back to article The Great Smartphone OS Shoot-out

If you want a smartphone - and, let’s face it, most people do these days - you have four choices, all of which have recently been updated. Apple’s rightly admired iOS has now hit the big 5-point-oh, Google’s rather more blue-collar Android is about to turn 4, while Microsoft’s Windows Phone is now a precocious seven-and-a-half …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You missed loads of features out that WP7 has that the others don't... but that's to be expected I guess.

    1. Ian Ferguson

      And he missed unique features that the other platforms have. This article was a comparison of like-for-like. If one platform has a killer feature for you, then you don't need a comparison.

      1. Steve Evans

        He missed...

        He missed the entire idea of Android widgets from the real time update section. This is especially odd considering he's using an HTC, and sense comes preloaded with a load of widgets which give combined feeds from the likes of facebook, twitter and even flickr.

        1. Mark 65 Silver badge

          I'd have thought it quite important to go through how easy it is to sync and backup the device to your computer. Everyone knows (and either loves or hates) iTunes, but what do the others have?

          1. big_D Silver badge

            @Mark 65

            Given that only around 10% of the users I know ever sync their smartphones with a computer, I don't think that was too big a miss.

            Heck, half the iPhone users I know are still on iOS 4, some still on iOS 3.x, because they got the phone pre-activated and, while their old Nokia dumbphone couldn't be easily connected, they never bother connecting their smartphones either, they get their e-mails and contacts synced via Exchange, so they "don't need" anything else...

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        RE: Ian Ferguson

        ".....If one platform has a killer feature for you, then you don't need a comparison."

        OK, here's my alternate review from the viewpoint of a business user.

        Apple - potentially insecure, with restricted business app availability and no way as an admin to tailor the phone build - I get what Apple gives me and that's it. The end user has more control than the admin. If I want to try using business apps via a web interface I have the problem of no Flash support. And the phone is guaranteed to be a major distraction for any user, with iTunes chewing up bandwidth and allowing movies and music to be introduced onto the corporate storage when the users insist on backing up their iTunes on work desktops. Major fail, nil points.

        Android - more secure, can be tailored, but I have to build the new phone stack by hand. Work apps, how do I view or edit MS Office attachments? I suppose I can at least relie on web interfaces, Android does have better web support than Apple iOS. But how do I get it to work with Exchange/Outlook (yeah, get your head out of the sand, Exchange/Outlook is still the dominant email combo in business)? A lot of fiddling will be required to get there. I also don't have a centralised management server, so if I have a clever user they can reverse any controls I put on the handset, and even install their own stack. Not quite a fail, but not the best option.

        MS Win Phone 7 - questions over security simply due to heritage. No problems linking to other MS products like Exchange/Outlook, MS Office Phone 2010 looks good, when it gets here. So, a work in progress, but not quite there yet.

        BB - only proven, secure email system. Recent BIS issues were the first for years, ublike the many issues with Apple phones (are you holding it right?). Office docs not an issue, I have real centralised control through BES, and I can even remotely brick a stolen phone at my leisure. BB is still the clear winner.

        1. Hillman_Hunter

          I think you are a little hash on Apple they have had remote wipe/lock, VPNs, encryption, policy enforcement for some time. and i believe the "closed system" is more of a positive rather than negative in this market

          I still prefer my BB for work but not for the reasons cited, the keyboard, battery life, operational focus on messaging, make it a better tool for the job, and i do have some of my music loaded on it .

          But i notice an increasing number of business people on the early morning Frakfurt 737 and Paris flights wielding iPhones, a few months ago it was all BB's

        2. Techs

          sharepoint built in too - big business plus

          solid, proven security - very economical and robust enterprise solution.

          would like local encryption though.

          sharepoint integration is very good in win pho 7

        3. big_D Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          @Matt Bryant

          Sorry, but that is just rubbish...

          Android and iOS work a dream with Exchange Server, WP7 is the only one I've had problems with (mainly due to us having a horribly badly configured self-signed certificate, which WP7 says is a security risk and refuses to talk to the server, whilst iOS and Android both say the certificate is invalid, but let you carry on, ignoring the warning).

          Apple provide an Admin tool for corporate iPhones, which allows them to be locked down and only load certain certificates. Installing iTunes on PCs at work should be impossible for users anyway, by policy (both IT and AD).

          Personally I find BB and iOS "long in the tooth" and prefer Android and WP7.

    2. N13L5

      I think he gave WP7 a false victory in the messaging department.

