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Round Robin: TiPb vs. the iPhone 3G Final Review

[This is an official Smartphone Experts Round Robin post! Every day you reply here, you're automatically entered for a chance to win an iPhone 3G, Case-Mate Naked Case, and Motorola H9 Bluetooth Headset! Full contest rules here!]

After 4 weeks sampling Google's Android G1, Palm's (HTC's) Treo (Windows Mobile) Pro, HTC's Windows Mobile FUZE, and RIM's BlackBerry Bold, it's back, and I'm back.


A lot has happened since Dieter ripped the still beeping iPhone 3G from my cold, not-even-dead hand. Promo codes hit the App Store. iFart apps did to (and made a killing -- sigh). And, of course, Apple released a little something called firmware 2.2.

Admittedly, I cheated a bit. I checkout out the new firmware and the new Google Maps, but I really haven't had the chance to use iPhone OS 2.2 as my "daily driver", not until now.

I've reviewed the iPhone software several times now, for 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2, so I'll spare you the regurgitation, because something else has happened to: I've spent time with all those other smartphones. I've experienced some things still unavailable on the iPhone, some I've really liked, others... well, check the videos for the Android G1, Treo Pro, HTC FUZE, and BlackBerry Bold if you haven't already.

Instead, I'm going to focus on that: returning to the iPhone and looking at it again through eyes now widened by our sibling sites' signature devices. And I'm going to start after the jump!

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iPhone vs. Android

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When it comes to the Android, everything seems to boil down to "openness" -- unlike the iPhone, which is strictly controlled by Apple and the App Store, pretty much anyone who wants to (and knows Java) can code for Android and give away (and maybe eventually sell) what they want, where the want, and how they want. (Within reason, Google still has a kill switch all their own.)

But big deal. Android's openness is cliched to the point that that the strawman is wincing. I'm going to propose that neither open nor proprietary, chaos nor order are inherently good or bad, and more importantly, really matter to the end user. Both have advantages and drawbacks -- it is what's ultimately brought forth from each platform that matters (the iPhone, after all, has a Darwin kernel, OpenGL, and other non-proprietary code at its core).

Sure, developers want to express themselves with as little restriction as possible, but they also want to feed their families. Consumers want that next great paradigm-shifting application but they download fart gags in droves. (Unless I missed the memo saying those were one and the same?)

So I'm taking the App Store vs. Android Market off the table. Likewise, I'm ditching the infinite possible Android hardware options vs. the iPhone's singularity of form and function. Android will give developers more options but more headaches, users more choices but more confusion. Wash.

So what did my week with the G1 teach me about the iPhone? Apple needs to worry about cloud services.

Push Gmail is nice. Push Gmail is fine. Having a separate Gmail app is a dumb idea, and Gmail's IMAP implementation is so buggy, every time I get an "invalid certificate" or "too many concurrent connection" error I consider abandoning it forever, Contacts are a disgrace, and everything has been in beta beyond the point of embarrassment, but here's the thing: Google owns the cloud and they're beginning to show it with Android.

I've said before that one big advantage the iPhone has is it gets Google as well as Apple, while Android gets only Google, but that may not always be the case. Sure, Google wants the eyeballs (and advertising dollars -- never forget their core business) of the iPhone's user base, much as they do Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and every other platform mobile and otherwise, but that may only be until such time as they own the platform as well.

MobileMe is a start. We can spare the botched launch jokes -- for a few months now MobileMe has been solid, and while it provides some killer functionality for Mac users (Back to My Mac, Mac Sycn, etc.), using the Android really made me think Apple has to up its Cloud game and fast.

First, iPhone needs more robust email functionality. Skip the non-standard labels, but give me filters/rules, the ability to star/flag, and otherwise raise the on-device and web-based feature power to desktop levels with Gmail-type power and even better usability.

Get CalDAV really rocking, let me share and subscribe to/publish calendars. Again, iCal power in my hand and on the web.

