Sprint’s PPC6700 Stands Out

ppc6700You may have heard the argument: When talk turns to converged consumer electronics devices, many tech industry observers point to the clock radio as one of the few success stories. Everything else, no matter the maker, tends to sacrifice usability in the name of feature-lust. So what to make of Sprint’s new HTC-designed, UTStarcom-produced, PPC6700? In addition to posing as a dual-band CDMA phone (800/1900MHz), Sprint’s new business-focused smartphone also packs both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, operates on Sprint’s nascent EV-DO network, includes a (surprisingly good) 1.3 mega-pixel camera, the Windows Mobile 5.0 OS, an integrated QWERTY keyboard, and a removable storage slot.

As it turns out, the 6700 may be the best-designed and implemented PDA phone to date. I spent the last four days testing the 6700 encountering no major problems; in fact, the 6700 may be one of the first devices to offer a viable alternative to towing around a laptop on short trips. Not only was I able to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi at home and the office (its internal antenna was able to pick up a Starbuck’s signal 29 floors below and a block away), at times I was able to get download speeds in excess of 400 Kbps using Sprint’s EV-DO network here in San Francisco. (Here’s a list of cities in which Sprint currently offers 3G.) The Windows software suite—as it should handled all my MSFT office documents seamlessly; I was able to read, re-format and edit documents on the device and had no problems transferring/receiving documents, via Bluetooth, with both my IBM ThinkPad and Apple PowerBook.

But with any device of its size, the big question was how well the 6700s keyboard would feel after repeated use. Unlike many other slider phones, the 6700s keyboard doesn’t feel flimsy; roughly the same length of a Treo (slightly smaller, actually), there’s enough real estate for all the keys. Unfortunately, the buttons are not raised as much as the Treos (or Blackberry), which made typing tough at first. The 6700 also offers a software keyboard and a stylus to use when the phone’s main keyboard is retracted.

The Windows Mobile 5.0 OS is impressive, though there are signs it still needs work. The 6700’s software occasionally lags between commands, but it addresses many of the earlier complaints about Windows Mobile. Users can toggle between portrait and landscape modes, and the phone automatically switches to landscape when the keyboard is extended. Wisely, Sprint also decided to support Dial-Up Networking via Bluetooth, meaning you’ll be able to use the 6700 as a high-speed modem. Unfortunately, it’s a feature that’s not ready yet. “Bluetooth Dial Up Networking capabilities ( ed: for both Macs and PCs) will not be available until later this year when we receive a software patch from Microsoft,” said a Sprint spokesperson in an email exchange.

I was also surprised at the 6700’s size—or lack thereof. At just a shade over 6 ounces, and 4.25 inches long, the 6700 is just smaller than a Treo 650, and tinier than some of the larger PDA phones like the Sony Ericsson P900. As usual, HTC included an excellent cell radio—I haven’t experienced a drop call yet. And the Taiwanese vendors experience with getting the most out a battery shows as well—despite somewhat heavy Bluetooth and Wi-Fi use, I managed to keep the 6700 running all weekend on a single charge.

None of this comes cheap, of course. At $479 (after a $150 rebate), the PPC6700 is at the high end of Sprint’s offerings. There’s also the matter of Sprint’s high-dollar data plans—which can run as high as $80 per month for unlimited data usage. It may be too soon to call the 6700 a Treo-killer, but its certainly one of the best converged devices made to date. If you’re in the market for a high-functioning mobile phone, and can live with Sprint, this should top your list of candidates.

Review by Matt Maier, wireless and gizmo correspondent for Business 2.0 magazine. Subscribe to his Weekly Wireless Report.