SmartPhone Bleg: Blackberry vs. iPhone

I've got to get a new BlackBerry or move to the iPhone and am looking for suggestions.

I’ve been meaning to trade in my three-year-old BlackBerry Curve 8300 for some time now and a new policy at the office is forcing me to hurry up and do it.

My free choices:

  • BlackBerry Curve 8900
  • BlackBerry Bold 9000
  • BlackBerry Bold 9700
  • iPhone 8GB 3GS

Alternately, I can wait for either the iPhone 4 16GB or 32GB to come in stock and pay a sizable sum out-of-pocket for the device.

Caveat:  Network is not a consideration.   I’m stuck with AT&T regardless.  And Droid isn’t an option, either.

I mostly use the BlackBerry for email, although I’d probably do more web browsing on it if it didn’t suck at that task.  I like the keyboard.

Is it worth the learning curve to move to the iPhone?   If so, is the 4 series model worth waiting for?  A $200 out-of-pocket expense is something I can absorb and ultimately write off on my taxes, so I’m willing to do it if the difference is phenomenal.

And how is the app war going?  Is this something that even matters to a 40-something who isn’t interested in having vampire wars?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    I’ve had no problems with my 8g iPhone 3g. I carry it in my front jeans pocket, no case, no worries. this despite the fact that I sometimes notice myself leaning over a desk or table, with my weight on my iphone.

    I kind of plan on an android switch, but no hurry.

    (oh, the wired, non-bluetooth mic connection stopped working, maybe because I was sticking 3’d party headphones in it, but i never bother to get that looked at. stick with apple phones and their mic)

  2. Trumwill says:

    Have you ever tried typing on a virtual keyboard? You might want to before committing to a phone without a physical one. Some people love it, though I hate it. Don’t underestimate the importance of the keyboard if you’re going to be doing a fair amount of typing on it.

    The iPhone has a lot of good apps even if you’re not interested in Vampire Wars. Some bands, for instance, will let you deposit checks by taking a picture of the check on the iPhone and sending it through on a particular app. I don’t have (nor do I want) an iPhone, but every now and again I hear about apps like that which would be genuinely helpful.

    My inclination is to say that if you use your phone as more of a utility, go with the Blackberry. If you think you really want to be able to surf, perhaps the iPhone is better. I know that since I upgraded from a 2.4″ screen Windows Mobile phone to a 3.6″, my surfing has gone up immensely.

  3. alkali says:

    There is essentially no learning curve with the iPhone. It is as good as they say in that regard.

    The iPhone keyboard is perfectly adequate for short and medium length (1-2 paragraph) e-mails. The keyboard on the Blackberry is better for long e-mails.

    The 8GB version of the iPhone is fine; it just limits the device’s utility somewhat as a personal entertainment device (i.e., if you would like to carry with you more than a few hundred pop songs plus a couple movies). I have a 32GB 3GS but have never come anywhere near filling it up.

    The iPhone 4 (my wife has one) has a nicer camera and display, and can do face-to-face video chat. Those are nice things but I won’t upgrade for that.

  4. Trumwill says:

    Oh, and I should add… I’m generally an iPhone skeptic, but given that it’s an iPhone, the iPhone 4 looks like a really great phone. Antenna-gate, which it’s been fun for us skeptics, is really overblown.

  5. Kenny says:

    Dr. Joyner,

    I just converted last week from a WinMobile Motorola Q — a cousin/competitor of the Blackberry, if you will — to the iPhone 4. I plan to use it to as a teach example and to shoot more video and so on. My wife is converting from her Blackberry to the iPhone as soon as hers arrives.

    One of my best friends, the early-adopter tech geek kind, has the iPhone 3GS and is lusftul over my 4. He’s ready to upgrade. The camera and video are HD on the 4 and are excellent. The learning curve hasn’t been bad. There are things I don’t know yet, sure, but in a day I was easily doing all of my regular phone-text-surf exercises. I’ve been adding free apps — the ones I’ve downloaded are fortunately excellent, and can actually save you money via coupons and price comparisons, etc. Some, I hear, are poor. I haven’t purchased any apps yet, but I’m eyeing a few.