CardDAV would be nice too, with the same sharing, subscribing, and publishing abilities for contacts, with status rolled in for good measure.

And get those notes syncing, along with the Tasks already built in.

Sure, Android doesn't do all this, but I'm positive it will. Maybe not Android 2.0, maybe not even 3.0, but as soon as Google stops pulling a Microsoft and actually gets their act integrated, they'll go from owning the cloud to leveraging it. That, above open markets and variable form factors, is what I'll really be keeping my Android eye on, and that is what I want to see Apple not only compete with, but raise the bar again in terms of elegance of design and function.

iPhone vs. Palm Treo Pro/HTC FUZE

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I'm putting the two HTC-built, Windows Mobile running smartphones together. Blame Palm, not me. Actually, blame both Microsoft and Palm because as much as the Palm OS was abandoned to the point that we couldn't even include it in the round robin, Windows Mobile showed me its aging platform wasn't that far from a similar fate. Sure, Palm OS 2.0 Nova, and Windows Mobile 7 are both on the horizon, but as of this writing, both are still vaporware, and both have suffered similar grand promises and heartbreaking delays to the point of asking: it's 2008, do you know where your 3rd party developers are? (Hint: browsing the AppDroid MarkStore).

In all fairness, however, I'm less worried about Windows Mobile because, well, Microsoft has a winzillion dollars to keep funding it, and like Google they're investing a ton of that cash in the cloud. So, while Live! Mesh Azure is a near impenetrable clusterfrak, with integration almost as badly broken as its branding, it won't always be. They're building data centers like QuickyMarts and Ballmer's right, they'll just keep coming and coming, and they could eventually nail it. I could very well get my ZuneBoxPhone Live! one day.

So, just like I'm taking a pass on the openness and flexibility of Android, I'm skipping the old standbys of power and configurability with Windows Mobile. Overhead and complicating clutter render them zero-sum gains anyway.

What will I focus on? Apple's 360 degree integration, from Final Cut Pro to iTunes to AppleTV to MobileMe is so far unmatched, but it's by no means unmatchable. Microsoft, with its Kraken-like tentacles, could go a full 520 degrees. We can make all the clumsy giant jokes we like, but getting crushed by a clumsy giant doesn't make you any less crushed.

Case in point, the HTC Touch HD. We didn't get it in the round robin (it's not, and won't be, officially available in North America), but it shows what type of technology can be put into an iPhone-sized package. I've repeated far too often already that I want (and fully expect) to see an iPhone HD come WWDC in June, 2009. Keeping pace in the hardware war is just one step. Others will involve some patents Apple has already filed, especially with streaming video (TiVo meets Slingbox).

Notice I'm talking about entertainment in a Microsoft segment, not Exchange, not remote device management, not office documents, because a) Microsoft is pushing hard in the consumer products space and that's where Apple dominates, and b) this isn't the BlackBerry segment, in which -- quite frankly -- those subjects would be more appropriate given market share.

iPhone vs. BlackBerry Bold

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So let's not talk about Exchange, remote device management, or office documents here either, b'okay. Consider them the last of my stereotypical aversions. As well as BlackBerry handles those tasks -- and handle them well it irrefutably does -- there's something BlackBerry does infinitely better that Apple needs to consider and contend with: it's creates members.

That's not a sibling site plug. As much as the NOC and BIS/BES is an overly-proprietary single-point-of-failure, security and privacy bag half-filled with hurt, it creates an environment that once you get into, you can't easily get out of.

It's not that the BlackBerry calls to you. Having something blink at me is not nearly as compelling as having an iPhone just sitting there, not telling you if you have to pick it up or not -- ensuring you check it when you may not even have to. It's that once you get the true push, once you get the direct PIN to PIN messaging, it becomes like a community. Your sales team might all have them, but your friends and family might all have them as well.

We've seen the same thing with Twitter. People go where their friends are, and once you have the momentum of community, it creates a significant barrier of exit. Who wants to leave their community behind? It's why Pownce and Jaiku and other status engines have failed.

