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.
The BlackBerry 7100t costs $299, although T-Mobile USA Inc. offers a rebate on the device that reduces the price to $199. T-Mobile offers plans priced between $40 per month for unlimited e-mail and no included voice minutes to $90 per month for 1,500 voice minutes.
The Treo 650 sells for $599, but Sprint Corp. is offering discounts on the device that reduce the price to $419. Wireless data service for the Treo 650 costs $15 per month on top of one of Sprints voice plans.
Cingular Wireless, which provided the MPx220 we tested, charges $299 for the handset with a voice contract. Unlimited data service for the device, which Cingular sells under the name Media Works, costs $20 per month in addition to the cost for the voice plan.
The 7100t includes pretty much the same BlackBerry mail tool that weve seen in RIMs devices during the past few years. Teamed with RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the 7100t does a good job with mail and other PIM-type data, all of which may be synchronized over the air to keep mobile workers connected to vital data.
Alternatively, RIMs desktop redirector software, which worked well for us in this and previous tests, will push e-mail messages out to the 7100t. However, with this option, users must synchronize locally using the devices included Intellisync software to access PIM data.
The Treo 650 ships with PalmOnes VersaMail e-mail application, with which we could access our IMAP mail account to retrieve and fetch messages. We were pleased with the network performance we experienced, even while pulling down fairly large attachments. (We tested all three devices from various locations near eWEEKs San Francisco offices.)
The Treo 650 ships with DataViz Inc.s Documents To Go, which allowed us to use the device to open, view, modify and send attached Microsoft Office documents. Also impressive is this versions compatibility with the over-the-air ActiveSync functionality in Microsofts latest Exchange release, a useful capability that the MPx220 also shares.
The BlackBerry 7100t operates on T-Mobiles GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network, which in our recent review of wireless data services stood out for the high latencies and low speeds we experienced during tests. The speed issues were less pronounced with the 7100t, which doesnt consume bandwidth the way a notebook computer can. However, the latency issue did rear its head in the form of sluggishness while browsing the Web.
The Treo 650 operates on Sprints CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network. We experienced better performance with the CDMA network than with the T-Mobile network on which the BlackBerry 7100t ran.
The MPx220 we tested was linked to Cingulars GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)/GPRS network, and page fetching seemed snappier than with the BlackBerry 7100t. Overall, however, our browsing experiences with the MPx220 were limited by its small display, particularly since we werent able to increase the font size in the devices Pocket Internet Explorer browser.
We could opt for a larger font in most of the MPx220s screens, such as in its messaging application, but this font change wasnt reflected in the browser. We experienced eye strain every time we read something on the device that was longer than several paragraphs.
The version of Pocket Internet Explorer that ships with the MPx220 doesnt support pages with frames, which isnt too surprising given the small size of that units display. However, we would have liked to see the MPx220 handle frames in the same way that the similarly frames-challenged BlackBerry 7100t does—by offering a list of a pages frames and asking which to display. The Treo device served up frames pages normally.
The BlackBerry 7100t ships with 32MB of flash storage and 4MB of memory. RIM wouldnt tell us what sort of processor powers the device, but we found the 7100t fairly responsive. However, we did experience occasional lags while switching between applications and while waiting for certain interface elements, such as menus, to appear.
We experienced similar lags from time to time with the MPx220, which packs a Texas Instruments Inc. OMAP 1611 chip, and the Treo 650, which runs an Intel Corp. 312MHz PXA270 processor. Overall, though, we were pleased with the responsiveness of all three devices.
The BlackBerry 7100t lacks any sort of expansion slot, which makes the unit a lot more attractive as a client for custom-built applications.
The Treo 650 ships with a slim 23MB of flash memory, available for storing data and new applications. In addition, like the PalmOne Tungsten T5 handheld that we recently reviewed, the Treo 650s new nonvolatile storage will retain data even with a complete power loss.
However, also like the Tungsten T5, the Treos new file system is less efficient than those in previous Treo units, so the unit should really be paired with an SD (Secure Digital) card for the 650s built-in expansion slot. (PalmOne is offering free 128MB SD cards for Treo 650 owners; check out web.palmone.com/support/sd.jhtml for more information.)
The MPx220 sports a mini SD slot on its right side. This slot, along with the MPx220s 64MB of flash memory, gives the device a generous pool of available storage.
All three devices we tested include Bluetooth radios. The BlackBerry 7100ts radio was the least functional of the three, being limited to use with wireless headsets or hands-free car adapters.
With the Bluetooth radios in the Treo 650 and the MPx220, we could also connect to a PC for synchronization and, potentially, for dial-up access to the phones cellular radio to reach the Internet from a Bluetooth-enabled notebook. (This scenario depends on a data access plan offered by each carrier.)
The issue of providing wireless Internet access for a notebook PC or handheld computer with a Bluetooth-enabled phone is currently much too murky. Even if devices are capable of providing this sort of Internet access, carriers often dont make it easy to configure. Organizations that wish to maximize the data capabilities of their wireless handsets in this way should discuss this issue with their carriers when setting up service contracts.
None of the devices we tested features a Wi-Fi radio, an omission that can be attributed to the small size and tight battery-power limitations of these units.
However, with its included SD card slot, the Treo 650 would have been a good candidate for Wi-Fi expansion, using the SD Wi-Fi card that PalmOne sells for some of its other devices. However, the 650 isnt built to work with that card.
Moving forward, PalmOne and others will have to address this limitation, particularly as Wi-Fi availability and use broadens. For now, sites that wish to outfit workers with Wi-Fi-equipped smart phones should look to the larger Pocket PC Phone Edition devices.
The BlackBerry 7100t ships with a removable lithium-ion battery, which, according to RIM, delivers up to 4 hours of talk time and eight days on standby.
It always puzzles us why device makers—PalmOne and Motorola, to name two—insist on creating unique connectors for their devices when small and standard connectors such as mini USB (Universal Serial Bus) exist. So we really appreciated that the BlackBerry 7100t uses a mini USB connector both for connecting the unit to a desktop machine for synchronizing data and for charging the unit from the PCs USB port. The 7100t also comes with an AC adapter that we could plug our USB cable into to charge the 7100t without a computer.
The Treo 650 is powered by a removable rechargeable lithium-ion battery that, according to PalmOne, delivers up to 5 hours of talk time and up to two weeks of standby time. The MPx220 is powered by a lithium-ion battery thats rated at 5 hours of talk time and just more than eight days of standby time.
With all three devices, battery mileage will vary depending on use—voice use, in particular.
The Treo 650 includes a 0.3-megapixel camera. As with most phone cameras weve tested, it didnt knock our socks off with its picture quality. The MPx220 has a built-in camera that boasts a flash and much higher resolution—1.2 megapixels. However, we dont see the usefulness of either of these devices cameras to most enterprises—certainly not enough to hold the BlackBerry 7100ts lack of a camera against it.
See where they run
When evaluating smart phones, you have to look at whos providing them and on what network or networks they run. CDMA phones operate primarily in the United States, while the quad-band GSM/GPRS phones can operate across most of the world (850/1,900MHz in the United States and Canada and 900/1,800MHz in Europe/Asia Pacific).
- Provider Cingular
- Networks GSM/GPRS 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz
PalmOne Treo 650
- Provider Right now, Sprint is the only carrier to offer the Treo 650, but AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint and T-Mobile all carry the Treo 600.
- Networks GSM/GPRS 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz; CDMA 800/1,900MHz
RIM Blackberry 7100t
- Provider T-Mobile
- Networks GSM/GPRS 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz
Source: eWEEK Labs
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.