Smartphone Browser Shootout: Palm, BlackBerry, HTC Vs. iPhone
Has Apple succeeded in setting a new mobile Web-browsing paradigm? We examine how the Palm Treo, BlackBerry Curve, and HTC Wing stack up against the iPhone.
Service Company: T-Mobile Price: $500 (w/o service plan)
The Wing is an HTC product that looks like a candy-bar cell phone with an exceptionally large screen instead of a number pad. Then you turn it sideways and slide the front plate up to reveal the QWERTY keyboard. This personality change yields a horizontal screen with a 3:2 aspect ration and a 2.4-inch diagonal.
The Wing runs the Windows Mobile OS and offers a good range of page display modes, including a more or less faithful rendering of the page as it would appear in a desktop browser.
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The Wing is the newest entry in a line of smartphones that has been a big hit for HTC -- its forebears include the 8525 sold by AT&T (where it's called a "PDA" device rather than a smartphone), the PPC 6700 sold by Sprint (soon to be replaced by the 6800), and the i-mate KJAM sold by other global service providers. All are about the same phone, give or take some size differences and a feature or two. All, importantly, are Windows Mobile devices.
That's good, because the Windows Mobile platform brings along a lot of media support for free. But it also brings along Internet Explorer -- in earlier versions of Windows Mobile it was called Pocket IE; in the current version 6, it's called IE Mobile, or IEM for short.
The Wing provides a good physical platform for Web browsing. At 320 x 240 pixels and a 2.8-inch diagonal, its screen is big. Its slider keyboard is very usable. Unlike other HTC phones, the slider opens to the right, which puts the D-pad on the left when you hold the Wing horizontally -- good for note-taking righties, perhaps, but not so good for lefties.
IEM takes good advantage of the screen real estate with several display modes. One Column mode works much like it does on the Treo and Curve; Fit To Screen is a compromise between the original page design as it might appear in a desktop browser and the one-column mash-up with goal of eliminating horizontal scrolling, and Desktop keeps the same layout and size as a desktop browser -- with all the problems of steering the keyhole view around the page that implies.
Unfortunately, what isn't available is any more flexible control over the browser display like that in the Curve or even the Treo -- especially, no switch to turn off CSS support.
Windows Mobile has been justly criticized for its clunky menu structure that can hide frequently used phone features several layers down. IEM doesn't escape this problem. There are no onscreen icons for browser functions (the row of icons in the title bar is devoted to phone functions, even when you're in the browser) and everything you want to do is buried under the Favorites and Menu menus -- sometimes three levels under.
IEM isn't all about negatives. Microsoft has done a lot of work to make Windows Mobile a full-fledged corporate application platform -- it's not just called Windows, it works as much as possible like desktop Windows under the covers. IEM benefits from this by supporting a wide variety of Web standards (though sometimes in true Microsoft fashion, which is not necessarily to support the established standard, but to support what Microsoft thinks the standard ought to be). Depending on the version of Windows Mobile (there are two), you can even get support for more or less standard things like Adobe Flash (it's supported in Windows Mobile Pro, which runs on touchscreen smartphones including the Wing).
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