iPhone 3G S vs Palm Pre vs Nokia N97 vs Toshiba TG01 vs HTC Magic – that's a lot of smartphones

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I’m out of contract. As a matter of fact, I’ve been out of contract since October. The trouble is that this summer’s going to see the hottest set of handset releases that I can remember. There’s the HTC Magic, the Palm Pre, the Toshiba TG01, the Nokia N97 and the recently announced Apple iPhone 3G S, however much O2 may be doing to ruin it. So, the question is, which is the best phone? Come this way and we’ll break it down.

Size

The length of breadth of these handsets isn’t so much important to me as the the thickness. I’ve never met a phone I couldn’t fit into my pocket. It’s more about which one ruins the line of my clothes.

WINNER -TG01: 9.9mm

iPhone 3G S: – 12.3mm

HTC Magic: 13.65 mm

Palm Pre: 16.95 mm

N97: 15.9mm – 18.25mm

The Toshiba is by far the most fashion friendly of the five. It’s the only sub 1cm handset on the block and that’s very nice work for the relatively new kids on the block

The Magic is of a perfectly reasonable thickness and, having used the N97 for a couple of weeks, I haven’t found carrying it around a problem. I’ll have to reserve judgement on the Pre until I’ve held on in my hands.

To put them in perspective, the G1 sits at 17.1mm thick which, although a touch bulky, I wouldn’t turn it down for its size. Obviously the size problem that these three share is down to their slide out QWERTYs but that’s the price you have to pay for multi-functionality.

Weight

Again, weight isn’t a major issue for me but I appreciate that it is for some. I’ve normally heavier things to worry about on my person other than my phone but a category’s a category.

vodafone-htc-magic.jpg

WINNER – HTC Magic: 118.5g

TG01: 129g

iPhone 3G S: 135g

Palm Pre: 135g

N97: 150g

Given it’s not the thinnest, the Magic’s done very well to keep the weight down and, naturally, the QWERTY carrying two are at the bottom once again. However, where the Pre has only just pulled up short of the others, the N97 is looking like a right old lump to heft about. Again, having used it, I don’t find the 150g of the N97 a problem but you do feel like you could brain someone with it if push can to shove. Probably not a feature that Nokia advertises.

Screen

Convergence, people. That’s what we’re talking about here. These smartphones have got to be our MP3 players, our PMPs, our very eyes and ears. It’s no good squinting at them. We need screens and we need them good.

WINNER – TG01: 4.1″ with WVGA 480 x 800 pixel, 262,000 colours and REGZA technology

N97: 3.5″ with 360 x 640 pixels,16,777,216 colours in 16:9

Palm Pre: 3.1″ with 24-bit colour 480 × 320 pixel and 16,777,216 colours

iPhone 3G S: 3.5″ with 480 × 320 pixels and 262,000 colours

HTC Magic: 3.2″ with HVGA 488 x 320 pixel resolution

It may not have the 24-bit Trucolour system of the N97 or the pre and it may not be the quite spot on 16:9 aspect either but you just can’t beat the TG01 for straight up size and resolution. It’s an awesome display backed up with all Toshiba’s high end LCD know how. If it’s all about watching video on the go, then look no further.

The N97 is not a million miles off with a good splash of colour and, if it weren’t for its tiny size, you could live comfortably with the screen on the Pre but beyond that it’s fairly standard stuff. Tosh all the way.

Camera

Thumbnail image for N97.JPG

WINNER – N97: 5 megapixels with Carl Zeiss Tessar f/2.8 optics and dual LED flash

Palm Pre: 3.0-megapixel camera with LED flash and “extended depth of field”

iPhone 3G S: 3.0 megapixels and still no flash!

TG01: 3.2 megapixels and no apparent flash

HTC Magic: 3.2 megapixels and no flash

No shadow of a doubt in this category who takes the prize. The camera on the N97 is simply divine. It’s streets ahead of the others in resolution, glassware, flash and functionality. Frankly, it’s better than half the compacts on the market.If the camera on your smartphone is the most important feature for you, then stop reading now and go and buy the N97.

The only other handset to even bother with a flash is the Pre which gives it an automatic second place and I’m putting the iPhone 3G S into third, despite it losing out on the other two in terms of resolution, because even in the iPhone 3G the snapper was well integrated if seriously underpowered.

I wouldn’t rate the other two at all for their picture taking quality.

Processor

It’s not good these phones being able to cook your toast at the same time as make calls if it takes half an hour to do so. CPU power with a little help from the RAM will help your handset running smoothly.