    My wife has enjoyed her Blackberry, but she’s looking forward to the Facetime/Coupon apps (and so on) features of the iPhone. If you wish to integrate iTunes the iPhone is an excellent way to go. If you’re really happy with your present use I’d consider staying with Blackberry. If you want to expand your phone use habits the iPhone is certainly capable of flexing those muscles.

    (If you already have unlimited data for $30/month you can be grandfathered in to keep it. I’d recommend that, rather than going to the 2GB for $25/month.)

  6. I absolutely, positively adore my iPhone. It is one of my favorite pieces of technology ever (and you know how I like my gadgets). It is in the pantheon with my TiVo. (I have a 3GS).

    I was only briefly a Blackberry Curve users, and it was fine, but the iPhone is better for the kind of things I like to do.

    The web surfing capability is quite nice (and I like little things like searching for a business on the browser, finding the number on the web page, and being able to click the phone number and have the phone dial the number for me). While the screen is small, it is possible to do regular browsing and reading sans problem.

    The keyboard takes a little getting used to (indeed, the only thing superior on the Blackberry is the keyboard, IMHO).

    I like having the iPod integrated as well.

    Things I use a lot with it: e-mail, web surfing, Facebook, iPod, Google Maps (which works better, to me, than on the Blackberry), a few games, and it also handy as a PDA in terms of note taking and integration with my Google Calendar. There is also a Tweetdeck app. I also frequently use the Weather Channel app, the ESPN Radio and the Public Radio app. There are several good news and sports apps I consult when needed.

    Battery life for the Blackberry is better, but if you remember to turn off the WiFi when not in use, it last quite a while. It charges quite quickly via a USB connection.

  7. Also: the camera on the 3GS takes photos that make nice 4×6 prints, which is nice to have when Katie does something cute and there is no other camera around. The 4 is supposed to have an even better camera.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    My son has the iPhone 4G — mine is on order.

    Setting aside the fact that AT&T is managed by cretins, imbeciles and low contemptible malign ass-hats, that their network is only slightly more effective than waving semaphore flags, and that were an alien force to descend from orbit and obliterate everything with the AT&T logo on it we’d have to consider it an act of intergalactic charity, I love by 3G, and he worships his 4G.


    iPhone = good.

    AT&T = dishonest, thieving, lying, incompetent, business-killing enemies of all that is good and decent. In my opinion. Also in my opinion it’s possible that they hate America.

  9. Dodd says:

    After two consecutive BBs started failing on me in about a year, I recently switched to an iPhone (3G S).

    I am totally happy with it (and even happier I didn’t wait for the 4). I haven’t gone all app happy, but there’s no comparing the breadth or quality of the options as between the two on this score.

    The 3G is significantly slower, so pony up for the 3G S if you go that route.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    And strangle puppies. In my opinion.

  11. Ryan Gleason says:

    I’m going through the very same debate right now and don’t have the platform to get the kind of feedback that you do. So, I’m going to lurk around here and benefit from the knowledge of your readers. Thanks!

  12. Kim Priestap says:

    I’ve got the Blackberry Bold 9700 and love it.

    I also have an iPod Touch so I have been able to experience the iPhone email, and if you get a lot of email every day, you may not like it. It does not offer any of the flexibility that the BB email client offers.

    With Blackberry’s keyboard shortcuts, you can hit T, which you know takes you to the top of your email, press the Blackberry button, and do any number of things. You can delete all the previous emails, mark them all open, compose an email, send a MMS or SMS text, search, and any other number of things.

    With iPhone’s email system, if you’ve got a lot of old emails you need to delete, you have to select and delete each one individually. I’ve got over 4,000 old emails in my iPod touch because it had been too time consuming to wade through them all and delete them. Unfortunately, I’ve got no clue how to clear them out. I don’t remember the software changing when I synced up last time either.

    It’s clear, at least to me, that the iPhone was designed for the consumer while the Blackberry was designed for the business user.

