- 17 Jun 09, 18:00 GMT
For the last week I've been trying out two very smart new phones and concluding that this is the year the mobile web revolution really comes of age - for those that can afford it.
The phones will be seen as the rivals in a heavyweight contest for the affections of consumers who demand an awful lot from their mobiles. One is the iPhone 3GS, the phone Apple hopes can build on the momentum generated by the success of the iPhone 3G.
The other is the N97, Nokia's latest N-Series device, which the Finnish giant of the mobile world believes can put its upstart rival from Cupertino in its place.
I needed help in this task - it's hard to give two phones a real-life test at the same time, when one of them will not have your usual number in it, so won't be used in anger. So I enlisted my producer Jonathan Sumberg. I told him that the N97 was supposed to be a smartphone that was idiot-proof - and he was the man to test that. But I also knew he was both a long-term Nokia user, and someone who saw little point in using the web on a mobile - so would this phone change his view? Here are his thoughts:
"Test driving this Nokia phone was a bit like working with Rory. It's a cliché, but it really was love hate.
I have always been a Nokia man, and while I have an Apple at home for a computer, I have never bought into the must-have-iPhone crowd. Every mobile I have ever owned has been a Nokia, so obviously I was excited about this one.
The touch screen took a few days to get used to, but after a while, I loved it. Better than the other touch screen I've tried, the Samsung Tocco, and with a really useful home page you can personalise to reduce the endless button pressing.
The keyboard LOOKS cool, but I am not sure who would actually use it for texting. I can tell my wife to 'put the oven on as I am leaving work' faster as a predictive text than one I would type out letter by letter.
The voice control worked well, most of the time. But I don't know why people would use it though - the thought of hearing "no match found" again fills me with horror. Frankly, if I want to call my wife or set an alarm or view the calendar, I'd rather press a few buttons.
The internet also worked well, and I was able to read up all the tech news on the BBC website. It was clear and I could zoom into the pages very easily.
Then I went to the Nokia Apps store, Ovi. Sadly this part of the test drive was the most frustrating. Having seen a little of the iPhone apps store, I knew Nokia had a lot to live up to. It took an age to register, and after an hour of trying to download a free Darth Vader ring tone, I gave up. Too many error messages.
It's at this moment, when frustration levels can go no higher, that I see myself telling Rory why I view my phone as just a device to call and text, nothing more. I know this makes me sound like a dinosaur, but if I want the web, I can use a computer, if I want my music, I can use an iPod.
Because I was frustrated, I didn't try to buy any music - I did however attempt to listen to some songs before I bought. As an iTunes user, I assumed Nokia would make this easy too. Nope. Again, after 20 minutes of trying to preview a Beyonce song, I gave up.
Quite a few negatives there, so you might be surprised to read that when Rory called me to part with the phone, I was rather reluctant. I loved the camera, I loved the touch screen, and I loved how much easier it was than the phone it replaces, the N96.
At first sight, the new iPhone looks identical to the old one - which is not a bad thing as the device crafted by Apple's Jonathan Ive is already regarded as a design classic.
There are some hardware differences, but it's a case of evolution not revolution. The key aspect, according to Apple is speed - that's what the "S" in "3GS" represents. And the phone does seem much faster when it comes to launching applications and loading web pages.
The other big change is aimed at improving the iPhone's weakest aspect, its camera. It's had a modest increase in megapixels from 2mp to 3mp - but it now includes autofocus, and a clever touch screen widget which enables you to choose just where to focus. While this leaves it still some way behind the N97's 5mp camera with its Carl Zeiss lens and flash, the iPhone now takes a surprisingly good picture.
And - at long last - it now has video capture too. This launches swiftly, takes perfectly acceptable moving pictures, and has one of those classic Apple touches, a very simple editing interface which allows you to top and tail your video clip and send it to YouTube.
However poor the iPhone's original camera, it was so easy to use that its pictures were far more likely to be uploaded onto the photo-sharing site Flickr than those from any other camera - the Nokia N95 came a very distant second. Expect the same thing to happen now with iPhone videos on YouTube.
I'm not so sure about two other innovations - the Voice Control feature and the inbuilt compass. At first sight - or sound - Voice Control is a brilliant party trick. You say to the phone "Play songs by The Killers", and a few seconds later out comes "Mr Brightside". But the more I tried it, the worse it seemed to get. "Play songs by U2" resulted in the phone trying to call Motorcyle News, and attempts to make calls or control the music went completely haywire. As for the compass, it may well help you find whther you're walking south or north, but it's hardly going to change your life .
But the real difference is not in the hardware but in the new 3.0 version of the iPhone's software. This fixes a number of long-standing grumbles from the phone's users - the lack of MMS messaging, the challenge of finding an old e-mail or a contact without a decent search function, and the absence of cut-and-paste, which made writing anything long a real pain.
The software also allows you to use your phone as an external broadband modem for any computer - though it will cost you £15 per month for 3gb.
The sheer usability of the iPhone has always been its main selling point, and it's now even more simple to operate. But of course all of these new software functions are available to exisiting iPhone users, without paying the hefty bill for a new phone.
So two phones which will probably appeal to existing fans of each brand. Whether either will prove a real game-changer is open to doubt. The iPhone isn't quite different enough from its earlier versions to win over a whole new crowd - and the N97 doesn't quite have the wow factor needed by a must-have gadget.
By the way, you may notice that the video which accompanies this piece features just one tester, myself. Letting the producer creep onto screen is always a bad idea - but he has edited the video and I hope you'll agree he's done a very nice job.
Update 1512, 18 June: A couple of points have been raised about this post, in comments and in messages to me.
Some people are asking why we didn't compare other phones, notably the Palm Pre and the new Android phone from HTC. Well, this was never meant to be a comprehensive review of the smartphone scene - just a look at the two phones coming out in the UK this week.
The Palm Pre might have made for a good comparison - except for the fact that it hasn't launched in the UK and we have no idea when that might happen.
The other criticism is that I failed to see what a breakthrough the compass on the IPhone will prove to be.
Now, it's true that the compass is more about telling the phone where it is rather than the user. That enables the kind of application now appearing on Android phones which enables them to "look" at a scene through the camera and overlay information.
This development, "augmented reality" as it is known, is getting many people in the mobile industry very excited. But remember when 3G launched and you were told that video calls would be the "killer app"? I'm still not sure that the compass will change the world, but maybe I should not have been quite so dismissive.
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