Smartphone OS Fight Night – Part One! WinMo vs. BlackBerry vs. Symbian

Fight Night OS

It wasn’t until the early 2000′s that the smartphone as we know it today started to appear on the market, with the Nokia Communicator gaining a Symbian operating system, BlackBerry offering wireless email in the USA and Palm giving the Treo application support.  Finally, in 2003 Microsoft introduced Windows Mobile, borne from its previous Pocket PC operating systems to be more compatible with PDA-style smartphones.

From these humble, business focused beginnings, the smartphone has seen huge growth to become a mainstream mobile product which attracts every different type of user, from the game fan to the social networker.  This turnaround owes considerable thanks to the release of the Apple iPhone and subsequently, Google’s Android OS and Palm’s webOS, each bringing big application stores, excellent multimedia ability and true online integration to the masses.

These six operating systems account for more than 97% of global smartphone sales, but just how much difference is there between them, and which one will suit you best?  Our three part guide will help answer these questions, with an emphasis on the consumer rather than the business user.  Part one pits the three original OS’s against each other, part two deals with the newest OS’s and part three will put the winners of the previous parts together!  We begin with Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS and Symbian.

Windows Mobile.

Microsoft may have rebranded their mobile OS as Windows Phone, but to us it will always be Windows Mobile.  Now in it’s seventh year, for the purposes of this comparison, we will be looking at version 6.5, the latest release designed to bridge the gap between Mobile 6.1 and Mobile 7, expected sometime during 2010.

Key Advantages of Windows Phone:

Push email, calendar and contacts via Microsoft Exchange servers, plus integration with BlackBerry Enterprise and Lotus Domino.

  • View, create and edit Word and Excel files
  • View PowerPoint and PDF documents on the move.Easy syncing with your PC with ActiveSync.
  • Dedicated Windows Marketplace application store.
  • Wide variety of hardware from several manufacturers.
  • Plenty of applications available.
  • Manufacturers can ‘skin’ the OS with their own user interface, retaining the features, but improving usability.

Version 6.5 is essentially 6.1 with a bit of spit and polish to keep it looking as up-to-date as possible without doing too much fiddling deep down inside.  The Start, Today screen and much of the top-level interface has become more finger friendly, Internet Explorer has been drastically improved and there is quick access to the new Windows Marketplace store.  Windows Mobile also supports the highest screen resolution out of all its rivals, that of 800×480.

Disadvantages of Windows Phone:

  • At some point, you’re going to be dropped back into an old, ugly and stylus-driven Windows Mobile menu.
  • No multi-touch.
  • No native support for capacitive touchscreens.
  • With so many Windows Mobile phones, the experience varies considerably from one device to the next.

Windows Mobile has perhaps suffered the most from the commercialisation of the smartphone, because although it may not be as attractive to look at as several of its rivals, the huge levels of customisation and impressive business credentials makes it far better than most give it credit for.  However, you must be prepared to find the right handset and then seek out the right apps and tweaks if you’re truly going to get the most from Windows Mobile.

BlackBerry OS.

The most recent stable, official version of the BlackBerry OS is v5.0, as featured on the new Storm2 and Bold, but you’re also likely to see v4.5 on older devices or the Pearl and Curve.  The BlackBerry OS has been developed by Research in Motion purely for use on their BlackBerry smartphones, so there are never any surprises for the team when new hardware appears.

Key Advantages of BlackBerry OS:

  • Simple to manage email systems via BlackBerry Enterprise supporting
  • Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Novell Groupwise push email.
  • BlackBerry Desktop Manager lets you easily sync your phone with your PC.
  • BlackBerry Media Sync does the same for your music and video.
  • BlackBerry App World contains apps for business and consumer-level users.
  • Multi-touch, capacitive touchscreen support.
  • Plenty of high-level of security options
  • BlackBerry Theme Studio allows you to personalise your phone.

Of course, the biggest advantage the BlackBerry OS has over its rivals is the superb email and communication suite it brings to all the BlackBerry phones.  It may sound like a cliche now, but if your life or business revolves around email, you’ll adore a BlackBerry phone.

Disadvantages of the BlackBerry OS:

  • Workman-like, text-based appearance.
  • Not the best web browser available.

With surprisingly few major disadvantages, BlackBerry OS shows off why it’s the choice of governments and businesses across the world, by being very good at being a true smartphone.  While this is good for RIM, it also goes straight to the heart of the problem for the consumer – it’s just not sexy enough.  Fine, it sounds shallow, but for anyone looking for their first smartphone is going to be put off by all this talk of security and email brilliance.


Although Symbian is the operating system, the user interface is a separate entity, of which S60 is the current favoured option.  On new phones, S60 comes in two different flavours, S60 3rd Edition and S60 5th Edition, with the latter being optimised for touchscreen use.  Out of all the other smartphone OS’s, Symbian boasts by far the biggest share of the market.

Key Advantages of Symbian.

  • Support for Microsoft Exchange, BlackBerry Enterprise and Lotus Domino email servers.
  • Nokia’s Ovi Store contains many applications for 3rd and 5th Edition phones.  Other applications are available from relevant websites.
  • 5th Edition’s touchscreen friendly revamp is great.
  • Wide variety of hardware from several manufacturers.
  • Familiar UI, especially for anyone coming from an S40 Nokia phone.
  • View and edit documents.
  • UI skins can be created by manufacturers.

Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and in particular, Nokia, all produce smartphones with Symbian S60 operating systems, but unlike the others featured here, they are mainly sold outside of the USA, hence you’ll often find Symbian being overlooked in online comparisons such as this.  Don’t let this put you off, as Symbian is by far the most versatile of the three.

Disadvantages of Symbian.

  • Problematic syncing with desktop computers, particularly if you’re a new user with a Mac.
  • Menus often have a few too many key presses before you reach your desired option.
  • No native multitouch.

These disadvantages show the operating system’s age more than anything else, however the first issue is easily solved by using one of the distinct advantages of being a Symbian user, the plentiful documentation and help forums on the Internet.


Choosing between Windows Phone, BlackBerry and Symbian is difficult, but as we’re looking at them through the eyes of a consumer, a winner does emerge.  BlackBerry is the first to be discounted, however if this were business test it would be a different story, then it’s Windows Phone.  Much as we think 6.5 is an improvement and that it’s still great for someone who needs to keep in touch with the office, Symbian does all of that and more for the consumer, making it the pick of this first list.

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