  13. I just had to upgrade from the Blackberry curve. After looking at the iPhone vs. the Blackberry Bold 9700, I went with the Bold. The websurfing on the Bold has been immeasurably improved compared to the surfing on the Curve. Indeed, its quite similar to surfing on the iPhone. The things that Steven mentioned–like surfing, finding a number, and calling–is all possible on the blackberry (and indeed has been for awhile).

    As noted before, I think it depends on what you need to do while in the field. As a campaign manager, I need constant email access, ability to edit documents on the fly, and quick web access. Youtube apps and the rest are really just creature comforts that really, in the end, don’t matter to me. Browsing has vastly improved on the blackberry, so while the iPhone is better, its not leaps-and-bounds better like it used to be.

    As far as the apps wars goes, the blackberry doesn’t have nearly as many as iPhone or Droid. The apps it does have, though, are all very stable and are mostly designed for functionality. That is, it has good map and navigation apps, great financial apps (the ability to take a picture of a cheque and deposit it is available on BB too), and a great office suite. The blackberry bold handles youtube quite well without an app needed (something the curve was horrible at). It doesn’t have many games or entertainment apps, but for me that’s not really important.

    I believe the blackberry battery life is far longer too.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  14. WuzzyWoozle says:

    Still, you have to compare all that to other phones available.

    Here is a humorous vid on youtube that compares teh features of an iphone with an HTC EVO.


  15. Oh, one other point. A lot of the great things about blackberries are only discovered by really doing research. It’s a marketing failure on the part of blackberry, but not a device failure. I recently discovered the ability to do remote searching through all of my email accounts at once, and it has now saved my ass precisely 4,852,236 times.

    The iPhone is more user friendly, and hence its good features are immediately noticeable without having to dig through all your options.

    It’s like firefox versues IE. Firefox is stronger and faster, but you have to know what you are doing to maximize its benefits.

  16. LaurenceB says:

    Lots of good advice here. As a Mobile Software Architect I carry an Android, an iPhone, and a Blackberry with me all the time – Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T.

    I agree strongly with Kim Priestap above on the strength of Blackberry email and I would add that it has enterprise features (included in the Blackberry Enterprise Server) that are not available on other devices. Trumwill is also right about the keyboard. If your main interest is email, get a Blackberry. Get a Bold with a touchpad, not a trackball (the trackballs die).

    The iPhone is a better surfing device because it’s browser is built on WebKit, whereas the Blackberry browser is built on crap. RIM has announced that the newest 6.0 versions will have WebKit browsers. Of course, that doesn’t help you.

    The dirty secret about the iPhone’s 300.000 or so apps is that a lot of them are games and books and stuff like that. If you’re looking for business apps (weather, news, stocks, banking, etc.) you can usually find them for the Blackberry – although RIM has been very successful in hiding their market place from users.

    Personally, I think Android has the momentum, and that would be my personal choice (EVO or DroidX), but you say that’s not an option for you.

  17. John Burgess says:

    I’m not, by any stretch, a ‘power user’, so I’m very happy with my 8GB iPhone 3GS. In fact, I generally use my phone as, well, a phone! I’m not enamored of the touchscreen keyboard, though it works. I’ve used it for brief blogs and e-mails, but dread using it for something at any significant length.

    I’ve perhaps a dozen apps that please me and that I find useful–no games, so I can’t recommend anything. I’d upgrade to the newest, G4 iPhone if my contract didn’t have another year to run, primarily for a better camera.

    Things I like about my iPhone:

    It’s worked flawlessly for me in Europe and the Middle East, though for God’s sake turn off the GS service and rely on WiFi! Unless your boss is paying the bills of course…

    I can control it easily enough so that I can quell potentially obnoxious behavior at will. Disabling transmissions with a simple switch (as on airplanes) is nice.

    There are good Apps available for a wide range of professional and personal interests, many of them free.

    I do like being able to use the camera (limited as it may be) almost instantly, still or video.

