Which Smart phone did I choose, and why?

12 Comments

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.

smartphones_4_quadrants.jpg
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:

smartphones_4_quadrants_categories.jpg
  1. The business smartphones
  2. The computing powerhouses
  3. The social smartphones
  4. The business-social smartphones

Why not the business category?

blackberry-8700.jpg

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?

treoandtreo.jpg

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/ )

mda-open.jpg

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?

blackberry-pearl.jpg

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.

cingular_3125.jpg

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

motorola_q.jpg

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.

blackjack.jpg

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!

t-mobile-dash.JPG

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.

12 Comments

Gus

Pierre–thanks for your typically thorough approach to sorting technology. You may have breathed new life into my consideration of the T-Mobile Dash.

As you know, I own the Nokia E70. I thought I would make a brief reply to “brklynsurfer’s” comment on excluding the E70.

From a distance, the E70 (and Nokia’s business line in general) looks like an interesting contender. Up close, I am not sure it makes the grade.

The build quality seemed good, and the keyboard is fairly easy to get used to. It has good tactile response, and the way it folds up is very compelling. The keys are a little slippery, and the gray on silver lettering is hard to see under certain light–even with the backlight on. I suspect the black model would be easier to see. The joystick is a little awkward, and in only a few months its functioning has become very unreliable (not to mention that the fake chrome paint has rubbed off of it). I often have to push (to select) the joystick several times to get it to register.

Nokia’s attitude toward support for this phone has been completely unacceptable. Because it was not released in the U.S. when I bought it, they were incapable and unwilling to support it. U.S. support said, “we don’t support that model.” Any other country’s support site said, “we don’t support people from the U.S.” The net effect is that I bought a Nokia phone and Nokia refused to support it. Fortunately, I found answers to a good portion of my concerns on the Internet.

As someone who has used PalmOS since 1997/8, it is difficult to take Symbian seriously. It is clear that Symbian was built to turn a phone into a smart phone. Arguably, PalmOS was built either to squeeze a computer into your pocket or to create a new class (at the time) of computing device that was still easy to use. Symbian is cluttered and slow. Preferences for a robust feature set are scattered in separate applications and panels. It is difficult to make shortcuts to the things you use all the time.

The Nokia E70 is very short on memory. Here I don’t mean storage space. With an expansion card I can get all the storage I require. But application memory is very limited. If I open the gMail application for Series 60, it will automatically kill the Web browser. If I open the Web browser with other things open, the Web browser will often run out of memory after a few pages and crash. Some users have reported that the browser crashes have corrupted the memory of their device so badly that it had to be fully reset. Even without another application running, the Web browser is likely to run out of memory before you are done browsing. Also, opening the keyboard takes up a significant chunk of application memory (to support screen rotation). The loading of this additional software slows the first screen-rotation after booting the phone, and it takes up the memory until the phone is restarted.

Finally, the application software on both the phone and the PC is just not all the way there. The PC synchronization software is clunky and somewhat unreliable. It has duplicated countless items on several occasions. It sometimes refuses to recognize that the phone is connected (and ready to synch) until I reboot the computer.

The software on the phone lacks maturity. The calendar and address book do not make very good use of the screen space they have and looking at detail on any entry involves a lot of scrolling with the joystick (which doesn’t work so well). The applications do not contain and synchronize nearly as many fields as PalmOS and Windows mobile. For example, you there is no way to look at only one category of your memos, contacts, or calendar events.

The applications have other quirks of varying degrees of importance. On the relatively painless end, you cannot view the notes on a calendar entry without “editing” them. This winds up causing synchronization problems because you “edit” the item on both platforms. In fairness, Palm still hasn’t figured this problem out either. On the much more painful end, setting the email application to automatically retrieve email introduced two problems: a) the email application does not recognize gMail’s SSL certficate and refuses to memorize it. So you get prompted to accept the certificate every time it talks to the gMail server. b) If the connection ever fails, the email application gives an error message and disables the auto-retrieval function. Given the complexity of the menu system, turning the auto-retrieval back on involves a lot of clicks and selections. This is probably the stupidist of the design flaws that I have uncovered. And combined with the way Nokia has implemented POP support, it indicates that Nokia doesn’t really get email just yet.

Just a few thoughts for anyone considering the Nokia business phones. If you want a phone that does a few tricks, they might be alright for you. If you are accustomed to smart phone features, try before you buy. These phones are not cheap, and they are not in the same league of software as the others Pierre has discussed.

Larry

This note is just a thank you for a well done review. I was facing a decision between replacing my broken MDA with another or with the DASH and I think I will go with the DASH. For me I needed to take a step back to using a phone for a phone with the option to do the other things (in case I need it) not as a primary resource. As long as I can do text messaging and receive immediate email (in which I have a special email account setup for) I am fine. Again thanks.

