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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

New entries in smartphone market offer more iPhone options

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver September 27-October 3, 2011 issue #1144 High Tech Office column

Confused by choices in smartphones? You’re not alone.

Currently, you can pick among Apple iPhones, Android phones from multiple manufacturers, Windows Phone 7 models (also from multiple manufacturers) and various RIM BlackBerry models. One contender – HP’s Palm-derived webOS models – dropped from sight in August.

Recently, I had loan of two very different smartphone models, the first a Samsung Galaxy S II running on the Bell network ($169 on a three-year plan – it’s also available on Virgin Mobile). This is the latest version of one of the more popular Android models. More than 10 million of last year’s original Galaxy S were sold worldwide.

The new model is thinner and lighter than both its predecessor and the iPhone and combines a powerful 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor with a bright 4.3-inch screen – more readable than the iPhone’s screen in bright sunlight. It runs the current Android 2.3 (code-named Gingerbread) software customized with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. Dual cameras include an eight-megapixel rear camera with flash that can record 1080p high definition video.

The Galaxy S II can be used with Bell’s 4G network for theoretical bandwidth of “up to” 21 megabits per second. (Real world performance, while fast, will vary.) Sixteen gigabytes of storage are built in. That can be expanded with microSD memory cards.
The good news: there’s a new, hot Android smartphone model every month or so, but the Galaxy S II is currently the newest and hottest and is arguably at least a match for Apple’s iPhone.

The bad news: Apple has sued Samsung in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere to block sales of Samsung smartphones and tablets claiming infringement of Apple patents for “look and feel” and touchscreen technologies. While this story is still unfolding, courts have thus far ruled in Apple’s favour, blocking sales of various Galaxy models in some countries.

I wouldn’t expect to see similar lawsuits against LG’s Optimus 7 smartphone (free with a three-year plan on Telus Mobility). Instead of Android, it runs Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, and, unlike Android, that smartphone system doesn’t come across as an iPhone copycat.
Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is a complete rewrite of earlier Windows Mobile versions, and despite the similarity of version numbers, there’s no relation to the desktop Windows 7 system. Instead of screens full of icons – as in Apple’s iOS or Android - WP7 presents users with a screen of large “tiles,” each representing a “hub” or set of related tasks or apps.

The Optimus 7’s hardware specs pale next to the Galaxy S II, but it’s not a cutting-edge model. A Windows Phone 7 upgrade (code-named Mango) is expected this fall, with new hardware to match. While smartphone manufacturers go wild and crazy with their hardware and software implementation of Google’s Android, Microsoft has kept tighter reins on Windows Phone 7 models.

The result is that all WP7 models have similar interfaces and a standard set of buttons, including a dedicated camera button. This standardization is a good thing.

Windows Phone 7 hasn’t gotten much attention or much market share – for the 12 weeks ending mid-July, it accounted for only about 2% of U.S. smartphone sales.

But it’s worth consideration. It integrates a huge range of Microsoft office and consumer offerings: Office, SharePoint and Exchange networking, Bing search, Xbox, Zune media player and more in an attractive and usable interface that isn’t derivative of Apple. (An August study reported that WP7 and iOS were tops for usability, beating Android and BlackBerry.) 

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