All three are back with much more impressive, much more refined new phones. None is as thin, attractive or flexible as the iPhone, but hey — maybe you don’t want an iPhone. Maybe there’s no AT&T coverage where you live, or you want a swappable battery, or you just hate the thought of running with the hypey herd. In that case, a new BlackBerry Storm 2, HTC Hero or Motorola Cliq might be a perfectly O.K. alternative.
All have cameras, video recording, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, five or six hours of talk time and standard headphone jacks. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Here’s how they shake out.
BlackBerry Storm 2
Brothers and sisters, if there was one thing last year’s Storm made clear, it’s this: you don’t rush a product to market just because it’s the holiday season. That’s what R.I.M. did last year, and the Storm was a mess. You’d tap one menu item, and a different one would highlight. You’d flick a list of phone numbers, and it’d stop scrolling the instant your finger stopped (i.e., no momentum). You’d turn the phone 90 degrees, and wait till your next birthday for the image to rotate.
The Storm 2 fixes all of that ($180 from Verizon, with contract, after rebate). Bugs are out, list momentum is in, screen rotation is instantaneous.
The original Storm’s big gimmick was that the entire screen was clickable, like a mouse button — but it wound up requiring too much effort to press the on-screen keys, like a manual typewriter. The Storm 2’s redesigned clickable screen requires far less effort and no longer leaves alarming gaps around its edges; magically enough, it also loses its clickiness when you’re on a call or the phone is off.
The Storm 2 can now exploit the speed of Wi-Fi wireless Internet hot spots, and boasts an impeccable checklist of goodies: autofocus camera, voice dialing, memory-card slot (a 16-gigabyte card is included) and so on. It even works overseas (for added cost, of course), thanks to a slot for a GSM account card (the network type most countries use).
I still don’t get the point of the clicky screen, though. It still has dual feedback mechanisms — colored highlighting on the screen means one thing, a click means something else — that often clash. For example, every time you swipe to scroll a list, your finger highlights the list item it first touched, alarmingly.
Typing is faster on this screen, because you don’t have to fully lift Finger A before pushing down with Finger B (using the Shift key is especially improved for this reason). But it’s still not a true multitouch-screen, and using the Web browser is still slow and fumbly. Isn’t the Web browser the primary point of an all-screen phone? Otherwise, why not get a regular BlackBerry?
The Storm 2 will make many more people happy than the original Storm, but try it in a Verizon store before you buy; the clicky-screen bit isn’t for everyone.
Social networkers, you may have just found your phone.
Motorola’s big-deal new phone ($200 from T-Mobile with contract) is the only one here with a slide-out keyboard. But atop Google’s Android phone software, Motorola has built an ingenious, if initially overwhelming, archipelago of social-networking “widgets” (little floating windows). Each reports the latest from Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, with incoming text messages and e-mail notes — all on the Home screen. In one place, you get a complete picture of your online social network and can post your own updates, too.
Similarly, the address book fills itself with information and headshots from those online worlds, and the awesomely powerful History tab shows you a complete list of recent communications with each person: text messages, calls, e-mail and so on. (It’s therefore simple to contact that person using any of these channels.)
And when someone calls — your brother, say — you see not only his photo, but also his latest status broadcasts from Twitter and Facebook. At the least, this display provides a built-in conversation starter; at best, you have advance warning about your caller’s mood.