Smartphone showdown: BlackBerry Storm vs. iPhone

Brad Reed
13 October, 2008
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Not content to stand by while AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint generate all the wireless hype, Verizon last week announced that it would be supporting Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Storm smartphone on its network (for US customers, at least) come November.

RIM’s first touchscreen device features a “clickable” screen that the company says simulates the feel of a physical keyboard. The Storm can connect to either EV-DO Rev. A or HSPA 3G cellular networks and features 1GB of onboard memory storage and a card slot that allows for up to 16GB of additional storage.

But while Verizon (and Vodafone in Europe and elsewhere) is hoping that the BlackBerry Storm will be its own “iPhone killer,” questions remain about whether the offering can match the popular Apple consumer device in several key areas. Here’s a look at how the Storm stacks up against the iPhone in terms of call quality, data coverage, price and more.

View as a slideshow comparing the iPhone to the Storm.

Call quality. Year after year, survey after survey, Verizon consistently gets the highest marks for wireless call quality, for the least amount of dropped calls and for overall network reliability. Verizon also outpaces AT&T in terms of customer service and in the cost of service, the latest JD Power survey finds. The bottom line: If call quality is your most important qualification, go Verizon.

3G network coverage. A study conducted earlier this year by Computerworld showed that while AT&T and Verizon offered similar data speeds for their 3G networks, AT&T offered slightly faster service for peak download speeds, average download speeds and average upload speeds. In Australia, there are also differences between network performance, which affect the usage profile of users — particularly those who live or regularly travel away from metropolitan areas. Added to this, the iPhone is able to take advantage of local Wi-Fi hot spots to download data, while the Storm is not. Thus, the ability to access Wi-Fi as a cheaper alternative to 3G data service gives the iPhone a slight edge in this category.

Cost. One of the most striking features of several new smartphones is their low cost. Apple and AT&T got the ball rolling earlier this year after they announced they were going to slash the price of the iPhone 3G to $US199. T-Mobile and Google decided to one-up them by selling their G1 smartphone for $US179.

So far, neither Verizon nor RIM have released details on the retail cost for the Storm, but it will likely have to be in the $US200 range if it really aims to be the “iPhone killer” that its makers hope it will be. Potential subsidies from Australian carriers are obviously yet to be determined, but it’s not unreasonable to expect iPhone-competitive pricing. Vodafone last week announced it would bring the Storm to Australia and other international markets before year’s end.

Enterprise features. The iPhone is seen as a legitimate enterprise device now that it has access to Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync, a licensed data-synchronisation protocol whose built-in support will give IT departments the ability to set password policies, set up VPN settings and perform remote data wipes on iPhones that have been lost or stolen. The iPhone also took a big step forward when it gained access to Cisco IPsec VPN, which Apple says will “ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption available for transmission of sensitive corporate data.”

However, as some analysts have pointed out, the BlackBerry still sets the standard for enterprise wireless devices due to its larger array of security policies, including the ability for IT departments to disable its digital cameras; to enable or shut down specific Bluetooth profiles and set how long the device is “discoverable” using Bluetooth; and to define which applications on a BlackBerry can access GPS capabilities.

Keypads. This could be an intriguing matchup, since neither the iPhone nor the Storm has a physical slide-out keyboard like the T-Mobile G1 does. However, RIM says that it is changing the game of how touchscreen keypads work with what it calls a “clickable screen.” This means that users can actually press down on the digital keys on the screen and feel them being pressed and released just like they’d feel a mouse button being pressed and released.

Thus, users will in theory be able to type much easier by having the touch of a standard qwerty keyboard on the digital screen of their smartphone. Though we won’t know for certain until it’s tested out by more users, the Storm’s keyboard gets the edge here for its ambition and creativity.

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