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The New Pocket PCs 5-8-08

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The New Pocket PCs 5-8-08

The New Pocket PCs
ARTICLE DATE: 05.08.08

By Sascha Segan
One of the Editors' Choice–winning products in this story has a 400-MHz processor and 256MB of memory, and it runs a version of Microsoft Windows. We could very well be talking about one of the top PCs in our blockbuster issue circa 1998—full-fledged desktop computers that generally cost more than $2,000. Or we could be talking about today's multitasking smartphones. Call them pocket PCs if you like, because they've gone way beyond just making calls.

Although the U.S. lags behind Europe and Asia in the number of consumers buying advanced handhelds, 2008 may be the year smartphone sales really take off Stateside, says Avi Greengart, research director for mobile devices at Current Analysis.

"I think we hit the inflection point with the $99 smartphone," Greengart says, observing that smart devices are now affordable enough to be seen as alternatives to simpler phones and that U.S. consumers are starting to demand richer experiences from their handhelds.

"The smartphone gives the handset vendor the ability to tap into different types of applications, whether that's the Web, imaging, video, or music. You can provide a better experience faster with a smartphone than you can with a feature phone," Greengart says.

In the U.S., the majority of today's handhelds come with one of five operating systems, according to IDC's Llamas. During the first three quarters of 2007, Research In Motion's BlackBerrys dominated U.S. sales with a 44.7 percent market share, followed by Windows Mobile gadgets, which owned 29.2 percent of the market pie. Palm and Apple ran neck and neck with about 11 percent each, and

Symbian came in fifth with 2.8 percent. Worldwide, however, Symbian is a big player; in Europe it is actually dominant.

The Apple, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile operating systems are all getting major updates. Windows Mobile's latest iteration, 6.1, was released back in February. Blackberry promises version 4.5 of their OS is coming soon, and Apple's iPhone will soon have the ability to run third-party applications, which will make it a true handheld PC.

We've chosen to narrow our focus to the BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile operating systems here because they offer the most hardware options and have the most promising futures (at least they did when we went to press). We didn't include Palm, since the company has announced it will be abandoning the Palm OS eventually. And because Apple sells only one device, on one carrier, we left the iPhone out, too.

To pick the perfect smartphone, think about where you want to start. Each of the major players brings a particular set of features to the game. Windows Mobile started out as a PDA operating system, and it shows. Microsoft is still wondering whether or not to shake its focus on contacts, calendar, and add-in applications. Windows Mobile devices may feel the most like PCs, but they can also be a little intimidating to use. BlackBerrys started out primarily as e-mail gadgets, but now they're much, much more. These wildly popular handhelds play music and video, surf the Web, and make generally excellent-sounding calls. But speedy, bullet-proof push e-mail is still the BlackBerry's greatest selling point.

Symbian is the most phone-focused of the big three contenders. Its handsets often have high-end multimedia features like high-resolution cameras, and Symbian has a strong, thriving open-source community that creates thousands of add-on apps.

Windows Mobile

Microsoft's Windows Mobile plays to the crowd. You'll find Windows Mobile devices on every carrier, at every price point. Touch screens, no touch screens. Full keyboards, phone keypads, no keyboards. Big and small. Fast and slow.

Since Windows Mobile was originally designed for PDAs, the default user interface still involves a lot of tiny icons, a lot of menus, and plenty of multiple clicks to get things done. It's a heavy OS, too, which works best on devices equipped with 400-MHz-or-higher processors. The 200-MHz CPUs in some lower-end handhelds can be noticeably sluggish.

But nothing works with Windows as well as Windows Mobile. These devices sync with Microsoft Outlook out of the box, connect to Exchange 2003 and 2007 servers, and sync music and video with Windows Media Player pretty much seamlessly. There's also a large third-party software market with everything from games to database applications.

Windows Mobile 6.1 smooths out some well-known bugs and annoyances in what is nonetheless our Editors' Choice-winning mobile OS. Microsoft has finally fixed a memory leak that was causing "out of memory" errors for two years. A new home screen for some non-touch-screen phones makes it easier to get to basic functions. The Internet Explorer Mobile browser is smoother and faster, with the ability to zoom out and see overviews of pages. Threaded text messaging makes it easier to follow conversations, and non-touch-screen devices get the ability to cut and paste text.

Windows Mobile 6.1 should be on AT&T's Tilt and the Samsung BlackJack II phones by the time you read this, and will spread across all devices by summer.

Several manufacturers have also been working to put their own "finger-friendly" interfaces on Windows Mobile's normally finicky touch screen. The HTC Touch and T-Mobile Shadow are two examples of simplified Windows Mobile interfaces.

It ain't perfect, but just like Windows on the desktop, Windows Mobile offers the most people the most options.

Our Windows Mobile Choices:

AT&T Tilt (AT&T)
$399.99 with contract
Windows Mobile runs best on a powerful device, and the Tilt shows off the OS well, thanks to a 400-MHz processor, plenty of memory, and dual high-speed networks (both Wi-Fi and truly global 3G.) This do-it-all device integrates seamlessly with Microsoft apps to create the perfect mobile office for Windows users, while plenty of multimedia features and a tilting screen keep you entertained. What's more, it's one of the first phones to offer Windows Mobile 6.1.
Read the full review of the AT&T Tilt.