While Apple should be applauded for embracing open standards like IMAP IDLE and built amazing technology with OS X 10.5 Server, they've done relatively little to promote any sort of community around the iPhone, and what little they have done is handled by third parties via the App Store.

This from the company that told people to Think Different. That created the Cult of Mac. I spoke about the cloud with Android and the integration with Windows Mobile, and here Apple needs a bit of both. And come on, it's not like snooty Apple fans wouldn't jump at the chance to be "official" snooty Apple fans.

I'm not the first to suggest this. I'm probably not the hundred and first. But Apple needs to put a little addiction of their own in the iPhone. Mobile iChat would be a great start. Give MobileMe Lite away for free with every iPhone, tied to an always on, multitasking Mobile iChat (supporting not only open Jabber and proprietary AIM and iChat protocols, but Twitter as well -- Dieter's right about cross-platform presence ruling it all), and toss in a super silky smooth CoreLocation-powered social iNetwork along with it. Make PIN seem Paleolithic. Make the NOC the next Friendster.


The Smartphone Experts Round Robin was a stroke of genius. Not only does it let sometimes myopic editors experience the greater gadget world, but it hopefully brings our readers with us (and gives some lucky winners some free smartphones for their trouble). Sometimes we think our chosen device does something really well and don't realize just how well (and sometimes how differently) other device do the same. Likewise, sometimes we have gripes about our device that turn out to be far worse elsewhere.

It's a reality check of the first order. Android's potential, Windows Mobile's legacy, BlackBerry's connection, and in the end?

Thanks to everyone on the Android Central, Treo Central,, and WMExperts forums for all their help, my fellow editors Casey, Jennifer, and Kevin, and our editor-in-chief Dieter Bohn for their many insights.

A month and a marathon of reviews later, I love my iPhone more than ever, but also think I understand it more than ever as well. And most importantly, I know what I want to see from it, and from Apple, for the next Smartphone Experts Round Robin in 2009.

