BlackBerry Torch vs Motorola Milestone vs Palm Pre Plus

So, after months of speculation the BlackBerry Torch touchcreen slider has been launched along with the BlackBerry 6 OS software. This flagship RIM handset will no doubt capture the hearts of hardcore BlackBarians the world over, who will doubtless head straight out onto the intertubes and get their pre-order in. However, those closer to the mobile phone fence might be less sure if it’s the QWERTY phone for them.

It’s not just Apple and Symbian that have seen customers opting for Android over their own well developed mobile operating systems. With the likes of the G1 and more recently the highly acclaimed Motorola Milestone (Droid in the US), there have been a few hard keyboard fanciers that have made the jump too. What's more, there's also the loner that is the Palm Pre Plus to consider. So, now that the BlackBerry Torch has arrived, which truly is the QWERTY phone of choice? You guessed it, it’s a good old fashioned spec off show down.

Form Factor

Tie: Torch
111 x 62 x 14.6 mm, 161.1g

Tie: Milestone
115.8 x 60 x 13.7mm, 169g

Loser: Pre Plus
100.5 x 59.6 x 16.95 mm, 135g


Despite the slideout QWERTY, the Milestone’s waistline is remarkably slim putting handsets in a similar vein, such as the G1, to shame. It’s well put together with a smooth action and you really feel like you’ve got something well made in your hands. It’s not small, but not HTC HD2 massive either.

It’s a bit of a mix when compared to the Torch. The BlackBerry is certainly fatter but actually lighter at the same time. It’s a little more squat but, then, that’s BlackBerrys for you. With two a piece on size, we have to call it a draw. Your call at the end of the day - fatter, shorter and lighter or heavier, thinner and longer.

The Palm Pre Plus is bottom of the heap though. It's a lot lighter, a little smaller but considerably fatter. Worst of all though it's just not very nice to hold. The build quality is poor and it's all a bit, well, plastic.

Display

Winner: Milestone
3.7" LCD, 265ppi, 16:9, 854x480px

2nd: Torch
3.2" LCD, 187.5ppi, 480x360

Loser: Pre Plus
3.1" LCD, 186ppi, 320x480


The 16:9 aspect display is rather nice and quite a rare touch on smartphones, whilst the 3.7” size of the Motorola LCD is certainly ample, if increasingly average, in this day and age. Naturally, it’s multitouch and although not quite the same colour boost you’d get from an AMOLED screen, the pixel density is nice, crisp and equivalent to what you get on the Nexus One.

Being a BlackBerry, the Torch was never really going to win this one. Simply put, it’s a smaller phone, with a smaller screen and fewer pixels packed into it as well. If you’re after something to watch videos on, then it’s the Milestone for you.

Bringing up the rear, but only by a tail is the Palm Pre Plus. To be fair, its screen is nice, bright and clear. It's just a bit small.

Connectivity

Winner: Torch
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), 3G, MediaSynch

2nd: Pre Plus
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), 3G

Loser: Milestone
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), 3G


All the major food groups represented for the Motorola Milestone. It’s set for world use with quad band on GSM but, other than that, it really just fills the brief. Nothing to get particularly excited about. The same is true for the Pre Plus and it's only the inclusion of magnetic induction charging that lifts it a fingernail above the Motorola.

The Torch has all the same major credentials - including the likes of Bluetooth and A-GPS, unmentioned, as all three handsets have them - but there are two important additions worth noting. The first is the further reaching and faster n-Wi-Fi standard and the second is the MediaSynch functionality as provided for by BlackBerry 6. The latter allows the user to synch all their consumables over Wi-Fi without so much as a cable in sight. There are third-party apps that do the same kind of thing, but these things just work better when they’re built by the manufacturer.

Storage

Winner: Torch
4GB expandable with microSD

2nd: Milestone
256MB expandable with microSD

Loser: Pre Plus
16GB


The stats say just about everything here. The only point to add is that the Milestone comes with an 8GB card in the box and the Torch just a 4GB. Technically speaking, the Palm Pre Plus wins out of the box but, just in case you missed it, there is no microSD card slot at all.

Battery Life

Winner: Milestone
1400mAH, 6.5hrs talk, 380hrs stby

2nd: Torch
1300mAH, 5.5hrs talk time, 408hr stby

Loser: Pre Plus
1150mAH, 5hrs talk time, 350hr stby


The first two phones on the list aren't too shabby on battery life, despite the headline battery specs not being up to the 1500 and 1600s of the more popular smartphones. Apparently these two just don’t need that kind of backing. All the same, they last a good length and while standby is all very well and good, phones are for talking - so it’s the Milestone that wins this one.

Sadly, again for the Pre Plus, it's beaten into submission with a fairly terrible offering here. Our review revealed the battery life to be a major issue. Still, there is that touchstone to enjoy. You'd better get used to it.

