Droid vs. iPhone: Which revolution should you join?

Advice for the first time smartphone buyer: iPhone is the safer choice, Droid the better one for some users.

If you are buying your first smartphone, which should it be: Droid or the iPhone? Both are revolutionary devices, but which revolution is for you? It is not (yet) a coin toss.

That is the challenge I was asked to solve, the choice of the perfect smartphone for a woman who had never owned a smartphone before. Until recently, the choice was easy, after tomorrow it becomes much more difficult.

Once the Motorola Droid hits Verizon's shelves, the equation changes and my old "Gotta get an iPhone" answer becomes obsolete. I knew it would someday, but Motorola's Droid has arrived almost like a bolt from the blue.

You can mostly thank Google for that, but Motorola contributes a hardware platform at least as good as the iPhone, and Verizon clearly has the better network.

The worst thing I can say about either the iPhone or the Droid is that one isn't the other, though I still believe the Droid has some catching up to do.

For comparison, see the Verizon "iDon't" TV commercial for some anti-iPhone examples. Then visit an Apple store and see how well the iPhone meshes into the whole Apple Macintosh ecosystem to understand what the Droid is missing.

However, what if you have never owned a smartphone and wouldn't know what you are missing? That probably includes few Tech Inciter readers, but Droid vs. iPhone is a question many of us will face from friends and relatives.

What I told the woman, a listener to my radio program, was this:

"The iPhone is the safer choice and probably easier to use, but try both phones. If the Droid offers the applications you want and you like it the most, go for it."

I went on to explain that Google is supporting the Droid (and other Android handsets) with some cool applications, not (yet or ever?) available for the iPhone.

I told her that a hardcore business user--the sort of person who would otherwise have a BlackBerry--is a better match for a Droid, with its "real" keyboard and Microsoft Exchange support.

Likewise, someone who lives with an iPod or iTunes always playing is a better match for the iPhone.

Photography may be a tie, with the Droid's larger pixel count (5 megapixels vs. the iPhone 3GS' 3.2 megapixels) offset by iPhoto's ease of use on a Mac.

Network? Well, there's a map for that and, no matter what AT&T says in its lawsuit, Verizon has better 3G coverage and that matters to smartphone users. In addition, if it matters to you, the Droid should have tethering support before the iPhone, albeit for an extra monthly charge.

In the "what if I make a mistake?" category--and this really concerned the woman--AT&T gets the nod, but that may change. Verizon will, on Nov. 15, double its early termination fee, to $350.

That will make it much more expensive to bailout on your Verizon contract than an AT&T agreement, but something makes me think AT&T may soon match Verizon's ETF increase with one of its own.

The Nov. 15 Verizon deadline may be a good reason for people with Droid concerns to buy right away, as it will be less expensive to undo the damage if they make a mistake.

Cost of ownership? Our Ian Paul looked into this and the Droid and iPhone cost about the same over the course of two years: About $2,400. (Gulp!) The Palm Pre is significantly less expensive, at less than $1,900 over two-years. And, no, people are not asking me if they should buy a Pre.

As much as I love my iPhone, it has surprised me that the Droid has arrived as such a contender. While the iPhone is still "the safe choice," there are many good reasons why someone might choose a Droid instead.

Either way, the first-time buyer can select a very talented companion and not have to worry too much about what they are missing. Provided they avoid the inevitable iPhone-to-Droid comparison stories--such as this one.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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