Nerd Wars of Religion


Reading some of the BlackBerry addict sites today, I was not surprised to see that the Faithful were up in arms over the heretical teaching of Consumer Reports.  The American magazine came under fire for having the gall to rate the iPhone and several other smartphones above the BlackBerry.  Yes, I know CR has been involved in several lawsuits and controversies regarding their reporting.  But I simply can’t stand nerd religious wars (i.e. Mac vs. PC [vs. Linux], PS3 vs. Xbox 360, boxers vs. briefs, fish vs. cut bait), and this is a prime example.

A particularly ludicrous rant comes from Alexander Wolfe, “advanced technology” blogger for Information Week.

Even more mystifying is that fact that, on Consumer Reports‘ full list of smartphone ratings, a BlackBerry doesn’t appear until No. 7. That’s after the iPhone, Palm Treo 755P, Samsung BlackJack, Motorola Q, and Treo 680. How can a BlackBerry be below a couple of Windows Mobile devices like the BlackJack and the Q?

As an former owner/operator of two Treos and three BlackBerries, let me break it down for you.

Things BlackBerries Do Really Well (Compared to Treos):

  • Provide wireless push messaging and PIM sync services.
  • Run a small number of third-party applications from device RAM.
  • Run applications that pull data from wireless connections rather than an onboard database.
  • Task switch/multitask, especially with an active data connection.

Things Treos (Palm OS or Windows Mobile) Do, but BlackBerries Can’t:

  • Keep applications on the SD card, only loading them into RAM at application launch.
  • Read data and execute applications from the SD card.
  • Employ a touch-screen and stylus, thereby avoiding endless scrolling and clicking.

How do these examples play out in the real world?

Example 1: Navigation

Let’s say you have a fancy new BlackBerry with onboard GPS receiver.  You’re in the middle of nowhere—Baffin Island—and want to find out where the nearest town is.  Get out your BlackBerry, turn on the GPS receiver and voila, you are shown a spot on a blank map.  I said a blank map—the BlackBerry doesn’t keep its maps in device RAM (nor on the micro-SD card).  It downloads maps on an as-needed basis using your cell phone connection.  Not so useful any more, is it?

Your Treo, on the other hand, stores all of its third-party maps on the SD card.  It doesn’t even have a built-in GPS, so you have to use a GPS puck connected via Bluetooth.  But you have the advantage of being able to utilise GPS in the absence of a cellular connection.  Which is more useful to you?  Kind of depends on where you travel, doesn’t it?

Example 2: Inefficient Use of Device Memory

Want to read an e-book or access a large-ish local database on your BlackBerry?  Those need to be stored in device RAM, which is somewhere between 64-72 MB (minus a dozen MB or so for device firmware and OS).  Device RAM is also where all of your call logs, tasks, calendar entries and emails live, so you can’t eat up too much of that space.  Want to store applications on the micro-SD card and load them into RAM when required?  Sorry, can’t do it.

Your Treo, on the other hand, can store applications on its SD card, loading them into device memory when launched.  Your Treo is also smart enough to be able to read e-books, databases and data of most types directly from the SD card, so you are not eating up precious device memory just storing your currently-dormant applications.


I happen to like both device types for different reasons.  Users will have a variety of viewpoints on the utility of these devices.

BlackBerries are unbeatable in a corporate environment because they provide the connectivity and messaging that corporate users crave, while simultaneously providing the security that corporate IT groups crave.  BlackBerries are terrific in situations where you have wireless data coverage, the information you need is easily accessible via wireless connection, and your IT department concurrently needs the ability to make your BlackBerry drop dead when (not if) you are an idiot and misplace it.

Treos (and iPhones, and others) are great in the prosumer realm because they provide a broader feature set and can sacrifice some security and control for a different user experience.  They are also good in situations where a wireless connection is not guaranteed (like the subway, or Baffin Island), because you can carry the bulk of your data with you on the SD card.  On the downside, their integration with corporate messaging is usually handled through third-party applications, and they have no integral remote-kill, which makes them more risky for corporate environments.

Different situations call for different tools.

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One Response
  1. Damian says:

    Different situations call for different tools.
    Wrong. All situations call for more Fred Thompson.