WINNER – TG01: 1GHz Snapdragon platform (256MB RAM)

Palm Pre: 600 MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 3430 (256 MB RAM)

iPhone 3G S: Unknown – “twice as fast as the last one” (600MHz suspected with 128MB RAM)

HTC Magic: 528 MHz Qualcomm MSM7201a (192/288 MB RAM)

N97: 434MHz ARM11

The Toshiba is the clear winner here. It’s the only phone using Qualcomm’s brand new Snapdragon platform and it’ll probably need it to orchestrate all that REGZA technology, and the WinMob nonsense too.

The Pre puts in a good effort and should run well and I’m giving Apple the benefit of the doubt here. They make their machines well and I’d be very surprised if their “twice as fast” claims didn’t have at least some truth. We probably haven’t heard the exact figures because they’ll sound scarily low against the competition despite their efficiency and performance.

The Magic runs ok from experience and even the hopelessly underpowered N97 has run without too much a hitch in trials. Can’t say it’s lightening but it works.

Storage

With audio and video playback to go with a library of 3-megapixel plus camera snaps, storage has become an issue. Which one can hold and which will fold?

WINNER – N97: 32GB onboard plus 16GB microSD = 48GB

iPhone 3G S: 32GB

HTC Magic: 512MB + 16GB microSD = 16.5GB

TG01: 512MB + 16GB microSD = 16.5GB

Palm Pre: 8GB

Really disappointed with the Pre to see it sporting 8GB and no expandability. Serious loss of brownie points there. This is definitely the N97’s turf though. The iPhone 3G S shows enough but hardcore music lovers may run out of space pretty quick on the Tosh and the Android handsets.

Battery

It’s hard to equate battery stats directly to performance given each phones different CPU and display requirements but it does give at least some kind of indication. No winners and losers this time. Just take note.

N97: Li-ion 1500 mAh

iPhone 3G S: Unknown – 10hrs of video

Palm Pre: Li-ion 1150mAh

HTC Magic: Li-ion 1340mAh

TG01: Li-ion 1000mAh

The TG01 battery is tiny – possibly to keep the phone slim and light and possibly because the Snapdragon system is very efficient – but I am told you’ll get one day of heavy use out of it before you need to recharge. I suspect it’s not the best of the bunch, though.

For the others, the iPhone 3G S is much improved and should last a little longer; the N97 is the biggest and has been performing well in review; the Pre is a little concerning but unknown and the Magic has been ok – better than the G1 by a long shot but still just ok.

OS

Operating systems are a matter of personal choice but absolutely crucial to your enjoyment of the phone.

WINNER – iPhone 3G S: iPhone 3.0 OS
WINNER – Palm Pre: WebOS (Linux-based)

HTC Magic: Android Cupcake (1.5)

N97: S60 5th edition

TG01: Windows Mobile 6.1

From all the hype, the iPhone 3.0 OS and the Pre’s WebOS are supposed to be ace. You’ll love them both. Android, I’d say, is a very close runner – lot’s of fun but no way near as slick. The N97 suffers from lack of excitement in the OS department. We’ve known about Symbian 60 for years but it does work very well indeed. Bit of a Volvo.

And that leaves me with the TG01 and Windows Mobile. I hate Windows Mobile but that’s a personal choice. It’s clunky, fiddly and over-complicated and, until I’m shown otherwise, I want no part of it. It’ll suit some people out there but not many.

UI

Usability is fundamental to these machines. If they’re pain to play with, then you’ll learn to hate them. There’s no two ways about it.

iphone-3g-s.jpg

WINNER – iPhone 3G S: Capacitive multitouch screen
WINNER – Palm Pre: Capacitive multitouch screen + QWERTY

N97: Resistive touchscreen & QWERTY

HTC Magic: Capacitive touchscreen

TG01: Resistive touchscreen

If it weren’t for the keyboard on the Pre, I’d hand the prize to the iPhone’s legendarily user friendly system but the Pre is supposed to be a joy to get your fingers on too. It’s a serious battle royale there.

The N97 isn’t 100% responsive – more like 95% – but, again, it sits above the 99% Magic by virtue of the excellent QWERTY.

No one’s been allowed to touch a working model of the TG01 but I suspect it’s going to lose out in this department. I’m just not convinced that Tosh has the experience. I could be wrong. I hope I am.

Applications

The need for applications has become a real driver for the smartphone market and will soon become the number one feature usurping the public’s love for megapixels. So who’s got what the people need?

