It's been eight months since Apple released the iPhone 3G. That's years in smartphone time, and a number of potent competitors have emerged to challenge the groundbreaking iPhone. Consumers now have a good selection of touchscreen phones that have the smarts of a handheld computer. Touchscreens provide added convenience and speed, and all of these handsets come with powerful software and allow users to add other applications.
Each is also tied for now to one carrier in the United States. That keeps their costs at $200 or less (after rebates and with contracts), but also limits their availability to a single network. That alone may make the choice for consumers who need widespread coverage or in specific areas.
Here is a look at the iPhone and its four strongest challengers:
iPhone 3G. Unquestionably still the king of cool, thanks to its sleek design, well-crafted software and unequaled Web surfing. The iPhone has tremendous momentum in the accompanying App Store, where developers have contributed more than 15,000 programs and users have downloaded more than 500 million. The 3G model allowed the iPhone to tap high-speed networks, but stumbled initially with complaints of slow connections and dropped calls. Those problems appear to have subsided with software updates, but users still complain of short battery life. Available through AT&T.
BlackBerry Storm. The first touchscreen model from Research in Motion brought added fun to the normally staid BlackBerry. The phone remains primarily about getting things done with its best-of-class E-mail, messaging, compatibility with Microsoft Office files, and battery life. The Storm offers good media software, and its camera can capture video. Overall, its software doesn't match the iPhone's applications for ease-of-use on a touchescreen. An applications store is still in the works. The clickable screen is a gimmick without much, if any benefit. The Storm also suffered from initial software glitches that have eased somewhat with updates. Runs on Verizon's network.
[Read how the Storm stumbled early against the iPhone]
Palm Pre. Not even on the market yet, the Pre has generated excitement with demos of its rounded case, packed hardware features and inventive software. Palm's historic strength is in managing contacts and personal information with easy to use software. The Pre extends that with wireless links that automatically sync data between phone, Web services such as Facebook and desktop PCs. The new WebOS system also allows easy multitasking by flipping through application "cards" that stack up on a PC-like desktop. A hardware keyboard slides out from behind the handset, making the phone a bit thicker than others but a champ for messaging. Coming to Sprint before July.
[Read how other carriers may soon offer the Pre]
T-Mobile G1 -- The slide-out Qwerty keyboard is the best thing about this handset, which otherwise is about a bet on the future as Google throws its muscle behind a phone system called Android. The hardware suffers from a somewhat clunky look and feel. But the initial software is polished and intuitive. It has built-in links to free Google Web services like E-mail and calendar if no ability to edit Office documents. The store for downloading new apps has been slow growing, perhaps because Google only recently allowed paid software, but shows promise with developer support for the phone's open-source approach. Available through T-Mobile.
[Read more about the Google phone's open-source appeal]
Samsung Omnia -- The phone's TouchWiz software puts a friendlier face on Windows Mobile, a powerful software system that is generally more awkward than competitors. TouchWiz enables custom home pages with software widgets that allows easy access to a music player, photos, notepad and/or any of about a dozen other functions. Users otherwise fumble through menus that, while offering robust features, seem more at home on a desktop than handheld. Windows does provide smooth syncing with desktop software including Outlook and packs strong multimedia capabilities. The phone's 5-megapixel camera with multi-mode shooting also stands out. Available from Verizon.