Motorola Milestone vs. Nokia N97 – two future-proof phones face off

If new flagship smartphones from a couple of the world’s leading mobile manufacturers are any indication, 2010 will see an even more hotly-contested marketplace than 2009.

Nokia Corp.’s N97 smartphone is being prized by the Espoo, Finland-based manufacturer as its premium handset.

It became available in North America when Bell Mobility launched the phone on it’s new HSPA network Dec. 10.

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Devices are being rolled out in the Canadian market very close to when they’re launched in the rest of the world, notes Anurag Thakur, technology marketing manager with Nokia.

Motorola Inc.’s Milestone isn’t available in Canada yet.

But come the New Year, the manufacturer promises Canadians will see it via Telus Mobility’s HSPA network . It’s equivalent American model, The Droid, has received mixed reactions. But the Milestone one-ups The Droid by including multi-touch capabilities.

“Gone are the days when you just had a handset,” says Paul Nicholson, global marketing director with Motorola. “These things are smart.”

On the one hand, the phones are very similar. They will appeal to business professionals and consumers alike with their high-resolution and large touch-screens overtop slide-out QWERTY keyboards. They both run on open-source platforms that allow downloads of thousands of applications. They are both impressive for Web browsing, media viewing and messaging purposes.

Both also have customizable home screens based on widgets, and GPS with turn-by-turn navigation capabilities. Not to mention 5 megapixel cameras with video recording features.

Yet there are so many differences between the phones. The N97 runs on Nokia’s Symbian, while Milestone runs on Google’s Android 2.0. So while the Milestone has Google Maps for GPS directions, the N97 has Ovi Maps. Where Google has Android Marketplace for apps, Nokia answers with the Ovi Store.

It illustrates a theme we might expect to see throughout 2010. Smartphone manufacturers will continue to up the ante on device specifications and capabilities as competition in the marketplace heats up.

Both Nokia’s Symbian and Google’s Android platforms have adopted an open-source approach to developing the software that powers these devices. It’s different from the iron-tight grip Apple exercises over development for the iPhone.

Once exposed to the open approach, carriers may be less tolerant of Apple’s stance.

“We work with global operators who are members of the Symbian foundation,” Thakur says. “Carriers can influence the features of the OS by their membership.”

OEM manufacturers will also clamour for the adoption of Android and Symbian, which is free to licence. The open architecture also helps to future proof the devices.

Milestone runs Android 2.0, for example. That operating system will support forthcoming Flash 10 for mobile from Adobe, and it already supports HTML 5. It will also be compatible with new Google services as they are rolled out – such as free turn-by-turn audio navigation on Google Maps.

“When that is available in Canada, you’ll be able to get it on this device,” Nicholson says.

Apple’s iPhone may also be under threat as its lead with the App Store evaporates and its design isn’t the clear standout over other smartphones.

Both Ovi Store and Android Marketplace already have thousands of applications available. Sure, it’s still not the same amount as the App Store – but who cares? Most consumers will be able to find the applications they really want to use on any platform next year.

The design of both these devices is also aesthetically pleasing. Motorola is calling the Milestone the thinnest QWERTY-slider keyboard in the world – and it does appear surprisingly compact. Nokia’s N97 angles the screen towards the user as it slides out so it can be placed on a desk to watch a video.

If these two phones are any indication, 2010 may finally be the year that every smartphone is compared to the iPhone as a benchmark. It will be more of a battle to define a device as different from the rest of the crowd.

Specs at a glance: Nokia N97

  • Form factor: slide-out QWERTY touch screen
  • Size: 117 x 55 x 16 mm and 150 g
  • Display: 3.5” and 640 x 360 resolution, 16.7 million colours
  • Battery life: 570 minutes talk time and 430 hours standby
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB 2.0, 3.5 mm headphone jack, TV out, GSM networks, GPS
  • Camera: 5.0 megapixel Carl Zeiss optics, auto focus, dual-LED flash, 4x zoom
  • Memory: 32 GB onboard memory and supports 16 GB of microSD expansion

Specs at a glance: Morola Milestone

  • Form factor: slideout QWERTY touch screen
  • Size: 116 x 60 x 14 mm and 165 g
  • Display: 3.7” WVGA and 480 x 854 resolution
  • Battery life: 290 minutes talk time, 380 hours standby
  • Connectivity: HTML5, Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, GPS, microUSB, 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • Camera: 5 megapixel with image stabilization, 4x digital zoom, dual LED flash
  • Memory: Includes 16 GB microSD card, expandable up to 32 GB
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