By Michael Fisher | August 22, 2012 3:50 PM
One of the most fun things about following the fast-moving world of technology is playing the what-if game. What if you took the best attributes of your favorite platform and combined them with the best hardware on the market to create the closest thing to an epic dream device?
It’s a game we used to play a lot on webOS-enthusiast message boards, where a whole bunch of Palm fans congregated to praise the software and bemoan the hardware behind our favorite mobile platform. “If only HP would offer webOS on an Evo/Galaxy S/Magic,” many said, “the slab-lovers would come out in droves and webOS would take right off.”
I’m not sure anyone ever used the term “slab-lovers,” but you get the idea. That kind of speculation was important because it offered hope, and it broke up the monotony of sitting there on webOS death watch for two years. Anyway, we here at Pocketnow started thinking about applying that kind of fun to other platforms and other hardware. Android is obviously a huge force in mobile software, a massive platform that nearly every OEM devotes at least some resources to. Nokia’s Lumia hardware has been almost universally praised as innovative and “beautifully different,” while RIM’s BlackBerry suite, though in decline, still offers the best hardware QWERTY experience on the market.
So what if someone put Android 4.0 or 4.1 on Lumia hardware (yes, we know it’s been done on the N9), and did the same on a touchscreen BlackBerry model like the Torch? Which one would come out on top?
I’m glad you asked. Since I’m the only one here, I’ll give you my answer: the BlackBerry.
I love Nokia’s Lumia hardware; I’ve said it about a billion times in comparison videos, After The Buzz episodes, and at least once a podcast in the Pocketnow Weekly series. The Lumia line is one of my favorite things in the smartphone world. For realsies; not for play-play.
But the thing is, if you’re talking from the perspective of an Android port, it doesn’t offer much different on the software side. Sure, the casing feels great and looks amazing and is pure refreshment after a sea of endless slabs … but at the end of the day, it’s not offering anything new for Android to play with. Ice Cream Sandwich on a Lumia 900 would be just like it is on any other 4.3″ display, deep blacks notwithstanding. Bumping that to Jelly Bean changes nothing, and neither does changing the Lumia to an N9. It’s just another capacitive touchscreen.
I never thought I’d be writing a piece championing the BlackBerry-anything as somehow superior to a Nokia Lumia device, and maybe this is a sign I should take the rest of the afternoon off. But … no. In this scenario, this funky world of speculative what-iffery, Android would be better served by the Torch, all its inferiorities aside. The reasons are two: the keyboard and the trackpad.
RIM might not have much going for it these days, but the hardware keyboard is something no other OEM has figured out quite as well as that thumb-happy gang of Canadians. As I pointed out in a piece earlier today, some people still consider the hardware QWERTY a huge selling point. Unfortunately, most keyboard-packing Android devices are midrange at best, and even the higher-end devices with the deluxe ‘boards fall a bit short when compared to the Waterloo email machine (stolen Bold keyboards aside). A proper BlackBerry thumbpad affixed to a high-end Android smartphone would make for a formidable productivity machine. Or, you know, a really intense texting platform.
Couple that with the venerable trackpad, a holdover accessory from the days of trackballs, themselves a leftover from the Great Jog Dial Obsession of 2003. Sure, it’s an antique little instrument, little more than another input area for your thumb to fiddle with, and Google made a big point of obsoleting it in favor of direct touchscreen input as Android evolved. But as I’ve mentioned before with respect to notifications, our whole smartphone world is upside-down. That includes, all too often, UI elements like the back button, which are increasingly stuffed up into the upper-left-hand corner of apps for no good reason. And we can’t always rely on Android’s built-in back button for help in those situations.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the option of the trackpad back? To say that we’ll tolerate a small addition to mobile-phone hardware in exchange for an extra input method? I’ll be honest with you; I’m only half-sold on this idea, as the “less is more” part of me loves the idea of minimalist hardware. But I’m also an ardent fan of consumer choice, and UI options. And in this case, the BlackBerry has more to offer than the Lumia.
Would I, personally, still pick an Android-powered Lumia over an Android-powered Torch? Absolutely. I value hardware appearance and build quality over mere utility. But that wasn’t the question. Thanks to yours truly, the question was the stupidly vague “which one would come out on top?” And looking at this scenario from a usability standpoint, I think the TorchDroid (you know you dig that name) would offer a more adaptable user experience. It would bring something different to the table, and we all know how much I value something different.
If you haven’t already blasted your way into the comments section, I think you’ve missed the rush. Tell us why you agree, disagree, or tell us something completely different! And while you’re at it, let us know what your favorite hybrid device combo would be.