Smartphone OS smackdown: WebOS vs. the world

WebOS needs to beat -- not meet -- Apple iPhone, Google Android , Microsoft Windows Mobile, RIM BlackBerry and Symbian S60

Microsoft Windows Mobile

What it is: Microsoft's mobile edition of Windows, of course. Version 6.1 ships on phones from manufacturers such as HTC (with its Touch Diamond2 and Touch Pro2), Motorola, Palm, and Samsung.

How it works: Windows Mobile mimics full-strength Windows, complete with a Start menu and system tray. This isn't a virtue--who wants to squint at tiny icons on devices meant for on-the-go use? Manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung supplement Windows Mobile with their own software layer or with tweaks to the underlying Windows Mobile OS. For instance, several HTC devices cover up part of Microsoft's stylus-oriented interface with a fingertip-driven system called TouchFLO; it's nowhere near as elegant and intuitive as the iPhone interface, however.

How it looks: It's workmanlike. But it falls far, far short of iPhone OS's surface gloss.

Built-in applications: The version of Internet Explorer on current phones is so profoundly archaic that HTC provides Opera Mobile on some of its models. On the other hand, the productivity apps--basic versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint--aren't bad.

Third-party stuff: The best thing about this OS is the sheer variety of available applications in every category. Utilities such as Lakeridge Software's WisBar Advance let you tweak the interface's look, feel, and functionality, thereby compensating for some of its deficiencies. But Windows 6.1 still has no built-in application store.

Bottom line: Windows Mobile has fallen way behind the times on multiple fronts. Windows Mobile 6.5--which delivers a more modern, touch-driven interface, a better browser, and a download store--isn't expected to show up on phones until September, and in any case doesn't close the slickness gap between Windows Mobile and iPhone OS, Android, and WebOS.

Nokia Symbian S60 5th Edition

What it is: The newest version of the venerable Symbian mobile OS, with more entertainment features and a new interface that permits iPhone-like touch input, as seen on phones such as Nokia's 5800 XpressMusic (here's a look at that phone by PC World's Daniel Ionescu.)

How it works: Like an aging platform that's been updated to reflect the iPhone era. For instance, as Daniel notes in his review, the 5800 XpressMusic retains old-fashioned scrollbars that are easy enough to manipulate with a stylus, but tough to control via fingertip.

How it looks: Decent enough, but icons, typography, and other interface details lack the refinement of the ones in Android, iPhone OS, and WebOS. It's serviceable, not beautiful.

Built-in applications: Time was when Symbian had some of the most sophisticated software to be found on any mobile device, and it's still impressive in some ways--such as the support for multitasking and cut-and-paste. But Symbian needs more updating: For instance, its browser pales in comparison to iPhone OS's Safari and other newer entrants, and its e-mail handles plain text only.

Third-party stuff: The Symbian OS has been around for so long that it's supported by a wealth of useful software, but for the most part these applications haven't been updated to make use of 5th Edition's touch-centric approach. Nokia's Ovi Store on-device software store, which launched last month, is not yet available in the United States, and reviews have been lackluster. Symbian software remains available from other app purveyors, such as Handango.

Bottom line: 5th Edition gets Symbian part of the way to where it needs to be to compete successfully with the young whippersnappers among mobile operating systems. But it needs more than a fresh coat of paint to stay relevant in 2009 and beyond.

Palm WebOS

What it is: The all-new Palm operating system that debuts on the much ballyhooed Palm Pre. Palm says that WebOS will appear on other phones in the future; rumor has it that AT&T will get a low-cost WebOS device called the Palm Eos this fall.

How it works: Overall, really well--it's responsive and fun. In some respects, it feels like the iPhone OS, such as in the way it uses multitouch input to let you resize Web pages and photos. But it also introduces features and concepts not found on the iPhone--most notably the ability to multitask multiple applications and manage them using "cards" that appear on your desktop.

How it looks: Lovely--this is the first mobile OS to compete with iPhone OS for sheer aesthetic splendor, and it appears crisp and elegant on the Pre's relatively small screen. Ultimately, I'd give iPhone OS the edge because it's less cluttered and more consistent. But WebOS is a close second.

Built-in applications: WebOS's standard productivity apps for e-mail, calendar, task manager, and the like are straightforward and useful. The most striking thing about them is WebOS's Synergy feature, which melds information from disparate sources--for instance, it can merge your Gmail and Facebook contacts into a unified address book, and enables the e-mail application to indicate whether a contact is online at the moment for a chat via instant messaging. On the other hand, the Universal Search feature--which actually searches only the names of your contacts and applications, plus Web services such as Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter--doesn't live up to its lofty name. (I was expecting it to search my e-mail, calendar, and documents, too.) Though WebOS is much less media-centric than iPhone OS, its music app is surprisingly good: You can buy MP3s from Amazon and sync directly with iTunes. But WebOS provides no mechanism for buying or renting commercial movies or TV shows for its video player.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags smartphoneswebOSsymbianiPhoneGoogle AndroidWindows MobilePalm PreRIM BlackBerry

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Harry McCracken

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?