Consumers now have access to several cheaper smartphones that do as much, if not more, than the iconic iPhone.
Here, we review some of the best-selling iPhone rivals currently on the market and look ahead to the next generation of smartphones likely to hit our high streets in 2011.
When comparing tariffs using moneysupermarket.com’s mobile phones channel, we specified that we’d be happy with any network and wanted at least 300 call minutes, unlimited texts, 500 MB of data and a 24 month contract.
This Google Android-powered beauty boasts a very bright sharp resolution 4-inch active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) multi-touch screen that surpasses even the iPhone 4’s excellent visuals (the iPhone’s screen is 3.5 inches).
And, although it is almost identical in dimensions and looks, the Galaxy is a little lighter. With 8GB of storage as standard you can pop in a microSD card and boost this to 32GB if you need. Built-in ThinkFree Office software lets you write, read and edit Microsoft documents, but be aware that the QWERTY keyboard is an on-screen version. Some people find these a little more fiddly to use than the hardware versions.
Google Maps and Navigation work well with the built-in GPS as you might expect and the interface is easily customisable for people who like their apps and programs to be in just the right place. A 5 Megapixel (MP) camera is pretty standard these days but, all in all, this is a cracking all-rounder.
Cost: Handset free with pay-monthly deals from £30 a month (from £20 with cashback), or from £349.95 on pay-as-you-go.
As its name suggests, the main differentiating feature of the Android 2.2-powered Desire HD is the 720p video capture facility and its whopping 8MP camera with LED flash, allowing you to record and play relatively high-definition content. Couple this with a 4.3-inch screen and you’re in for a visual treat.
HTC offers its own ‘Sense’ touchscreen interface, allowing you to see seven mini home screens at the same time which you can arrange in any way you want with the swipe of a finger. It comes packed full of apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, as well as QuickOffice software for working on Office documents. One cool feature is auto-formatting when you zoom into a document, meaning you don’t have to scroll across all the time. All this is powered by a 1GHz processor so programs open quickly and internet browsing is fast on 3G and over Wi-Fi networks.
Cost: Handset from free with pay-monthly deals from £25.54 (£21.28 after cash-back), or £449.99 on pay-as-you-go.
RIM’s BlackBerry is still the favourite for business people needing a capable workhorse that can handle emails, texts and office documents with ease, not forgetting that almost-overlooked function: the voice call.
The BlackBerry Torch 9800, launched in the UK last summer, features the latest 6.0 operating system and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that leaves more room for a larger touchscreen, addressing one of the BlackBerry’s weaknesses compared to the iPhone and its ilk.
But at 3.2 inches the screen is still smaller than its rivals and some may find the keyboard somewhat cramped compared to the classic BlackBerry Curve, say. In going for the best of both worlds, has BlackBerry fallen between two stools? The 600MHz processor certainly looks and feels a bit slow compared to its 1GHz rivals, but the WebKit internet browser is impressive and Torch users now get instant access to the 20,000 apps available for download from BlackBerry App World.
Cost: Handset free with pay-monthly deals from £25.54 (£23.94 with cashback), or from £399.95 on pay-as-you-go.
Google’s newest dedicated smartphone is the first to pack the latest Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread’ operating system. Amongst other things this equips the phone to handle contactless mobile payments (see below). But otherwise it’s not a million miles from the Samsung Galaxy S, which isn’t surprising given that Samsung makes it.
The Nexus does come with twice as much storage (16GB) as standard, however, and sports a gently curving screen. The new operating system certainly rivals the iPhone 4 for smoothness and speed, and unusually for smartphones, comes with Flash support, enabling web pages to appear just as they would do on a desktop. You’ll pay more for these future-proofing features though.
Cost: Handset free with pay-monthly deals from £30 (£26.98 after cashback), or £429.99 on pay-as-you-go.
Running on the Windows Phone 7 operating system, LG’s Optimus 7 is another creditable rival to the iPhone, with all the internet connectivity and messaging we've come to expect from a touch-screen smartphone these days. Screen icons are large and the animated transitions between pages give a stylish, designer look, but you can’t customise pages in the same way as you can with the HTC Desire.
The Optimus is a great multimedia phone that lets you wirelessly stream music, photos and video to any computer or TV compatible with the Digital Living Network Alliance standards. It feels weighty and well-built and comes with a 5MP camera with face detection, flash and panorama features.
Although 16GB of storage is good, this isn’t expandable with a microSD card, and it has to be said that Windows 7 phones lag way behind the iPhone and Android phones when it comes to available apps to download. But one of the Optimus’s main attractions is price – it’s one of the cheapest smartphones on the market.
Cost: Handset free with pay-monthly deals from £25.54 (£20.75 after cashback), or around £399 on pay-as-you-go.
If, after considering all other smartphone options, you decide to go with the newest incarnation of the iPhone then you won’t be left disappointed.
Antenna problems aside, it still sets the pace for other manufacturers with its sleek, slim design; bright retina display, high-res graphics, LED backlighting; as well as its access to an astonishing 350,000-plus apps. Little wonder it recently won ‘Best Mobile Device’ at the Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona.
This revamped handset comes in a thinner than before version and has a bigger battery that can deliver 7 hours of talk time and 300 hours on standby. Both 16GB and 32GB versions boast an impressive retina display that gives a 960 x 640 resolution which Apple has packed into a 3.5 inch screen. Although not the largest mobile phone screen, it does mean pixels are pretty much invisible to the naked eye.
The camera has been upgraded to 5 megapixels and a much-needed flash has also been added, you can also now record videos in a HD format as well asediting at 720p resolution.
Apple is known for its innovative approach and you can talk to your friends face-to-face using the camera’s FaceTime functionality - it even has front and back cameras that you can switch between to show someone what you’re looking at. However, FaceTime only works if you are hooked up to a WiFi connection.
All of the other details that made the iPhone so popular first time round still remain the same with thousands of apps available through the hugely successful App World, although the Google Android Market is hot on its heels. Having said that, it’s still the must-have smartphone for design-conscious gadget lovers.
Cost: (32GB version) handset free with pay-monthly deals from £30 (£28.13 after cashback), or £600 on pay-as-you-go.
Why platform matters
Now that Nokia has decided to team up with Microsoft and ditch its own Symbian operating system in favour of Windows Phone 7, the Smartphone stakes has become a four-horse race, with Nokia and Microsoft joining battle with Google Android phones, Apple’s iOS and Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the Blackberry. More competition should be good news for consumers.
But the problem with all these competing platforms is that they’re incompatible. Switching to a smartphone with a different operating system means that all the apps you’ve downloaded and paid for are not transferable. This may well be enough of a nuisance to keep customers loyal to compatible phones. At least with Google Android phones you have lots more choice.
Coming soon to a smartphone near you…
The smartphone is evolving fast. On top of voice, text and data services new handsets from Nokia, Samsung and LG will feature a contactless payment facility in the second half of 2011. Featuring Near Field Communication (NFC) technology we’ll be able to pay for things simply by touching our phones against the vendor’s machine in the same way London Tube travellers use their Oyster cards. Mobile payments have been promised for years, but it does finally look as if their time has come.
LG is even launching a smartphone with 3D capability later this year - the Optimus 3D – featuring a dual-core processor as well as the ability to view and record 3D content. Most smartphones are likely to switch to much faster dual-core processors before long.
One of the iPhone’s weak points has been its high price, still costing as much as £770 for the 32MB version on a SIM-free basis. Current competitors are at least £100-£200 cheaper, and new entrants into the handset market, like China’s ZTE, are rapidly bringing smartphone prices down even further. Bad news for Apple; great news for us.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.