Which smartphone OS works best?

Considering a smart phone? Will it do what you want it to? We tested four major platforms to see which is best for specific tasks.

Setting up an account

All four of the devices in this group provided wizard-like interfaces to gather basic e-mail information such as username and password. Using those interfaces, we were able to set up Gmail accounts quickly on all the devices.

Adding a new account for another service went equally well with the iPhone; after adding our e-mail address and password for the other service provider, it validated our account and affixed the proper SMTP server. Things weren't as simple, though, with the other three smart phones, which required us to dive into the interface for issues such as setting up the SMTP server.

This task was particularly trying on the HTC Touch Dual because those settings were buried many layers deep in the Windows Mobile interface. By contrast, these settings were just a single layer deep in the Nokia's menus, with the BlackBerry's settings being a bit deeper than that in the menus.

Typing and sending a message

All four devices have an option on their home screen that takes you to the built-in e-mail program. Once you are in the e-mail application, starting a new e-mail message requires either pressing an icon or selecting a menu option. All except the Nokia auto-suggest names when typing in the To: text box. However, the Nokia required us to use the menus to select a name, a minor but constantly recurring annoyance.

Creating an e-mail message on a smart phone will be satisfying only if you're comfortable with the keypad. Keypad preferences are always subjective, but we found the Nokia E71's 37-key QWERTY keypad to have a clear advantage. The keys are easily distinguishable one from the other, which speeds typing. In addition, it and the iPhone are the only devices with separate keys for the "@" symbol and ".", which are used commonly in browsing the Web and e-mail.

Like all iPhone applications, typing an e-mail on the iPhone relies on the onscreen keyboard, which takes more than a little getting used to. While the auto-correct feature compensates a little, the process wasn't as fast and easy (or as accurate) as using a button-style keypad.

Not all button keypads are created equally, however. The BlackBerry Curve's keypad was not quite as satisfying as that of the Nokia or the iPhone. Its 35 keys were smaller than the E71's and a bit harder to find.

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