Thursday, March 25, 2004

Smart and Smarter Phones

After spending a few days in Arizona with Dan Fox, I began to realize how nice it would be to have a smarter phone.

Dan has the T-Mobile PocketPC Phone. We were both in the desert to get away from work and enjoy some Cactus League baseball, but we also both needed to periodically check email.

I have a Samsung N400 on SprintPCS. With my phone, I can access the "wireless web" and log into Quilogy's wireless intranet. From there, I can access a company directory, look at recent sales numbers, etc. I can also access my Exchange Inbox and read, delete and reply to emails. Sounds fine, however it actually quite difficult. One issue is that when I access the intranet, I need to peck in my username and password. My user name consists partially of my last name, which is 9 characters long. Using a numeric keypad to enter that is quite cumbersome. Additionally, I need to re-enter my username and password to log into Exchange. I can then read and delete emails easily enough, but replying presents the same problems with typing. (as an example, to type "Quilogy," I would have to peck 77884445556664999.)

Meanwhile, Dan was checking email on a device that presented a larger, easier to read screen. Also, the device is pre-configured with his username and password, so he simply needs to "sync," and the device automatically syncs his Exchange information. Not just email, but also contacts and calendar information, which I have to keep separately if I want that information on my phone. His phone also includes the convenience of being able to dial directly from his Exchange Contact list.

Of course, the downside is that I had a nice, small phone that clipped to my belt. He had a larger device that he kept in his pocket.

So, since returning from Arizona, I've been researching various phone/PDA combinations to see if one of these devices would be right for me. Off the bat, I felt I wanted a PocketPC phone. I've been using a PocketPC off and on for a couple of years. There are things about it that just can't be beat. Now that the Microsoft Compact Framework and other development tools for mobility are available, I'm also excited about being able to write custom applications for my device. My current carrier is SprintPCS, so I checked their web site to see what kind of PDA Phones they had available.

The options with Sprint are basically the huge and heavy Hitachi G1000 and the poorly reviewed Toshiba 2032. The Hitachi has a builtin thumb-board for easier input, but adding that makes the device really too big to carry everywhere you go, IMO. The Toshiba doesn't run PocketPC Phone Edition, rather it runs the standard PocketPC OS with proprietary phone softward built on top of it. I've seen nothing but poor reviews for this Toshiba.

Another carrier in my area, Verizon, seems to be ahead of the curve on devices. They are currently offering both a PocketPC phone as well as a SmartPhone. The SmartPhone is a newer device. Like the PocketPC, it can sync to my Exchange so it has my calendar, contacts and email, but it has a smaller form factor, much like a standard cell phone. It doesn't have a touch screen, so unlike the PocketPC where you tap the screen to interact, the SmartPhone uses buttons and the numeric keypad for input.

Verizon is offering the Samsung SCH-I600 SmartPhone and the Samsung SCH-I700 PocketPC Phone. The I600 is the only SmartPhone available in my area, that I am aware of, and the I700 is the most advanced PocketPC phone available.

Finally, TMobile, who was the first to offer the PocketPC phone, is still offering their phone, but now offers it with the new PocketPC 2003 OS.

After muddling through all of the information, I'm not sure I've decided what device is right for me. It seems all devices offer something of value, but none seem to offer everything.

In the meantime, I'll keep pecking away...

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