The new wave of hybrid PDA business phones are here. The gadget gurus from RMIT decide who talks the talk.
They were affectionately known as "bricks" and were appallingly expensive; you had to be a successful business person to afford one. Fast forward to present day -- now if a kid in primary school does not own a mobile they are definitely not cool.
Mobile phones have become a disposable consumer commodity to be tossed out with last year's fashion. They barely last long enough to see you through the contract -- I have personally had three die on me in as many years.
For most of the population, the mobile phone is now seen as fashion statement -- it must look sexy, have a colourful display, polyphonic ring tones -- or better still -- MP3 samples of your favourite songs. Let us not forget the integrated digital camera, ranging from dodgy VGA up to two mega-pixel additions that can record and playback video streams.
They are all-singing all-dancing pocket game machines, and we sometimes lose sight of their true function -- to be a convenient portable phone. For a business person they must also manage appointments, calendar, and contacts.
Designers have approached the concept of a business phone from two different directions. Some start with a PDA design and add phone functionality (presumably so there will be less of a compromise on usability and functionality). Others start with a mobile phone and add PDA functions -- while trying to maintain mobile phone convenience.
Four PDA phones were offered for review: the O2 Xda IIi, the i-mate PDA2k EVDO, PalmOne's Treo 650, and the Motorola A1000. The O2 and i-mate are full blown Windows-based Pocket PC's, the Treo is a Palm OS PDA, and the Motorola runs a fairly sparse Symbian OS.
The O2 and i-mate are the size and shape of traditional PDA's while the Motorola is a good deal smaller but still resembles a PDA. The Treo looks like a fusion between phone and PDA. Of the mobile phones with added PDA function, we tested the Nokia 9300, Blackberry 7100v, Sony Ericcson P910i, Siemens SK65, and the NEC N410i.
These models have evolved beyond typical mobile phones and now feature much of the functionality of a PDA. The Nokia is particularly interesting as it looks like a relatively large and clunky mobile phone with a typical phone keyboard and small display, but it opens like a clamshell to reveal a larger portrait display and QWERTY keypad.
The Sony is a large and chunky mobile phone that has quite a large display and a standard phone number pad that flips down to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard on the reverse side and the complete display -- similar in size to a full PDA.
The Siemens is just plain weird. It has a typical phone face, keyboard, and medium display. At first glance it looks like it may open clamshell style like the Nokia, but the extra thickness hides a secret -- revealed by twisting the back half of the phone.
This results in a "+" shaped phone featuring a full keyboard with the QWERT half on the left side of the phone and the YUIOP on the right side. Those with long fingernails may break quite a few opening the phone -- the lock is quite stiff and gives way suddenly.
The NEC N410i is a clamshell phone with a tiny display on the front face and a larger display inside, it retains a regular phone keyboard -- no QWERTY. In fact, this is the only phone that still looks like a phone.
There is no such word as pocketability (but there should be). Most men would prefer not to carry a bag, so a phone that fits in your pocket is important.
The weight and bulk of all of these phones renders them poor contenders for trouser-pocket transportation. You (and the rest of the people in the room) will certainly know they are in your pocket.
Only NEC has not upgraded from the standard mobile phone keyboard. The keys feel quite dead, although they are easy to use given their size and spacing. Of the dedicated phone keypads the NEC, Nokia, and Blackberry are quite usable -- the Sony, and particularly the Siemens, less so. Making a phone call on the other units involves either using their QWERTY keyboards or the touchscreen.
The Treo's QWERTY keyboard is fairly horrible -- as is the i-mate's. For making phone calls the buttons are simply too small and close together -- most users would find this quite frustrating. In both cases you are far better off using the touch screen to dial a call. This is also quite easy to do on the O2 and Motorola, phones without a physical keyboard.
Inputting data for PDA functionality is met with varying degrees of difficulty. Let's start off controversially by stating that the physical QWERTY keyboard for most of the phones are downright horrid.
Arguably the worst QWERTY is the Siemens, and it sadly has no handwriting recognition or onscreen keyboard alternative.
You have to commend Siemens for trying, you can see what they were trying to do, but the keyboard misses the mark.
