The smartphone user experience: iPhone vs Android vs Blackberry vs Windows Phone 8

For the first few years of the world famous Broadband Genie Road Trip we were operating with a skeleton crew, just the bare minimum needed to cover the main networks.

But with our team bigger than ever this year we took the opportunity to expand its scope to cover more than just dongles. 

As well as testing tablets on the move we had a handful of recent smartphones which we put through their paces in the beautiful city of EdinburghWe weren’t looking at phone specs, speed tests or the ability to stream video on the move, but instead considering the user experience. 

In many cases our people had never used these operating systems, and they were supplied with a fresh factory reset, so having to quickly find their way around was a challenge.

The group was split into four teams and given a phone along with a cryptic list of famous Edinburgh tourist attractions. The rules were simple: pinpoint the locations and navigate your way around the city using only the functions of the phone. Old fashioned paper maps or asking the locals was strictly forbidden.

Nokia Lumia 620

  • 1GHz dual-core
  • 512MB RAM
  • 3.8-inch, 480 x 800 display
  • 8GB storage
  • 5-megapixel rear camera
  • Windows Phone 8

Nokia’s budget Windows Phone 8 handset is a cute, compact smartphone with a peppy design that’s very similar to its bigger Lumia brothers. The 620 also gets removeable covers just like the Nokia phones of days gone by.

Nokia Lumia 620As a WinPho device it of course features Microsoft’s brave Windows Phone interface. The UI has been praised for offering something different, but it left Rob and Saisha - our Nokia-equipped team - unimpressed.

"The Metro icons and style made navigating the interface really tricky" and "the icons weren't very intuitive” were just two of the comments made about the unique WP aesthetic.

What about Nokia Maps? That’s often cited as the best example of a mobile mapping tool, however even that wasn’t enough to make them happy: “I thought the maps weren't great”, said Saisha, “we struggled to find where we were.”

One thing we specified was that the teams had to use voice control when it was available, and that seems to be a high point for Rob: “The voice recognition worked really well, even with some of the more complex sentences and words.”

The hardware also left a positive impression. “The design of the phone felt comfortable in the hand, much more so than an iPhone!” 

Apple iPhone 5

  • 1.2GHz dual core
  • 1GB RAM
  • 4-inch, 640 x 1136 display
  • 16/32/64GB storage
  • 8-megapixel rear camera
  • iOS

In the interests of balance we included the iPhone 5 in our Edinburgh challenge, even though many people are intimately familiar with the world’s most popular smartphone. However, half of Team Lewzie (that’s Lewis and Lizzie) is an Android owner, so they weren’t using one on a day to day basis.

Apple iPhone 5And they had to deal with Apple Maps. “We were able to find most landmarks on Apple Maps but it was more commercially focused so would show a pub or hotel named after a landmark before the landmark itself, and often instead of.”

“Another downside to the mapping was that you couldn't drop more than one pin at a time so it was tricky to find locations that were nearby each other.” At least it didn’t direct them into the middle of a road or out into the Highlands, so Apple Maps does seem to have got past some of its early teething problems.

Lizzie had her designer hat on, and was fairly happy with the iPhone 5 camera. “The camera was fairly easy to use and has a nice interface that allows you to move the focus, however, you may not know this on first use as there are no visual clues. The photos produced were of a decent quality.”

One issue we encountered with other smartphones was the weak battery life, but their iPhone 5 stood up to two hours of constant, demanding use. “All in all the phone allowed us to concentrate on the challenge rather than getting caught up in the drawbacks of the phone.”

Sony Xperia Z

  • 1.5GHz quad core
  • 2GB RAM
  • 5-inch, 1080 x 1920 display
  • 16GB storage
  • 13.1-megapixel rear camera
  • Android 4.1.2 'Jelly Bean'

Sony’s Xperia Z Android phone signals the start of a new mobile strategy for the Japanese giant, now entirely free of its Ericsson partnership. The Xperia Z is a slick, sexy high-tech slab, all jet black casing and sharp angles. There’s a hefty amount of horsepower packed inside its slim lines, too.

Sony Xperia ZIt’s also completely waterproof, which is very cool. And useful if you’re prone to dropping handsets in the toilet.

The Xperia Z went to Tom and George, both dedicated iPhone users with no Android experience. How would they cope with the change?

“The transformation from iOS to Android wasn't easy, but it would be harsh to put the full blame on the phone”, said George. “Navigating round the phone wasn't straight forward, and we noticed that it took a lot more clicks to do anything than it did on the iPhone.”

Tom wasn’t enamoured with the Android UI either: “it took a while to get used to using and navigating Android, and didn't seem as intuitive as my iPhone.”

And he wasn’t keen on the size of it (he’s not alone, the Xperia Z has been criticised for its slightly ungainly design): “The Sony was awkwardly large, too big for my tastes, although the large screen did help with our tasks.”

One thing they both appreciated was the camera. “Probably the best camera on a phone I've seen.”

BlackBerry Z10

  • 1.5GHz dual-core
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4.2-inch, 768 x 1280 display
  • 16GB storage
  • 8-megapixel rear camera
  • BB10

This handset was perhaps the most interesting contender. It’s the very latest release from the artists formerly known as RIM and we hadn’t seen much of it before now. Plus most of the team - Dan, Mollie and Louis - weren’t all that familiar with Blackberry.

Blackberry Z10The Z10 is a pretty radical departure from past Blackberry devices, taking design cues from the iPhone and big-screen Android smartphones. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into its looks, something that wasn’t missed by the team.

Dan declared it a “great looking device with some well thought through features.”

“It was nice to hold and light in the hand. The screen was an ideal size and was easy to use with one hand.”

“Very modern and cutting edge” was Mollie’s verdict.

The new BB10 software has also been radically overhauled compared to previous Blackberry handsets, including numerous touch features and improved software keyboard to make up for the lack of a hardware QWERTY keypad.

“The keyboard was easy to use with the new gesture style typing and word prediction was very accurate”, says Dan. “However, the new gesture control took a while to get used to and I felt the touchscreen wasn't the most responsive. I sometimes found myself accidently swiping to the notifications panel when I didn't want to.”

Mollie also agreed that the touchscreen was lacking: “The touch screen feature wasn't as robust as my iPhone, and I often had difficulty zooming in on the map.”

“The mapping software wasn't anywhere near as featured as something like Google Maps. I had to actually use Google Maps on the web to find some of the locations we were looking for.”

One thing the whole team agreed on was the quality of the camera. “It was a very good camera, producing some quality images which were clear and well focused. Some pretty cool features as well such as the facial recognition feature. Uploading to Facebook was easy by selecting the images I wanted and sharing them with the Facebook app, which seemed like it was just a port of the Android app.” 


  • unhappy

    by steve at 14:41 on 13 Jan 2014 Report abuse

    Terrible choice of Nokia to compare it to others as it is a budget phone (that you mentioned) while all the others were premium models. The Here maps are excellent and a lot better to use for navigation than most others especially on a bigger screen.
    You also managed to find someone that didnt know that the arrow button is a back button - wow, get a better reviewer.

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