Which Smart phone did I choose, and why?

By Pierre Khawand of People-OntheGo

A radio announcer was talking once about the qualities that he is looking for in a life partner. In summary, he said that he was seeking someone who has the looks of Cindy Crawford, the heart of mother Teresa, the brain of Einstein, and the wealth of Bill Gates. If I had to take this approach with smartphones, I would go for the look and feel and features of the BlackBerry Pearl, the full QWERTY keyboard of the Dash, the reliability and high-speed of the Verizon network, and the international support of T-Mobile or Cingular. But until such a smartphone is available, here is how I went about selecting my smartphone.

The 4 quadrants

I remember the days when I was writing business plans and meeting with venture capitalists to get funding, at that time it is was invariable that a 4 quadrant diagram gets included in the presentation. Not only it served a good purpose in helping explain the market and the positioning of the various players, but it was also the cool thing to do.

So let me take the same approach (the 4 quadrants diagram approach) to the world of smartphones. Obviously there are many ways to slice and dice the smartphone market, but the one that developed as I thought through this topic had the “business capabilities” on the vertical axis, and the “entertainment capabilities” on the horizontal axis as shown below.

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You can see how the full featured smartphones, such as the Treo 700p, Treo 700w, and T-Mobile MDA, ranked high on both the business and entertainment features, and were therefore positioned in the top right quadrant, and even the top right corner in that quadrant. The BlackBerry 8700 on the other hand has all the business features, but virtually none of the entertainment features, and therefore ranked high on the business features, but low on entertainment.

When it came to the BlackBerry Pearl and Cingular 3125, obviously they both provide the business and entertainment features, but are not as full featured as the Treo’s and the MDA, and not as business-like as the BlackBerry 8700.

The Motorola Q and the T-Mobile Dash ranked a little higher on the business axis than the BlackBerry Pearl and Cingular 3125 mainly because of the full QWERTY keyboard that they offer. They ranked slightly lower than the Pearl and the 3125 on the entertainment axis because of the form factor (being slightly larger and not as slick looking for social events).

So it seems that the following categories have emerged:

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  1. The business smartphones
  2. The computing powerhouses
  3. The social smartphones
  4. The business-social smartphones

Why not the business category?

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I did not choose the business category (even though I came originally from this category–having been a BlackBerry 7230 user for a few years and before that a Palm-PDA user for many years) because I discovered many business uses for the multi-media features that I would like to continue to have access to. Here are some examples.

During conferences and business events, I took pictures of product displays and advertisements to serve as reminders and to share with business partners. When driving, I recorded voice notes to capture thoughts and conclusions as well as important reminders. Occasionally, I sent voice memos instead of e-mails. In addition, I was able to document the 81-day-experiment more closely and post my pictures and related observations more often. I am also planning to explore the music downloading and streaming capabilities to see if they can supplement my iPod music library.

Note: If however I were to choose a device in this category, it would have been the BlackBerry 8700. The “Strictly Business – Blackberry 8700 & Nokia E62” post explains the details.

Why not the computing powerhouses?

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Because less is more. I don’t think of my smartphone as being a laptop replacement. In other words, I personally don’t need all the features that these computing powerhouses offer and would rather not have them in the way. Furthermore, I am not impressed by the usability of these devices. The Treo 700p usability has been improved from earlier versions of the Treo, but still, I found that there were too many choices and they were in the way. Not to mention the Treo 700w which I believe has a long way to go in terms of usablity. You can refer to the “Dual personalities – Treo vs Treo” for details. (LINK TO: http://webworkerdaily.com/2006/12/11/treo700w-treo700p-treo-680/ )

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How about the T-Mobile MDA? I didn’t find this device easy to navigate, in addition to being slow and occasionally “freezing” on me. With no back button, and no home button, you almost need to depend on the stylus and on the touch screen. Sometimes it took a few seconds for the device to switch between applications and sometimes the screen didn’t switch to landscape when I opened the sliding keyboard. The feel of the keys and sliding keyboard were not very smooth. I kept hitting the side and front keys accidentally, which are planted everywhere like landmines. Not to mention, the device is a little bulky. You get the point.

Note: If I were to choose a device in this category, it would be the Treo 700p. At the end of the 9 days, I was used to it, and all things considered, it does the job reasonably well.

Why not one of the “social” smartphones?

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I found the trackball and the user interface of the BlackBerry Pearl to be no less than “brilliant”. This combined with the robust out-of-the-box applications and push e-mail, and the navigational and text entry shortcuts, make the device one of the easiest and most efficient devices among the ones I have used–not to mention the form factor including the slick design and the small and thin dimensions.

So why not the Blackberry Pearl? The BlackBerry Pearl would have been my first choice when selecting my smartphone except that it doesn’t have a full QWERTY keyboard. I happen to use e-mail extensively and therefore the ability to type fast is not just an important requirement but a showstopper. When I have a few minutes in between meetings, and need to quickly respond to urgent messages, every second counts. While the SureType does a good job in making typing on the numeric keypad easier, it still doesn’t compete with the full QWERTY keyboard and the two thumbs flying around seamlessly without having to think about which letter corresponds to which key–keeping the thoughts focused on the subject matter.

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The Cingular 3125 is the other device in the “social” category. It is the only smartphone I used in the 81-day-experiment that is a flip phone. Even though it looks like your regular flip phone, don’t let the looks deceive you. It is actually a fully capable smartphone. It is a Windows Mobile smartphone, but it does have the back button, the home button, and many navigational shortcuts including numbered menu items, which makes it much easier and more user friendly than the computing powerhouses I described earlier. However the Cingular 3125 has a keypad and not a full QWERTY keyboard, which again might work well if your typing needs are minimum, but for me that was not the case.

Note: If I were to choose a device in this category, as you may have guessed, it would have been the BlackBerry Pearl.

So it is the “business-social” category that I chose

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In this category, I used the Motorola Q and the T-Mobile Dash. In addition, I reviewed recently the Cingular BlackJack by Samsung which is the newcomer. You can refer to the “Four Smart Phones Compared” post for more details.

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Choosing a device in this category was relatively easy. I did not choose the Motorola Q because of the lack of international support of the Verizon network. I travel internationally and it is important for me to stay connected while on the go. The T-Mobile Dash was then the obvious choice. By the way, I did take a close look at the Cingular BlackJack. However, I still favored the T-Mobile Dash because I found the keyboard to be easier, the overall design to be more elegant, and the Wi-Fi support to be potentially useful. So the T-Mobile Dash is it!

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At the end of the day, my selection was driven by my need to quickly respond to e-mail on the go (and therefore have a full QWERTY keyboard), my need to travel internationally and stay connected (and therefore has a GSM/EDGE phone), my desire to have the camera and voice capabilities, and my desire to have a slick and small device that I can easily slip in my pocket and take to any social or business event. The trade off was having the less than optimum Windows Mobile interface and the less then optimum T-Mobile network in San Francisco.

What is coming up next?

In my first post on WWD on November 20 when I layed out the plan for the smartphone reviews that I will be posting, I indicated that the 4th post will be about the Windows Mobile Evolution, and the 5th post will be about the “Black Sheep”, which in this case referring to the Nokia E62 and the Symbian OS. However, it happened that I addressed these topics already in the weekly posts in the last few weeks. Accordingly, today’s post ended up being about my own device selection, and next week’s post will be about selecting a smartphone in general–with the hope of giving you some additional insights that can help you in this process.

So stay tuned for next week’s post about selecting a smartphone, and meanwhile, if you happen to have missed my webinar last week, in which I gave an overview of the 81-day-experiment, you can refer to the following resources for more information.

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