    I’ve never really used a Crackberry, other than to play with, but it strikes me as the better choice if you’re going to be doing a lot of writing. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself, though…

  18. sookie says:

    Why are you limiting yourself. Look at an Android for which ever service you prefer.

  19. Can’t comment on the iPhone, but I have a Blackberry Storm and *HATE* it with a passion. I liked it just fine when I first got it, and wouldn’t have much to complain about if it actually worked right. Unfortunately, I’ve found the device to be horribly unresponsive and slow (not talking network connection, just the responsiveness of the device itself). Worse, it’s prone to periods of just hanging and not doing anything for significant periods of time (from say, 30 seconds to as much as 2-3 minutes). Worst of all, as a software developer myself I’m well aware of not only exactly why the device behaves so craptastically but *also* exactly how one would go about fixing it, and that just amplifies my irritation more than I can describe.

    It functions *just* well enough that I can’t justify spending exorbitant amounts on a new phone, so I’m waiting for my contract to hit the next subsidy point before I pitch the damn thing and get a Droid. But if I had it to do over again, I definitely would *NOT* get one again.

  20. Should’ve paid more attention and noticed that you specified specific BB models, none of which is related to my Storm. My comments on the Storm still hold, but I realize now that they’re not really all that relevant to the current discussion.

  21. Raoul says:

    I have an Iphone- battery power sucks-u have to charge it every night- everything else is OK.

  22. LCB says:

    Wow…I’m shocked at this thread. Two viewpoints without any sniping! 🙂

    Blackberry’s are excellent at corporate email/calendar/contact functions. With Blackberry Enterprise Server, the user is completely synced with his Exchange account. No one, not even Microsoft’s Win Mobil devices, come close. Oh yeah, I’m a BES admin!

    But, if the corporate experience isn’t your enviornment, then take a close look at how both devices work in hand for you. Typing a lot of email on a touch screen is a pain, but so is typing on a tiny keyboard. It is simply a matter of choice.

    As to battery life, I think it may depend on the Blackberry. I have a 8530 Curve 2. I’m lucky to get through a day without charging at some point. My old Curve 8330 would go a day and 1/2. Part of this is due to BES. If a BB is connected to BES, it is checking every 3 minutes for email as well as the normal functions of a phone. I’m not sure what the sync rate is if you are using other forms of email, but I do know my gmail app only checks about every 5-7 minutes.

    Good luck

  23. Trumwill says:

    Michael Reynolds actually touches on a point. Like most iPhone users, he hates AT&T with a passion. I liked AT&T and was sorry that I had to leave them (though I am satisfied with Verizon, too). But he uses and iPhone and I never did and you will frequently find that AT&T-hatred falls along those lines. If you are satisfied with AT&T now, you may find that you don’t like them so much if you switch to the iPhone since the iPhone is a subpar device in many respects and gets a pass because everyone blames AT&T there seems to be a problem with the iPhone on AT&T’s network.

    An aside:

    I’m personally a Windows Mobile user until I figure out what I want to switch to next. The iPhone and Android have limited video features available by comparison, though there is a new video player on Android that piques my interest. Also, despite the fact that most WM applications are getting old, there is so much history there that there are a lot of neat little Apps. And since they don’t play gatekeeper, there are apps that can actually dig into the basic functionality of the phone and change the way WM does things (which is good, because often the way that WM does things frequently needs changing). I am hopeful that as time passes Android will be similarly flexible.

  24. For what it is worth, and pursuant to the last comment, I have had pretty good experiences with AT&T, both pre-iPhone and with the iPhone.

  25. John Burgess says:

    I’ve no serious beef with AT&T, though I do notice voids in coverage along the I-95 corridor in the Carolinas. When I’m in one of my fixed locations, coverage is just fine.

    Battery life on the iPhone could certainly be better. But I do plug it in every night to recharge. As I also use it as my alarm clock, this is not a problem. But because hurricanes are a fact of life where I live, because electric power can be down for days in consequence, I do have an external battery, just in case. Of course, if the towers go down, that’s not a lot of help…