The other phone that vies for the worst keyboard award is the Blackberry, but then maybe we are being a bit unfair because once you get used to the weird input system it is probably quite good.
The Blackberry has a slightly larger keyboard than a standard phone and maps the QWERTY keyboard to the keys much like a normal phone does the alphabetical keyboard to its keys. The Blackberry also has a predictive text engine that pops up multiple word options for you to select from. Once you're familiar with the system, the Blackberry would probably blow many of the other more traditional QWERTY implementations away.
The keyboards on the i-mate, Sony, and the Treo have tiny keys. With deliberate perseverance it is possible to become reasonably adept, but if you do not use the feature all the time it could be a pain. There is also an onscreen keyboard but it is not really any better.
With the NEC you only have the standard alphabetically mapped keyboard to input names and data. This is no doubt the slowest and most painful of all the modes.
You would only really want to use this mode in an emergency. The rest of the time you would be better off inputting data into your PC and synchronising it with the phone -- obviously the best option for all the phones.
Easily the best data input keyboard of the group is the Nokia. Its keyboard and keys are quite large and well spaced -- you cannot touch type, but when two-finger typing you can have confidence that the key you poke will be the one that registers.
The Motorola, O2, and i-mate also have handwriting recognition as input methods. The the O2 and i-mate are not too bad, but the Motorola is not that great.
Navigation methods vary. The simplest operation is the scroll wheels used by Blackberry and Sony that allow the user to scroll through the screen icons and select the one they want. All other phones have at least a cursor pad and select key to navigate the options with.
The i-mate, Motorola, Sony, O2, and Treo all supply touch screen navigation via small styluses or your finger. Using this mode the Motorola is the clumsiest. The Sony and Treo are better but arguably no match for the more familiar Windows-based interface of the O2 and i-mate; particularly when you start to load the phone with goodies and have to navigate through them. The odd ball of the group is the Nokia -- it has a large display but it is not touch sensitive. Instead the Nokia relies on a series of navigation buttons, but the menu system is so well laid out the system works remarkably well.
The NEC and Siemens have the smallest displays so the amount of useful information they can display at one time is obviously limited. Web surfing with such small displays would frustrate most users -- even the bigger displays are a tight squeeze.
The Blackberry and Treo are a step up in size, and both displays are crisp and sharp with the Treo easily the best. None of the phones were bad and all the screens were bright and given their relative sizes, and remarkably sharp.
The Sony and Motorola displays are slightly smaller than the O2 and i-mate. The latter are a joy to use -- large, bright, and very sharp.
The Nokia is a strange beast -- its landscape display is very wide but not particularly tall. It is, however, colourful and sharp, 640 x 200 pixels sharp, and can display surprisingly large chunks of data.
The digital camera is fast becoming a given for mobile phones. Only the Blackberry, Siemens, and Nokia did not include one.
Low-resolution cameras are fitted to the O2, Sony, and Treo (which has a 0.3 mega-pixel VGA resolution camera). The i-mate has an in-built flash unit while, interestingly, the Sony has infra-red night mode -- much like their consumer video camera range.
The remainder of the cameras are around the 1.3 megapixel range -- only the NEC features a flash unit. The Motorola and O2 make do without.
In terms of application speed the Blackberry, i-mate, and particularly the O2 with its 520MHz processor, are the fastest phones we reviewed. The Treo, Nokia, and Sony are not too bad either but the Motorola can be annoyingly slow at times.
The NEC and Siemens are a lot more limited in terms of processor and their applications, so they perform quite well.
None of the phones are what you would consider small. They have had ample space to implement a decent antenna and all the phones offer reasonable signal levels in many of the poor reception areas we tried, but bear in mind that there were four different carriers used among them.
If you are interested in the concept of video calls offered by the Motorola and its 3G functionality you should be aware that this is only available in a limited area. If you do drift outside 3G coverage, the phone roams over to another carrier so you then lose the extra features of 3G, such as high-speed data transfer and video.