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Good final conclusion. It really is true that each platform has it's strengths and weaknesses, and each individual chooses their device based on those.
  • Great summary of the benefits and limitations of the phones in the Round Robin. I hope with the next releases of the iPhone OS and upgrades to the hardware, Apple will build an even more compelling device.
    And your idea to get some crack in the iPhone through developing a community is exactly what is needed. To Apples benefit, they have sold enough iPhones that once they do that, there are enough potential people in the community to make it work.
  • This post sums up of the whole round robin experience for me. The iPhone seems to fit most of my smartphone needs but I would like to see apple borrow from the strengths of the other platforms (HTC's 3rd eye candy, blackberry's messaging, window's mobile's customization, android's notification window).
    I've really enjoyed the round robin this year, and can't wait to see how things are different in 2009!
  • Nice wrap-up, Rene.
    While I agree that the iPhone is still missing some needed features, I still don't understand why so many people want so much excess clutter and options on a mobile device. Sure, Mail could be improved with flagging and Calendar improved with To-Dos, Copy/Paste, Push, etc, etc. But the whole purpose of being "mobile" is to be able to take care of quick needs "on-the-go" in a compact, and convenient way... not to labor through endless menus, settings, and options for things that can wait. That's what sets the iPhone apart from these other "over-the-top" devices. But, sometimes I get the feeling the more pretentious WinMo and BlackBerry users don't ever want to see their homes, their families, or their computers again. They want the kitchen sink with them wherever they go while they miss out on life. It's ridiculous. Gmail? Google Calendars? Google this, Google that? Ughhh... no thanks. The less redundant third-party nonsense, the better.
    Perhaps some should consider why they've abandoned these other devices to switch over to the iPhone, only to harass Apple into making their device exactly like the ones that drove them away. :shock:
    I feel like the guy whose neighborhood is being trashed by urban dwellers who burned theirs down.
  • Well said. I think what it comes down to now is the companies themselves needing to listen to their users/support base. Things like the questionnaire from att about the iphone are a good first step. A lot of companies/carriers right now sometimes get stuck in the idea of that they tell us what we need/want and that it should be enough.
  • Let's hope Apple starts to feel some of this competition and upgrades their devices.
  • Very good review. I cant wait for more round robins in the future.
  • Good review, really shows me iphone is on top and will continue to be.
  • I am really tempted to get a Bold as my secondary device to my iPhone 3G and I am anxious to see what new Android phones are coming out next year. I really think a great phone is going to come out that will finally compete with the iPhone and it will be running Android on it.
  • Great conclusion. I remember when Apple released the first iPhone and how other companies said "bah!" at them. Now everyone is playing the catch up game. Personally I don't care who "wins" I just know that a lot of great smartphones will be released and that should make the consumer the winner.
  • Beautiful finale
  • Guys there are mad trad shows comming up in the first 2 weeks of january.... so just hold out on getting that bold Mr. Hi-Definition... you dont know what appple or microsoft will come out with... just some advice wait just alittle longer... i cant wait to see the up and comming devices with both componies... iphone HD i WILL get that haha
  • ohh and good review Rene haha my bad..... your my boy Rene!!!
  • Great review. Really shows the strengths and weaknesses of each phone.
  • Glad to see you've finally been reunited.
  • Great review - this round robin has been extremely interesting, making my smartphone decision buying much more difficult. At least now I know that I want either the iPhone or the Bold...
  • Great review, can't wait for android 3.0. I think iphone is much better as compared to android based phones :)
  • Great review. My wife is in need of a new phone and this really helped her weed through the existing devices. Thanks for all the work Rene!!
  • great definitely going for a smart phone in the summer when my contract is up and it will come down to the bb 8900 or iphone. maybe both will be available with verizon by then or there might be the 3d generation iphone but based on this the iphone would serve my needs best.
