iPhone 3GS versus Nokia (its not what you think)

I have been using the Nokia 5800 Xpress Music since February and have had Nokias since Ericsson became SonyEricsson and things went off the deep-end. In the end, I picked up 32GB iPhone 3GS, this is what I have used in my comparison between the iPhone experience and the Nokia experience.

I had been resistant to the iPhone because a phone is more than a snazzy GUI and a bit of schmaltzy product design. PC manufacturers have traditionally turned out PDA phones like the Fujitsu Siemens, HP and HTC Windows Mobile devices failed because they tried to fit a PC paradigm on to a mobile device. This means that you get devices which have miserable mobile user experiences, poor ergonomics and a power-sucking battery life.

I am not particularly impressed by bright vibrant screens and wizzy icons because they suck up battery life with excessive computer processing power and power-sucking LCD displays. Secondly the larger you make a display, the harder it is to make an ergonomic handset.

So how does the iPhone stack up against Nokia’s phones?

Battery life

The honest answer about battery life is that it is hard to tell, since what applications you are running on your phone and the mobile carrier network will determine how frugal your devices power-consumption is. I do like the way Nokia allows consumers to tailor their phone’s behaviour and curb application usage to squeeze the best battery life out of the handset.  Apple doesn’t seem to offer a similar level of control. In addition, I can swap batteries on my Nokia in a matter of seconds with my desk charger and spare battery picked up in Hong Kong. Apple doesn’t consider putting a spare battery into a handset a user-servicable task, so the battery life that you get is what you are left with. Nokia 1 – Apple 0

Performance

The ‘S’ in iPhone 3GS stands for speed. The icon transitions when you activate an application comes up fast, and the Nokia does feel slower, however this doesn’t tell the whole story. Let me give you an example: when I clear emails in my Nokia phone, it allows me to delete emails based on the header of the email and who it was from. Generally viagra in the subject title causes this response. With the iPhone, this delete process is slowed down as it struggles sometimes to load pages and Mail grinds to a halt. On the other hand, moving my phone from 3UK to Vodafone seems to have been the equivalent of giving my Nokia handset more performance-enhancing drugs than a professional baseball player with email zipping in and out of the device. I’d call it a draw Nokia 2 – Apple 1

Product design

The iPhone looks like something that sprang into perfection from inside of a CAD system and rendered straight into the sales brochure. But that’s where the problem is, where’s the human element in it? The iphone is just a bit too wide to make the iPhone as easy to use with one hand as any Nokia handset  (with the exception of the N-Gage).  It is a bit too thin to real right in your hand. Something that reminded me of the Motorola Razr. Nokia chooses the case materials careful so that it feels right in your hand, with the Apple its lacquered finish on the back looks better in a computer rendering than real life. It means that you are afraid of dropping the device. Of course this has created a substantial market in phone cases outside the system administrator niche market for the first time in over a decade.  Ultimately it is the clash of two design approaches: Apple’s aesthetic-orientated people considered design versus Nokia’s people-orientated aesthetic considered design. In the store and the demo Apple will win, in terms of living with the device I prefer Nokia. Nokia 3 – Apple 1

Screen

Nokia is consistently criticised as they use a resistive touchscreen, if the handset has a touchscreen at all. Apple uses a capacitive touchscreen technology which is considered to be better. After a little bit of fine tuning when I got my Nokia 5800 I found that it performs as well if not better than my iPhone, especially when using the screen as a virtual keyboard. In terms of appearance the iPhone gives a crisper picture, though for web surfing I would prefer to use the 800-pixel wide inner screen on the Nokia E90. I have my reservations about Apple’s fragile glass screen, if you manage to crack the screen (not inconceivable on a mobile phone) then Apple’s screen will cost much more to replace. In this case, I will give Apple the benefit of the doubt. Nokia 3 – Apple 2

Personal information management

Nokia has led a lot of the mobile phone manufacturers in terms of the amount of effort it has put into ensuring compatiability with the PIM functions on the Macintosh. When a new phone rolls out, Nokia also ensures that there is an iSync plug-in available on their site. Whilst this isn’t as comprehensive a solution as the Nokia PC Sync software suite its a damn sight more than Samsung bother doing. However the main reason I looked at getting an Apple device was that even a highly specc’ed Nokia phones like the E61, E90, the N95 8GB and the 5800 Xpress Music fell over and wouldn’t provide me with my full address book from my computer.

Given that at least some of the phones that I owned were business tools this was immensely disappointing. What made it worse was that the Palm V which I owned close on a decade ago held all my calendar appointment and addresses without a problem. My address book has not increased radically in size since then, yet PIM technology on phones seems to have slid backwards in terms of reliability and capacity to handle a large amount of calendar entries or contacts.

So far (touch wood) it has largely been plain sailing with the iPhone. The iPhone uploaded my address book twice, but since then there has been no further problem. There you have it my iPhone is an expensive replacement for the PalmPilot. Nokia 3 – Apple 3

Applications

Apple has its applications store which updates to the handset over-the-air and has a search function on it. The store is easy to use and is something that other manufacturers including Nokia and Google have looked to emulate. However the closed environment for the iPhone means that there is a lot of crap on there that Apple isn’t interested in competing with (like a virtual beer glass) and lots of great applications like the Opera browser or MetrO which didn’t make it on to the application store. The search function on the application store is a crap as well. With sideloading applications from my computer to the Nokia handsets, I rely on Google to find my applications, but have the freedom to use software developed by software designers of limited means. Whilst the iPhone applications store is undeniably a great platform, but flawed by unintentional social engineering. Nokia 4 – Apple 3

I haven’t included music and multimedia playback, primarily because I think that headphones which come with both devices are so bad (and not in a Run DMC way). Media convergence is the refuge of the poor, mobile phone companies subsidising sideloaded music on to sub-standard devices. I may use them for podcasts but that’s about it. You can pry my iPod and Sennheiser HD 25 headphones out of my cold dead hands.

Despite the considerable efforts of Apple, I still think that Nokia provides a better handset experience mainly because they focus on some of the right details. I don’t think that Nokia is perfect, but the Jesus Phone is no mobile messiah.