Thursday, October 20, 2005

Article: Choices in smart phones

If we were to compare cell phones, the task would be easy but very long. There are hundreds of cell phones, they all have the same basic functions, and more come out almost every day. Smart phones however are more of a niche market. They are used by less than 10% of the population, mainly because of their price, but we've seen them get better, smaller and more affordable. According to IDC, smart phones are being sold this year more than ever.

First let's define what a smart phone is. It's basically a cell phone with some PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) functions included. It will typically have a better processor, more memory, a bigger screen, a filesystem, and be able to run better applications. The higher end technology in a smart phone is the reason why they will often cost over $400.

There are two popular types of smart phones. First there's those based on Microsoft Windows Mobile, and there's the ones based on the Symbian operating system. The Windows Mobile devices are made by various companies, including Motorola and Audiovox, while the Symbian ones are primarily made by Nokia, with a few other companies making them in lesser quantity.

Both types of smart phone will provide the same basic functions: You can store files on them, you can use email, browse the web, install and use applications (both Java and Symbian or Windows Mobile applications), you can connect them to a computer or other devices, and you can play music and view videos on them. The main difference is on which applications will be used, and thus what the user interface will be.

Windows Mobile devices have the familiar Windows look. They also come with a mobile version of Word, Internet Explorer and Windows Media. Symbian devices on the other hand, comes with the Symbian notepad, various web browsers (Opera is available for the Symbian devices for a fee), and usually Real Player. Since the applications are comparable, when selecting which phone you prefer, often the choice is based more on the hardware than the software running on it.

One of the most popular smart phones is the Nokia 6682 (North America version, 6680 is the Europe one) which is the newest smart phone from Nokia for the mass market following their 6620 (6600 for Europe) from last year. It runs the Symbian OS, comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera, supports bluetooth, 10 MB internal memory and comes with a 64 MB MMC memory card. It's a tri-band GSM phone with all the necessary software for email and web browsing on EDGE (256 Kbps) networks. It's a very good smart phone and while some complained of software glitches, usually receives good reviews.

On the Windows Mobile side, for the mass market, one popular phone is the Audiovox SMT 5600. It runs on Windows Mobile 2003, is also a tri-band GSM phone, has a VGA camera, supports bluetooth, 64 MB internal memory with a MiniSD memory slot, and comes with all the standard Windows Mobile applications. While some users have complained about some stability problems, it usually receives good reviews as well. Another Windows Mobile option is the i-mate SP5 which was just released. It's a world phone, with wi-fi, a mini-USB port and the latest Windows Mobile 2005. It's also much more expensive.

For business users, two popular choices are the Treo 650 from Palm and the Blackberry 7100 from RIM. These devices are a bit bigger, thinner, and are aimed mainly at business users. They come with improved email support, including protocols to connect to corporate systems, but usually have a lower end screen and less support for games or web browsing. Various models are available, as well as prices, and your milage may vary.

For high end business users, Nokia recently introduced it's high end 9500. It's a mix between a smart phone and a Pocket PC. It features the same things as the previous smart phones, but has a bigger touchscreen, and also incorporate the business features from the previous two models. It even has wi-fi.

Finally, before investing in a smart phone, researching the various choices is very important, since technology changes very fast. The most recent smart phones include touchscreens such as the W-ZERO3, much bigger screens such as the PPC 6700, phones running on Linux, merges between Windows Mobile and traditional Pocket PC devices like the i-mate K-JAM and cool designs like the Samsung i300.

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