Mobility Loop


Originally published by Mobility Loop.

Reposted with permission.

Copyright 2006 Core Competence Inc.

All rights reserved.



Searching for Smartphone Nirvana




Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Written by Lisa Phifer   

PhiferLike many mobile professionals with a thirst for hi-tech gadgetry, I've been searching for a decent phone/PDA hybrid for years. I want a compact phone that can reliably place, receive, and sustain calls wherever I go, and that makes it easy to hear and dial. I want a PDA with high-speed interfaces that support true email and web browsing, a display that's really readable, and a text input method that isn't cryptic or arthritic. Moreover, I want my PDA to synchronize seamlessly with the desktop programs that I use daily. Finally, given rapid advances in mobile/wireless technology, I'd prefer a PDA that's extensible.

During the last decade, I have tried dozens of smartphones. Although several appeared promising, most proved disappointing with daily use. Some were just too big and clunky to carry as my cellphone replacement. Others let me scan my in-box and peck out short text messages, but were too slow or difficult for routine email usage. Many let me synchronize data with my desktop applications, but required me to use entirely different smartphone applications. Most included "high-speed" interfaces that (in reality) crawled at sub-v.90 speeds.

Over time, hybrids have certainly moved closer to my ideal phone/PDA. Two years ago, my RIM BlackBerry 6210 proved to be a solid email platform and a decent phone, but fell short on desktop application compatibility and extensibility. Last summer, I was sorely tempted by the palmOne Treo 600, but decided to wait for a Windows smartphone with similar form factor and interfaces. This spring, I fell for the HP iPAQ 6315, with its Windows Mobile 2003 engine, integrated GSM/GPRS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth interfaces, SD expansion slot, and snap-on thumb keyboard. I loved this little gadget at first, but now it often sits idle while I carry my trusty little Samsung cellphone. Why? The iPAQ satisfies my PDA wishlist, but is a very unreliable phone, prone to missed calls and frequent freeze/reset when GSM is enabled.

Why can't I find one device that is both a good phone and a good PDA? Are my standards too high? Sure, I have colleagues who wouldn't part with their Treo | BlackBerry | iPAQ | [insert your favorite hybrid here]. But, despite rosy analyst forecasts, enterprise PDA sales have yet to blossom. I think many are still waiting for smartphone nirvana: the hybrid phone/PDA that really does it all, reliably, at a price that encourages volume purchase.

Call me an optimist, but I'm heartened by recent product announcements. For example, this month Sprint announced the UT Starcom PPC-6700. This new hybrid sports a Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, slide-out keyboard, dual-band CDMA phone, and EV-DO, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 1.2 data interfaces, for a suggested retail price $629.99 (minus carrier rebates). The built-in speakerphone for hands-free calls and over-the-air synchronization with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 should be helpful to enterprise users. Personally, I could do without the embedded camera, but other consumers may appreciate that feature. And if the PPC-6700 proves to be almost perfect, that SD expansion slot will come in handy.

Of course, I know the proof of the pudding is in the eating; one can't tell anything about reliability or usability from a spec sheet. And solid carrier coverage, especially for 3G, is just as important to me as the hardware. But, if early-adopter feedback on the PPC-6700 is positive, maybe by Christmas I'll be ready to take the plunge again!