WINNER – iPhone 3G S: iTunes App Store

HTC Magic: Android Marketplace

Palm Pre: Palm suite & open source mobile applications

N97: Ovi Store

TG01: Windows Mobile Market

With 50,000 apps in the store and developers wetting their knickers for a piece, you just can’t touch iPhone. The Andriod Marketplace doesn’t even come close with the 5,000 they’ve got on offer and, at the time of writing, Ovi is a bit of a shambles despite the grand plans.

Other considerations

iPhone 3GS: Accelerometer, compass, video shooting, oil resistant screen, a world of supporting gadgetry, aGPS, Bluetooth

HTC Magic: Accelerometer, compass, video shooting, GPS, Bluetooth

Palm Pre: Accelerometer, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with A2DP, touchstone induction charging, synchs with iTunes, aGPS

TG01: Accelerometer, aGPS, Bluetooth,

N97: aGPS, Bluetooth, video shooting,

Conclusions

Very, very tricky, this. I’d like to start in true reality TV style by saying that all the contestants have done a fantastic job and I genuinely mean it when I say that I’d be proud to carry any of them around in my pocket.

I think the objective choice is probably the iPhone 3G S. It scores consistently well in all the categories that really matter with second or third places at the worst. Now that the software allows for video capture, MMS and tethering – even though at a premium – there’s no department where it has a shocker any more.

Personally, I might rather plump for the Palm Pre just to have something a little different as much as anything else. It’s got a slightly better camera and screen which is important to me. It’s apparently as good an interface and experience as the iPhone plus you get a QWERTY as well. I’d be a little concerned by the lack of app support and probably find the small memory a little testing but I think the originality of choice would make up for it.

The other handset that gets close for me is the N97. If Ovi gets its act together, and I think it will, we’ll see a surprisingly large smug group of people carrying this phone around – more than the Pre, I should think. There is life beyond Apple.

The TG01 is the risky choice. I’d have to be really blown away by that screen and the speed of the processor to overlook the WinMob albatross. I slightly wonder if this mobile has specs better suited to a PMP than a telephone?

Lastly, and, quite surprisingly, I’d go for the HTC Magic. The trouble is that it doesn’t excel in any areas. Android is the thing it really has going for it but even there it’s beaten by both Palm and Apple in the key clashes.

I’m sure you’ll have your own opinions and this is by no means a definitive guide. You could look at a few other smaller issues but I believe these have been the most key. Send me a shout, drop me a comment. Which would you buy? Which do you own?

Click here to see if the HTC Desire will fare better with users.

Daniel Sung

34 comments

  • TG01 Touch screen is terrible without stylus, very annoyingly unresponsive and prone to scratches also the auto screen orientation is very glitchy. Windows Marketplace apps are expensive and pretty rubbish. Battery life is shamefull. The phone may have a decent processor but it runs like a snail and thats on full cpu power which kills the battery. Screen resolution is good and screen size is good decent for watching movies but your battery will die half way through your movie. It looks sleek when new but looks tacky after a while chrome plastic wears off. Battery, lack of decent apps and Useless Touchscreen let this phone down for me. Its bearable after flashing a modded os. Not in the same league as any iphone or palm pre range the multitouch capacative screens are brilliant. Nokia with s60 os is boring but it works at least never used android devices so i cant compare.

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    1)Flash player support
    2)Quick back option without going to home screen while switching between apps.
    3)File browsing and storing
    4)Option to attach images, file etc from email app itself.
    5)Multiple signature options
    6)Manual rotate gesture option
    7)Notes app should be more powerful word process (fonts, text size etc)
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  • I own a tg01….and used a lot of the others. And while i liked them…i opted for the Tosh.
    It has only 2 drawbacks:
    1- battery life is minute
    2- screen responsiveness is sort of bit mellower compared to palm or iphone
    The rest is a load of bull. It DOES have a decent cam (w/o the flash thou – i use it for work everyday) and it DOES take moving images, supports voice comands and the interface…well use the spb one and you are sorted. What you never mention is the iphone is the only phone to have a kill switch?! and how about more secure? and how about usb legacy support? And i could go on….isnt a perfect hanset by far but boy i get more functionality with my crappy tosh than at iphone thing (mine i gave it to a buddy, i use to use it as a very expensive paper weight) So i think you are not very informed and biased in your review.And it does take up to 32gb mem card and the screen rotates everywhere not only in a few select programs and have i mentioned gesturing to do things like answer and zoom in and out? And the internet experience is nice and a lot more desktop like than any others. And i could go on…believe it or not i really like it.

  • The Palm micro-usb connector is now the standard for most new phones. It should be there on any new GSM phones.

    I Actually bought a blackberry micro-usb cable as it was cheaper than than the one from Palm (20$CAN).

