Smartphone OS Fight Night – The Grudge Match! Part One: WinPho7 vs. Symbian vs. BlackBerry OS

It’s a little over a year since we last pitted the major smartphone operating systems against each other, all in an effort to find the OS which was best for you, the consumer. Since that time, a whole lot has changed and with the recent announcement of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, we thought it was time for a rematch!

In 2009, the first round featured a tag-team threesome of Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS and Symbian – one of which have changed so drastically since then, it’s almost unrecognisable. The second round saw Android take on iOS and WebOS, before Android and Symbian came together for the final. Android beat Symbian on points in the third round, but we have a feeling things will be very different this year.

After 12-months, the players have evolved – some more than others – and thanks to the massive growth of the smartphone market in that time, the competition between them has become even more ferocious than before. Last time it was a bit of fun but now, it’s serious!

The Fighters.

Android, iOS and BlackBerry are all back, albeit in different versions, while Symbian has evolved to become um, Symbian; but in what was up until recently known as ^3, rather than S60 3rd and 5th Edition from 2009. Windows Mobile is our first drop out, but it rises again in the shape of Windows Phone 7, while the lack of relevant new hardware sees us drop WebOS from the line-up entirely.

With five instead of six fighters this year, we’re going to do things slightly differently, with Windows Phone 7 taking on BlackBerry OS and Symbian here, and the winner going on to fight iOS and Android in Part Two. It’s there we’ll decide our choice of 2010′s best consumer smartphone OS.

Windows Phone 7.

It may have been announced at the beginning of 2010, but devices using it as an operating system have only been on sale since late October, so Windows Phone 7 is very much the baby of the bunch. Although it may be version 1.0, a lot of thought, care and development has gone into Microsoft’s new OS before it reached this point, so it feels far more polished and usable that one may expect.

Microsoft’s intention – made clear from their promotional campaign – is to free users from their phones, providing all essential information at a glance. The Live Tile system does this well and is good-looking too, while the high standard of devices makes the whole package attractive to the modern smartphone customer.

Where It Wins:

  • Plenty of options for customising the home screen’s Live Tiles to make sure the information you want is always visible.
  • It’s good-looking and even more importantly, enjoyable to use!
  • Hubs make it quick and easy to find the content you want with sections for photos, videos, music, games and more.
  • Microsoft’s tight controls on hardware specification ensure the phone is always of a high standard.
  • The instant camera feature is very cool. A single press of the shutter release activates the camera, even if your phone is locked. You shouldn’t miss a photo moment again!
  • Windows Marketplace is rapidly growing, offering a variety of applications for your phone.
  • Exchange, Push email, OneNote and SharePoint services are great for the business user.
  • XBox Live integration links it with the best-selling games console.
  • Windows Phone 7 brings the Zune music store to the UK, with several options for downloading or streaming music.

Where It Loses:

  • The tight hardware controls don’t include essential features such as a removable microSD cards.
  • Some essential features including, ironically, copy and paste are missing. This may be addressed in an early 2011 update though.
  • No third-party app support reduces business usage.
  • Limited multi-tasking.

Hot Device:

The utterly gorgeous HTC HD7.

It’s early days for Windows Phone 7 with the next year being very important to keeping their momentum going. Stagnation killed Windows Mobile, so in 2011 Microsoft needs to produce several worthy updates and a clutch of new handsets to keep everyone interested.

Symbian.

If 2010 was a difficult year for Nokia, 2011 could be even harder. After Symbian became open-source, instead of manufacturers jumping onboard, they jumped ship, leaving Nokia as the sole big-name supporter of the platform. Since then, in an effort to make it less complicated, Symbian^3 and Symbian^4 became known as Symbian and future versions will simply be ‘updates’ instead.

Where It Wins:

  • Improved usability over Symbian 5th Edition. It’s still a little clunky in places, but it’s a marked improvement which could – occasionally at least – be called slick!
  • The introduction of multiple homescreens, kinetic scrolling and single-click selection bring it in-line with other smartphone operating systems.
  • USB on-the-go mass storage system is very handy.
  • The new UI and themes make it far more attractive than previous Symbian versions.
  • Live widgets on the homescreen provide at-a-glance information.
  • Hardware acceleration and many core changes deep inside the system have seen speed increases.
  • Extensive range of apps available from third parties or via Nokia’s own Ovi Store.

Where It Loses:

  • Visually, the deeper you get into the system, not that much has changed over 5th Edition.
  • The changes don’t move the OS forward as such, they just bring it closer to the competition.
  • Customer mindset, especially internationally, is a problem.

Hot Device:

Symbian’s current flagship, the Nokia N8.

The latest edition of Symbian isn’t going to change the world and with the death of Windows Mobile, it has taken its place as the workhorse OS; a reliable, sturdy and capable system which won’t set hearts a-flutter, but will get the job done. Die-hard Symbian fans love it for this, but new smartphone buyers seeing the whizz-bang of iOS and Android will view it as an old hat.

BlackBerry OS.

As much of an ‘old faithful’ as Symbian and equally long in the tooth if the truth is told,  BlackBerry OS 6 is the newest version of the software seen on the Torch slider phone and coming to a variety of existing ‘Berrys soon. This could actually be the penultimate version of the OS as we know it, as version 8 could be co-engineered by QNX, who are currently working on the PlayBook’s OS.

Where It Wins:

  • BlackBerry 6 brings more home screen customisation, easier set up and a more attractive look.
  • A new WebKit-based browser improves the BlackBerry online experience no end.
  • Multimedia support has been improved.
  • BlackBerry Messenger remains a huge selling point.
  • Still the best email client in the business.
  • The opportunity to view your social networking and RSS feeds in one list.
  • Still the best choice of the business user, thanks to extensive Enterprise support and BlackBerry’s own server.
  • BlackBerry App World has plenty to offer, but isn’t quite as well-rounded in terms of content as Symbian.

Where It Loses:

  • Despite improvements, the BlackBerry OS has the same problem as Symbian – it’s just not ‘sexy’ enough.
  • Its business number one spot is being threatened by Apple.
  • Needs a ‘killer’ handset to get back in the game.

Hot Device:

The consistently excellent BlackBerry Bold 9780.

BlackBerry OS is making it’s way to suiting the everyday consumer. It’s never going to be top dog for multimedia, but it’s having a pretty good go. It’s an easy to use system for the business minded and social elite.

The Winner…

Both Symbian and BlackBerry OS are treading water in this fierce battle, leaving the fresh and quite exciting Windows Phone 7 to take the title in this opening round. It’s important to mention that neither Symbian nor BlackBerry OS are poor pieces of software, in fact they’re far from it, but in this comparison, it’s what the consumer sees that’s important – and walking into a shop today and being given the choice of these three, we think a very high percentage would choose Windows Phone 7.

We’ll be back with Part Two, where Windows Phone 7 will take on the combined might of Android and iOS!

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