Smartphones in Canada: Comparing the iPhone 3GS, HTC Dream, HTC Magic and Palm Pre

June 9, 2009

Here is my comparison of the four cool new smartphones available this month in Canada: The iPhone 3GS, available on Rogers and its kid brother Fido; the HTC Dream and newer HTC Magic available on Rogers; and the Palm Pre, available on Bell.

Pricing and cost

First, cost. The Canadian wireless companies compete gently and their plans are very similar. For an average smartphone plan, with a couple hundred minutes daytime, unlimited evenings and weekends, a few hundred text messages, a healthy data plan and a few necessities like caller ID and voicemail, we can expect to spend on the order of $100/month. Most of the providers require a three-year contract or carefully price things to make the contract worthwhile. That means we’re expecting around $3600 in recurring costs over three years. With this in mind, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to worry about the difference between an upfront $99/$149/$299/$499 for the phone: It’s a small slice of the pie. We use our phones all the time. We should just focus on getting the best phone available.

That said, the iPhone 3GS pricing is unannounced. It’s safe to assume it will look something like the 3G pricing at $300 with a three-year contract. The Magic and Dream are both $150 with a three-year contract, $600 without. The Palm Pre pricing is also unannounced.

Phone Price
iPhone 3GS ~$300
HTC Magic $150/$600
HTC Dream $150/$600
Palm Pre ?

Physical Dimensions

The Dream is a clunky beast next to others, weighing in at 158g compared to the iPhone and Pre’s 135g and the Magic’s trim 116g. The Pre and Dream are thick at around 17mm compared to the Magic’s 13.6mm and iPhone’s 12.3mm. This makes me sad, since my elderly Motorola L2 beats them all at 11mm.

The Pre is a little stubbier than the others, peering up from 100.5mm at the >110mm-tall others.

Phone Height Width Depth Weight
iPhone 115.5mm 62.1mm 12.3mm 135g
Dream 117.7mm 55.7mm 17.1mm 158g
Magic 113mm 55.56mm 13.65mm 116g
Pre 100.5mm 59.5mm 16.95mm 135g

Keyboards

The Dream and Pre both have physical keyboards; the Magic and iPhone lack them. I think in general a physical keyboard is a boon but not a deal-sealing killer advantage. Millions of happy Blackberry users will back me up that keyboards are good; Millions of happy iPhone users will back me up that keyboards aren’t strictly necessary. Though I haven’t played with one myself, I imagine that Google’s Android engineers have built a virtual keyboard that is every bit as good as Apple’s.

Phone Keyboard
iPhone Virtual
Dream Physical
Magic Virtual
Pre Physical

Radios

All the phones have Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g). I worry, though, about the HTC phones. The HTC spec pages customized for Rogers omits any mention of Wi-Fi capabilities, whereas it is mentioned in others carriers’ pages. Could Rogers be planning on funking with the Wi-Fi? I hope not.

The iPhone and HTC phones are GSM phones. These three all support UMTS/HSDPA and Quad-band GSM/EDGE. To be fair the iPhone supports one additional UMTS frequency, 2100MHz, but nobody cares. Rogers is building out an HSDPA network which currently covers most of metropolitan Canada. Since I live in Toronto, I would have access to it.

The Pre, being a Bell phone, supports CDMA/EV-DO on two frequencies. Translation: Slower internet. GSM is also better for travel in most parts of the world.

The Pre boasts Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, whereas the HTC phones have Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. 2.1 makes Bluetooth easier to use, among other minor improvements. The iPhone spec sheet claims Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, but it is crippled to support only handsfree/earpiece devices.

Short-Distance Radios
Phone Wi-Fi Bluetooth
iPhone Yes 2.1+EDR (limited)
Dream Yes 2.0+EDR
Magic Yes 2.0+EDR
Pre Yes 2.0+EDR
Long-Distance Radios
Phone UMTS/HSDPA GSM/EDGE CDMA/EV-DO
F(MHz) 850,1900 2100 850,900,1800,1900 800,1900
iPhone Y Y Y
Dream Y N Y
Magic Y N Y
Pre Y

Displays

All four displays are 320 by 480 pixel touchscreens. The iPhone’s is largest, at 3.5” diagonally, and the Pre smallest at 3.1”. For crisp readability, what matters most is the pixels-per-inch. The iPhone is 163ppi; the others are higher. So there is a tradeoff between crispness and size here.