  • I was just at the apple store the day asfter xmas and I was in a Line lose to a guy that wanted an apple rep to fully explain the difference between iphone and blackberry. I just recently switched from blackberry (pearl,curve, bold) in that order so i could tell him quite a bit but I realized that in my blackberry phase no one could tell me what was wrong with my blackberry. It was God. My friends are still mad that they cant BB IM me 34 billion times a day about nothing lol. And my email doesnt ding every two seconds with crap i dont want between school and work (it fetches every 30 thanks :-). Yet I now find myself looking for new things to download. Funny enough its currently jailbroken and i un did it for a while just because with the app store there are similar apps popping up and apple is finally loosening the restrictions. Its hard for me to really find many differences anymore (except mms and forwarding of emails and flash on my camera) than my blackberry. My iphone might actually be more of a companion than my blackberry because while i always had to wait and wait and wait for a problem on my blackberry to be fixed "officially" the app store seemingly is booming everyday with something new bringing me one step closer. .....i know that was long.... COME ON PUSH NOTIFICATIONS FOR AIM lol.
  • typo "in a line close to" and ...i meant forwarding of sms. sorry.
  • Just bought an iphone for my wife and I have a Treo Pro which I really like, so will be interesting comparing first (well second to her) hand... I couldn't switch based on some of the iPhone's shortcomings that I've come to expect and use often (A2DP, copy/paste, true GPS,full streaming audio among others), but should be a good first smartphone for her.
  • Had a htc Touch and just gave up on it and bought the iphone 3b good reviews by the way :)
  • Great wrap-up.
    Just shows that even the most diehard iphone-inites(?) can be at least a little bit swayed.
  • a really nice wrap up.
    my own view is that iphone is the very first (smart)phone that i do "love". and i have had many. it has it's shortcomings and flaws (most of which can still be addressed), still none of them are a deal breakers (at least for me) and if it were perfect, what would we be left wishing for?
  • Hi......
    First time writing a review....
    U no im a mobile maniac iv just all handsets out there in the market. U name it and iv used that handset. i mean regardless of price, thats what sort of maniac i am..
    Now i have 6 iphone 3 of them 2g and 3 of 3g. all my family got one..
    i was the second person in Leicester to take a contract out and the first one to get the 3g when that one came out..
    "There is NO handset in the world that would beat the iphone 3g"
    Believe me when i say their is nothing I mean NOTHING to beat the iphone 3g.
    (The 1 & ONLY iphone 3g) and it ruleszzzzzzzzzzz.............
  • Thanks for the excellent comparisons among all the smart phones in the round robin. I found this review extremely helpful!!!
  • Reunions can be so beautiful
  • So what's left for the smart phone round robin?
  • The current iPhone IS amazing... and I wonder if there will be some sort of update mentioned at MacWorld next week (software-only, of course... hardware really wouldn't change this soon).
  • Great review!
  • Telecommunications and smartphones are changing. My gut tells me that the openness and flexibility of Android will be a major catalyst in that change. The iPhone will still be successful but will need to adapt to a more open market.
  • What a waste of time. Who gives a shit about what round robin thinks. Shut the fuck up idiot. Get a life ppl. I thought this website would state new facts about stuff ppl don't know. Waste of time.
  • All good things come to an end
  • Good review, iphone won :)
  • Can't wait to hear your review and take on the ophone
  • Very nice way to end and summarize the round robin. Great stuff guys.
  • i would definitley agree with james ..
  • You guys are great.
  • I have an iphone 1st gen 16g. I love it! EVERYONE around me (work, friends etc...) always finds it necessary to remind me of the it's short comings. I find it very interesting that they are always comparing their phone to mine. meanwhile I do not find it necessary to even ask what kind of phone they have. people are searching. I have found what I want and am happy with what I have, even with all it's "flaws" which I have been able to live with for the past 11 months.
    I am not at all computer language literate and with my phone I do not have to be, THAT is what I paid for. So, Please, Apple do not completely open up your platform to the third party software mess, keep it simple. simple is beautiful.
    P.S. IChat on IPhone? I hope APPLE makes it "Just Work" so I don't have to. Looking forward to living life with a Great phone...not on a Great phone.
  • After reading all these reviews, I want an I phone 3G!!!
  • 'Microsoft, with its Kraken-like tentacles, could go a full 520 degrees.'
    Yup... that would be about right...BACKWARDS
  • Another post for the iPhone 3G!...I can't wait for the next round robin with all the updates that should be coming across all the different platforms.
  • Looks really good compared to the g1. Can't wait for Round robin!
  • I really enjoyed the review I can't wait to get my iPhone in january!!!
  • Loved the round robin, hope to see it again in the future
  • WOW great final review seriously!! and yes, i'll definitely be keeping up with android improvements.
  • android should be getting better every step of the way .. but they have a long way to go just yet ..
  • I really enjoyed the reviews with the iPhone perspective. Just wanted to say thanks...even though I'm still on the crack more than ever.
  • One of the best reviews. Very nicely done.
  • Great ending for the review
    looking forward for the next round robin
  • It's over? Well let's just have one last post for good luck.
    I want that phone so badly.
  • The round robin's are great. I'd really love to win an I phone 3G as well! Thanks for oing the reviews!
