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Phones

Battle of the QWERTY: Nokia E71 v. BlackBerry 8900 v. Samsung Jack v. HTC Snap

By Chuong Nguyen May 16, 2009, 4:13 pm

With some great devices already available or soon to be made available on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, we want to see which device will be coming out on top. The BlackBerry Curve 8900 is already available on T-Mobile and will be coming to AT&T for a relatively low price at around $150-$200 on contract. The Nokia E71 is available unlocked for a little over $300 on Amazon and could be had for free on Amazon on contract or about $100 after contract and rebates through AT&T’s web store. The Jack will be coming to AT&T and will be competitively priced next to the Nokia E71x on AT&T’s lineup at $100 after rebates and contract. Lastly, the HTC Snap will be available on T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless for roughly the same amount, although exact pricing isn’t known at this time.

All four handsets offer a lot of functionality—GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, third-party application support, and 3G on most models. Power users will feel right at home with document viewing and creation, push email support, and comfortable, easy to use forward-facing QWERTY keyboards. For the new users, these handset offers games, multimedia and entertainment, YouTube viewing, and a little business and office work mixed in. The designs are attractive, with the Nokia E71 boasting the slimmest smartphone on the market in a sleek stainless steel enclosure. The Jack offers a look that is a breed between the Nokia E71 and the BlackBerry Bold. HTC’s Snap looks like a BlackBerry with a trackball.

Although the Snap and the Jack aren’t yet available, we’re going to be basing some of our review assumptions on their predecessors—the T-Mobile Dash, which shares the Snap’s keyboard design, and the BlackJack II, to evaluate 3G performance and battery life for the Jack.

Here are the four devices that we will be looking at:

BlackBerry Curve 8900

Nokia E71x

HTC Snap

Samsung Jack

Click on for our evaluation of the devices in the battle for the QWERTY champ!

Operating System: Every OS has its ups and downs, and by far it seems that Windows Mobile has the most number of compatible programs as far as the Snap and Jack are concerned. Although Symbian S60 has numerous programs, compatibility between various versions of the S60 platform (the E71x runs S60 version 3 and FP2 whereas the unlocked E71 runs FP1) and feature packs only confuse the consumers and reduce compatibility of software. Add to that, since Windows Mobile Standard has been roughly standardized now on the landscape platform, consumers won’t find issue with programs whereas on the E71, programs are still mostly built for portrait orientation and there may be issues here on display. The BackBerry has a solid OS, but software is still a bit limited as the platform has traditionally been focused on the enterprise users. More third party software support is now coming to Research in Motion’s App World applications storefront, which will be matched by Windows Marketplace for Mobile when Microsoft launches its own app store.

Curve: 4 for limited software

Nokia: 3 for disparity in software compatibility

Snap: 4.5 for robust compatibility, even with legacy titles on Windows Mobile Standard

Jack: 4.5 for robust compatibility, even with legacy titles on Windows Mobile Standard

Display: Because all four contenders have non-touch displays, the readability, even in bright sunlight, is high. The Curve edges out on this one with a twice the resolution on its HVGA display, although the smaller display size of the Nokia gives its screen a crispness. However, I find the BlackBerry screen to be a bit better in direct sunlight. The Nokia’s screen shows color in an odd “metallic” mix in the brightest of sun, although it is still very useable. The two Windows Mobile devices aren’t available yet for testing, but I will assume they will follow their predecessors in the BlackJack II and the Dash on T-Mobile, which works fine in the sun, with colors appearing a bit washed out in my opinion. Performance may differ once we see an actual Snap or Jack under bright sunlight.

Curve: 5

Nokia: 4

Snap: 4

Jack: 4

Connectivity: All devices are on par here, offering numerous connectivity options, including wireless radios for cellular voice and data, WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth. The BlackBerry loses a bit here due to its support for only EDGE data whereas the other three should support 3G data on their respective carrier (AT&T’s 3G will support the Nokia and the Jack and T-Mobile will get 3G support on its branded version of the Sap). That said, the Curve on T-Mobile (as opposed to the forthcoming version on AT&T) will support UMA for seemless WiFi to cellular handoff for calls, which works great with the T-Mobile at Home service. Nokia scores big on reception as it went without a dropped call going down a canyon road that usually drop calls on other handsets.

Curve: 4

Nokia: 5

Snap: 5

Jack: 5

Productivity: All four handset offers various level of support for Microsoft Office, but only Windows Mobile will support Office 2007 formats natively—the Curve and Nokia can be “upgraded” with third party suites to support the 2007 formats. Crisp screens Windows Mobile does not allow natively create new documents, but third-party software fills that gap. You can also work around this limitation by saving blank Word and Excel documents to your device, and opening this later and fill them in as an alternative to “creating a new document.”

Curve: 4

Nokia: 4

Snap: 4

Jack: 4

Browsing: Nokia wins this hands down. The default browser is the crème de la crème, even beating out mobile Safari on the iPhone in my opinion. The Nokia and the two Windows Mobile handsets can be enhanced with Skyfire for even better browsing with better plug-in support, though a version is reportedly in the works for BlackBerry devices. The E71x, however, can only use the older version of Skyfire due to some OS compatibility issue with Feature Pack 2, whereas the current version Skyfire installed fine on the unlocked E71. The BlackBerry browser was slow to load and could use a bit more finesse. There are third-party browsers, like Opera Mini and the Bolt, which are available on all platforms.

