HTC Dream vs. Nokia E71

Basically I have been playing with the HTC Dream smartphone for the last week and half, thanks to the loan phone from Optus. Let me say it first --- it is a very very nice phone that I believe every geek would love to have one. On the day when it arrived on my desk, I can't stop people from touching it! Too bad I had to return it last Friday. However the question is -- would I buy one? Hmm. Maybe not. Not yet.

So let me compare it with the Nokia E71 that I got in January, which is my current phone.

HTC Dream vs. Nokia E71

Instead of reviewing it feature by feature, I will share some of the things I would do (or would like to do) on the mobile phone, and how would HTC Dream stack up against Nokia E71 in handling those tasks.

 
HTC Dream
HTC Dream
HTC Dream
Nokia E71
Dimensions and
Portability

117.7 x 55.7 x 17.1 mm @ 158g

1150mAh battery

114 x 57 x 10 mm @ 127g

1500mAh battery

Dream is around 25% heavier than E71, although it is only a tiny bit longer and not much narrower. However, E71 is considerably thinner than HTC Dream -- in fact it is probably one of the thinnest smart phones around. A slide out keyboard on Dream is not helping either. Both are quite "portable" in my standard, i.e. I am happy to slip either into my shorts pocket. However as of all mobile phones -- smaller & thinner = better.

Another aspect of portability is its battery life. On paper -- Nokia E71's 1,500mAh Lion battery is 30% juicier than Dream HTC's. The reality is also true. I do around 1-2 hours of web surfing a day, and they stay on, connected to 3G and Wifi whole day. I have to recharge almost every single day on Dream, but my E71 could usually last 2-2.5 days. Dream can be recharged over USB though, whereas you need to get Nokia CA-100 cable for E71 to charge over USB power (which they ought to include that in the first place).

Winner: Nokia E71

Making Phone Calls

Dial Number
Press [Dial] button
Select "Dialer" tab
Input number on touch screen
Press [Dial] button to make call

Dial A Contact
Press [Dial] button
Select "Contacts" tab
Slide out keyboard
Type in partial name on keyboard
Select matched contact
Close keyboard
Press [Dial] button to make call

Dial Number
Press [Home] button
Input number from keyboard
Press [Dial] button to make call

Dial A Contact
Press [Contact] button
Type in partial name on keyboard
Select matched contact
Press [Dial] button to make call

One of the most basic functionality of mobile phones is, guess what, making phone calls! The call quality is "about the same" sucky GSM low pass filter sound, but the "process of calling" is a bit different. Nokia E71, with its permanent keyboard, makes it easier to turn on, type in a number and make phone calls. With HTC Dream however, you get the option of typing in phone number with either the full screen dialer (not as responsive as real keys), or slide out the actual keyboard to use the keys, and then slide back in before making phone calls (very awkward). Same with dialing a contact -- dedicated contacts button on E71 makes the process a little bit easier and quicker. If you are buying a phone just to make phone calls, the choice is no brainer... (Which of course would be neither -- $40 prepaid dumb phone from supermarket will suffice).

Winner: Nokia E71

Email & SMS

Input Method
5 row QWERTY keyboard

Application Support
Email app with IMAP4/POP3 support
Gmail app

Input Method
4 row QWERTY keyboard
Predictive/suggestive input

Application Support
Email app with IMAP4/POP3 support
Gmail app in Java
Nokia Messaging with push email support

One reason why I prefer a phone with QWERTY keyboard is because I do quite a bit of emailing when I commute. In this department, HTC Dream's slide out keyboard is marginally better than Nokia E71's. There are more spaces between keys, and there is a dedicated numeric row -- which is something very useful I found. I have relatively small hands but it's still quite easy to make mistakes on E71 when I am in a hurry. But I guess that's where Nokia's suggestive text input comes in. It will try to complete the words for you, or make a suggestion when you made a typo. It can be annoying sometimes (making wrong suggestions), but in general I found it quite helpful.

Email application wise, Dream HTC is street ahead of Nokia E71. Out of factory E71 only comes with a simple email app that supports multiple IMAP4 and POP3 accounts. You can however get Nokia Messaging with IMAP4 IDLE/push email support (a much better client but no guarantee to be free in the future). If you are a Gmail user like me, you can also download Gmail Mobile, which is a J2ME application that feels half finished.

On the other hand, HTC Dream has a nice looking email client + a much better Gmail Mobile application out of box, which actually supports HTML email viewing (but not composing, at least I have not found a way to do it). Well, you cannot blame Google for creating a better Gmail client for their own operating system, can you? Not just better Gmail integration -- but also contacts/tasks/calendar events sync between the phone and your Google account. It's so integrated that the only way to use a different Google account is by resetting the phone (doh). Whereas Gmail Mobile app on J2ME allows you to have multiple Gmail account logging in at the same time.

Winner: Dream HTC

Web Browsing

Display
480x320 HVGA LCD screen

Navigation
Trackball or Touch screen

Browser
Webkit-based Android browser
3rd party browsers (Steel, OperaMini)

Display
320x240 QVGA LCD screen

Navigation
4 way directional key

Browser
Webkit-based Nokia browser
3rd party browsers (OperaMini, Skyfire)

Darn. I love everything about web browsing on HTC Dream. The browser interface is slick. Text is rendered beautifully. Screen is twice the resolution as E71. You can scroll around with either the trackball or by dragging on the touch screen. I don't have an iPhone, nor Windows Mobile 6 based devices so I cannot compare with them. But browsing experience on HTC Dream is on an entirely different level than E71.

