For companies looking to outfit their mobile workers with do-it-all (or mostly all) devices, there are several solid new systems from which to choose.
eWEEK Labs tested three devices that merge wireless phone and handheld computer functionality: Motorola Inc.s MPx220, PalmOne Inc.s Treo 650 and Research In Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry 7100t. (We wanted to add a device running Symbian Ltd.s mobile platform to the mix, but we were unable to obtain one in time for the review. Look for a review of Symbian-based devices in a forthcoming issue.)
All three devices we tested functioned well as phones, both in portability and performance. They also provided access to e-mail, PIM (personal information manager) data and the Web, and each lends itself to custom application development with freely available tools and software development kits.
While the desktop and laptop markets are relatively staid and stable, with vendors shipping similar systems powered in large part by Windows, the smart-phone space is much more diverse. Companies looking to build custom smart-phone applications or to assemble solutions out of pre-existing software components must select products carefully.
Fairly basic Web-based applications tend to work with any of the devices we tested, as will (to a somewhat lesser extent) applications developed with Sun Microsystems Inc.s J2ME (Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition) platform. J2ME virtual machines exist for each of the units we tested.
However, to take best advantage of what these devices have to offer, its helpful to focus on a single platform. We recommend that companies determine first which hardware characteristics—such as display size and type, input mechanism and included cellular radio—they require and to select the platform that best delivers those features.
Our overall favorite was the Treo 650 , which boasts a highly usable mini-keyboard, good hardware and software expansion potential, and a strong set of applications.
When we reviewed the 650s predecessor, the Treo 600, last year, we were disappointed by the low-resolution display and lack of a Bluetooth radio. With the Treo 650, PalmOne has addressed both shortcomings. Were pleased enough with these improvements—which together significantly boost this devices usability and connectivity—to award the Treo 650 our Analysts Choice designation.
The Treo 650 is large compared with the other units we tested. Measuring 4.4 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 0.9 inch thick and weighing 6.05 ounces, the 650 is at the upper end of what one would expect from a phone. However, PalmOne has fit a lot of functions into this form.
We were also impressed with the BlackBerry 7100t. With the 7100t, RIM has strayed from its signature thumb keyboard design and introduced a keyboard thats closer to a standard phone keypad. This has made the 7100t trimmer than any BlackBerry weve seen: It measures 4.7 inches long by 2.3 inches wide by 0.8 inch thick and weighs 4.3 ounces—not much larger or heavier than any typical wireless handset.
The RIM keypad sports five rows of keys, the middle three of which cover the alphabet, with two letters on each key. Most of the work of determining which of the two letters you intend to type is done by the 7100ts SureType predictive input software, which draws on a dictionary of words and names stored in the units address book.
Microsoft Corp. offers two phone-capable versions of its Windows Mobile operating system: Pocket PC Phone Edition and Windows Mobile Smartphone. We opted to review the Windows Mobile Smartphone-based Motorola MPx220 because it competes more directly with the other devices we tested.
The MPx220 is the smallest of the devices we tested, measuring 3.9 inches long by 1.9 inches wide by 1 inch thick and weighing 3.9 ounces. The trade-offs for the smaller size are a 2-inch display and the least usable input mechanism of the three products we tested. The default input method for the MPx220 is the same multitap, three-letters- per-key mechanism were accustomed to seeing. The MPx220 does include a predictive text input mechanism, similar to those on standard cell phones, but it doesnt match the effectiveness of BlackBerrys SureType.
In fact, wed love to see smart-phone hardware and software vendors license SureType from RIM for inclusion in their products—the technology represents one of the best new ideas in mobile device input that weve seen in some time.