Smartphones are becoming the norm

These days, smartphones are the norm, not the exception, as galloping convergence infects both business users and consumers. According to IDC, almost 20 million units were shipped worldwide in Q2 of 2006, a 42.1 per cent increase, year over year.

More and more, the devices are in the PDA form factor, with telephony and other communications technology added on. Very few look like telephones any more.

This has driven users to adopt another technology that’s appearing in the units: Bluetooth. With Bluetooth wireless headsets, users often don’t even need to remove the device from a pocket to answer the phone, they simply press a button on their earpiece and chat away.

We gathered a group of smartphones to check out the current state of the technology. Because Bluetooth is so important, we also asked Belkin and Motorola to supply wireless headsets for use in testing. Most units paired happily with both.

Prices quoted, where possible, are for the device only, with no service contract; discounts, sometimes substantial, may be had if you sign for one or more years with a carrier.

EDITOR’S CHOICE: RIM BLACKBERRY 8700R

  • Price – $599.99 W/1 Year Term
  • Carrier – Rogers

When I saw the funky menus on the 6700r, I was a bit dubious. The graphics are much more detailed than on most BlackBerry devices, and I found the font difficult to read at first. The unit is also styled slightly differently; it’s more fashionable without losing functionality.

The screen is very bright, and has a light sensor that adjusts it to suit ambient conditions. E-mail functions performed as expected, with the device synching with Microsoft Exchange through a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Since this unit is on the Rogers EDGE network, it was much speedier than older models.

The keys are square, and spaced slightly apart, making thumb typing relatively simple, and the usual jog wheel and cancel button live on the side of the unit.

The phone piece is also well thought out, with Bluetooth support for wireless headsets and a built-in speakerphone. Battery life was excellent.

UTSTARCOM 6700

  • Price – $599.95
  • Carrier – Telus

The UTStarcom is the heftiest of our roundup, tipping the scales at 6.5 ounces and measuring almost an inch thick. It’s not terribly pocket-friendly, but it is loaded with goodies, including a mini SD card slot, Infrared, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a mini-USB port. Its Wi-Fi even supports LEAP, so will connect with most corporate networks.

The integrated speakerphone works adequately, but I found its volume too low for use in any but the quietest environments.

The reason for its thick waistline becomes apparent when you slide the screen to one side – there’s a full QWERTY keyboard concealed underneath. The display automatically switches to landscape orientation when you open the unit, so it’s easy to read what you’re typing.

I did not, however, find typing all that easy, since the keys are snuggled together and quite flat. But the unit did send and receive POP e-mail when it had a digital signal, albeit sometimes slowly.

It runs Windows Mobile 5.0.

PALM TREO 700WX

  • Price – N/A
  • Carrier – Bell, Telus

There are actually two models of the Treo 700 – the “wx”, running Windows Mobile 5.0, and the “p”, not yet available in Canada, which runs the Palm OS.

The 700wx has the typical Treo silhouette – narrow, reasonably slim, and pocket-friendly like its Palm ancestors. It has an SD card slot, and supports Bluetooth and Infrared. To get WiFi, however, you need to buy an add-on card.

Quality on calls was better than most.

Even the speakerphone did a decent job, although, not surprisingly given the small speaker, voices sounded rather tiny.

The keyboard’s small square keys can be tricky to type on; the Treo tries to predict what you want, but results are mixed.

There’s a ringer mute switch on top of the unit, which is a great idea.

MOTOROLA Q

  • Price – $649.95
  • Carrier – Bell, Telus

The Motorola Q (aka Moto Q) is slim, sleek and cute. It does not have a touchscreen, relying instead on a 5-way control on the front, and a jog wheel and button on the side.

There’s a full QWERTY keyboard, with a phone keypad overlaid on the left side; it was relatively accurate in figuring out when numbers were intended and when letters. Keys were small, domed and crowded, and can be difficult to type on because the device is relatively narrow. Other controls include two softkeys and a five-way control above the keyboard.

You also get a mini-SD card slot, a 1.3 megapixel camera, and all of the requisite Windows Mobile 5.0 applications.

