eWEEK Labs: The Evolution of the Smartphone

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eWEEK Labs: The Evolution of the Smartphone

by eWEEK Labs

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1. Kyocera QCP 6035 Smartphone and Handspring VisorPhone

Feb. 19, 2001: Two of the earliest devices to merge cell phone and PDA capabilities, the Kyocera QCP 6035 Smartphone and Handspring VisorPhone required buyers to decide whether they wanted more emphasis on the phone (the QCP 6035) or the PDA (the VisorPhone). The Handspring product was a module that transformed an existing Visor handheld into a bulky, ungainly smartphone. Both devices were limited to sub-dial-up data rates of between 9.6K bps and 14.4K bps.

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2. Treo 180

Jan. 17, 2002: The Treo 180 was smaller and more usable than the devices that preceded it, in part because of the inclusion of a BlackBerry-style thumb keyboard. Definitely a phone first and a PDA second, the Treo 180 had Internet connection speeds of about 9.6K bps—still too slow for real Web browsing, but good enough for e-mail and some light Web access. Like its predecessors, the device could not make simultaneous voice and data calls.

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3. BlackBerry 5810

May 13, 2002: The BlackBerry 5810 was primarily a messaging device, but functioned very well as a PDA, including applications for managing contacts, calendars, to-do items and notes. The GPRS network on which the smartphone relied did not offer coverage in all states. The 5810 did not ship with an HTML browser, limiting users' Web surfing experience to a relatively small number of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) pages.

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4. Kyocera 7135

Nov. 5, 2002: With a phonelike clamshell design, the Kyocera 7135 represented an improvement over the company's earlier, bulkier Palm OS-driven PDA/cell phone hybrids. The device offered a graffiti area and a standard phone keypad for data input, and ran Palm OS 4.1, for which a large variety of applications were available. Unlike the monochromatic BlackBerry 5810, the Kyocera device featured a 160-by-160-pixel, 65,000-color LCD display. In an early sign of the present-day ubiquity of multimedia, the 7135 shipped with applications for viewing images and playing MP3s.

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5. Treo 600

Nov. 17, 2003: With the Treo 600 Palm made good progress toward striking a balance between wireless handset and handheld computer, improving on previous Treo models in both regards. It was built with an SD (Secure Digital) slot for peripheral and memory expansion—something earlier Treos lacked. A major gripe, however, was that the Treo's old-school, 160-by-160-pixel display lagged behind the 320-by-320-pixel displays other handhelds were sporting at the time.

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6. Treo 650

Jan. 31, 2005: The Treo 650 boasted a highly usable minikeyboard, good hardware and software expansion potential, and a strong set of applications. The device improved on the Treo 600 with a higher-resolution display and the addition of Bluetooth radio, enhancements that together significantly boosted the device's usability and connectivity. New, nonvolatile storage allowed the device to retain data even with a complete power loss.

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7. Motorola MPx220

Jan. 31, 2005: The MPx220, with its undersized display and an awkward input mechanism, traded usability for compactness. As a result, our browsing experiences with the MPx220 were limited by its small display. Included Bluetooth radio allowed users to connect to a PC for synchronization. The MPx220 sported a Mini SD slot on its right side, which, along with 64MB of flash memory, gave the device a generous pool of available storage.

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8. BlackBerry 7100t

Jan. 31, 2005: Switching from the signature BlackBerry thumb keyboard design and introducing a keyboard that's closer to a standard phone keypad, the BlackBerry 7100t was trimmer than any previous device in the line—not much larger or heavier than any typical wireless handset. Among the advances represented by the 7100t is the SureType predictive input software. Unfortunately, however, the device was limited by T-Mobile's low-speed GPRS network, and lacked any sort of expansion slot.

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9. Treo 700w and Treo 700p

Jan. 6, 2006: The Treo 700w and 700p were similar devices that ran different operating systems (Windows Mobile and Palm OS, respectively). Among the similarities: a 1.3-megapixel camera with video, EvDO radio (Evolution Data Optimized, a highlight of the units), and audio and video streaming capabilities.

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10. BlackBerry 7130e

June 22, 2006: Research In Motion's BlackBerry 7130e shipped with RIM's SureType predictive input software, which we appreciated—once we got the hang of it. The BlackBerry 7130e included integrated Bluetooth and EvDO wireless WAN capabilities. As a smartphone, the BlackBerry 7130e shone.

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11. Treo 680

Nov. 22, 2006: The traditionally business-focused Palm began to take aim at the consumer market with the Treo 680, a starter smartphone that came in four vibrant colors. More notably, the device was the first Treo to have an internal antenna, and it boasted a full-size SD card slot and a QWERTY keyboard. Users looking for support for high-speed networks or Wi-Fi access were out of luck, though the Treo 680 did support Bluetooth 1.2.

