Selecting a smartphone! Is it an art or a science? What do YOU think? This is a topic that I will come back to in more detail as we continue to build the foundation for the selection process.
By the way, this Tuesday Dec 5, I will be selecting my smartphone. After having used 9 smartphones for 9 days each in the 81-day-experiment, it is time for me to select one. I will be announcing the winner device at a lunch & learn Webinar about smartphones.
For today, my goal is to give an overview of the two strictly business devices that I used in the 81-day-experiment. These strictly business devices are becoming harder to come by, knowing that manufacturers and service providers continue to load their devices with the latest multi-media and entertainment technologies. So what is “strictly business” anyway? And is there such a thing as “strictly business”?
Even though this matter of “strictly business” smartphones is quite subjective and therefore open to endless debates, let me share a couple of thoughts that might help clarify the “strictly business” context I am operating under. The first thought refers to something that Wilson Rothman from Time Magazine mentioned when referring to features such as built-in cameras and integrated MP3 players.
Mr. Rothman referred to these features as “…features that high-paid professionals and business people disdain….” Following this model, strictly business would mean devices that perform the fundamental communication and organization functions without distracting the user with the multi-media and entertainment packages. In other words, this would consist of phone, calendar, contacts, tasks, e-mail, and the Internet, and no more.
Another thought about “strictly business” smartphones was pointed out to me by a friend in Europe. He stated that the reason why he chose the Nokia 6021 (a model which is sold in Europe) was not only because it performed the main functions that he was looking for, but most importantly because it did NOT have a camera. Apparently, many of the companies he did business with in Germany, did not allow their visitors to have cell phones with cameras for security concerns. You get the point. We are talking “strictly business” here.
The BlackBerry 8700
There is no doubt in my mind that the BlackBerry 8700 is the most robust, no non-sense, device I have used in the 81-day-experiment. This device knows what it does, and it does it exceptionally well. It performs the communication and organization functions I defined above as “strictly business” and it is optimized in every way.
The QWERTY keyboard
The device fits nicely in the hand and, aside from typing, can be fully operated with one hand. When it comes to typing, the QWERTY keyboard is probably one of its primary strength and I found it to be by far the easiest and least error-prone keyboard among the 9 keyboards and keypads I have used. It is not just the shape and spacing of the keys, but also the feel and sensory feedback you get when you press them. They are firm and they give you just the right amount of feedback.
The navigation and typing shortcuts
But things really shine for the BlackBerry 8700 when it comes to the well designed shortcuts that are available when navigating and when typing. These include single key shortcuts to help you a) invoke applications and menus, b) navigate through messages and calendar views, and c) type the most commonly used letters, symbols, words, and phrases.
To capitalize a letter, just press the corresponding key and hold it for an extra second. To type a period and a space and capitalize the following letter, just press the space key twice. To type the percent sign (or any of the symbols) press the symbol key and then press the corresponding shortcut key, which is “P” in the case of the percent sign.
But it doesn’t end here. You have the AutoText feature which has a long list of corrections built in. And you can create your own. My favorite is to create an AutoText entry that replaces “drv” with “I am driving right now, and will get back to you when I arrive to my destination”. Be careful with driving and typing though, as Kimra McPherson, from the Mercury News, warns us in her article Danger: Drivers who type.
Just to clarify something here, I was able to get similar shortcuts and the AutoText capability working on the Treo 700p, by installing an add-on application called Textras. But this is exactly the beauty of the BlackBerry 8700. It comes equipped with the things you need out-of-the-box. It doesn’t require you to “fuss” with add-on applications which take up too much time and energy–something that high-paid professionals and busy business people cannot spare.
How about elegance?
If you are the BlackBerry 8700 type, elegance may still be important to you, but probably not too high on your priority list. Functionality comes first. Robustness comes first. Efficiency comes first. Reliability comes first. Elegance comes next.
The BlackBerry 8700 design is an improvement from the previous 7200 series designs. But still the device is a bit bulky and not exactly the kind that would easily fit into your pocket. That is exactly why it fits so well in the hand and can be easily operated as a one-hand device.
Aside from external elegance, the screen icons, colors, and brightness are highly desirable. These are major improvements from the previous BlackBerry models.
Last but not least comes battery life
What fascinated me about the BlackBerry 8700, during a trip to the Alps in early October, was its battery life. The BlackBerry 8700 accompanied me to some hikes and day trips, and after forgetting to charge it one night, I decided to continue NOT charging it for several days. On the 5th day without being charged, the battery life indicator was still showing about 20% remaining. I admit that I wasn’t making too many phone calls at the $1/minute roaming charges rate, but I was using e-mail and the internet often.
