I'm living a redundant mobile access kind of lifestyle right now. I've got a Blackberry Storm connected to a BES as well as an iTouch wifi connected to Traveler. As I've been in the UK for the last few days, and was in Phoenix for several days already this month, I've had a time to get a fairly good idea of what it's like to live and work with these devices. Here's my take.
Since I'm using an iTouch and not an iPhone, the comparison isn't quite even. I have to be near a known wifi router to use the network stuff on the iTouch and I don't on the Storm. I do, however, also have a "MyFi" router so as long as I'm in the states, I can turn on a wifi connection pretty much anywhere at any time - making the iTouch nearly as universal for me as an iPhone would be. I could, in theory, even make and receive calls on the iTouch using either the Skype application on it or else downloading a SIP application and connecting it to my Asterisk VoIP server. When it's connected, the wifi access on the iTouch is excellent. It handles the security protocols I need and can even handle a vpn connection. The storm only connects by 3G cellular which is slower -- although the new Storm 2 does include wifi as well.
For connectivity, I'd put the iPhone and the Storm 2 at about parity, but both the iTouch and the original Storm suffer from lacking connectivity in one way or another.
Mail, Calendar, Contacts
Traveler, combined with the Apple's excellent touchscreen makes for a smooth and clear way to use my Notes email, calendar, and contacts; but only if I'm connected. If I'm off the wifi then all that data rapidly ages, and while a fair bit is cached, not all of it is and I get error boxes to dismiss telling me that it can't connect. This would be less an issue of course, if I used an iPhone that was always connected. The Berry, on the other hand, is just always up to date and seems to have 'data in depth'. When it comes to my mail and calendar, everything is there quickly and efficiently. It works and it works well -- except that formatting isn't very good. In addition, the BES is expensive and prone to problems created by RIM's license management while Traveler doesn't have those issues. RIM does, however, have a more enterprise friendly management and security tool set.
When both devices are available and have connectivity, I find I prefer to use the iTouch for mail, so I'm giving points to Apple + Traveler for that section.
I made this a distinct category from the rest of the UI because media playing is what iTouch was built to do -- and it does a great job. I particularly like the simple innovations -- for example, my Sony earbuds have a very simple and tiny remote volume control and pause button in easy reach. The sheer size of the add-on market for gadgetry also adds a lot to the enjoyment of the iTouch. I use slingbox, music, audible books, and simple games on the iTouch comfortably. The Storm is particularly bad at this. Sure, it can play some video -- but not well. It can play music, but I'm spending too much time messing with the device to enjoy it. Slingbox isn't supported on the storm, and I've only got Audible to work on it once -- and badly.
Points to Apple as a media player - no shock.
There's an APP for That
Both the Storm and the iTouch have app stores. If you jailbreak the iTouch there are even alternate app stores as there are on the Berry. Apple's is better. I got more free apps and one or two good paid apps very quickly on the iTouch while the Storm has some great ones, but they're harder to find and get going with. That said, BerryWeather is the cats pants -- love that app. Many of the apps on iTouch would be a ton better if they'd run in the background - but they don't and that really gives the Storm a fighting chance. What good is Skype on the iTouch if you have to close it to do anything else? Twitter is nearly as bad.
Points are split here. The iTouch has some great apps, but the whole app experience is limited by Apple's control tactics and complete lack of mutli-tasking ability.
Does Multi-Tasking Matter?
It really does. As much as I enjoy the iTouch, having to close out what you're doing in order to look at that email you just got a polite chime about -- or check the calendar, make a phone call, etc -- is a real drawback and immediately painful. Restarting twitter or skype from scratch each time you want to pop in takes all the fun out, and I'd really like to be able to suspend an active ssh, vnc, or remote desktop session while I look at an email for information I need in that session.
Lack of multitasking puts the iTouch in a very deep hole on the point -- and it's a hole that really does impact my daily use of the device.
The iTouch is beautiful, responsive, and a delight to operate with your fingertips -- it's pop up keyboard is more accurate for me to use than the Storm's -- though I wish I could map a few symbol keys to the main keyboard. Apple's little product also fits very comfortably in my pocket, and its innovative remote control features (like the pause & volume on my Sony earbuds) really make a nice difference as I don't have to fish around for the player to start and stop it. On the other hand, the lack of a back button -- seen as unnecessary since you can only do one thing at a time -- and the inability to carry spare batteries are not as nice. Battery time when watching video over the wifi is very short. I picked up a nice (and very small) Lenmar power pack to supplement the battery and recharge it a few times between visits to a wall socket.
Apple falls down though, on a few key features. Aside from the multi-tasking failure (which leads to all kinds of UI problems), you can't really re-organize your apps into categorized pages at all, and you can't customize the icon screen pages for color and background. You can re-order icons on the same page, but moving them from page to page is apparently something Apple didn't think you'd want to do. I'm told there are ways around these things if you jailbreak your iTouch or iPhone, but that's not how it's sold.
The Storm's UI has been the subject of a ton of love-hate (mostly hate) blogs. As someone who's grown to use it, I can say that it's "pretty good". The more recent OS updates have made it snappy (and the Storm 2 is quite a bit snappier) and you do get very used to it. Lack of multi-touch zoom is really the biggest missing feature. The click-feel thing is easy to get used to and it's keyboard is at least more useable than say, droid's, for someone with big fingers. Multi-tasking makes the Storm so much stronger though. Having your IM client, ssh shell, browser, twitter, etc. open and quickly available to switch back and forth makes doing things with the Storm much nicer.
Overall, Apple gets a win on UI -- as you'd expect -- but frankly not by a very big margin.
I really enjoy the Apple and it's very good at entertaining me, while the Storm is the more solid work tool. Neither is perfect, but both are more than adequate.
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