Phone Display Diagonal
iPhone 3.5”
Dream 3.2”
Magic 3.2”
Pre 3.1”

Sensors

All four phones have 3 megapixel cameras. The Pre has a flash, which is nice, though it must make the battery cry in hot, lithium-ionic pain. The iPhone records 640×480 video. Android supports video recording in software; I’m not sure what resolution these particular phones can sustain. The Pre doesn’t support video out-of-the-box, though Palm has said they might add the capability in software later.

The iPhone and Pre have ambient light and proximity sensors. That means the display can adjust itself to light conditions, and the phone can tell when you’ve put it up to your face. All four phones have accelerometers and digital compasses.

Side note: Digital compasses are awesome, because it means your maps always point the right way. Since I have the geospatial IQ of a toddler on ecstasy, I need this.

Phone Camera Video Light Proximity Accel. Compass
iPhone 3MP 640×480 Y Y Y Y
Dream 3.2MP Y N N Y Y
Magic 3.2MP Y N N Y Y
Pre 3MP (flash) N – maybe later Y Y Y Y

Horsepower

Raw specs. It’s very hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons here.

The iPhone wins on raw storage capacity. The HTC phones are weak on built-in storage, but they have a MicroSD slot. The biggest MicroSD cards are 16GB.

I don’t know what kind of processor the iPhone has; suffice to say it’s good. The Palm Pre apparently sports an ARM Cortex processor, which is a true beast of a machine if true. This seems odd though, given its stated lack of 3D support.

This is the area where the newer Magic beats down its sibling Dream. The extra RAM is necessary given the desire to use several applications at once.

Phone Storage Processor RAM +MicroSD 16GB
iPhone 32GB ? 600MHz 256MB N
Dream 256MB Qualcomm 528MHz 192MB Y
Magic 512MB Qualcomm 528MHz 288MB Y
Pre 8GB ARM Cortex ? N

Batteries

I’m forced to rely on manufacturer claims here. I care mostly about battery performance when using the phone in a 3G environment. Apple claims 5 hours of talk time or internet use for the 3GS; I don’t know the battery specs. The Pre and Dream have 1150 mAh batteries, not as enduring as the Magic’s 1340 mAh battery, but that doesn’t say much. The battery life depends on the software and the performance of all the hardware in the device. So we can guess that the Magic will outlast the Dream, but we can’t easily compare the iPhone with the Pre or HTC phones.

Phone Battery
iPhone 5 hours
Dream 1150mAh
Magic 1340mAh
Pre 1150mAh

Features

Operating Systems

The iPhone runs a variant of Mac OS X, programmable in Objective-C. It has its benefits and faults. These are well-known and thoroughly discussed elsewhere.

The HTC phones run Google’s Android software. It’s open source and supports many languages already. You don’t need to wait for anyone’s approval to make an Android application. Of the group, it’s the best.

The Pre runs on a new operating system called WebOS, which is a custom-tailored Linux. Pre applications are web apps that run with additional JavaScript libraries. Nobody knows yet whether or not a large developer community will rally around the Pre.

Tethering

“Tethering” means using the phone’s internet connection for a laptop. Most modern phones could support tethering if only the phone companies would let us use the feature. I think tethering will be available on all of the phones at a steep, ugly price. I don’t know anything about the official tethering policies for Bell or Rogers.

3D Graphics

The iPhone and HTC phones have built-in support for 3D graphics. The Palm Pre doesn’t, despite its powerful central processor.

Multitasking

The iPhone only lets you run one application at once. The other phones don’t have this restriction. I suspect the iPhone will get multitasking in a future software update, but who knows how long this will take.