Software

Tie: Torch
BlackBerry 6

Tie: Milestone
Android 2.1/2.2
Tie: Pre Plus
WebOS


At the time of writing, the Milestone runs on Android 2.1, but it’s a matter of days until 2.2 comes over the air. All the same, it’s rather tricky to compare the three systems. Essentially, what you get with Android is something more customisable with more applications but marginally buggier too. The Torch has arrived with BlackBerry 6 proudly atop its chest and, although it’ll never match on third party software, the excellent messaging and security credentials of RIM have just got a boost; offering its customers more social integration and just an all round sexier experience.

Then throw into the mix the fantastically put together webOS, which now belongs to HP, and you've got three of the best operating platforms in the business. If it weren't for the lack of current official support and free mapping navigation, you might give it to the Palm. As it stands, we'll just have to leave it as a case of horses for courses.

If you’re a hardcore mailer/IMer, you might prefer BlackBerry. If you want to be more original, go for the Palm Pre Plus. Otherwise, it's the Milestone for you - just a shame it'll be too low specced to get Android 3.0 when it's pushed out.

Engine Room

Winner: Torch
624MHz CPU, RAM TBC

2nd Pre Plus
500MHz ARM A8 CPU, 512MB RAM

Loser: Milestone
550MHz ARM A8 CPU, 256MB RAM,


Sadly, we’re not going to know about the very inner workings of the Torch until someone strips it down, but we’ll update this part as soon as they do. That said, we’re pretty confident it’s going to come out top here, or at least do as well as the Palm.

While the Milestone doesn’t have the world’s most turbo-charged sounding innards, they certainly do the job very nicely - at least until the needs of the Android OS start going right up into the stratosphere. The ARM 8 Cortex CPU is actually capable of a 600MHz speed, but underclocked to save a little on battery life. Graphics-wise it’s all perfectly respectable with the PowerVR SGX 530 series system, similar to that found on most smartphones.

The Pre Plus has got virtually the same chipset as the Milestone but the doubling of the RAM makes a hell of a speed difference, particularly when webOS is light to run in the first place. However you look at it though, neither of the latter two are exactly powerhouses in the current market.

Imaging

Winner: Milestone
5MP, dual flash, 5x dig zoom, 720 x 480/30fps vid

2nd: Torch
5MP, flash, 2x digital zoom, 640x480 video

Loser: Pre Plus
3MP, flash, 640x480 video


The camera on the Milestone is an excellent piece of work as cameraphones go. It’s been surpassed since its launch by that on the Motorola XT720, but the dual flash, the digital zoom, the image stabilisation and the quality of the lens all make for a good phone snapper. Whether it houses enough hardware to improve on the video as updates come in, is another matter.

Despite the Torch getting the benefit of time, its imaging credentials are less impressive in every department. While there’s enough there including geotagging, scene modes and image stabilisation, the VGA video shooting is a serious disappointment.

What’s on offer on the Pre Plus is worse - not a lot worse, but worse. Really, it just comes down to a drop in resolution but you’ll find it fairly light on optional extras as well.

Price

Winner: Pre Plus
£250

2nd: Milestone
£349.99

Loser: Torch
TBC


The advantage of opting for the 6-month old Android QWERTY is that it’s now £100 cheaper to buy than it was when it came out. If you accept that whatever gadget you shell out for will date faster than an opened carton of milk on a radiator, then you might see the value if you’re going SIM-free or 12-month contract.

By the same token, the Pre Plus is seriously cheap but, then, there’s a reason for that - being made of plastic a major part of it. Pay peanuts and you’ll get a monkey.

The Torch has been announced in the US at $199 with a 2-year data plan, but what that translates to SIM-free in the UK is another thing. What seems certain is that it’ll cost more than the others. It’s the newest and the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is £350 itself.

Conclusion

While it may have been a little like shooting fish in a barrel - certainly for the Palm - what this show down really tells us is that BlackBerry might have got this bang on. The world is crying out for an up to date touchscreen slider QWERTY. While the verdict from our Pocket-lint reviews team isn’t in just yet, RIM does have one hell of a pedigree on keyboards that really boost the Torch’s credentials; and that’s probably the most important part of the comparison when it comes to such a specific class of form factor.

It may not have the media consumption credentials of the bigger screen Milestone but then, if that's really what you're after, it's probably a tablet phone you want. The Milestone has certainly got an excellent build and a very good keyboard and optical pad of its own, but it’s just not as modern.

Sadly, for the Palm Pre Plus, it’s all about the superb operating system. All we can hope there is that HP makes a better device to put it on. For now, though, it’s the Torch lighting the way - at least until the Samsung Epic and the Droid 2 give finger tappers something to consider.

So, do you think the slider phone still has a place in the market? Do you crave a QWERTY and, if so, which is the phone you'll be spending your pennies on? Let us know in the comments.



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