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Blackberry Torch v iPhone: head-to-head comparison

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Handheld smart phones, iPads, and other devices are rapidly becoming essential medical tools for doctors to retrieve dug prescribing information, electronic medical records, email with patients, alerts from monitors, etc. Blackberry recently released what some call the “iPhone killer” with their Torch that has a full touch screen interface like the iPhone, and also has a slide out real mechanical keyboard for those who find virtual keyboards unacceptable. The people at RIM sent us a Torch to review and we compared it head-to-head against the iPhone.

The physical design of the Torch is well done. The keyboard slides out easily and the buttons on the keyboard have good tactile, or haptic, feedback. The touch screen of the Torch seemed to function as well as the iPhone. Both devices are very close in size and weight.

Critics of the resolution of the Torch screen are misinformed on this point. The complaint is that somehow the experience of viewing movies on a tiny screen will be diminished? First, the Torch screen resolution is just fine. Secondly, the human eye and brain cannot distinguish fairly low-resolution digital moving images from extremely high resolution moving images. It is only with still photos where resolution becomes crucial. (Per conversation with the designer of the first digital movie camera for Industrial Light and Magic, 1999. SE Greer also demonstrated this in a scientific survey before thousands of doctors at the 1999 ASPS meeting.)

The main advantage of the Torch over iPhone is the superior email. Blackberry devices are compatible with corporate America and provide the most secure email. Evidence of this is that some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and India, are now actually complaining to RIM that they cannot break in and spy on Blackberry email. President Obama uses a Blackberry for a reason. In this day and age of rampant theft of your personal information from places like Facebook, Google, most websites, etc, it is refreshing to find a device with security. Blackberry email also “pushes” to the user and does not require constant checking of inboxes as does the iPhone.

In short, Blackberry email is for professionals. iPhone email is for teenagers who primary text message.

For text messaging, the Blackberry messenger, or BBM, is gaining popularity. In a nutshell, it incorporates many of the features of LinkedIn or Facebook by allowing friends to be defined and text-messaged as a group.

For web browsing, the iPhone has the edge. RIM has made a strategic decision to not support Flash. Therefore, many websites do not function on the Torch. In our experience, web sites such as CurrentMedicine.TV with embedded YouTubes, etc, work flawlessly on the iPhone. Another nice feature of the Torch browser is that it uses a full desktop system, and not a browser customized for handhelds.

For those who have a need to have an acceptable camera with them at all times, the camera on the Torch is leaps and bounds better than the ultra-crude iPhone. The real flash on the Torch works well. The video of the Torch is also better than the iPhone. Steve Jobs, for unknown reasons, has made photography a low priority for the iPhone. (The newest iPhones with the double-sided camera allowing for Face Time video conferencing is a feature rather than a camera matter.)

Consistent with the business pedigree of Blackberry, the Torch is almost a tiny laptop in that it allows files such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, etc to be transferred between the Torch and the PC. One could make a business presentation by connection a Torch directly to a digital projector. The speakerphone of the Torch is also loud enough to conduct a real business conference call.

The iPhone has an edge over Torch in the number of third-party application programs (Apps) that can be downloaded. However, in our experience, most of these Apps are frivolous junk and not of interest to the professional. Some Apps on the Torch, such as Bloomberg, and the GPS turn-by-turn driving navigation are not available in the same quality on the iPhone.

The new operating system built for the Torch plays media just as well as the iPhone. However, it still crashed on us and required the infamous “Battery boot” familiar to all Blackberry users. The iPhone OS also accrues bugs and requires rebuilding once a month or so, in our experience using a PC with the iPhone.

In the end, the winner of our head-to-head comparison was the Blackberry Torch. Our readers and viewers are professionals who need real email that is secure, and a device with a real keyboard. Google also realizes the importance of the keyboard and the Android-based phones have slide out keyboards much like the Torch. If Steve Jobs stubbornly insists on the all-virtual keyboard, iPhone will be in second or third place in about a year from now. Whatever advantage iPhone might have over Torch in the Apps department or web browsing could not offset its inferior keyboard, camera, email, file transfer ability, and battery life.

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