      Its sorta cool if I can see chats from different services combined in the same tile or widget. But he only mentioned hotmail and facebook, I use neither... does this work for gmail? Either way, this maybe neat, but it isn't even nearly as important as:

      Being able to talk across the Globe with my family and friends for free through Skype whenever I like... Thats the real killer feature on my SGSII. (less so on iOS, Skype was kind of gimped there, which is why I switched)

      You can keep all that online crap in comparison to that.

      Besides, on Android there are apps that allow you to do the same chat integration, I think iOS had some app for that too, can't remember now.

  2. Red Bren

    Zombie Process

    Nokia has still decided to shoot itself in the back of the head and bury the body in the woods.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      @Red Bren

      Uhm... which of the phones tested/reviewed was a Nokia Phone?

      HTC, RIM, Apple. That's it.

      I'm waiting to see their new phones, but they aren't available here in the US.

      The Nokia hardware is pretty good and the last phone I saw was the N9.

      One thing that wasn't mentioned was battery life. That can be a killer. Trust me, I hate my Palm Pre because I can't run it for a full day without charging it ...

      1. Red Bren

        @Ian Michael Gumby

        "Uhm... which of the phones tested/reviewed was a Nokia Phone?"

        None of them. The article was quite explicit about it - "Should this be a five-way test? No, because though the latest version of Symbian has turned out to be rather good, Nokia has still decided to shoot it in the back of the head and bury the body in the woods."

        I paraphrased it, because that's how I misread it first time round. Then I thought a dead Nokia burying itself would be a zombie process. Then I had to explain the joke. Then I gave up and had another beer

        1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

          @Red Bren

          Your comment was about Nokia.

          Nokia has just released their Windows phone.

          That would have been an interesting review. The phone appears to have the sleek styling of the N9.

          I think that's what I would have expected. Or the N9 which is their Linux phone. (maemo? meemo?)

          Never thought about Symbian.

          While the article focuses on the OS, there's more to the phone than the OS. Antenna Gate... etc...

          They could have reviewed the Nokia Windows phone instead of the HTC.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brave to put this out there.....

    ....unlike anonymous me, eh?

  4. Dan Melluish

    Android or HTC Sense?

    "Surprisingly, only Android supports smart-dialing directly from the numeric keypad."

    Is this an HTC Sense thing? Can't do it on my Gingerbread Nexus S :(

    1. Malcolm 1

      There seems to be a degree of confusion on the part of the Author about which features are HTC and which are Android. I have an Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc which does the browser text reflowing (credited as an HTC feature) but not smart dialling.

      The camera UI is significantly different on this handset too but I guess there's always going be differences between Android device manufacturers. You're never going to be able to select a single representative handset - even choosing a Google Nexus device is a bit pointless as it's probably a relatively niche handset compared to the more popular HTC/Samsung/Sony Ericsson/etc models.

    2. sisk Silver badge

      It's not JUST an HTC thing. Every custom ROM I've tried has it. I can't say for stock ROMs though.

    3. dotdavid

      Review Fail

      This feature is provided by Sense.

      Basically the reviewer is comparing HTC Sense, Windows Phone, IOS and Blackberry - a bit misleading.

      Of course you can swap out the dialler to get one with "smart dialing" on Android if you like, even if your phone doesn't run HTC Sense.

    4. Rob Beard

      Also does it on the Samsung Galaxy S with the Touchwiz interface (and I presume other Galaxy range phones, Ace, S2, W, etc etc which have Touchwiz).

      I wouldn't say this is a bad article as such but as mentioned, it's comparing HTC Sense to IOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone. I'd have said it would be maybe more fair if it was comparing stock Android 2.3 to IOS, WP7.5, Blackberry etc.

      When I was looking for a new phone to replace my Nokia e63 (Symbian S60) I looked at various devices that friends had (iPhone 3GS & iPhone 4 with IOS 4.something), BlackBerry, other Nokias, various Android phones and settled on the Galaxy S. I recently rooted my phone and tried Cyanogenmod and although it wasn't bad it was a bit too much of a jump for me to get things how I liked it. Might be because I'm used to Touchwiz now.

      Still, it's interesting to see what the other phones offer. Yes I'd be the first to admit I'm an FLOSS-tard and a bit of an Android Fanboi but I'm actually interested in the Windows Phone offering, some of the interface looks quite nice. I probably wouldn't go out and buy one but it looks like a refreshing change.

      Oh and there was one point of the article which I thought was missed, Android can have widgets for things like Facebook/Twitter. Okay might not be standard in the stock Android OS but then it wasn't a stock Android OS review.