    We should see more and more micro-usb accessories as most phone manufacturer agreed on that new charging port standard.

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    1)Flash player support
    2)Quick back option without going to home screen while switching between apps.
    3)File browsing and storing
    4)Option to attach images, file etc from email app itself.
    5)Multiple signature options
    6)Manual rotate gesture option
    7)Notes app should be more powerful word process (fonts, text size etc)
    8)All Grouping of contacts for test message e.g. friend and family groups.
    9)App for grouping key social networking sites(for posting universal photos, text to all social networking sites together.
    10) Auto spell check in safari browser (like mozilla) when adding text in twitter, facebook leaving comments at blog etc.
    11)Build in Flash in camera for night photo shot
    12) Front facing camera for video Chat
    13) Use cover flow for using multitasking third party apps (limit to 5 apps, not to drain the battery life)
    14)Thin quick time player app to run video downloaded from web.
    15)Group notification alert or not attended tasks(missed MMS, SMS, PHONE, Chat message, meeting, event etc)on single screen.
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  • iphone all d way !! it got d best OS.. restrictions r for data security mostly.. and still cracks r available so if u want u can jailbroken it.. d neatness of iphone 3G is just ausome.. experience while surfing and moving pages and photos is amazing n i never saw iphone geting hang !! its amazing processor to have IF UR NOT KID TO CRY FOR CAMERA N RINGTONE N STUFF !!

  • Hi to everyonr. Firstly sorry for my english, but I want to say that I bought N97 recently, it was very hard for me choose 3 GS or N97, at last I chose N97, but now I feel very sorry for this, I was Nokia fan till trying 3 GS, it was better, my be best phone I have ever used! Especially its Os very good, very cool apps for 3GS, but unfortunatelyi knew about it after I had bought N97((( I didnt like n97, because:
    1 very bad qwerty, I mean it isnt like pc, as my friend say, space key is on right, there is no PEN key like olders(Where is it???)
    2 JOYSTICK is on the left, but i think it was better if they put it on the right
    3 very bad touchscreen, it is hard to use it,
    4 NO GOOD APPS!!! I couldnt find any cool app or game for my N97!Only flash games, what is it???

    BUT battery life, design, camera are OK, especially batery life is really cool, U can use it without charging maybe 1 week! But capacity isnt so good because when I used more than 10-15 GB, my device how to say died! I had to format phone memory and delete files to get more free space or device will die or becomes operate slowly. I bought it from London, regent street, I mean it is original! Maybe it is Ok, but it is very very bad compare with 3 GS, and its price is so high! If I could choose again I would chose 3GS, dont buy N97 please, U will feel sorry then for this…

    AND the best dictionary for me is ABBYY LINGVo Multilanguage! Up to 6.5 million words!(Somebody asked))) Thanz for attention)

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  • NOKIA N97 is the best one?
    I DON’T THINK SO..
    im really dissapointed with this new N97. the reason is :
    1. the TOUCHSCREEN is using old technology, N97 is using resistive touch screen which makes it hard to touch, not as good as iphone which use capacitive touch screen. if you have an iphone, you could feel the difference. iphone touch screen is much better.
    2. the qwerty keyboard position is not convenient. the space button is located on the right side, not in the middle. its very irritating.
    3. many bug on this new symbian OS.

    actually i was going to buy this phone, but after i heard this news, i think iphone is better.
    i hope nokia can do better for the next model.

  • Actualy, the iPhone and the pre are 3.2 megapixels. They are 3.15, which rounds up to 3.2. Do some reaserch please.

  • Having a smart phone is all the software and ease of use. Having a zillion ghz processor, a telescopic camera lens and a full qwerty physical keyboard count for nothing if You cannot do the things You want to do instantly on the software You need, using an OS that is a joy to use. I’m writing surprisingly quickly and with no fuss without a tiny buttoned physical keyboard. Using the Internet is incedible on the iPhone gs, so snappy. People have criticised the iPhone for being common. A little like BMW being a victim of it’s own success, there are too many BMW ‘s on the roads because they are the best cars.

  • Glad I bumped in to this post as i decided to get an iphone 3gs after years of using the n95gb and recently upgrading to N97.

    I was so surprising how much I missed Nokia over the last week, the things that frustrated me with the iphone are below:

    · The level of restriction

    · Gimped Bluetooth (eg no tethering for free over bluetoth)

    · Bad camera and video quality with no flash (it is not just about the nokia 5mp it is the quality of the camera)

    · Lack of flash support in the browser

    · Quality loud speaker

    · Option of physical keys

    · Options in map software and current inability for turn by turn although it is coming soon at a price, I had Nokia maps goggle maps and tom tom on my nokias

    · When I travel abroad I am restricted to AT&T sim

    · Industry-Standard USB Port

    · Removable Battery (so annoying when phone crashes)

    · User-Configurable Equalizer

    · User-Accessible File System

    · After cracking screen I missed the durability of Nokia devices.