Miscellaneous

What else is there to talk about? The Pre has a brilliant wireless charger and some new innovative syncing software. The iPhone integrates beautifully with Mac OS X and iTunes. The HTC phones integrate best with Google applications.

Phone OS Tethering 3D Multitasking
iPhone Mac OS X ? Y N
Dream Android ? Y Y
Magic Android ? Y Y
Pre WebOS ? N Y

Conclusions

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone’s biggest advantages:

  • Well-known and well-understood
  • iTunes/Mac OS X integration
  • Big storage

Its big disadvantage is the closed nature of the platform.

HTC Dream and HTC Magic

The Dream is the better Android phone for keyboard lovers. Otherwise, the Magic is the better choice of the two. Android is the big advantage for the two HTC phones.

Palm Pre

Finally, the Pre’s advantages:

  • Multitasking (over the iPhone)
  • Better hardware features (over the HTC phones)

The Pre’s crippling disadvantage is Bell Canada.

Deciding

I think the iPhone is the better phone right now. But, I think its lead will vanish by the end of the year. New Android phones will learn the iPhone’s lessons, and their hardware will surpass it.

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11 Responses to “Smartphones in Canada: Comparing the iPhone 3GS, HTC Dream, HTC Magic and Palm Pre”

  1. Ian Says:

    Any indications of phone viruses yet and whether any of them are more vulnerable then others?

    As for tethering, unless you talk to a really good, techie from Rogers or Bell, you are not likely to get a correct answer. I talked with someone at Rogers that tried to sell me a “phone/stick combo that included a 3G data plan and phone plan”. Unfortunately, when I starting looking on their website, the ‘3G’ was not 3 Gig, but a 3G phone … Bell was not much better, until I talked with a wireless internet specialist. That specialist was very specific in stating that tethering is not allowed – the data plans are *just* for the phone – and I seem to recall going over quota was extremely expensive. So, for now, I’m sticking with my Pogo phone … hard to beat $100/year … although I don’t use it all that much.

  2. amos Says:

    3Gs comes in 16 and 32GB versions like its predecessor. Apple is knocking price of 3G down to US99 and pricing 3GS16 at US199 and 3GS32 atUS299. Rogers is likely to follow suit.

  3. Ken Says:

    You have made some errors in your comparison. The Bluetooth for the iPhone is locked to connecting with only earpiece and handsfree devices, while it is open for the HTC phones (not sure about the Pre). As well, MicroSD cards come in sizes up to 16gb which are all supported by the HTC phones. So the iPhones big storage advantage is not that great.

  4. aran Says:

    Thanks Ken! That’s good to know… I’ll update the post.

  5. Heh Says:

    I do believe Rogers is actively supporting tethering as they made mention of it on their website as a part of the 6GB data plan for $30/month promotion.

  6. MooF Says:

    +1 to Heh,
    Tethering is explicitly advertised for the iPhone 3GS on Rogers website. It explains you need 1gig or more dataplan to allow tethering… read up on it.

  7. Drallcome Says:

    Sorry to say that even with the tethering added to my 6GB data plan, the HTC Dream can not use this feature out of the box. One must use PDAnet or wait for the ability to root the phone and install Wi-Fi Tether from the app market. Rogers was happy to add tethering to my plan, though they would leave it up to me to find a way to get it to work on my phone as the Magic and Dream officially “do not support” tethering, quoted from HTC.ca


  8. […] + iPhone Fail. July 7, 2009 A while back I compared the big smartphones available in Canada. I decided I wanted the iPhone 3GS. Then I compared Fido to Rogers for my needs and found a Fido […]

  9. Anonymous Says:

    THANK U THIS WAS WELL DONE

  10. joel Says:

    the pre has 256mb ram and a ARM Cortex A8-based OMAP 3 processor that does 600Mhz

  11. MJ Ochoa Says:

    The besy strategy to find the right mobile phone for yourself is to do side by side comparisons. Every smart phone has its strengths and weaknesses. You will discover whatever you are searching for to buy the ideal smart phones here.


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