    5. damac

      Of course you can. But it's well hidden ;)

      Launch dialer->press search/lens button->start smart dial :)

      1. Dan Melluish

        "Launch dialer->press search/lens button->start smart dial :)"

        Didn't know that! Ta!

      2. Paul Shirley

        no one ships the Android stock dialer

        While there is a stock dialer in base level Android I can't remember ever seeing a shipping device or replacement ROM that actually uses it, every one was customised one way or another.

        More seriously he's wrong to mark down WP7 for routing you through contacts instead of straight to the dialer, since the majority of calls will be for numbers the phone already knows. In 2 years I've used a smartphone I've used dialpad perhaps 10 times, mostly to kickstart the number into contacts! Wasn't much different with the dumbphone before it.

        1. Chz

          Cyanogen, the most popular Android ROM, ships the stock dialer. Some excuse about how notifications from the stock dialler can't be supressed. Which is fair - I noticed some oddness with call notifications on my Desire before I rooted it - but I feel the advantages outweigh the cons. And as you say, most things ship with a smart dialler.

  5. A 3

    You should have included Symbian, it's going to be around until 2016, can you say that for all the others? If nothing else we could argue about why Nokia was right/wrong to drop it when compared to the others.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Beat me to it

      N8 here and I think it is a smart phone

      1. Philip Lewis

        Where is the N8??

        Personally, I always liked Symbian and the latest N8 version is not that bad and as the flagship phone for an OS that still outsells WinPho by a massive margin, it should have been included.

        I like the N9, could have been included as well.

        Meego(ne), MeToo maybe. Actually it looks like a great device and the OS/UI worthy of a look in. Apparently it will have Alien Dalvik(c) and Robbie the Robot(tm) so Apps (tm) should be plentiful as well.

    2. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Agreed, indeed in terms of numbers of shipped phones it is still important

      Even though Nokia can't seem to learn the basic skills of keeping your mouth shut before you shoot, marketting the good points of your devices, or doing an apple (telling everyone your phone is the only phone that can do what everyone else was doing 2 years back).

      1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

        @"Where is the N8?"

        Agreed. I believe there are actually more Nokia N8 owners out there than owners of Windows Phone 7 handsets from all manufacturers put together. That's before you add the other modern Symbian handsets into the pile.

        El Reg really should have picked up a new Symbian "Belle" handset such as Nokia 701 and compared it in this test. It's pretty competitive, has some very good enterprise features, and has manufacturer software support for another four years, which is a lot more than can be said for some devices..

        On that support: everyone knew Symbian wouldn't go on forever - all Nokia have done is give the definitive end-of-support date, and it's pretty far into the future at a little over four years from now. That's a long time in this market -- can you remember what the phone market was like a little over four years *ago*? Windows Phone7 and Android phones didn't even exist, and iOS was still basically a featurephone OS (it didn't get native, downloadable apps until mid-2008).

  6. Peter Gordon

    I'll keep this bookmarked

    but for now i'm sticking with webOS

    1. MikeyWilko

      I'd love to do that..

      ...and I had 2 glorious years with it. My Palm Pre (original) is locked to O2 and I've moved to Vodafone because of no signal at home and am using a custom Android 2.2 ROM on a ZTE Blade. Would love a Pre 3. For me, WebOS is wonderful to use and would have done very well in this test.

  7. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Up

    'reflow' and iOS. And other musings.

    Browsing: Safari doesn't have quite the same intelligent 'reflow', but with iOS5 it does have the intelligent 'Reader' option (wait for an article page to completely load then the Reader icon appears in the address bar) that does an equivalent job and very nicely. I would rate Safari as the best browser, but that's just me (and Flash is subjective).

    Making calls: I don't understand why 'smart dialling' is a benefit, to be honest. I'm used to the full QWERTY keyboard, so why suddenly switch to a three-characters-per-key keypad for a specific task? And I don't understand how the Blackberry look up by contact is different to the iOS version?

    Dialling by number is a novelty nowadays - I'd be much more likely to call a contact or tap a number in a web page. The keypad can be hidden away for all I care, I think WP7 has it right.

    Personal info: My frustration with iOS is that it hides the filing system from the end user. Dunno about other platforms but anything that lets me do what I like with my files would get a thumbs up!

    Real-time information: Not sure what the benefit of WP7's tiles are - most of them don't give you any actual information, just numbers of missed calls, emails etc. - which is no better than iOS's old limitation of numbered blobs next to icons.

    Pictures and videos: Until any smart phone has an SLR-like instant-on camera, they should all be scored low. The delay is just inexcusable.

