Comparing the BlackBerry Torch 9650 and the HTC EVO Shift 4G

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This is a guest post by Joe Pawlikowski. If you wish to write one, kindly check out the guidelines to write a guest post.

It’s not every day that the BlackBerry gets compared to anything Android. Normally such a comparison would get laughed off the internet before it even started. For the past few years BlackBerry has been nothing but a bad joke, while Android has risen to prominence. Any Android would beat out a BlackBerry, right?

Not so fast. The new line of BlackBerry smartphones might have a chance.

Android aficionados might have difficulty stomaching the idea that a BlackBerry might outperform an Android. A year ago the thought was unfathomable. The BlackBerry represented the old world: an operating system designed for the tech-disinclined, a slow processor, and no killer apps. True, BlackBerry still represents the old world. But this time around they left their knives at home and instead brought a projectile weapon to the gun fight.

To get a sense of how they compare, let’s take a look at two devices from Sprint. Representing the Android side is the EVO Shift 4G. Representing the BlackBerry side is the Torch 9850 — which we’ll refer to as the BlackBerry Monaco as to avoid any confusion, and to avoid using the silly call numbers that RIM insistently employs to brand its devices. Here’s how they stack up.

Hardware

While different Android devices sport various hardware profiles, HTC is known to rank among the better manufacturers. Surely they’d be expected to best RIM, which has for so long sacrificed speed in the name of battery life. As mentioned above, things have changed this time around.

The exterior (and screen)

There’s something to be said for a smaller phone. But then again, there’s something else to be said about larger screen size and higher resolution. In most ways these two devices are comparable. The Monaco is 0.1 inches larger in length, width, and height, but also packs a screen that is 0.1 inches larger. In terms of picture quality, though, you’ll hardly notice a difference. Both are 800 x 480 pixels resolution, so we can chalk this one up to a virtual draw.

Processor speed

Believe it or not, RIM actually packed the BlackBerry Monaco with a processor that will rival most Android offerings. It clocks at 1.2GHz, which is by far the fastest BlackBerry to date. The EVO Shift? Its clock speed is just 800MHz. While specific chip designs can close the gap in processor speed, this does not appear to be the case here. The EVO is fast enough, but the Monaco zips. It appears we have our first score for BlackBerry.

Weight

At 4.8 ounces, the Monaco is not exactly light. Yet it doesn’t feel very heavy in the hand. The EVO, however, weighs about an ounce more. That might not seem like a lot, but when it’s hanging out in your pocket all day it can make a difference. Still, it’s not as though the BlackBerry has an overwhelming victory here. We can hold back on this one.

Memory

Not only did RIM up the processor speed with its new line of BlackBerry devices, but it also increased the on-board memory. Its 4GB of internal memory doubles the capacity of the EVO, and its 768MB of RAM is 50 percent greater than the EVO. That’s yet another reason why the Monaco seems so much faster. Its not just the clock speed; it’s the RAM, too. Both devices, by the way, can fit microSD cards of up to 32GB. That certainly helps mitigate the storage issue.

Software

While the BlackBerry Monaco features hardware that is on par with, if not better than, the EVO Shift, it’s really the software that has been the difference between Android and BlackBerry. Yet RIM did upgrade its operating system for this new release. Does it stack up?

To be fair, the operating systems themselves are difficult to compare. There are many different skins and launchers for Android that can change the way they function. There are also custom operating systems that tech savvy users can install (after rooting the phone). For these purposes we’ll just stick to the basics.

Email

It’s the most important feature on any smartphone, at least for a large number of users. The BlackBerry handles email better than any other smartphone platform, and it remains that way with the Monaco. Users can add multiple emails and then check them either separately, or in a consolidated messages app. Replying, forwarding, and filing are just clicks away.

The email system on the EVO isn’t bad, per se. It handles Gmail splendidly — even better than the BlackBerry, because it instantly syncs. But if you want to add a webmail account you’ll have to use a separate application. And then there’s a separate spot for SMS, while BlackBerry gives you the option to consolidate all messages. Overall, it does appear that BlackBerry retains its title for overall messaging services.

Instant Messaging

Here the Shift wins out, but not by much. Previous incarnations of the BlackBerry had difficulty handling certain instant messaging apps, specifically Google Talk. It would run slowly, as did most things on the BlackBerry. But the faster processor and additional RAM allow BlackBerry users to keep Google Talk open and running. Best of all, they show up in the notification bar, so it’s easy to find when you have new messages.

But on the other hand, Google Talk is a Google product, and they do have a better presentation on Android. It feels quite a bit more natural, and is a bit more responsive. This is the case with just about any instant messaging app on Android. They’re not necessarily bad on BlackBerry. They’re just that much better on Android.

Social networking

Surprisingly, RIM’s version of the Facebook app stacks up very well with other platforms. In fact, it’s quite a lot like Android’s version of the Facebook app. Twitter, too, shares many likenesses. The only difference with Twitter is that there are many, many more third party options on Android than there are on BlackBerry. In fact, that’s the one thing we’re getting to.

Application environment

Sorry, BlackBerry, but there is just no way that BlackBerry App World holds a candle to the Android Market. Even if the entirety of App World was opened up to the Monaco, it still wouldn’t touch the EVO on this. But not every app in App World is compatible with the Monaco. It has to be compatible with BlackBerry OS 7. Many apps are compatible only with older versions of the OS. Meanwhile, nearly every app in the Android Market is compatible with Android 2.3, which is the latest version of the operating system.

This is just one category, sure, but it’s quite a weighty one. The app marketplace makes the smartphone world go around. While the Cult of Apple has certainly led to the rise of the iPhone, the robust app market is an even bigger reason. The more people can do with their phones, the more willing they are to invest the money in them. With Android there is a wide range of apps, and most of the time there are multiple apps that do the same thing. That brings more competition, which means better apps. On the BlackBerry there just isn’t that competitive app market.

In fact, if you go through BlackBerry App World you’re apt to find three types of apps in abundance, and none is particularly appealing to the general user. First, themes. Themes are nice, but with the new BlackBerry OS they’re largely unnecessary. There are themes for Android, too, but they take up a far lesser percentage of the Market. Second, ebooks. These are not included in the Android Market, but they’re a huge percentage of App World. They are of little use to the general user, given all the e-reader applications, with their own stores, out there. Third, radio station apps. They might be nice for local users, but their general interest is limited. Plus, there are plenty of all-purpose streaming music apps that can provide similar functions.

Conclusion

There is a faction of smartphone users who need their devices only for email, organization, and the occasional web browsing, and for them the BlackBerry might be the way to go. It’s fast, it’s simple and it’s intuitive. There really is no better messaging system out there, and the BlackBerry can handle all basic functions with speed and efficiency. That is, they’ve massively improved the product and can hold their heads high with a quality smartphone.

Yet there is another, perhaps larger, faction of users who want their smartphones to do more. And for multi-thousand-dollar investments, they should expect the very most. Android simply delivers that better than BlackBerry. There really is no getting around this. You can simply do more on the Android platform, and it all comes from the apps. So while the hardware profiles might be similar, and while basic functions might go to BlackBerry, almost everything else goes to Android. And that’s why it’s the platform more preferred by consumers.

In other words: good try, BlackBerry. You delivered a good product. It compares surprisingly well with Android phones — far better than I expected, and I’m sure most others expected. But it’s not there. Not quite yet.

Joe writes for BBGeeks.com, a site that helps users get the most out of their BlackBerry devices, including the BlackBerry Monaco.