Although the iPhone harmonizes smart-phone components better than its rivals, it isn't perfect.
Among the flaws: a too-small touch-screen keyboard, subpar support for corporate e-mail systems and reliance on AT&T's old Edge network when Wi-Fi service is out of range.
Do any of the iPhone wannabes perform better? In some ways, yes, although none matches the iPhone's ease of use.
• HTC Touch ($350 with a two-year contract). At first glance, Sprint Nextel's new handset looks like an iPhone clone. Sleek and slim, the HTC Touch features a 2.8-inch color touch screen and a large navigation button flanked by two smaller ones exactly the sort of minimalist presentation that Apple has perfected. But the HTC Touch is no iPhone.
Like AT&T's Tilt, the Touch allows both finger and stylus navigation. It also uses Windows Mobile 6, although the Touch has large icons better suited for finger navigation. Another plus: The Touch lets you watch live TV via Sprint TV. By contrast, the iPhone doesn't do live TV.
Drawbacks: The Touch's display is slightly smaller and less crisp than the iPhone's, its interface is harder to learn, and the Touch comes with a mere 512 megabytes of memory (upgradable to 4GB). The Sprint TV service has a few quirks, too. In our tests, the audio and video were sometimes out of sync.
• BlackBerry Curve 8320 ($450 with a two-year contract). Business types and e-mail junkies have long loved Research In Motion's BlackBerry, which integrates nicely with corporate systems and handles heavy texting with ease. The qwerty keyboard is a bit small for large thumbs, but BlackBerry devotees seem to like it. Navigating the on-screen menus and icons is easy, thanks to the mini trackball. If e-mail's your thing, the BlackBerry beats the iPhone hands down.
The Curve 8320 is less successful as an entertainment gadget. Its music-and-video player and 2-megapixel camera feel like afterthoughts. The keyboard and trackball controls may be great for e-mailing, but they're not so hot for launching an audio player and hopping between tracks. The 2.5-inch screen is too small for watching videos.
Like the iPhone, the Curve 8320 supports Wi-Fi and can switch to a faster wireless network when available. T-Mobile, however, has added a particularly clever twist with its optional [email protected] service, which lets Curve users make calls via Wi-Fi.The benefit here is that Wi-Fi provides better coverage inside the home, and you can make unlimited national calls via broadband without using up your regular plan minutes. The bad news is that Wi-Fi call clarity depends on factors unrelated to your cell connection, including the quality of your wireless and broadband connections.
Jeff Bertolucci is a freelance writer for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to [email protected]