The phone falls back to standard and slow GPRS and voice only. In the past 3G used to roam to Vodafone but it appears that this will change to Telstra. Data transfer performance is definitely the forte of the i-mate as it includes EVDO which typically transfers files around twice the speed of 3G, so you might get around 600-700kbps in a good signal area.
Audio performance for the phones was quite good, with the O2 and i-mate offering the best sound quality. The Motorola was loud enough, but at times it appeared that the processor could not keep pace when playing back MIDI files causing it to sound out of tune, like an old tape player with a flat battery.
Contact Management and Applications
A full listing of the contact management features can be found in the features table but it is worth noting that the NEC was the weakest, and the Motorola's applications were also quite sparse.
The Siemens was surprisingly good but then it does use Blackberry applications for a lot of its functionality. The Blackberry and Treo have a broad range of features and applications, and the Sony is also quite accomplished. The best in this class had to be the O2, i-mate, and Nokia which are remarkably strong in terms of flexibility and features.
i-mate PDA2k EVDO
O2 XDA IIi
PalmOne Treo 650
Sony Ericsson P910i
|Product||BlackBerry 7100V||i-mate PDA2k EVDO||Motorola A1000|
|Vendor||BlackBerry (distributed through Vodafone)||i-mate||Motorola (distributed by 3 Australia)|
|Telephone||Vodafone: 13 26 16||1300 850 513||3 Australia: 131 683|
|Web||www.blackberry.com||www.clubimate.com or www.imate.com||www.hellomoto.com|
|Warranty||24 months||12 months||12 months|
|Form factor||PDA/Mobile phone||PDA/Smartphone||PDA/Mobile phone|
|Average street price (inc GST)||AU$799||AU$1799||AU$979|
|Processor type and speed||Intel PXA263 400 MHz processor||Intel PXA263 400 MHz||168 MHz processor|
|Memory||32MB flash memory 4MB RAM||128MB RAM, 64mb ROM||32MB system RAM, 24MB internal memory|
|Memory expansion||N/A||SDIO/MMC card memory expansion||Transflash memory card|
|Connectivity (including GSM, GPRS, IR, 802.11b, Bluetooth)||Bluetooth, GPRS(Class 8)||IrDA, Bluetooth, GPRS (Class 10 (4+1/3+2 slots)||CE bus connector/Bluetooth, IR, GPRS (Class 10), GPS|
|Networks supported||Quadband GSM/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900||Quadband GSM 850/900/1800/1900||WCDMA 2100/Triband GSM 900/1800/1900|
|Security||Password protection and keyboard lock||Password protection||Password protection and phone lock code|
|Ports and expansion slots||USB cable for charging and PC synchronisation, international travel charger, holster, headset||Combined data synchronisation and USB charging port, headset||Combined data synchronisation and USB charging port, headset|
|Predictive text or handwriting recognition||SureType predictive text||Predictive text and handwriting recognition||iTAP predictive text and handwriting recognition|
|Audio (eg Polyphonic 40 voice, MP3, FM radio etc)||Integrated speaker and microphone, hands-free headset capable, hands-free speakerphone||WAV/WMA/MP3, integrated speaker and microphone, hands-free speakerphone||MP3/MPEG4 player, integrated dual audio speaker and microphone, hands-free speakerphone, person to person video, multimedia streaming|
|Phonebook features and capacity||Phonebook stores 33 fields for contact entry and additional notes||Phonebook has quick search bar. Stores 27 fields for contact entry. Sub section for additional notes storage||Phone capacity 500 entries storing 12 fields for each contact. Alphabetical list of stored contacts displaying icons next to names. Quick search bar|
|SMS, MMS and e-mail functionality||SMS, EMS, MMS, e-mail (Microsoft Exchange/Lotus Domino), chat||SMS, MMS, e-mail, instant messenger||SMS, EMS, MMS, e-mail, POP3/IMAP4/SMTP, Chat, instant messenger|
|Internet Web browser||Blackberry Browser, WML/HTML browser||Internet Explorer Pocket||WAP Browser : Opera 7.0 HTML Web Browser: XHTML|