  • Great conclusion to a very thoughtful and helpful set of reviews. Long live the round robin!
  • very well written.
  • Fair enough review and honest. But the reality is this, focusing on the consumer segment will only take a smartphone so far. That Blackberry "community" you mention started with entirely business users, and they still make up the bulk of it. Blackberrys dominate in the federal government, where cameras are often forbidden and security is #1. That's a real market, and if you don't make an offering that addresses it, you're leaving a big slice of the pie to somebody else. I actually think the next step we'll see from the iPhone will be enhanced security features for the enterprise to go along with Activesync and maybe a camera-less version at some point. In two years, people will forget there was a Twitter, and will move on to the next fad. Only a few, like You Tube, have real staying power. MySpace and Facebook are possibilities to hang around, but probably just one survives. Remember when AOL dominated the internet, seems laughable now doesn't it.
  • Great job
  • I recently put down my 3G iphone and picked up a g1. Long story short; 2009 will be all g1 for me :)
  • I love all these smart phone reviws. I've always been a Treo person, but the Treo Pro (windows mobile) is not nearly as intuitive as I would like it to be! Thanks for the comparisons..
  • is the round robin over now ??
  • Thanks a lot Rene,
    I don't want to talk about what's great things or the lack of in iPhone.
    I rather want to point out your great final analysis no of the iPhone itself but about what's really important which is the current cultural and marketing position of users and companies and what it means for the future.
    All this happened thanks to the creators of this incredible concept, the round robin.
  • The iPhone 3g is indeed a great little device. Personally I'm hoping to get one so I can write some apps for it. Aspirations of iFart I guess :)
  • The iPhone 3G is one of the best devices out there! Here's my entry.
  • The iphone 3g was the first in the revolution and they have been ahead will always be ahead. Everyone is playing catch up and thats how it always will be the Iphone is the best!!
  • Here's my entry for the Round Robin!
  • Wooo! Let's go! I wanna win me some prize-age!
  • iphone:)
  • Yeah I switched from Blackberry to iPhone this month and so far I love it. There are some drawbacks but on the whole it's great and the virtual keyboard is the best in the game.
  • Good review. I definitely agree it should open you up to know not only why you "like" your device, but what you don't like about it. If people don't voice what they don't like, nothing would be improved upon.
    Heck, we may all be walking around with Razrs, still ha
  • great overview....I still can't decide whether to buy an iphone or blackberry bold though...wish the developers could somehow create a new phone thats the best of both
  • The G1 isn't that bad in person, i finally got to check it out at the t-mobile store.
  • Thanks for the review!
  • PLEASE let me win !!
  • Thanks for the reviews! I'd love to try the I phone 3G!
  • It's all about knowing what you need not necessarily what you want.
  • I wouldn't mind having an unlocked iPhone for T-mobile, but as it is I love my G1.
  • iPhone 3G!!
  • Go iPhone!
  • I would certainly love this phone like it should be loved ..
  • iPhoneiPhoneiPhone
  • PLEASE give me this iPhone !! please ..
  • iPhone please !!
  • it wont let me duplicate a comment .. i still want an iPhone though ..
  • iPhoooooooooooooooooooooooone !!!
  • I think the iphone has plenty of crack value even without a BB-like life-engulfing community stranglehold. Just try to put it down once you've started playing labyrinth or shaking it to find a place for dinner - you just can't stop! If that isn't a crack-like addiction, I don't know what is. I wonder what it says as a social commentary that the Blackberry creates an addiction to being connected to a community and being in on the constant flow of information between community members, and the iphone creates an addiction to playing with the device itself, by yourself, which will ultimately lead to you never having or wanting any contact with anyone else ever again. Or maybe that's just me...
  • BTW, I love that dragon decal. Coool!
  • Rene seems to have wrapped up well before the rest. Still waiting for the final analysis from the other reviewers. It has been interesting an informative.
  • I can't wait to see what you will think of the Palm Pre compared to the iPhone.
  • I am not a huge fan of the look of that new Palm ..
  • interesting review, i am a windows mobile fan, but i think i will give the iphone a shot
  • Well... Is this round robin over?
    And when the winner of the iPhone will be announced?
    I wonder how many people changed their opinion during this contest.
    My opinion, Based of the ****Versatility, ***productivity and **form factor:
    ——–before the contest:
    fuze, bold, treo, G1, iphone
    ——–after the contest:
    treo, fuze, G1, bold, iphone
  • Да уж, автор этого сайта действительно очень добрый и отзывчивый человек. Спасибо :)
  • Judge: Mr. Hutz we've been in here for four hours. Do you have any evidence at all?Lionel Hutz: Well, Your Honor, we've got plenty of hearsay and conjecture; those are kinds of evidence...