbie learning curve, as a technical user I just enjoy the magic more. Both the magic and iphone are disappointing in the amount of settings users can change
Android on the Magic has a different philosophy from the other systems and is worth spending a paragraph on. Basically it syncs over the air with google servers and has no software for your local PC. When connected to the PC you just see the drive space which you can copy photos, music and videos to. , so a data tariff is perhaps even more important then with the other two. I had no trouble connecting with my Yahoo mail, but if you have gmail there is a separate focused application to deal with it.
I need to sync with Microsoft Outlook, so it is necessary to buy a third party package, Companion Link, which is $30 and works well. On one hand outlook users might fairly regard this as an unfair tax, on the other hand, you have full access to your contact list and address book on the web, which is constantly synced with the phone. As well as providing immediate backup this allows access from any web portal. For a similar service on Apple you would need to pay annually for mobile me and for Windows Mobile you need a service like web2mail, which is free if you use their email domain, or you need to pay a subscription to use the email address you want to.

Briefly I will mention software for purchase or download. Although Android and Apple deliver a single point source for apps, many of them are 1 minute gimmicks. There is plenty of good software out there, but its probably fair to say that the vast free and commercial library of Windows Mobile applications tend to be more useful and sophisticated in general. One area where Apple is showing the way is in quality action games for download. But Windows Mobile is the place to be for adventure and strategy. This will no doubt change over time. The annoying thing about the Apple apps is that officially they can only be delivered through Apple. This means that Apple vetoes things it doesn’t like, for example it won’t allow any mp3 player software as it doesn’t want to be overshadowed in what it regards as its “financial control point” to want a better term. I really feel that the Apple apps store is a kind of gilded cage and it is the least attractive to me. Couple that with Apple’s inability to run apps in the background and no external storage makes it somewhat lacking.

Browsing and messaging
Opera is provided with the Diamond 2, as well as the native internet Explorer (IE). IE is faster but basic and fails to render some simple button formations. Opera is comprehensive but slow compared to the Android and iphone browsers. Where the iphone really falls behind is the inability to support resident programs. Which means that whilst, for example, it supports Skype, tru-phone, facebook, etc. they can not be running all the time and informing the user of messages. Not to mention MSN messenger and the others. Android provides google talk as standard, and as this is based on the jabber open source protocol, can be designed to switch in other systems, for example I have my yahoo and MSN contacts on google talk. Windows Mobile provides MSN messenger as standard. Instant messaging is the one area where, for free, Blackberry has everyone else beat!

Hacking and customisation
Close to heart, where are these phones ? Well the Diamond 2 is Windows Mobile and is supported by the big brains on xda-developers. It is quite simply the most hacked and customisable. No one in the know runs “basic firmware” and many users are already running Windows Mobile 6.5. Unofficially I understand that both HTC and Microsoft are happy with this and it stimulates and supports a vast fan base which spills into the wider commercial arena as well as giving them free beta testing resources 
Android on the Magic is second and is also supported by xda-developers. Google provide the excellent Android SDK which integrates with Ecplise for a superb developer environment. “Root” hacking is available and looks bright for the future.
Apple also provides a good SDK and support for application development, however it is the most difficult to hack and most religiously defended, including closing loopholes on each release. It is also the most unrewarding to play around with once you have finally hacked it.

Firstly all these three phones are powerful and great to use and really its not fair to pick a winner, as its all down to personal taste.
The HTC diamond 2 pips the others in terms of raw power and its screen.
I can’t help feeling that as a PDA, the iphone really lags the other two. I would summarise the iphone as a great device for the “normal” call and text mobile phone user who wants email and browsing with qudos, but will fail to satisfy more technical or demanding “PDA” type users. For me, the iphone is a great phone, and there are many people I would recommend it to, but comes last in this grouping.
For the Diamond and the Magic, it comes down to what you want. For me, ultimately, the Magic comes first, as its better and fresher user interface combined with some good hackability make it just that more fun. But really, the Diamond 2 is an awesome phone as well.
With such strong competition, and such excellent devices, its never been a better time to be a power phone consumer!


jriihi said...

Just 1 correction: HTC Magic does have digital compass. You can download compass application from android market. You can also get application that enables compass display in google maps. Dont forget metal detector app ;))

Technology Victim said...

thanks hriihi, updated

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting - nice review!

Paul Weiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Weiss said...

Nice comparison. The Windows Mobile handsets have the best specs, but I just think the OS is a bit archaic and laggy. Android connects with Linux PC's easily, it's fresh and it's snappy.

office said...

You forgot GPS turn by turn navigation. So far, WM overpowers the other 2.

willam said...

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