Four Smart Phones Compared

BlackBerry Pearl, Cingular 3125, Cingular BlackJack, and T-Mobile Dash

These devices, and the new Samsug BlackJack by Cingular, have definitely taken us by surprise. Suddenly our full featured smartphone does not have to weight a ton, look like a brick, and require a belt piece to carry it around.

By Pierre Khawand

Beware, the BlackBerry Pearl can sweep you off your feet!

Blackberry PearlThe first of these devices that I used was the BlackBerry Pearl from T-Mobile which I got on Sept 12, 2006, the day it was released, and used it for 9 days. I have to say that I fell in love with this device right away. The trackball, which is the trackwheel replacement, makes so much sense. The menu and return buttons next to it make even more sense. This coupled with the BlackBerry interface that is full of clever shortcuts, especially when it comes to typing, makes the device a pleasure to work with and plenty of immediate gratification as you roll your way through the menus, and click, and escape to your heart’s content.

Now let us talk business. This charming “Pearl” does everything that the other “BlackBerries” do, and takes full advantage of the BlackBerry server capabilities when available, and at the same time, it is the first blackberry to offer rich multi-media capabilities such as the camera, playing music and videos, and having voice recognition out of the box. Refer to the BlackBerry Pearl in 6 Minutes video to see these features in action.

So what are the trade-offs? And why shouldn’t everyone get “rolling” with the BlackBerry Pearl?

First of all, the “charm” is a subjective thing. So until you put your hands on the device, you cannot really tell if it is going to sweep you off your feet or even satisfy your usability needs, or not. So get moving and find out for yourself.

Second of all, the absence of the QWERTY keyboard may be a bigger issue if you do a lot of typing. Of course the BlackBerry Pearl offers the SureType typing method, and actually one of our readers reported that he could type faster on the BlackBerry Pearl and with less mistakes than he was able to do on the new Cingluar BlackJack which has the full QWERTY keyboard. However for most users, the full QWERTY keyboard is still the fastest and easiest.

Third of all, it is the fact that the BlackBerry Pearl by T-Mobile supports only the EDGE network speed. This is plenty of speed for e-mail and for simple browsing, but if you are looking to hook up your laptop to the Internet using the BlackBerry Pearl as a modem, or looking to do some more significant Web work, the higher speed may be a factor, and you may need to look into devices that support UMTS or EV-DO.

The Cingular 3125

Cingular 3125I got this device also just when it was introduced and used it for 9 days. While it is not the “sweep you off your feet” kind of device, it does have an appealing look and feel. The Cingular 3125 is a Windows Mobile device, and a pretty full featured device, with all the multi-media you can imagine. I remember when I was watching TV on the Cingular 3125 during a trip to Southern California. What makes the Cingular 3125 unique though is the flip-phone aspect. Some users like the flip-phone design because it protects the screen from scratches and avoids accidental pressing of the keys.

The Cingular 3125 has a keypad and it is a phone-like keypad. Unlike the BlackBerry Pearl which uses the QWERTY layout on the keypad, the Cingular 3125 users the regular phone keys layout. This means if you are not used to text-messaging already (i.e. you are in your twenties or beyond, as opposed to being a teen), typing is likely to be challenging on the Cingular 3125. The predictive typing makes typing less challenging, but still, if you do a lot of typing, it is an important factor to look into.

The Samsung BlackJack by Cingular

cingular_samsung_blackjack.jpgNot only the BlackJack brings a QWERTY keyboard, but the big surprise (or maybe awaited feature) is that it supports the HSDPA network which promises speeds of up to 1.8 Mbits/sec to individual handsets (currently the announced speed is in the 400 to 700 Kbps range). Now we are talking!

This is also a Windows Mobile smartphone with a slick design. With the higher speed, the whole Internet and a bunch of other applications, are at your disposal. Not only this, but HSDPA supports simultaneous voice and data transfers. Be careful though, your area may not have this high-speed coverage yet, and if not, the speed is likely to drop to the EDGE speed.

The Samsung BlackJack by Cingular solves two of the issues I mentioned earlier with the BlackBerry Pearl. It does have the full QWERTY, and it has the higher speed. And if you happen to like its design, which is actually pretty slick, it will probably win you over. However, don’t rush into buying it yet. Take some time to put your hands on it, try the keyboard, become familiar with Windows Mobile if you’re not already, and then see what happens. Again, usability (“charm” factor included) are very subjective indeed.

The T-Mobile Dash brings Wi-Fi to the equation

TMobile DashThe T-Mobile Dash, also a Windows Mobile device introduced by T-Mobile recently, and yet another device that I got on the first day it was released and used for 9 days, offers the Windows Mobile functionality and the rich multi-media capabilities, the full QWERTY keyboard, and in addition the Wi-Fi capability. In this case, when there is a Wi-Fi network in range, the T-Mobile Dash will be able to make use of it, and therefore take advantage of the potentially higher speed.

It must have been on one of the first few days after I started using the T-Mobile Dash, when as I was crossing one of the streets in San Francisco, I heard the T-Mobile Dash making a beep. It was informing me that there were many Wi-Fi networks in range and giving me the option to choose one.

It has been said that you can almost get away without a data plan and just use WiFi and web e-mail. You may be thinking that this is insane, but Sony doesn’t think so, at least not for certain target market segments. The Sony mylo™ (My Life Online) personal communicator is just a Wi-Fi device. It is intended to be used in places where Wi-Fi is available. This could be your office, your home, the local hotspots, and other Wi-Fi enabled places that you visit. It can surf the web, use Web e-mail, use Instant Messenger, listen to music, watch videos, and even make Internet phone calls.

Obviously as a business user, you wouldn’t have this luxury of “no-data-plan”, but still, having Wi-Fi capabilities is a plus. What is unique about the Wi-Fi implementation in the T-Mobile Dash is that it is really seamless, unlike the T-Mobile MDA which I also used in the 81-day-expeirment where Wi-Fi was more challenging to work with.

With a full QWERTY keyboard, a slick design, a full featured pda, phone, e-mail, Internet, and multi-media capabilities, and, not to forget Wi-Fi, the T-Mobile Dash is a pretty attractive device for business and social users. Probably one that goes head-to-head against the Cingular BlackJack.

So what is this new breed of smartphones?

These new kids on the block (and on the “blog” because they have been talked about so much even before their arrival) belong to what I call a new category of devices. They provide the business functionality for serious business users (phone, pda, e-mail, and Internet). They provide a host of multi-media capabilities which may be primarily for personal use (the camera, music, video, TV, and host of entertainment applications). At the same time, they are light and small and slick in design, so that you wouldn’t feel awkward holding them to your ear, and you can even slide them into your pocket or purse as you head out to a social event. By the way, another device that may fit into this category is the Motorola Q. I didn’t mention it here because it is no longer the new kid on the block, but it is fairly comparable to the above devices.

If I was to give this category a name it would “biz-social” and I would say that the arrival of these devices mark a new era in the world of smartphones, almost like the arrival of the iPod in the world of MP3 a while ago.

So which device will I choose?

After the 81-day-experiment (and after working with 9 different devices for 9 days each) I still need to decide which of these 9 devices I am going to keep as my “permanent” device. I will be announcing the “winner” device on December 5 at the Lunch & Learn On The Air Webinar which you are welcome to attend . If you want to take a guess at which device I will be choosing, please send your entry to There will be a drawing at the December 5 Webinar and the winner will get a new smartphone of their choice (one of the smartphones reviewed in the 81-day-experiment).


Comments have been disabled for this post