Smartphone OS Fight Night – Part Three! Symbian vs. Android

Andriod v Symbian

Over the past two Fight Night entries, we’ve examined the six most popular smartphone operating systems to find which is the best all-round solution for the consumer.  We’ve listed some advantages and disadvantages of each, briefly covered their impact on the market and hard though it was, selected two to meet here, in part three.

From part one we took Symbian, which despite a strong challenge from Windows Phone, impressed us most with its robustness, general ease of use, massive online following, huge application database and variation of handsets available.  Part two gave us Android, thanks to its open platform, exciting phones and complete online integration.  So how do we decide a winner now we have our finalists?  Having already covered the OS’s themselves, we’re going to take the two top-range phones featuring each operating system and see which works best in the real world!

Representing Symbian will be:

The Nokia N97 Mini.

Why the Mini and not the N97 itself?  Well, the Mini is the consumer version of the N97, meaning it fits perfectly into our criteria.  The N97 Mini uses Symbian S60 5th Edition, as found on the N97 and 5800, and it’s powered along by an ARM 434Mhz processor and 128MB of RAM.  The screen is resistive but Nokia have introduces ‘flick’ scrolling, which gives long menus a bouncy quality and a far more fluid action – it’s a welcome addition.

The homescreen can contain five widgets and the menu screens are the familiar 3×4 grid layout.  An icon requires one press to activate, but when you’re confronted with a list-based menu, you need to double-tap your choice.  You get used to this, but we would prefer the phone to do one or the other instead of both.  The N97 Mini has a slide out QWERTY keyboard, but onscreen options are limited to an alphanumeric keypad displayed in portrait and landscape.  We love how easy it is to add a contact or tap out an SMS, plus we appreciate the little things such as a reminder of the size in MB an email or MMS is, plus the little separate inbox for delivery reports.

This ease of everyday use urges new smartphone owners to delve deeper into 5th Edition, enabling them to get more out of their new phone.  The N97 Mini is without a doubt the best current phone to utilise Symbian S60 5th Edition.

Representing Android will be:

The HTC Hero.

As the current Android darling, the Motorola Droid, has only just become available in the UK, it falls, rather poetically, to the Hero to see off its challenger.  A Qualcomm 528Mhz processor and 288MB of RAM sees the Hero trump the N97 Mini, however the lack of a QWERTY keyboard goes someway to equal things out.

The Hero comes with Android 1.5, or cupcake to give it its codename, but the real secret weapon here is HTC’s Sense UI skin.  Out of the box there it’s a series of homescreens and widgets which will see new users on their way, but the beauty of Sense is that everything is customisable, with seemingly endless permutations ready to create your ultimate homescreen/widget set-up.

The capacitive touchscreen is wonderfully responsive and the added hardware buttons and trackball give an extra level of physical control.  This unfortunately doesn’t extend to typing, as you’re limited to an onscreen virtual keyboard.  The Hero’s 3.2″ screen makes it feel a little small for the big-fingered, but the landscape mode does help out.  Of course, there is integration with everything Google – from Talk to YouTube – and the decent WebKit browser.

A recent ROM upgrade has seen a significant speed increase when whizzing around the menus and apps, while smoothness has also been improved, plus the ever-increasing amount of applications inside the Market keeps the phone feeling fresh.

 The Winner?

It was a logical decision, but one made with help from the heart.  Symbian may be versatile and have a huge market share, but the truth is it never felt fun to use.  Functional, yes, but fun, no.  Android on the other hand, despite its slight lack of polish, had something that Symbian didn’t, a little bit of personality, which is why we’re declaring it our consumer smartphone OS of choice.

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