    Luckily I was still able to sell the device and hook back up my N97 on to at&t with a $15 data plan.

    I am an apple man as I am a video editor by trade, I own tens of thousands of dollars worth of apple product, I love the software on the I phone but it is too restrictive. If you have used symbian devices for a long time, you just know how to do stuff and you get so much out of your device. It seems weird for first time users but there is just so much you can get out of a top Nokia phone its hard to explain, it is defintley not for those that like idiot prof devices, its more for those that want more from their device.

    Its great market competition. I had to see what the I phone was all about, but I just cant justify leaving Nokia.

  • i think the review was quite well written, i mean, we can argue all day about why the iphone was first, but overall the review was good, i do aggree taht the TG01 does seem like a winner, however i dislike Windows mobile with a passion. Nokia’s have always been pretty sexy, and the palm pre sounds very cool. sorry to offend anyone, but i’d say the HTC magic sounds like crap, even though it has android, there are many more (around 18 if i recall correctly) that will be coming out, including the samsung galaxy, which sounds way better then the magic. One thing i haven’t been impressed with is other touch screen OS’s, call me a Apple fanboy, but i believe that the iphone OS is very user friendly, because i’ve run into an HTC tilt (maybe i was a complete newbie) but i found it quite hard to use. i believe this review should have included the samsung galaxy… oh well, we can’t get all we want, but this is a informational review

  • I totally agree with the writter .
    I do not like iphone for 2 reasons .First, it doesn’t provide slide bar keyboard ,whichi think is very helpful for typing .
    Second is not so elegant and too common .
    i adore nokia n97,because it has the most unique folding keyboard i have ever seen . N97 is stylish mobile but is it doesn’t have flexible operation system by that i mean symbian OS is too poor software nowdays.My opinion , at the end of the day iphone is by far the best.
    i want some advice , if anyone knows which is the best mobile for dictionary ,i would like to write it down for me.
    Thanks in advance.

  • I think it is obvious.
    He didnt post the very first comment asking why someone scored the iphone so well, when it came in 3rd in a few of the comparisons, and not knowing the specs of the other devices, scored the iphone first.

    The TG01 seems to be the qualified winner, not the iphone.

  • The best, most unbiased of the many reviews I’ve read. VERY helpful. In fact I am adding Tech Digest to my favorites just because of the balance of this review.

  • I would go for either Iphone 3GS or android phone: HTC Magic or Samsung Galaxy (i7500) with 5mpixel+led flash (coming this month or next).

    Please dont even mention HTC G1. Nobody would use that: too low battery, too bulky etc.

  • “N97: aGPS, Bluetooth, video shooting” – that’s not all! There are compass, accelerometer, widget support…to name a few. And of course – pure awesomeness! N97 all the way!
    Other than that, great review! Gives you a good perspective.

    • let me ask you… how long Nokia been into phone industry?
      after R&D for so much longer compare to Apple, this is the best they come out with?
      by putting whatever consumer want? good camera, qwerty, touch screen?
      but it sux coz of the OS! symbian still some how laggy compare to iphone OS, android and pre’s linux.
      shame on Nokia! spent so many years design and research on phone and that’s the best they can come out? a laggy touch screen? where there some other touch screen phone running much smoother now?

      who need widget where there is much smoother and fun apps out there in android’s apps or itune apps store?

  • I think there are some unknowns that Apple hasn’t released yet. What do you mean he didn’t do his research? He had all the specs on the other phones and I would say that he didn’t overspeculate at all. I wouldn’t say this review is biased at all. He doesn’t even want the iPhone 3GS.

  • Isn’t it obvious? This is a biased comparison. iPhone 3G S scores well even if there are a lot of “unknowns.” Author clearly didn’t even bother doing his/her homework as to the specs and “other considerations” of the other phones.

  • Great reviews and very nice compression between all those nice phones, being an athlete that runs a lot I would prefer Iphone 3GS, I have been a nokia fan since they have been in the market, and they have a lot of good phones I am currently a N78 owner and i am very disappointed with there Apss, I had G1 for few weeks too and it is too heavy to run with, palm Pre look nice but I don’t like CDMA technology since I travel a lot, so best choice would be Iphone for all those great reason accept one, AT&T needs to bring it’s data plan if they want more people to sign up.

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