|Other applications||Calendar, To-do List, Voice Commands, Calculator, Games (J2ME), Memo pad||XBackup, Photo Album, Calendar, To-Do List, Voice Commands, Calculator, Notes, Games (Solitaire, Jawbreaker), Pocket Excel, Pocket Word, Pocket MSN, Windows Media||Picsel Viewer(odc, xls, ppt, pdf), Calculator, Currency Convector, Virtual private network games, To-Do List, Notes|
|Dimensions (mm)||56 x 119 x 19||69.8 x 125 x 18.7||117 x 59 x 18.7|
|OS||Microsoft Pocket PC 2003||Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition||Symbian 7.0|
|Battery life (est.) Talk/Standby||4 hr talk, 192 hr standby||4 hr talk, 168 hr standby, 15 hr PDA||2.83 hr talk/250 hrs standby / 1 hr video TT|
|Product||NEC N410i||Nokia 9300||O2 XDA IIi|
|Telephone||131 632||1300 366 733||02 9699 2220|
|Warranty||12 months||12 months||24 months|
|Form factor||Clamshell||Clamshell||PDA/Mobile phone|
|Average street price (inc GST)||AU$989||AU$1199||AU$1599|
|Processor type and speed||N/A||ARM9 150MHz||IntelÃ‚Â® PXA272 520 MHz|
|Memory||32MB system, 25MB user memory||80MB expandable to 2GB||128MB SDRAM, 128MB ROM|
|Memory expansion||N/A||MMC slot||Flash chip 64MB, MMC, and SD/IO slot|
|Connectivity (including GSM, GPRS, IR, 802.11b, Bluetooth)||IR, Bluetooth, GPRS||Pop-Port interface, USB 2.0 connectivity, IR, Bluetooth, GPRS Multi slot Class 10, EGPRS Multi slot class 10||Bluetooth, IR, GPRS class B Multi slot class 10, WiFi 802.11b, USB 2.0 connectivity|
|Networks supported||Triband GSM 900/1800/1900||Triband GSM 900/1800/1900, AMR Voice code for 1900 frequency band||Triband GSM 900/1800/1900|
|Security||Password protection, phone lock code, bar calls, fixed dialling||SSL/TLS, Ipsec VPN for secure mobile access to corporate information, equipped with personal firewall and antivirus software. PIN code, automatic locking of device, changing of the SIM card PIN code, Lock code, and barring password||PINS, phone lock, bar calls, and fixed dialling|
|Ports and expansion slots||N/A||Combined data synchronisation and USB charging port, headset||Combined data synchronisation and USB charging port, headset|
|Predictive text or handwriting recognition||T9 predictive text||N/A||Handwriting recognition, drawing|
|Audio (eg Polyphonic 40 voice, MP3, FM radio etc)||MP3 player, integrated speaker and microphone, hands-free speakerphone||Music player -- MP3, MPEG4(AAC), RA, MIDI, integrated speaker and microphone, integrated handsfree||MP3 media player,integrated speaker and microphone, integrated speakerphone|
|Phonebook features and capacity||Phone capacity 500 entries with each storing 18 fields for each contact. Specified picture and melody settings for individual contacts||Advanced contacts database. Each contact storing 14 fields storage information. Additional fields can be added to specified contact for more information storing. Individual pictures setting for contacts||Phonebook has Photo caller ID with 16 fields of information for each contact. Additional sub section for notes and voice recordings. Quick search bar|
|SMS, MMS and e-mail functionality||SMS, EMS, MMS, e-mail||SMS, MMS, e-mail - IMAP4, POP3, APOP, SMTP, MIME, IMAP4-SSL/TLS, POP3-SSL/TLS, SMTP-SSL/TLS, OMA Data Synchronisation, fax||SMS, MMS, e-mail, instant messenger, fax|
|Other applications||Currency Convector, To-Do List, Notepad, Voice Memo||Nokia PC suite, Word processor, spreadsheet viewer and editor, presentation viewer and editor, Calculator, File Manager, RealVideo, Personal Profile Java 1.0, Compatibility with MS Office programs, To-Do List||Windows Media Player, Pocket Excel, Pocket Word, Pocket Outlook, PPT viewer, PDF viewer, XBackup, Fonix Voice dial v2.0, ZIP Manager v1.11, KSE Truefax v2.08 for Windows Mobile 2003 2nd Edition, Voice memo|
|Dimensions (mm)||101 x 49 x 24||132 x 51 x 21||69.9 x 130 x 19.9|
|OS||Proprietary||Symbian OS v 7.0s, series 80 v2.0 UI||Windows Mobile 2003 second edition|