My biggest issue with the Q was the confusing controls. Sometimes you click the jog wheel to perform a task, and sometimes you click the center of the five-way control. For example, to turn on the speakerphone, you press the Menu softkey and turn off handsfree from the five-way – a click of the jogwheel does something else entirely.

Motorola includes both standard and extended life batteries; even the standard battery performed respectably.

HP IPAQ HW6955

  • Price – $699.95
  • Carrier – Rogers

The unit we had was actually a pre-

production model, but functioned well nonetheless. It runs Windows Mobile 5.0, and has a touchscreen as well as a full QWERTY keyboard, two softkeys and a five-way controller. HP was the only vendor to supply a screen protector (a clear plastic flip cover); others relied on holsters, which aren’t much use in a purse.

Sound quality was good, although the speakerphone was not as good as the Treo’s. Non-telephony features included 1.3 megapixel camera, SD card slot, Bluetooth, WiFi and compatibility with add-on GPS devices.

The little round keys are flat and have some space between them. I found my nails slipped off them a certain amount. My main problem with it, however, was that the key marked “Num” did not, indeed, toggle numbers – a key with a large circle on it did that.

The device did munch batteries, using 15 per cent or more of its capacity per day just to sit idle; the production model may do better.

NOKIA E62

  • Price – $449.99 W/ 1 Year Term
  • Carrier – Rogers

Nokia’s unit is the odd device out

in that it runs the Symbian operating system and its user interface is quite different from the Windows look. It does support much of the same functionality, offering Bluetooth and Infrared, as well as a mini-USB port and a mini-SD card slot. Included software lets you view Microsoft Office documents.

Controls include two softkeys, a shortcut button to launch the menus and another to start the e-mail application and a five-way control (no touchscreen). Despite the fact that the keys on the QWERTY keyboard are closely spaced, typing was actually quite easy. I could go quickly, with few errors. The numeric keypad will cause grief, however; it is not laid out in a standard way.

The unit does feel more like a PDA than a phone. The “Call” and “End” keys look just like the softkeys they sit beneath, and the main screen has no perceptible telephony indicators. But if you begin to key a phone number, what you need magically appears. Sound quality was very good, even through the speaker, and battery life was excellent.

MOBILE COMPUTING: SMARTPHONES

SMARTPHONE CHOICE USUALLY DRIVEN BY WHICH CARRIER YOU PREFER

The choice of a smartphone is tied to your choice of carrier. If you are committed to one, by contract or by preference, your choice of device is limited to the technology it supports. Cellular devices (both ordinary and smartphones) are usually electronically locked to the issuing carrier.

Desired feature set can be a major influence too. Cameras came on four of the models; RIM and Nokia passed on photography, and had better battery life. Everyone offered the standard PDA features, and all but RIM give you multimedia playback (again, at a cost in battery life).

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the Palm Treo 700wx. It had just come into the country on deadline day, so we couldn’t do a proper evaluation, just a brisk once-over. Consequently, we couldn’t rate it on battery life, and pricing was not available so the value rating is unassigned as well. It’s a nice little unit, though, with excellent sound quality.

The UTStarcom, although bulky, did its job adequately. It has a nice, big screen, and the flip into landscape mode when the keyboard is extended is a boon to usability.

HP’s screen cover is a great idea for those of us who tuck our devices into a purse. It keeps smudges off the display while still allowing a clear view. The unit is a bit bulky, however (but, on the plus side, you do get a bigger screen), and battery life was not great. Once the device is in production, this may change.

The Moto Q’s funky controls and high price cost it points, but anyone who wants a fashionable little device, and who doesn’t mind the learning curve, will probably be quite happy with it.

The Nokia, which is almost as slim as the Q, may not be the most elegant device we looked at, but it does its job, and does it well. Those in search of cameras won’t want one, but as a solid, unflashy, reasonably-priced smartphone, the E62 is a winner.

The BlackBerry, however, slipped ahead of Nokia to grab editor’s choice by a nose. It’s pricey, and it lacks some of the peripheral niceties such as camera and music player, but overall, like the Nokia, it does its job, and it does it well – and it does it with style.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+
More Articles