As I posted earlier this week, a lot is going on in the mobile industry lately, and people looking to buy new phones are now met with a much wider selection of top notch phones from which to choose. The market is filled with highly advanced and feature filled phones such as the Nokia N86, Samsung Omnia line, Sony Ericcson Satio (Idou), the new Android devices by HTC, and much much more.
With the tens of new and exciting mobile devices being announced every day, there really are two names that stick out from the rest. I have been asked by tens of people now, what I think is a better purchase, the N97 or the new iPhone 3GS. I give the same answer every time, which is generally the answer to the question “What phone to get?”. I answer that it really does depend on the way you use your mobile device. Are you a web user? Do you need fastest email? Does the phone’s UI matter to you or is the internal memory what you care about? Do you need a top notch camera or is a solid music interface more important to you? These are all questions you need to ask yourself before purchasing a mobile device.
Having said all that, I wanted to do an in depth comparison of the two phones for those that can read the specs online and not know what they are looking at. Before I do that though, full disclosure, I have not used either device as my primary phone. I am a BlackBerry man and I have an HTC Magic or G2 as my secondary device, but Apple or Nokia has not sent me either device to review yet. I have had the privilege of “playing around” with both devices for an extended period of time and I have an iPod Touch running the new iPhone software, so I am not totally unfamiliar.
Display: So here goes…Let’s start with the screens, which in my opinion is one of the more important things on a phone since you can have the best features in the world, but if your screen is not usable, accessing the features is gonna give you a headache. Both devices sport a 3.5 inch full touchscreen. However, that is pretty much all the screens have in common. The iPhone’s touch screen is what is called a capacitive screen, which means in short, it was designed for the use of your fingers. The N97 is a resistive screen, which was initially engineered to be used with a stylus (what’s that?). The N97 is by no means a horrible screen like some other resistive screens out there, it does detect your finger pretty accurately in my brief tests, but comparing the responsiveness of the N97 to that of the iPhone is like comparing the horse power of a Ferrari to that of a Fiat. Bottom line? If you need a phone that will respond to your every need, you do NOT want an N97 but rather an iPhone.
Photography: Moving on, let’s talk about the camera a little. The N97 uses a very impressive Carl Zeiss lens with a full fledged 5 MP Auto Focus camera, which can easily replace the need for a standalone camera. The iPhone on the other hand has a decent 3.15 Auto Focus camera, which has been said to take better pictures than expected, but anyone who has used an N95 knows that the pictures taken by the 5MP Nokias are absolutely stunning. So, if photography is your thing, no surprise here, the N97 comes out on top.
Memory: The iPhone maxes out at 32GBs of memory, while the N97 maxes out at 48. Unless you are a really really heavy movie and music addict, this really will not matter to you. I might come back here in a few years and laugh at myself for saying that 32GBs is enough storage. After all, the world is moving in the direction of HD. However, for now, and for the next few years at least, 32GBs is MORE than enough memory for a mobile device. If, however, you need that extra space, go for an N97.
Processor speed is one of the more important factors in a smartphone. Like I said earlier, with phones now having the ability to do pretty much anything your home computer can do, the mobile processors need to step up. The N97′s biggest disappointment, in my opinion, is its ridiculous processor. What is the processor and why do I care? Someone once explained to me that the processor is kinda like the hands of the device. The more processor speed you have, the more hands you have, the more things you can do simultaneously. With all the apps and features available for the N97, you need a processor that can handle it all, and Nokia, for some reason that I cannot figure out, decided to go with a lame 434MHz processor. A little perspective, the newest phones out there such as the Toshiba TG01, have a 1GB processor. The iPhone has a nice 600MHz processor to match its advanced feature set. So, if you need a device that will move at the fast pace you want it to, hands down, the winner is the iPhone. For me, this is a deal breaker, and one of the main reasons I would never get the N97.