Rick Colosimo

Pierre, a great comprehensive review with real practical observations. I think you’ve done consumers a great service by actually using devices. Most reviewers repeat company spec sheets and don’t use the products.

As we’ve followed you over this experiment, my business partner and I have decided to replace our Treo 650s with Blackberry Pearls. We’ve found that the 650 was having growing email and sync problems over time, and the Palm legacy that was important to us at the 600 stage was less important now that other devices have caught up in usability.

Why the Pearl? 1- Form factor: smaller than the Treo and smaller than our RAZR backup phone! 2- Bulletproof email setup in minutes. 3-Cingular friendly to avoid extra hassle. 4- As my partner used to say, “How many investment bankers do you see using Treos?” 5- Voice dialing & voice notes are a big bonus for time-pressed activity. 6- Application multitasking: Taking notes and sending an email while on a call was a major chore with the Treo.

Thanks for all your hard work, and keep us all posted on your next (and current!) experiments!

Jacob Bohall

Pierre… again.. thank you so much for the reviews. It was a great help to me in making my decision on a smartphone.

I did choose the cingular 8525.. It is very similiar to the T-Mobile MDA, except: a. it comes with Cingular’s 3G internet capabilities. b. It has the backlighting and a more efficient layout on the keyboard (keystrokes are smooth, and the buttons are responsive). c. I have not experienced any freezing, and the landscape to portrait changes have been smooth. I must say, I have really enjoyed using the phone the past few days, and will recommend it to anyone. It was a little confusing setting up the email because there are so many “marketed” options. I discovered that the email client built into the phone with microsoft’s push technology suits my 4 pop3 email account needs very well. (I did set up xpressmail in an attempt to access my laptop documents remotely, but I have been having a little difficulty logging in on the site. It lets me log in, but then when I navigate to the documents, it tells me that I have entered an incorrect password… makes no sense, and I can’t seem to find any guidance) The ability to use the phone as a modem has been great. I am thinking about canceling my home internet service as soon as they implement 3G in the savannah, ga area. My partner and I drove from Savannah, Ga to Bradenton, Fl… I was in the passenger seat with the laptop online the whole time. When we got around Tampa, the 3G apparently kicked in because the internet speed could compete with any internet connection I have used in the past (DSL/Broadband) The only complaint I have about the phone (and this could just be resulting from my lack of experience…having the phone only 4 days or so) I can’t seem to figure out how to turn the Alarm Volume up. I have always used my cell phone as an alarm clock, and its just not cutting it for me. Also.. the speakerphone works extremely well/loud, and the headset has great quality when I am using it during phone calls; however, the speaker seems a little weak when I am playing songs or video through the onboard windows media player.. I found that to be quite odd as well. I am also having difficulty receiving files from other phones (motorola) through the bluetooth, as it says that the service is not supported. File transfer through the iRDA was not a problem. One other feature I found to be quite cool is the transcriber and note features. I can make notes with the stylus, and it stays in my handwriting, or I can turn on the transcriber, and it converts my handwriting to text (very accurate when you write neatly… which I kinda do) Going back and making changes when you use this feature can be quite cumbersome. My only real qualm is that the camera quality is quite poor. I need to look further into the tweaking though, because there are so many different camera controls, with the flash, the flower, [+] signs and trees, I have to think that I am just not getting the settings right.. after all, it is a 2.0 megapixel camera.

It was exciting to have won your contest, and I will keep you posted on my experiences with the 8525. Sorry to take up so much space on here, but I hope it helps someone.

Page

I won’t be in a buying mood till around April, and was wondering where/how to find out about what’s coming soon from the vendors. Thanks for the comprehensive reviews.

Albert F

Definitely a great, comprehensive review Pierre. Overall, people’s decisions will be based on their personal needs and preferences because while there are plenty of smartphone choices, none are perfect.

jedweb

I’ve been using BlackBerries for years and I must say that I can type faster on my 7100 with it’s SureType technology than I could on any full QWERTY device. It does take a little getting used to but I wouldn’t go back now. I’ve played a bit with the Pearl and am amazed at how small it is while still packing so much punch. It’s definitely on my list.

Sal Cangeloso

The Dash definitely the best choice IMO. It is a very solid phone, with lots of features and enough horsepower to do the job. It is far and away better than most of the competition.

As for myself, I am stuck on Verizon for the time being and while the service is very good, CMDA is the bain of my existence. Due to a recent move from one state to another I can’t change carriers without changing my number, so I am out of luck for the time being.

brklynsurfer

Maybe you should have included the Nokia e70 in your test. I think that phone would have done just as well if not better than the Dash. Was the phone being subsidized by a carrier a important to you?

Comments are closed.