Buying a smartphone was an easy task five years ago. There was not much to choose from and it often boiled down to picking between BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile, with the odd person opting for a Palm.
Today, going in for a smartphone is a much more complicated exercise because there are stacks of devices spread across a variety of operating systems. Windows Mobile is history and so is Palm, and ruling the roost is an operating system that is not even four years old—Android.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Symbian don’t bear much likeness to their earlier avatars. What’s more, smartphones are no longer limited to handling mails and office suites, and are expected to be adept at social networking and multi-tasking, just like computers of yore.
So which OS works best for you? Depending on your requirements, you can choose from the following mobile operating systems in the market, warts and all.
Google’s mobile operating system has emerged as the most popular in the world over the past two years. The reason is its simple, fluid interface and the fact that it is offered by most big manufacturers. Besides, the devices are available in a price range that varies from Rs 4,000-40,000.
Android devices are good at handling mail, social networking and browsing, usually come with touchscreens, and there are a lot of apps to choose from. The one big flaw is that updating it to the latest version takes time because manufacturers tend to delay sending software updates to the devices.
So the two latest versions of the OS are available for barely 10% of all Android devices. Also, while Android devices are available across a wide price range, the gulf between high-end and low-end ones is too big. While apps abound in quantity, their quality is suspect; Android has had its share of malware issues.
Pros: Good at multi-tasking and social networking, easy interface, lots of apps. Devices come in a wide price range.
Cons: Getting software updates can be a problem. Performance varies from device to device (better in high-end versions). There are security issues. It generally has a mediocre battery life.
Notable devices: Samsung Galaxy SIII, HTC One X, Sony Xperia S
The mobile operating system that virtually pioneered the touchscreen revolution is widely accepted as the most fluid and easy to use. It is icon-based and has no menus, and because it runs only on hardware made by Apple, it performs smoothly on all devices. Its biggest strength is the massive app reservoir, which allows users to do everything from editing presentations and playing games to editing videos on their iOS devices.
iOS is also regularly updated, and pushed out to all supporting devices directly with very little delay. Of course, all this comes for a price. Literally. iOS devices have hefty price tags though these do not fluctuate as wildly as devices on other platforms. The ability to do so much eats away at battery life, and barring the iPad, iOS devices tend to have low battery lives.
Pros: Fluid and easy interface, best app repository, very secure. Regularly updated across supporting devices.
Cons: It’s available only in high-end devices. The battery life of phones is on the lower side.
Notable devices: Apple iPhone 4S, The new Apple iPad
Less than half a decade ago, Symbian was the king of mobile operating systems. Today, its very existence is in question with Nokia having moved to Windows Phone and handing over the development of the OS to Accenture.
However, the OS remains formidable when it comes to multi-tasking—you can run half-a-dozen apps without much hassle. It also performs consistently across devices in a wide price range; a relatively low-cost Nokia E5 will perform basic tasks as well as the high-end Nokia E7.
However, Symbian loses out to the likes of iOS, Android and Windows Phone in its interface, which remains slow and laggard, especially when it comes to touchscreen devices. Still, it remains a good option for those considering their first keyboard-driven smartphones.
Pros: Excellent at multi-tasking, good at e-mail and navigation. Devices are available across a wide price range. It generally offers a good battery performance.
Cons: It doesn’t have as many apps as the competition. The interface tends to slow down over time. It could be phased out as Nokia moves to the Windows Phone.
Notable devices: Nokia PureView 808, Nokia E7, Nokia 710
A year ago, it was considered the only viable enterprise phone option. However, after turbulent times and not-so-successful products, there is widespread speculation about its future .
Still, there can be no doubting that the BlackBerry OS is one of the best for mails, social networking and messaging (BBM), with smooth integration across these services. It is also perhaps the only mobile OS that has been designed for both Qwerty devices as well as touchscreen ones. Besides, it is no longer a device only for enterprises. Its social networking muscle and BBM have made it a rage among collegegoers as well, as have the declining prices; you can get a BlackBerry for less than Rs 10,000 today.
Where it has lost ground, of late, is in its limited number of apps and ease of use, with the likes of Windows Phone, Android and iOS stealing a march over it.
Pros: It is good at handling social networks and e-mails, and BBM remains a popular messaging device. Designed for Qwerty and touchscreen gadgets. The devices span a wide price range.
Cons: Limited apps compared with iOS and Android. Interface is not as fluid and multimedia performance is not at par with the competition.
Notable devices: BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Torch 9860, BlackBerry Bold 9790
The past year has seen the Windows Phone emerge as one of the frontrunners for the mobile OS crown, especially after Nokia adopted it as its primary platform. Bearing very little semblance to the Windows Mobile OS of the past, it has one of the smoothest interfaces for any device, with no menus and lots of simple scrolling from side to side or from top to bottom. Its tile-based UI is zippy across all devices and software updates are delivered at regular intervals.
However, its users got a shock recently when they discovered that the devices running Windows Phone 7 and its variations would not be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8, which is to be released later this year. The apps are not in the same class as those of Android and iOS, and multi-tasking is currently limited. In terms of smooth performance, however, this is one of the best mobile operating systems.
Pros: Smooth interface, consistent performance across devices. Regular software updates and seamless social network connectivity.
Cons: Existing phones will not be able to update to the new version of Windows phone. Limited apps and multi-tasking ability compared with iOS and Android.
Notable devices: Nokia Lumia 800, Nokia Lumia 610, Samsung Omnia W
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