Nokia E71 came with Nokia Web Browser that is also Webkit based, although the quality of rendering makes it hard to believe that they actually share the same layout engine. There is no anti-alias fonts (which I think there's a hack to turn it on). It's slow. Half the website I visited would kill it. When the sites don't kill it, they don't render properly. However there is no way to change the default browser so I am stuck with it.

There are other 3rd party browsers available on Nokia E71 though. OperaMini, an J2ME based browser, is my favourite, and it is also available on Android. Good for digesting the content rich site that would otherwise kill the defacto Nokia Browser, and it goes through a proxy that can really cut down the traffic to save cost. However it has no Javascript nor Flash. Yes I have tried Skyfire -- it feels heavy and unresponsive to me.

Winner: Dream HTC

Watching YouTube

Dedicated YouTube application

Nokia Browser + Flash Lite
emTube/MobiTubia

YouTube is fun. YouTube on your mobile is even useful -- when you need to calm the kids and distract them :) On HTC Dream you have a dedicated YouTube application that allows you to search and watch videos on that nice HVGA screen. Just need to make sure you are on Wi-Fi connection so you don't get a surprising bill at the end of the month.

On E71 however, it's not that straightforward. YouTube for mobile does not work on Nokia Browser, as video gets encoded in 3GP format which is not supported by the Real Player on E71. To watch YouTube video on out-of-box E71 however, you need to browse to the regular YouTube site, search for the video you wish to watch, and then use the built in Flash Lite to watch the content in its small QVGA screen. That's if YouTube happens to render properly on Nokia Browser (most of the time it doesn't), haven't crashed it, and you can find the content you looking for before the browser grinds to a halt. Flash Lite is also a bit under-powered when it plays the content, and will likely skip every 3rd frame...

Winner: Dream HTC

Update: Apparently Google has just released an YouTube application for S60 platform, and watching YouTube video on my E71 is now just as easy as on HTC Dream :)

Remote Administration

SSH: ConnectBot

RDP: Connectoid

SSH: PuTTY for Symbian

RDP: Various commercial applications

One thing I need to do (but have not managed to do it) is to be able to manage my servers remotely from my phone. For example if MySQL crashed, and I can just ssh into my box and restart it. Both ConnectBot on Android and PuTTY on Symbian are pretty good. However with bigger screen + better keyboard, HTC Dream might be sysadmin's choice over E71. With ConnectBot I can actually fit 80 columns in a screen! It's actually the first application I installed when I received the HTC Dream.

No experience with RDP based administration. Yup I am lucky I know :)

Winner: Dream HTC

Making VoIP Calls

Nil

Applications
Nokia built in SIP client
Fring
Nimbuzz

It's 2009. There is basically no point paying ridiculous high mobile call rates and everyone should be onto VoIP -- provided your phone actually supports it. Unfortunate I have not yet found a SIP client that works well on HTC Dream. Consider mobile carriers' generally negative response to VoIP, I am not sure how soon will we see a full VoIP application on Android.

On the other hand, there are heaps of options on Symbian/S60. SIP stack is built into the OS. The fully integrated client is available on E71, which you can set as the default action when you press [Dial] button. There are other clients integrated with other IM networks. Currently I am using Nimbuzz that also registers my phone onto PennyTel's SIP service, MSN and Skype. Making VoIP calls on mobile is actually quite clear (when you have good 3G reception) and very economical.

Winner: Nokia E71

Connect Computer to the Net

Nil

Modem via USB cable or Bluetooth

Joikuspot

When you are on the road and there is no Wi-Fi hotspot in sight, being able to use the phone as modem to connect to Internet via 3G/HSPA might be the best option. Again, I have not found a way to do it on HTC Dream other then rooting the phone to install tethering application.

On the other hand, there are heaps of options for my Nokia. Nokia PC Suite can be used to connect your computer to Internet via a connection to the phone -- from either USB cable, infrared or Bluetooth. For me I just need to turn the Bluetooth on, wait for PC Suite to detect the existence of the phone, and then click on a button to make that as a modem. Easy. The same functionality is also available on Mac and Linux, although it can be a bit fiddly (with PPP chat scripts) on Linux.

The other possibility would be using a tethering application such as Joiku Spot, which turns your phone into an adhoc Wi-Fi access point, where multiple computers can use to connect to the Internet.

Winner: Nokia E71

For many other things I do, they are pretty much on-par. HTC Dream almost always have flashy UI and Nokia E71 usually have good established commercial software support. One thing I like about HTC Dream and Android though, is its active developer community and the momentum behind it. When you open up Market Place in Android (another great piece, compare to Nokia's pathetic "Download!"), you can easily search for new and popular applications -- and they are usually free (whereas most apps on Nokia's "Download!" cost). It's easy to find new apps to review and install. Whereas with my Nokia, I hit Google search first, and then have to go through many banner-ad-filled web pages before I can find a download link.

And when you have the developer mind share -- you are winning the game. Just ask Apple. From what I can see, although for the existing pool of software packages, there are more available on Symbian than on Android. Give it a year and two, and it will be very different I think. Nokia with its aging Symbian and S60 interface will have to fight very hard to win back the developers. Maybe Qt could help? Who knows...

Conclusion

HTC Dream verses Nokia E71 -- who wins? It's a draw for me. I love my Nokia E71 for its small form factor and ease of use, but envy the arguably better operating system that's Android on HTC Dream. The deal breaker for me would be making VoIP calls and the ability to tether, which neither are available on HTC Dream yet. I believe they might not be something that are difficult to develop, but pressure from mobile carriers might prevent them to be included in the Android Market Place.

So for now, it's Nokia E71 for me. My next phone in 2 years? Who knows. There is a big OS war out there -- Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, iPhone and Blackberry. Do we have big enough market for so many mobile operating systems? Who will survive and who will wither? Time will tell.