Walt Mossberg: please stop writing mobile tech reviews

Walt_mossbergSorry. I hate to be harsh and I fully respect Mr. Mossberg for his overall breadth of technology knowledge, but I really haven’t seen an article worth reading from him on mobile tech yet. It’s not his writing skills, style or general computing knowledge; it’s fair to say those are all excellent. The problem is one of perspective and it applies to many "tech journalists" out there today. If you aren’t a mobile device user / expert, you’re essentially doomed to miss or just "not get" how a mobile device is to be used and in what circumstances. If you agree with that premise, then why are you writing about mobile devices? That would be me like writing about mainframe technology when I only have a cursory understanding of ‘em. (And yes, they’re still used today!) I liken this to being handed a hammer when I need to cut some wood and then saying that "this saw" just doesn’t work.

What raised these thoughts was an article that Walt wrote on the Nokia 770. I’ll disclose that I’ve never held one in my hands; perhaps it’s short-sighted of me to be critical then. However, given my mobile tech lifestyle and experiences, I cringe when I see statements like these below from the article; follow along the virtual conversation if you will:

Walt: "One of the holy grails of the digital era has been the invention of a true pocket-size computer, a device smaller than the smallest laptop that could still perform most of the common functions of a PC. The closest contenders are the smart phones, like Palm’s Treo models."
Kevin: "The closest contenders are not smartphones; they are UMPCs. Up until this year, I would have agreed with the comment on smartphones, but not now."

Walt: "I have been testing the 770, and I found that it performs its main function, Web browsing, better than any other pocket device I’ve tried."
Kevin: "Earlier in the article you mention that smartphone screens are too small to effectively web surf. Have you ever tried alternative browser options like Minimo, Opera, Thunderhawk or Access by NetFront? They greatly improve the browsing experience on the small screen."

Walt: "Most of the surface is occupied by the very vivid, bright display, which boasts by far the highest resolution I have seen on a hand-held digital device — 800×480".
Kevin: "That might be the highest you’ve personally ever seen on a handheld, but I see it every day on my Samsung Q1. I’ve also seen 1024 x 600 on an even smaller screen from a little known company called Sony with their U- and UX-series of handheld computer. C’mon, both these are hand-helds, right?"

Walt: "And the screen on the Treo 700p, which has the best resolution of any smart phone display, is just 320×320."
Kevin: "Walt, we all know you love the Palm-flavored Treos; I read your 700w review where you trashed the Windows Mobile version and you’re entitled to your opinion. However, you just told the public that the Treo 700p has the best resolution of any smartphone display and I’m sure they will believe you; just because you’re you. You’re also wrong and you just misled a heck of bunch of folks. Take a look at some of the VGA smartphones that sport full 640 x 480 VGA screens and then get back to us on the Treo 700p. Granted, there aren’t many, but that doesn’t mean we should hide them from the public."

Walt: "But the email program was so slow as to be essentially useless. Even simple tasks like selecting and deleting emails take forever. There’s another reason the 770 isn’t a very good email device: Unlike the Treo, the 770 lacks a keyboard; so you have to tap out emails on an onscreen keyboard or use handwriting recognition, which wasn’t great."
Kevin: "Walt, you have to use the right tool for the task. If the 770 is such a great Internet browser (which I have no doubt), then why bother with the e-mail program? Gmail works wonders with e-mail over the Internet, as does Yahoo! and other web-based apps. Please don’t get me started with the handwriting; while I can’t say if the recognition on the 770 is good or not, have you ever used a Tablet PC and ink? You might have, but I can’t recall reading an article where you did."

Walt: "The user interface is confusing. The same icon is used for both the Web browser and for turning on the Wi-Fi connection. The email program is buried in the Contact menu and the picture viewer is buried in a Utilities menu. There are many more software oddities."
Kevin: "I keep waiting and waiting for you to tell folks that the 770 runs on a version of Linux, but you just didn’t get around to it. My guess is that’s one of the primary reasons for the confusing UI, but it’s a key point that should have been shared."

Again, I’m not trying to bash Walt here; I could have just as easily picked on many other tech journalists. The point is: this is a prime example of someone who doesn’t understand mobile devices and therefore can’t possibly put them in the proper light for their usage. Is the Nokia 770 the best mobile device since sliced bread? Of course not, and neither is the Samsung Q1 UPMC that I use all day, every day. Let’s just be sure that we provide the proper perspective on these computers is all I’m saying.



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