Tuesday, 14 January 2014

iPhone 5c versus BlackBerry Z10

I've been carrying both an iPhone 5c and BlackBerry Z10 for the past month and getting to use both of them extensively! One of the fringe benefits of being a mobile app developer is that you are often given free phones either as promotional incentives to develop apps or answer developer surveys, of which I do both. Having had real-world experience on both phones for some time, I can give a more informed opinion on each phone's strengths and weaknesses. This experience has been enlightening and I encourage all "fanbois" to try the same.

While most users can paint an honest picture of their phone of choice, their impression of a competitor's phone is often biased by the person's personal preference, past experience on a platform and unwillingness to change or try something new. If you are a loyal iPhone user, or BlackBerry user, sure you can write a great review on your own phone features (iOS 7 or BB10). But to try and compare to another platform without having actually used the latest version extensively is simply passing on "hearsay" and false biased opinions.

iPhone 5c (iOS 7)

This is a nice phone, even being in a plastic case and having a slower processor than the 5s. Personally if I had the choice, I would spend the extra few bucks on a 5s. I don't see why anyone would want to buy a 5c compared to a 5s unless they absolutely had to have a color (which a case can easily duplicate), or if the price difference was significant. Obviously I am not the only one, as Apple's own sales figures have concluded the same. Users just didn't feel the price difference was sufficient to justify a 5c versus a 5s. But we are comparing to a Z10 here, so let's get with it!

I found the battery life was excellent on the iPhone. Camera is good but not perfect, as I had considerably more red-eyes with the iPhone than I did with the Z10. Keep in mind, there is a red-eye removal tool, but this may be due to the close proximity of the flash and camera. Once you get into the settings on the iPhone camera, you can actually improve your photo-taking considerably, but the stock initial camera screen that most people use will take decent pictures. 

There is no doubt the hardware is blazing fast on the iPhone 5c, even though it is slower than the 5s. Games performed very well. I did have a few buggy apps which would appear to choke the system, but overall it is a smooth experience. The iPhone shines in the app department, it has a huge ecosystem. Couple that with iTunes and Podcast support, and it is built for media-consumption. While that is a big strength, it can also be a big weakness. For people who are used to manipulating data and media as needed, outside the "walled garden", it can become a challenge. There are ways to do it, even without jail-breaking the phone, but the average user will not be able to do it. 

Apps on the iPhone are gigantic, and I found that with a 16gb model I was running out of space constantly. The media-centric focus of the iPhone really requires way more space. I like having Apple's apps on the phone (iMovie, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, etc.) but they hog a huge amount of space. The games are amazing and although many good ones are free, they come with a price... you will pay with huge memory consumption. Asphalt 8? 1.5 GB used. GolfStar? 847 MB, Even Angry Birds Go comes in at a whopping 519 MB. This is a device which needs SDCard support but which is sorely lacks, unlike the BlackBerry Z10 which you can function well with on a 16gb model and add your own storage later for media (like movies and photos). If you are in the market for an iPhone, I suggest you buy the most memory you can afford.

BlackBerry Z10 (BB10)

This phone is one of the best in the market, and coupled with the QNX-powered BB10 operating system, makes it blazingly fast. The all-gesture interface elminates the need of a home button which is a sore-spot to see on an iPhone. I have to use the home-button all the time to switch between apps, use Siri, close apps and perform other functions. There is simply no need for that button and it can break which is why the iPhone has a virtual home button option when it does. 

The BlackBerry Z10 is a work-ready device. BlackBerry has always excelled in that field. If you need to download files or content from the internet or your email, save it on your phone, manipulate it, archive it, attach it and send to other people, BlackBerry has it running out-of-the-box. You have access to the file-system so you can use it just like your desktop computer. The iPhone required additional apps to enable internet-browser downloading and media sharing to other devices on your WiFi network (outside of iTunes). That makes sense. Apple wants to shelter users from that stuff, and wants to provide a "curated" experience through iTunes which also appeases content-providers and the entertainment industry. BlackBerry is not strong in this respect, but it allows users to have more control of their files and how they move.

The app gap is still quite strong between Apple and many of it's competitors. The BlackBerry Z10 did not have as great a selection of apps. However, if you did not care about a specific or official app and just wanted some great games and productivity apps... The selection may be smaller, but the quality is still there. Unfortunately the type of integration with Podcasts is missing (or I can't seem to find it) on BB10. The funny thing is, I was using it on the Playbook to download but it never moved over to BB10. Apple has a full podcast app that lets you subscribe and keep current with content, which automatically downloads to your phone. BlackBerry World allows you to purchase movies and music, but you will have to use 3rd party apps for books, magazine subscriptions and so on. Apple has managed to wrap up all different media types under their iTunes umbrella into a unified experience.

True to it's core nature as a productivity/business device, the BlackBerry Z10 has an incredible keyboard experience for an all-touch device. It is not just marketing propaganda. I can honestly profess that using both iPhone and BlackBerry, I can type much faster on the BlackBerry keyboard. And this is not only because of predictive text. When I press on the screen, the BlackBerry gets my keys correct whereas on the iPhone I am constantly getting A and S mixed up, and other neighbouring keys. The Z10 is slightly larger but it is not the size here, I believe it is the algorithm and learning on the Z10 keyboard which makes the difference.  

In Conclusion

There are no clear winners. These devices are great in their own right, in different ways. 

I love the BlackBerry Z10 for just letting me get things done easily and not restricting me on anything. I can plug into any computer or browse the internet, download and transfer any file I want outside of any sort of software (like BlackBerry Link)... simply drag-and-drop anywhere, no questions asked. All the main social app integrations are there. I can expand my storage, hook up to an HDMI easily, swap batteries, run and go. The browser is incredible and the screen is nice and large.

I love the iPhone for the awesome selection of apps, amazing quality games, endless Podcast and iTunes content and all-around ease of use. The overall popularity means I can purchase just about any peripherals for it and there is a huge amount of support and product compatibility. Popularity also means many of your friends have access to the same socially-powered games and communication networks. The phone is built for entertainment consumption and gives you an easy way to manage all of it in one place.

For now I will continue to enjoy the benefits of both phones and have a SIM-card adapter that I will use to be able to swap my nano-SIM in and out of each device. This will be an interesting experience and we will see if the phones behave well having intermittent SIM use, or whether things go all out of sync. I highly doubt it, since most things will still update over Wifi. The only difference should be whether the phone works (oh yes, these devices have a phone in them, I completely forgot)? 

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