|Battery life (est.) Talk/Standby||3.2 hr talk/ 200 hr standby||3-7 hr talk / 150-200 hr standby||3.5 - 4 hr talk/ up to 140 hr standby|
|Product||PalmOne Treo 650||Siemens SK-65||Sony Ericsson P910i|
|Telephone||02 9844 5420||1300 665 366||1300 650 050|
|Warranty||12 months||12 months||12 month|
|Form factor||PDA/Mobile phone||Candy bar/swivel||PDA/Smartphone|
|Average street price (inc GST)||AU$1199||AU$849||AU$1299|
|Processor type and speed||Intel PXA270 312 MHz processor||N/A||ARM9 156MHz processor|
|Memory||32MBÃ¢â‚¬"22MB user available||64MB (up to 30MB for user memory)||64MB internal memory|
|Memory expansion||SD, SDIO and Multimedia cards||N/A||Memory Stick Duo Pro (1GB max), 32 MB card includedNo|
|Connectivity (including GSM, GPRS, IR, 802.11b, Bluetooth)||Bluetooth, IR, GPRS(Class 10)/EDGE, USB 2.0 connectivity||Bluetooth Ã‚Â® IrDa (IR SIR 115kBit), GPRS(Class 10), USB 2.0 Connectivity, EGSM, Vocoder FR/HR/EFR/AMR||Bluetooth, GPRS (class 8), IR, RS232 cable support, USB 2.0 connectivity,|
|Networks supported||Quadband GSM/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900||Triband EGSM 900/GSM 1800/GSM 1900||Triband GSM 850/1800/1900|
|Security||Password, auto lock device, current privacy -- show records, mask records, hide records||End to end encryption (Triple DES), unique symmetric key for each BlackBerry Ã‚Â® Client. Auto key lock, Direct call, PIN codes and this SIM only barrings||IP security manager|
|Ports and expansion slots||Combined data synchronisation and USB charging port, headset||Data synchronisation and USB port, headset||Data SynchrStation and USB port, 32MB Memory Stick Duo and adapter|
|Predictive text or handwriting recognition||Predictive text||T9 predictive text||T9 predictive text and hand recognition|
|Audio (eg Polyphonic 40 voice, MP3, FM radio etc)||MP3 player, integrated speaker and microphone, integrated speakerphone||Integrated speaker and microphone, integrated handsfree, Push to talk (VIP service)||MP3 player, integrated speaker and microphone, integrated speakerphone, MPEG4 video|
|Phonebook features and capacity||Phonebook stores 17 fields of information storing for each contact. It has individual sub-directory for additional fields or changing of field names, as well as a additional notes sub directory||Phone capacity 2000 entries each storing 13 fields for contact information. Functionality to increase the number of entries to 25 fields. Option to store individual picture of contact||Phonebook capacity is dynamic memory. Each entry stores 24 fields information with individual melody allocation and picture identification. Sub directory for additional notes. Phonebook has quick search bar at bottom (abc/def/ghi/jkl/mno/pqr/stu/v-z) for quick navigation through phonebook|
|SMS, MMS and e-mail functionality||SMS, MMS, e-mail - POP3/IMAP4/SMTP||SMS, MMS, e-mail - standard ISP Email (POP3/IMAP4/SMTP) and e-mail Push VM based e-mail Push BlackBerry Enterprise Server for corporate e-mail (Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino).||SMS, EMS, MMS, e-mail - POP3/IMAP4/SMTP, Chat|
|Internet Web browser||WAP 2.0, Blazer Ã‚Â® 4.0 Web browser supports xHTML||WAP 2.0, BlackBerry Ã‚Â® HTML Browser||WAP 2.0 (HTML/cHTML/WTLS), Opera Browser|
|Other applications||RealPlayer, PalmOne Installation software, VersaMail, Task, Memo, Calculator, World Clock, link to Microsoft Outlook, DataViz Ã‚Â® Documents To Go Ã‚Â® 7, Palm eReader, Handmark PocketExpress, Zap! 2016||BlackBerry Desktop Software, Microsoft Outlook Ã¢â€žÂ¢ synchronisation, Business applications (e.g. office viewer), Calculator, Appointments, Tasks, Notes, Unit convector, Stopwatch||Voice Commands, Media player, Mobile Pocket Reader, Gate 5 Mobile Guide, Handy Day, AppForge, Handy Expense, Worldmate professional, Handy Base, Handy Safe, datemate 1.0, Photo Editor, handango, Calculator, To-Do List|