Curve: 3

Nokia: 5

Snap: 4

Jack: 4

Games & Entertainment: This is a big category for the iPhone, with a solid majority of apps sold on Apple’s iPhone App Store belonging to the entertainment category, this category may help you differentiate which handset to buy, especially since all handsets are on-par for the productivity category. Windows Mobile Snap and Jack lead the pack, in my opinion, due to backward compatibility with games designed for earlier versions of the Windows Mobile Standard non-touch OS. The BlackBerry platform is growing its entertainment catalog. With the Nokia, the confusion between S60 versions and feature packs reduces compatibility. Also, many programs are designed for portrait screens and the E71/x uses a landscape format, reducing the number of apps available to the handset despite a large catalog for the platform overall.

Did I mention that Sling Player doesn’t work on the E71/x due to the landscape resolution (Sling works on the BlackBerry and on both Windows Mobile Standard devices)? My only concern is with the trackball on the HTC Snap and its compatibility with select third-party titles, although most should work fine. The problem is that most Windows Mobile titles are developed for the touchscreen Professional edition, although there is still a large library for the non-touschscreen Standard version used by the Snap and the Jack.

Curve: 4

Nokia: 3.5

Snap: 4.5

Jack: 5

Email & Keyboard: When “push” email comes to shove, a device is measured by its performance and keyboard. It’s hard to evaluate the two Windows Mobile devices since I don’t have them yet, but I will assume that the Samsung Jack will be similar to the Nokia E71 due to their similar size and similar use of contiguous QWERTY. The Curve has an excellent keyboard and is the benchmark for most devices. I’ll also use the T-Mobile’s Dash keyboard experience as a guide for evaluating and comparing the Snap against the other devices. By far, the best keyboard has to be from the Motorola Q9. The Nokia and Jack share the Q9’s contiguous keyboard, but I am giving the Jack the edge here because on the Nokia, the awkward vertical placement of the QAZ keys make it hard to type. On traditional keyboard, the Z is one place over and not vertical and aligned with the Q and A keys, making it a slight learning adjustment.

In the email category, BlackBerry offers excellent push email, although the frequent rate of BlackBerry service interruptions these days are cause for concern. Nokia’s push email through the new Nokia Messaging app is amazing. Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync is also a solid performer, especially with corporate environments. If you don’t have Exchange ActiveSync setup, you can always pull your email off of a POP3 or IMAP account. AT&T also offers their XpressMail service for free push email, which comes in personal or enterprise flavors for the Curve (soon to come on their networks), the Jack, and the Nokia E71x). HTC’s Inner Circle feature on the Snap is also unique and interesting.

Curve: 4

Nokia: 4

Snap: 4

Jack: 5

Battery Life: Based on history of Windows Mobile handset, Nokia has a win here with battery life. I can last 2-3 days with heavy email use, light to moderate call use, occasional WiFi, and GPS use. That’s huge, especially in 3G environments. The BlackBerry is strong on battery, but here it is because the device is mainly on EDGE. With WiFi, battery becomes drained quickly. Historically, Windows Mobile Standard devices have been good on battery life, but the Nokia will be hard to beat based on historical battery use on the BlackJack II versus the E71—we’ll see how the Snap and the Jack perform when we receive those devices.

Curve: 4

Nokia: 5

Snap: 4

Jack: 4

Ports and Connectors: The Curve wins hands down for its implementation of the widely used mini USB port and a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack. Kudos to BlackBerry for making it a “consumer” device in this regards so you don’t waste extra money on accessories. The Nokia uses a micro USB for synchronizing, but charging is done via a small Nokia plug, which is a shame since micro USB can be used to charge, no? The Snap uses HTC’s mini USB variant, which charges, synchronizes, and does audio output in one single connector. The good news is that a multi-port adapter can be easily found online so you can plug in headphones, charge, and synchronize in one swoop. Bad news on the Samsung is that it uses Samsung’s proprietary jack on the Jack. While similar to HTC’s implementation with the Snap, the bad news is that it is hard to find a multi-port adapter for the Samsung. This is important if you have an older car and use a cassette adapter to get audio through your car’s speaker. If you’re navigating and want the GPS prompts through your car’s stereo, you can’t charge. Pick and choose to hear the audio prompts or charge your headset, or go hunt for your own multi-port adapter.

Curve: 5

Nokia: 4

Snap: 4

Jack: 3 due to scarce availability of a multi-port adapter

Value: You’d be hard pressed to find more feature, more functionality, and more options for your money. These handsets should range in price around $200 or less before rebates on a two-year contract with your carrier. Wide availability of third-party applications, 3G support (except for the Curve), GPS with voice guidance, great Office compatibility, strong push email systems, attractive packages, and great keyboards will make selecting one model over another a hard decision. Here are the overall averages:

Curve:: 4.11

Nokia: 4.17

Snap: 4.22

Jack: 4.27

While the Nokia may be the sleekest design and the Curve may be the best email choice, overall value is given to the Jack with the Snap following closely behind (I prefer the contiguous design of the Jack’s keyboard over the Snap’s). That said, any of the four devices will be a great smartphone for a power user or new user, offering snappy performance and multiple connectivity options as well as many applications from a large and growing software catalog.

Also, remember to stay tune with pocketnow.com for our review of the HTC Snap and the Samsung Jack when we get those in.

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