Review: Which smart phone 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.

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Browsing the Web

Browsing the Web is much more of a challenge on a small-screen device than on a laptop or desktop. This task tests, among other things, the usability of a smart phone's built-in browser, how simple it is to navigate a Web page without a mouse and the clarity of the device's display. We looked for how readable Web pages were, particularly Web pages that haven't been optimized for small-screen devices. We also looked for browsing aids like full-screen mode and zoom capabilities to make the page easier to read. And we examined how the device handled links to e-mail addresses and to PDF files.

The browsing experience

Browsing, using the iPhone's version of Apple's Safari, is very similar to browsing on a desktop, a claim none of the other smart phones in this group can make. Pages rendered accurately and quickly (the exception being pages with embedded Flash content or Java applets, which aren't supported by the iPhone's Safari browser).

Smartphone OS

The iPhone provided the most satisfying browsing experience.

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Thanks to the iPhone's touch screen, opening links and scrolling were as simple as tapping or dragging with a single finger. Zooming in and out was equally easy using the two-fingered pinch motion. Since Safari uses the entire screen and automatically rotates to landscape mode when the phone is turned 90 degrees, many Web pages were readable without the need to zoom at all.

The Nokia E71's Symbian-based browser also did an excellent job of displaying nonoptimized pages so they looked like the originals. Unlike the iPhone, with its ability to zoom in and out with pinching motions, the E71 required a trip to the menus for zooming and it didn't have a landscape mode. But like the iPhone, thumbnails of open pages were readily available via a simple menu option, making it easy to switch to an already-open page. Its full-screen mode was also helpful, particularly given the E71's modest 2.36-in. display.

The BlackBerry Curve 8310 was slightly less adept at browsing. With nonoptimized Web pages, its browser wrapped text to help with readability, but page elements such as frames were stacked one on top of the other instead of placing them in their original positions. A zoom mode was available via the menus, but zooming in on a page that's already improperly rendered page won't do anyone much good.

Like the Curve, the HTC Touch Dual's browser stacked Web page elements on top of each other, which made them confusing to read. Also, the HTC's keypad was particularly trying for typing URLs.

Mail links and PDFs

Besides links to other pages, many Web pages have links to PDF files and "mailto" links to e-mail addresses. All four phones were equally adept at handling "mailto" links, automatically loading an e-mail message window that was addressed with the proper e-mail address. And the iPhone, E71 and Touch Dual were equally adept at handling links to PDFs, automatically launching a viewer. However, the BlackBerry Curve 8310 does not have built-in support for PDF files -- you'll have to acquire third-party software for that.

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