    Messaging: Likewise, all should get low scores for their walled gardens. Just talk to each other, damnit! I tend to use Skype as it's cross platform, but it's still a bloody walled garden. I don't CARE how I talk to people, I just want to talk. (or type, or wave)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The benefits of tiles is that you can write any application that can use it. I have the weather as a tile, so it periodically updates with the current weather which I can see on the screen. I also agree with you that I don’t mind the WP7 way that presents you with a list of previous calls. Thinking of my parents this is what they prefer cause they can’t fiddle with the buttons and they don’t really know how to lookup a number in their 2005 nokia.

      However, this is personal taste and some people may not like it but is not really justified to give such a low score just for this. The rest of the review is sort of correct with the obvious pro-android bias.

      1. Andy ORourke

        "I have the weather as a tile, so it periodically updates with the current weather which I can see on the screen. "

        I on the other hand look out the window :-)

      2. Rob Beard

        "I have the weather as a tile, so it periodically updates with the current weather which I can see on the screen."

        Of you could look out the window, here it's raining. Didn't even have to touch my phone to work that one out.

        (Okay okay, I know what you're getting at, I guess it might be handy to know what the weather is like at home if you're at work so you have an idea of what sort of commute you're going to have home, where I work, little bit of rain everyone panics!).

        I kinda like the idea of the tiles, does this come up on the lock screen too (assuming it has one)?


        1. Dave 15 Silver badge

          the weather app is a useless example, other things are more useful

          For example traffic updates for my route home. Perhaps news flashes or sports scores will be fun for some.

      3. jonathanb Silver badge

        I have a weather widget on my Android home screen. To other commentards, yes I know I can look out of the window, but that doesn't tell me the temperature, also I can tap on it to get a forecast for the next week.

        1. SiDe

          Look out the window...

          ...white stuff on ground = snow = cold. Yellow glow in sky = may be hot, check what passers by are wearing. You get the idea.... :-)

    2. K0de

      Smart dialing is handy if you want to see if you have a particular number in your phone and who it belongs to

    3. Dave 15 Silver badge

      waiting for web pages to load before allowing something is a BAD thing

      It really shouldn't be necessary either. I note that internet exploder does the same. Mobile Explorer on the Sony Z5 10 years back would draw the page as it arrived allowing you to select links and other things as soon as it had them. It wasn't difficult. And as for fitting a webpage to screen (smart wrap or whatever you want to call it) MME did that because it did not support left to right panning (the Z5's jog dial really suggested we shouldn't so we never did). This made the browser better. I note that my Blackberry browser opens with a view that I defy ANYONE to be able to read, which means I then need to go and find a zoom capability to see anything - pointless

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Smart dialing is good

      Smart dialing is fast and very convenient. You don't need to go to some other tab to search contacts and then dial. Saves tap numbers (and frustration in the long run), and though it does the angry birds and the web, it's primarily a phone.

      Real time info is a nice-to-have thing. I only keep the weather and my calendar as info-widgets, but some people love to have their a.d.d. inducing social stream on one full screen. It is always nice to have the option though.

      The instant messaging thing is a mess everywhere. I use IM+ and the built in googletalk.

      With the raw horsepower the newer handsets have, there is no real excuse not to include Flash. Keeping it "on demand" is the best of both worlds : don't load them by default, keeping it fast and light on the quota, tap on them to see the video (or the website navigation).

    5. TheOtherJola

      "Dialling by number is a novelty nowadays"

      There are too many points in your post to make me think that you don't know what you're talking about. I'm going to list some of the things that I think you're horrendously wrong about:

      - I'm used to the full QWERTY keyboard, so why suddenly switch to a three-characters-per-key keypad for a specific task?

      Because it's faster if you're walking/driving/finger-poking/performing another one-handed activity. You can just T9 the first few letters of the contact's name and voila, it's almost as if you've dialled a four-digit number to get to your friend.

      - Dialling by number is a novelty nowadays

      Tremendously wrong here. Dialling by number can be faster than looking the person up in the address book if (like the article author) you have 300+ contacts in your address book.

      Also, since you go on to say you "just want to talk", hiding the dialler is also a very bad idea.

      - I don't understand how the Blackberry look up by contact is different to the iOS version?

      With a Blackberry, if you are at the home screen, you just start typing the person's name or start dialling the number you want to dial. E.g. if you type in "andr" it will show you Andrew Smith and James Andrews, and you just finger-poke the contact to then perform an operation (dial, text, bbm, etc).

