I’ve had a couple of weeks to play with both an Apple iPhone 4 and an HTC EVO side-by-side and I’ve found that they are very different devices — and I mean at a holistic level, not just hardware.

Let me back up for a second. In my opinion, a smartphone is more than a mobile phone mashed up with a PDA. A true smartphone has a kind of symbiotic relationship between the hardware and the operating system that, by design, naturally extends the user experience. One can take a look at the specs and speeds, but they mean nothing if not backed by the “smart” part of the smartphone itself — the user experience created by the operating system and its applications. If one merely looked at capabilities, then many mobile phones could be considered smartphones as they possess similar functionality at a specification level. But when works with a mobile phone, a person discovers that the device is a phone with some software; there isn’t the “connection” that makes the phone an extension of the user. Today’s generation of smartphones go to extraordinary lengths to create a natural connection between the user and the device.

As I said before, the iPhone and EVO are very different devices and to me it all boils down to a difference in operating paradigms. The iPhone with iOS 4.1 feels more like a personal device — a personal technology if you will. It is geared toward the user making focused and deliberate choices about what tasks and applications should be dealt with at any given time. I really have a sense that the iPhone is mine.

The EVO with Android 2.2 feels like a business device — something that tries to make me more productive but also a bit more engineered. This may sound a bit strange, but the EVO feels more like an Apple Newton in that it is more task-driven. I think it has something to do with its widget and scenes approach. The widgets allow me to create functional dashboards that present information or allow me to get things done without launching an application. The iPhone seems to be a bit more activity-driven in that a user switches contexts a lot (step in to an application, step out to the OS, step back in, etc.). On the iPhone, I am very aware of the device; on the EVO, I am not.

At this stage, would I choose one over the other? Not really. I find them both finding their niches in my digital life. Stay tuned for more thoughts as I take them on the road and put both to the real-life, real-work test.

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