The Nokia E62
I saw the Nokia E62 for the first time in London when I was at the Ad-Tech conference in September 2006. It was locked in a glass cabinet and I had to ask the store manager to be able to take a closer look at it. At that point, it wasn’t released in the U.S. yet, but about to be released.
Talking about elegance, and again keeping in mind that elegance is a very subjective thing, my first impressions of the looks of the Nokia E62 were not too enthusiastic. It somehow reminded me of an old army tank or some old device that belonged to a museum (even though I talked to many people who liked the design and that fact that it is slightly wider than the typical smartphone which makes room for a larger screen).
These first impressions didn’t stop me though from getting the Nokia E62 from Cingular upon my return to San Francisco. What I was looking for is a device that is different from the ones I have been using, both inside and out. I also wanted to get some experience with the Symbian operating system. The Nokia E62 seemed that it would accomplish these goals.
In terms of functionality, the device brings a full range of applications (covers all the business features I listed above) and can even edit documents such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint attachments, something that the BlackBerry 8700 doesn’t do out of the box. Whether this editing capability is important to the “strictly business” user, or not, is a different story–I usually get mixed reactions to this question. The Nokia E62 also offers some voice capabilities like recording voice memos and even some “mild” entertainment applications that include a golf game.
At the high level, the navigation seemed easy and practical. My first impressions of the Nokia E62 and Symbian OS were favorable. I found the joystick, the menu key, and the e-mail key, together with the phone keys and the right and left selection keys, a straightforward and intuitive interface. However I soon encountered some challenges.
The Nokia E62/Cingular Challenges
I have used the Nokia E62 for 9 days and had several challenges with it unfortunately. These ranged from some occasional freezing to very slow response times in a variety of applications.
I also spent a considerable amount of time with Cingular’s technical support services and some issues were still not resolved. In some cases, the confusion was more relating to the Cingular services than the device itself, and in other cases it was the combination of the two. For instance, after several attempts to setup the Nokia E62 so I can use it as a modem for my laptop, this still didn’t work, and there was still some confusion about which data plan is needed and which drivers should be downloaded. It could have been bad luck, and not getting to the more knowledgeable technical support staff, but that is how it went.
Aside from the above, usability also became more of a challenge once I started to do real work. It seems that there were too many steps involved in doing things. Back to the document editing capability, editing a document and saving changes seemed like a long process with many prompts and confirmations along the way. Connection management was also not very smooth. The device would prompt me if I needed to connect to my mailbox when I invoke the e-mail application, and then if I needed to disconnect when I exit the e-mail application. As a “strictly business” user I probably want connection management to be as transparent as possible.
Take the device on a real test drive
If you are considering the Nokia E62, my recommendation would be that you take it on a real test drive first. Get some hands-on time with a “live” device and do the things that you expect to do in real life. I have talked to some users who loved their Nokia E62 and who would highly recommend it, and others who encountered issues that are similar to the ones I mentioned above and who wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Whether you like it or not, and whether you encounter the same issues or not, will depend on which features you use, what your priorities are, and of course, you personal preferences and style. So, get some hands-on time with the device first.
Is this strictly business category on its way out?
Are we becoming more accustomed, or even addicted, to these multi-media packages that the latest smartphones are offering including the ones I reviewed last week? And is this an indication that this “strictly business” category is on its way out.
Not by any means and for many reasons. The strictly business category is for users who want their device to be strictly business either out of necessity (like by friend who didn’t want a camera in his device) or preference and style (like those described by Wilson Rothman as being “the high-paid professionals and business people”).
But in addition, some users may choose the “strictly business” smartphone because they prefer the “best-of-breed” approach instead of the “device convergence” approach. In the “best-of-breed” approach, you might choose a “strictly business” smartphone, and have your preferred MP3 player as its own device, and a high quality digital camera yet as a third device. One may think that the industry is heading towards device convergence, especially as these smartphone get smarter and more capable, but there are arguments on both sides of the equation. You may refer to the “Convergence of devices, observations from Eric Schmidt keynote speech” post for some additional insights.
Finally, how about the Web Worker and the strictly business category?
If you are a Web Worker (and if you don’t subscribe totally to the best-of-breed approach), my guess would be that you are likely to want more in your smartphone than what the “strictly business” category offers.
When you are going places, seeking your next spot for the next productivity “burst”, eagerly capturing and document what you are encountering, and when the lines between personal and business fade in and out several times a day, your camera, your music and video player, your voice recording and voice recognition, may become more crucial to your daily survival. Just a thought!
Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will be about “the Treo and the Treo” smartphones.