      - Until any smart phone has an SLR-like instant-on camera, they should all be scored low. The delay is just inexcusable.

      It's almost as if you are comparing a CAMERA to a PHONE. Weird. And I'm sure the purpose of this article is to compare a PHONE with a PHONE.

      - Likewise, all should get low scores for their walled gardens.

      You mean as in SMS? The world we live in has many, many different messaging protocols. The article is, again, comparing the out-of-the-box experience of handsets. All of which at a very basic level support SMS, MMS and Email - none of which (AFAIK) are "walled-garden" protocols.

      - Flash is subjective

      Ah! You're an iPhone user. Suddenly your obsession with impossibly high standards, not seeing the point of otherwise useful features, and irritation with walled gardens all becomes clear...

      1. Mark 65 Silver badge

        Err, if you're driving then you just broke the law.

  8. Andy 3
    Thumb Up

    Great article; nice to see some simple comparisons focusing on the core setup of the phone.

    As an iPhone user I'd add a couple of things which relate to some of the iOS functions mentioned in the article:


    I agree that Safari doesn't have the reflow technology although it does now offer the "reader" button which renders all of the text and any accompanying photographs into nice large auto-flowed text whislt dropping out all of the adverts etc. Check out the non-mobile version of The Register and choose any article and then click "Reader" from the URL bar. The results are rather nice. Not quite as nice as it being done instantly in the case of the HTC though as it's another process to go through.

    Alternatively sticking to the actual webpage Safari allows a double tap to the relevant area of text which automatically aligns the column to fit the screen. Again view a Register article (non mobile) and double tap the left-pane story colum or the right-pane advertisement column for it to auto fit.


    The seamless integration of iMessages into the messages app is nice. Thereby all text and iMessage conversations flow as one. iMessages being marked out in a blue speech bubble and SMS in green. iMessage is great to keep MMS costs down (at the expense of data) if you like to send lots of picture messages. Obviously you need an iOS 5 owning friend for this to work but its nice that you don't have to switch between apps or select the transmission method; iOS sends by whichever is applicable to that contact without any instruction or setup from the user.

  9. fLaMePrOoF

    A good overall round-up but just read the verdict and think the author needs to grow a pair...

  10. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Down

    Real time Info

    Android mostly uses widgets to display real-time information, like the lauded Window Phone tiles, as well as the notification bar.

    The notification bar is useful for basic info (got mail, etc) while widgets are suitable for more detailed info (weather, train times, etc).

    Android should actually come top in this category, as widgets are far richer than Windows Phone tiles, and may be freely mixed with other home-screen objects.

    In fact, you missed a major category out, customisation. Most Android phones have 5 or more "home" screens, each screen can be fully customised placing widgets, shortcuts or folders onto each screen in a completely ad-hoc fashion. This allows me quick access to information (widgets), web pages and apps (shortcuts), and data (folders) in exactly the way I want. Neither Windows Phone, iOS or BB come close to this flexibility.

    1. Dapprman

      However ...

      The author did say he was not using 3rd party apps (aside from HTC sense) and most those widgets are 3rd party. The stock android ones are generally as bad as the email client - rubbish.

      I do think widgets are very useful, use 7 myself, but none are stock android ones.

      1. Eponymous Cowherd

        Widgets, smidgets

        The ability to use widgets *is* a stock Android feature. The author was complaining that Android's real time info ability was restricted to the status bar. It isn't. It is primarily done via widgets.

        1. Paul Shirley

          Tiles, just widgets with a Microsoft trademarked name

          There's some traditional Microsoft sleight of hand going on, in a move they have form for, widgets were renamed Tiles to make them uniquely Windows. In reality the big differences are: WP7's home only contains widgets, no mixing with dumb(ish) icons and their home is a 'vertical' layout.

          Some like the vertical thing enough to implement it on Android. Personally I prefer grouping related views by screen but only Android allows users to swap launcher and some phones even ship with multiple homes to choose from.

          A mystery is why he didn't notice almost all recent Android's seem to ship with the news&weather widget making it essentially a stock item. Probably too busy gawking at the Sense version to notice ;)

    2. dessanti candido

      Every winpho app has a tile; you can say that any android app has a widget? no? so they are not the same thing.

      you can put almost everything on start menu (the equivalent of android home screens), a single contact, web links, a playlist, a single song, you can have multiple tiles of a single application the represents shortcut to different part of the app and all of them can be refreshed by the app itself.

      so i dont think android can win hands down with this kind of customizations,widgets are avaiable in almost every os of the planet, same things can said for home screens


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