Input Method: Input method has become a big issue as of late. With the ability to write emails on the go, you want a phone that will enable you to type at a decent speed and level of accuracy. Now, let me first say, I do not hate the iPhone’s virtual keyboard like some people do. It has grown on me, and with the built in corrective software, it is a very decent contender. I have had some funny mistakes with the iPhone that led to some embarrassment on my part, but that is a story for a different time (tweet me here if you are interested and I will tell you about it). However, since I became a BlackBerry user, I cannot help but notice that there really is absolutely no comparing a hardware QWERTY keyboard to a virtual one. The typing is more accurate and MUCH faster and easier. No questions asked. Having said that, the N97′s keyboard is far from the keyboard on my Bold, so this is a close one. Taking everything into account, I think the N97 takes the iPhone when it comes to input but not by much. If you are a really heavy email user, the N97 might be more suitable, but if you use email and need a top notch UI and a decent processor, go for the iPhone. Confused? Keep reading!
Body: In terms of the build of the two phones, this is already a matter of taste…The iPhone is a lot thinner, so if that is your thing, go for an iPhone. On the other hand, anyone who holds an N97 will be surprised at how solid it feels. The slide out mechanism for the keyboard is as solid as any phone I have ever used. I personally am not a big fan of the slider form factor, but then again, from day one, I never felt the iPhone fit perfectly in a human hand of normal proportion. I am sure Shaq finds it fits well in his hand (ok, maybe a slight exaggeration). So bottom line, in terms of the phone’s body, I do not love either, but the iPhone wins for me, but that is just me.
Battery Life: The battery is another one of those things that should not be ignored when purchasing a smartphone. In my humble opinion, the batteries of today’s phones are not where they should be. Obviously, the more features that these devices support, the more capacity its battery requires. I think the features available today are developing faster than the battery industry, the batteries on both these phones do not satisfy me, but until a smartphone’s battery lasts like my old Nokia 3100′s battery (a week without charging), I wont be happy, so don’t listen to me. Bottom line is the N97 takes this round. If charging your battery often bothers you like it does me, an N97 might be a better option for you. Although, in both cases, you will need to charge it once a day, so this is not so significant.
Multitasking is for me a very important ability that my phone must possess. If you can not do a few things at once, to me, having a smartphone is kinda pointless. The iPhone in all its awesomeness does not yet allow background apps. Do you understand what this means? With all the 60,000+ apps in the App Store, and all the apps the average iPhone enthusiast uses, you can only run one at a time. Really Apple? I know they now have push notifications so an app that is not running can still notify you when you need to be notified, but I am sorry, it is not the same. I have at least 5 apps running on my BlackBerry at any given time. This for me is a deal breaker. If the processor speed is the reason I am not getting an N97, no background apps is the reason I am not getting an iPhone. So when it comes to multitasking, an N97 wins with the ability to run as many tasks and the phone’s processor can handle.
Web: Lastly, web browsing. I am tempted to answer in one word: iPhone. It really is as simple as that. The iPhone kicks the N97′s little resistive butt. Then again, the N97 should not take it personally, the iPhone kicks any other mobile device on the planet’s butt too. OK, enough about butts, you need to surf the web on your phone like you do at home or some will say even better? Get an iPhone, period (or as Brits would say, “Full stop”).
I think there are enough characteristics above upon which most people can decide between the two phones. Just a reminder that the two phones have a lot more in common than you might think. Here are the things that the N97 and the iPhone 3GS share:
- 16 million color display
- Built-in Accelerometer
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- HSDPA (3.5G) although the iPhone’s is faster
- Wifi 802.11 b/g
- Bluetooth A2DP although the N97′s supports more features
- Built in a-GPS
Conclusion: OK, so I know some people will not read this long post and scroll all the way down here for an answer. I am tempted not to have a conclusion just so that those people read, but I wont do that to you. I think the N97/iPhone rivalry is a classic example of form vs. function, only not really. The iPhone is much prettier, but I do not mean externally only. The UI is prettier, hence its ease of use. I do not think you can say about the processor that it is prettier, but the UI would not be what it is without the processor. Everything about the iPhone is just nicer. Having said that, the N97 is as feature packed as any mobile device on the planet. So bottom line, if you do not care about a polished UI, but need an insane amount of built in memory as well as a real hardware keyboard, which would mean you are an ultimate geek (a term of endearment in today’s world), go for an N97. If you want to love your phone and everything it does, go for an iPhone. It is as simple as that. As for me, I am sticking with my Blackberry, at least for now.