Farhad Manjoo and Chris Thompson talk iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerry Storms.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Nov. 20 2008 5:24 PM

iPhoning It In

Farhad Manjoo and Chris Thompson take your questions about the mobile devices of Apple, Google, and BlackBerry.

Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo and The Big Money blogger Chris Thompsonwere online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers about the iPhone features borrowed by Google's Android, and BlackBerry's Storm. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

Farhad Manjoo: Hi everyone. Chris Thompson and I are ready to answer your questions about Google, Apple and BlackBerry and their smartphones. Let's begin!

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New York, N.Y.: Not a question about the Google phone, but the new Blackberry Storm. It seems to be relatively close to the iPhone and as someone who needs a new phone and wants an iPhone but doesn't want to leave Verizon, would you recommend this as an alternative?

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Farhad Manjoo: That's the big question. It does look pretty good, and paired with Verizon's excellent network, it may indeed be a viable alternative. I haven't had a chance to review it yet, though, and I haven't seen many reviews. I'd suggest waiting a few weeks or even a couple months for the verdict to come in. Also, for prices to drop over the holidays!

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Arlington, Va.: What are you hearing about the G2? Is it worth it to wait until next summer to buy the updated model? Are any other cell providers coming out with their version of the Google phone soon? I really want one but I don't want a superior product to come out two months later.

Chris Thompson: Motorola is scheduled to have an Android phone on the market sometime next year, built around social networking sites. No one yet knows how it will do with users.

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Idaho Falls, Idaho: Will these new phones have the ability to copy and paste, so one could forward a text message, edit a Word Document, modify an Excel spreadsheet, etc.?

Farhad Manjoo: Both the G1 and the BlackBerry Storm have copy and paste functions. The iPhone, notoriously and annoyingly, does not—though everyone suspects that at some point, Apple will add that (and when it does, the update will be through software, meaning that older current phones will also get those capabilities).

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New York, N.Y.: How many municipalities does the Google phone have in comparison to the iPhone? How is T-Mobile's service rating these days against AT&T's? (Personally, I'm quite unhappy with AT&T but I've never used T-Mobile.) Thanks.

Chris Thompson: As I understand it, T-Mobile's 3G service is fairly limited and very much a work in progress; the company just got 3G coverage for the Washington D.C. area a little over a week ago.

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Adamstown, Md.: Let's start with the best feature the Google Phone has that the iPhone does not. (along with what they "borrowed")

Farhad Manjoo: There's one main feature: A physical keyboard. There are some people—or perhaps many people—who can't stand Apple's on-screen keyboard; for these folks, the G1 will always be superior.

Other smaller features that the G1 has but the iPhone lacks include copy and paste and MMS (short messages that can include multimedia, like pictures).

But there are also features that the iPhone has that the G1 lacks. The most annoying, for me: The G1 does not have a headphone jack—it comes with a special earbud set that plugs into its USB port.

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N.Y.: So, what's going to win out? How viable is Android?

Chris Thompson: In theory, Android is as viable as the developers make it, although Farhad's pointed out plenty of advantages to the iPhone's closed app model. Maybe in the end, China Mobile will win out; it's the largest cell phone service provider in the world with 436 million subscribers, it's planning to roll out its own version of the Android phone, and it just announced plans to open its own mobile applications store. With hundreds of millions of potential Android users, that kind of market power could set the tone for future mobile applications.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hello, I am a Verizon customer and I like the idea of the BBstorm but I'm wondering why Verizon chose not to include a WI-FI service on the phone? Do you think future generations of the BB will have WI-FI, or any Verizon phone for that matter? Also, I heard about the new applications that they BB would be able to download, would that be for free or at additional cost? Thanks a bunch!

Farhad Manjoo: Nobody quite knows why the Storm doesn't include Wi-Fi (both the iPhone and the G1 do), but according to at least one report, it's Verizon's doing: That is, the phone is technically capable of handling Wi-Fi, but Verizon crippled it for business reasons (presumably because when you're using Wi-Fi, you're not using Verizon's network).