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12. Treo 750

Jan. 7, 2007: Palm's Treo 750 was a smartphone of many firsts—the first GSM Windows-based Treo available in the United States and the first Treo to use Cingular's UMTS/HSDPA-enabled BroadBand Connect 3G service. It was also the most widely usable Pocket PC-based device on the market. Compared with Treos on EvDO networks, the Treo 750 offered faster Web browsing and e-mail attachment downloads, along with international roaming capabilities courtesy of a five-band radio.

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13. iPaq 510 Voice Messenger

Feb. 12, 2007: Launched at the 3GSM World Congress 2007 in Barcelona, the iPaq 510 Voice Messenger introduced VOIP (voice over IP) capabilities and Microsoft's new Windows Mobile 6 operating system to Hewlett-Packard's mobile device line. With the direct-push e-mail and Vista synchronization afforded by Microsoft's new Windows Mobile 6, we found that HP's iPaq 510 was a solid mobile device.

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14. Treo 755p

May 9, 2007: Palm's Treo 755p may not have represented a major advance over other Treo models available at the time, but with its slightly slimmed-down chassis and handful of interesting new applications, the device added some punch to Sprint's Treo family, bringing it more in line with Palm's GSM-based offerings.

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15. Apple iPhone

July 5, 2007: When the much-awaited original iPhone finally launched, we were duly impressed by its hype-worthy industrial design. However, for all the iPhone's groundbreaking design attributes, the unit's spotty data service and limited applications took their toll. We judged it an outstanding media player and an above-average phone, but a below-par Internet and productivity device.

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16. BlackBerry 8820

Oct. 1, 2007: While RIM was a little slow to add WLAN capabilities to its smartphone portfolio, the company's first stab at it—the BlackBerry 8820—really nailed the details as a Wi-Fi device. With its superior e-mail capabilities, a good mix of applications and good (but not great) connectivity options, the 8820 was definitely worth a look for companies planning to upgrade their mobile device fleets.

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17. AT&T Tilt

Nov. 13, 2007: AT&T billed the Tilt smartphone as the Swiss Army knife of mobile devices, and, indeed, just like a Swiss Army knife, the Tilt performed a myriad of tasks adequately while at the same time feeling overly large and bulky in the pocket. The Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional-based device included 3G wireless data, Wi-Fi, integrated GPS, a better-than-average camera, stereo Bluetooth 2.0 support and a large adjustable screen.

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18. Treo 800w

Aug. 21, 2008: With the Treo 800w, Palm at long last added built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to a Treo, in the form of an 802.11b/g radio that rode alongside a new integrated GPS receiver.

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19. iPhone 3G

Sept. 3, 2008: The second version of Apple's headline-grabbing iPhone, the iPhone 3G, added much-needed 3G data transfer speeds to the slick device. However, the 3G features that impressed us most, including support for third-party applications and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, were available in a firmware upgrade that first-generation iPhone users could consume as well.

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20. Nokia E71

Sept. 17, 2008: The Nokia E71 is a slim, feature-packed smartphone with an excellent thumb keyboard and enough battery life to last a full workday. While we found some of its features a bit awkwardly implemented, we appreciated its excellent management attributes, as well as its relative (compared with the iPhone) independence from a desktop mother ship.

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21. Treo Pro

Oct. 3, 2008: Palm's Treo Pro impressed us with its sleek new design, but the erratic 3G performance and battery life issues that we experienced with the device were what stood out most in our testing.

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22. T-Mobile G1

Oct. 16, 2008: As the first publicly released smartphone running the Open Handset Alliance's Android mobile operating system, the T-Mobile G1 was in our view a qualified success. In our tests, we found both innovative, well-designed features and a raft of small, first-generation bugs and idiosyncrasies.

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23. BlackBerry Storm

Nov. 20, 2008: The BlackBerry Storm 9530 was RIM's first smartphone to dispense with a physical keyboard in favor of a touch-sensitive display—a move that made for way more display space. RIM dealt with the loss of tactile feedback associated with virtual keyboard-bearing devices by designing the display to function as one big button, so that pressing on the unit's software-rendered keys produces tactile feedback reminiscent of a real keypad.

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24. BlackBerry Bold

Dec. 8, 2008: RIM's BlackBerry Bold struck us as a powerful device with a lot of storage, rich multimedia capabilities and excellent audio. However, while the Bold stacked up well against previous BlackBerry and Treo units, the device didn't quite match up to smartphone players such as Apple's iPhone or the Android-based G1. We hope to see RIM's unfolding software ecosystem initiatives bring the Bold back to the smartphone forefront.