|Dimensions (mm)||113 x 59 x 23||120 x 47 x 22||115 x 57 x 24|
|OS||Palm OS Ã‚Â® 5.4||Proprietary||Customised UIQ v2.1 user interface platform running on Symbian OS v7.0|
|Battery life (est.) Talk/Standby||6 hrs talk/ 300 hr standby||5 hr talk/ 250 hr standby||16 hr talk / 480 hr standby|
We looked at connectivity, including bandwidth/carrier support and items such as Bluetooth.
We looked at feature set, performance, and third-party application support.
We looked at features vs price vs value to business.
What comes standard, extras, and what you get for those extra $$$?
What to look out for?
What to look for when buying a business phone really depends on what angle you approach from. Do you want a PDA, and all its inherent functionality, with mobile phone capabilities? Or do you want a mobile phone -- convenient size and form factor with some handy PDA functionality?
- Size: Whichever view you take, the phone must be as small and light as possible without sacrificing functionality or usability.
- Display: The bigger the better -- particularly if you intend to manipulate data or access the Web.
- Keyboard: No matter what the form factor, inputting large amounts of data on the move needs an efficient input system. The size and spacing of the keys is very important.
Extensive data input is really beyond a standard phone keyboard. A QWERTY-style keyboard, or robust handwriting recognition is a more reasonable option.
- Performance: If you only use the calendar and address book then most of the phones will be fine. If you happen to use applications such as Pocket Word, then the faster the processor the better. Look for memory expansion capabilities if your data requirements are large or expected to grow.
- Battery life: With any phone, battery life is important. And with extended functionality comes a greater drain on battery power, so a unit that won't need charging so often will definitely prove handy.
- Connectivity: Finally, if you do need to surf the Web frequently or upload and download data regularly, look for one of the faster connections such as 3G or EVDO.
With mobile phones rapidly becoming a personal item like jewellery, many users are to some extent willing to overlook functionality for form. So it is with considerable trepidation that we embark on the Editor's Choice award.
If size is not at issue, and you are quite happy to sacrifice portability for sheer power and functionality, then the O2 or i-mate would be a good place to start.
We prefer the O2 over the i-mate because we found we hardly ever used the i-mate's slide-out keyboard. Provided you are happy to carry the O2 around (in your jacket pocket), it's a powerful PDA that doubles as a mobile phone.
The best overall compromise between a PDA and a mobile phone, and winner of Editor's Choice, is the quirky but remarkably functional Nokia 9300 which has by far the most usable keyboard of the lot -- a surprisingly good non-touch display with effective navigation buttons, and its memory can be expanded to an incredible 2GB.
True the phone does not have a camera but this is a minor quibble for most business users.
We should mention that with a Vodafone SIM, the Nokia had arguably the best sensitivity of the lot. Battery life of between 150 to 200 hours standby, and three-to-seven hours talk time is relatively low, but the phone's sensitivity may well even this out.
Running a reasonably close second to the Nokia were the PalmOne Treo, and Blackberry 7100v -- all are remarkably functional with their own individual interfaces, and a lot of people will already be familiar with the Palm interface.
Some will no doubt master the tiny keys of the Treo and find the integrated QWERTY keyboard a boon. Others will come to grips with the weird key layout of the Blackberry and wonder what all the fuss is about.
This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies.
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