Research in Motion, BlackBerry's manufacturer, plans to launch an app store for the phone next year. Like on the iPhone's App Store, third-party developers will be able to set their own prices for their apps.

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Falls Church, Va.: Please help me avoid hours of internet research! My phone contract is up and I want to upgrade from my current phone to either a Blackberry Pearl (for the small size) or an iPhone. My main goals are to be able to check email, get directions, look up movie times ... and of course make calls and text message. Which one would you recommend? I think the monthly plan costs are similar, but which one is more user friendly and reliable? Thanks!

Farhad Manjoo: Alas, you really should do your own Web search! Both phones have received high marks and can handle what you're looking to do, but your choice will likely depend on a number of personal factors—how much you use your phone (and thus which service plans are better), which networks are strongest in your area, and whether you're switching over to a new plan or staying with your current provider.

Here's one thing I will say: If you plan to use the Web a lot, go with the iPhone.

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Baltimore, Md.: Does the Storm have auto-text correction that is anything like the iPhone? If so, does it work as well, and as unobtrusively, as the iPhone? BTW, iPhone's come with key-clicks, as in the Storm's TV ad. It was one of the first things I turned off on mine. Annoying! I'd much rather have the visual feedback of the key getting bigger.

Farhad Manjoo: The Storm does include a predictive text-entry system, and early reviews have called it pretty good.

The Storm also features an innovative "tactile feedback" mechanism that's meant to make typing on its screen something like typing on a physical keyboard. When you press down on the glass, its surface depresses a bit, as if you're pressing a real button. But reviews of this feature have been mixed. PC Mag says the system "ends up feeling like a lot of work in a way that typing on a hardware keyboard (or on the iPhone's software keyboard, for that matter) never did."

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Washington, D.C.: Chris, this question is for you. In your blog you talk about Yahoo's 20 percent loss. What do you think their next move will be? Can we expect other corporations to fall during these depressing times?

Chris Thompson: Once they find themselves a new CEO, Yahoo will get down to the pleasant task of wondering just what they'll do next. There's been some talk that Yahoo will rebrand itself as a email and news platform, the default starting point for users logging in to check their mail and scan the news each morning. Yahoo is also thinking about setting up an open-source network, allowing developers to write apps to customize the site and make it more interesting. But the company's got a long way to go before it figures out its next move; outgoing CEO Jerry Yang put the company through a lot of turmoil by playing hard to get with Microsoft and then rolling the dice with the Google-Yahoo search deal that Justice just killed.

Whether Yahoo is a harbinger for the rest of the tech sector is an interesting question. In a way, the real question is: just how badly will Google do in the downturn? For years, Google has suggested that it's impervious to recessions, precisely because its text search ads are cheaper than display ads. During a downturn, as companies scale back their advertising budgets, we can expect Yahoo's display ads to take a hit. But in theory, Google will clean up, because everyone will flock to its relatively cheaper ads. On the other hand, Google's stock is less than half what it was a year ago, so investors are clearly feeling a little jumpy.

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Norfolk, Va.: It may not have phone capabilities but the Kindle does have some music and Internet capabilities. Have you heard anything about a 2.0 of the Kindle? New features? Release date?

Farhad Manjoo: There have been many rumors about this, but the only news that Amazon has confirmed is that it's working on new versions, one of which will be targeted to the student textbook market (which would presumably have a bigger screen than the current version).

I'd say it's a stretch to expect a Kindle cell phone.

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Nashville, Tenn.: I realize this is a little outside the topic, but how does the LG Dare stack up to the other phones?

Farhad Manjoo: I haven't used the Dare, but here's CNET's review. They liked that it was packed with features, but thought it wasn't great for browsing the Web.

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Farhad Manjoo: Well, thanks everyone! Chris and I are hanging up. Happy phone calls with whatever devices you choose.

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