Samsung SCH-i760 (Verizon Wireless)
$349.99 with contract
The best Windows Mobile device on Verizon offers lots of ways to get connected. There's a keypad, a full keyboard, and a touch screen, along with Wi-Fi and Verizon's fast EV-DO Rev 0 network. The 400-MHz processor helps Windows Mobile shine, but we wish for more than the meager 54MB of onboard system memory
Read the full review of the Samsung SCH-i760.

HTC Touch (Sprint)
$349.99 with contract
HTC took a stab at fixing Windows Mobile's interface problems with the Touch, and the company came up with the closest thing Sprint users will get to the iPhone. It's not as glamorous as Apple's first phone, but the Touch's home screen operates with finger taps and swipes, and can also access Sprint TV and Sprint's music store. Throw in a quick 400-MHz processor with good call quality and battery life, and you've got a decent iPhone alternative.
Read the full review of the HTC Touch.

Motorola Q9c (Sprint)
$199.99 with contract
The latest crop of Qs, the AT&T Q9h, the Verizon Q9m, and the Sprint Q9c, have the best thumb keyboards we've ever used, and they all have excellent call quality. The Q9c beats its brethren on bundled software, which includes Sprint TV, an IM app, GPS, and DataViz Documents To Go. The standard extended battery makes it a little bulky but gives the Q9c tremendous talk time.
Read the full review of the Motorola Q9c.

T-Mobile Shadow (T-Mobile)
$199.99 with contract
Think of the T-Mobile Shadow as a decent, midrange feature phone that also happens to do all that Windows Mobile stuff on the side. It's good-looking, with a big, bright screen, and its animated interface makes Windows Mobile much more user friendly. This device excels when sticking to the basics, such as syncing your contacts and calendar with your PC. But a sluggish 200-MHz processor makes it just slow enough to be irksome if you have more extensive needs.
Read the full review of the T-Mobile Shadow.

Samsung BlackJack II (AT&T)
$199.99 with contract
A sleek update to the popular original, the BlackJack II adds TeleNav GPS, AT&T Video Share, and more while still keeping the price affordable. You also get Windows Mobile 6.1 and high-speed Internet via AT&T's HSDPA network. Battery life is impressive compared with other HSDPA-enabled devices, which are notorious power hogs. At this price you're not going to get a scorching processor, but the 260-MHz CPU feels fast enough.
Read the full review of the Samsung BlackJack II.

Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry OS

No longer only corporate e-mail tools, with the new BlackBerry Handheld Software 4.5, RIM's devices will match any other option when it comes to multimedia fun and office productivity. BlackBerrys are available on all four carriers, and they're still unmatched when it comes to e-mail.

BlackBerrys come in three basic varieties: Pearl, Curve, and 8800. The Pearl models appeal to a younger crowd, with a hybrid keyboard that may drive older users nuts. The Curve models include larger, full QWERTY keyboards, cameras, and headphone jacks for standard music headphones. The business-oriented 8800 models also sport larger bodies and full keyboards. None of the Black-Berrys have touch screens, though that may change in the future. BlackBerrys typically feel faster and more stable than Windows Mobile devices, and are better at messaging than Symbian handhelds are. If you want a smartphone that "just works," often the answer is a BlackBerry.

In 2007, BlackBerrys were given the ability to sync and play music and video. A new PC software suite automatically reformats video for the gadgets. The 4.5 software, which should be available as an upgrade to existing devices, will let most BlackBerrys stream media with applications that include the new Sling Player Mobile for BlackBerry. They'll also be able to edit Microsoft Office documents with DataViz Documents To Go, download attachments in their native formats, and search their remote business servers for old e-mail messages.

RIM's major remaining weakness is its Web browser. Nokia's Symbian browser, Apple's Safari browser, and Opera Mobile for Windows all make the rather basic BlackBerry browser look positively primitive. But ease of use, good call quality and excellent e-mail capabilities are what have made BlackBerrys the top smartphone platform in the U.S.

Our RIM Blackberry OS Choices:

BlackBerry Curve 8320 (T-Mobile)
$299.99 with contract
The sweetest BlackBerry is a truly great communicator, too. The unique feature here is Hotspot@Home, which adds the ability to make phone calls over any Wi-Fi network, including your home network. You can also use the built-in Wi-Fi to surf the Web, of course. Like the 8310, the 8320 also has a full array of media features.
Read the full review of the BlackBerry Curve 8320.

BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T and T-Mobile)
AT&T: $149.99 with contract
T-Mobile: $149.99 with contract
The latest GSM Pearl is still a great messaging phone featuring easy-to-use push e-mail and that distinctive hybrid keyboard that appeals to the texting crowd. The 8120 adds a 2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, and a standard headphone jack. Wi-Fi comes in handy especially on T-Mobile, where you can use it to make calls with the carrier's Hotspot@Home system.
Read the full review of the BlackBerry Pearl 8120.

BlackBerry Pearl 8130 (Sprint and Verizon)
Sprint: $199.99 with contract
Verizon: $299.99 with contract
The latest Pearl models for Sprint and Verizon customers add excellent music, photo, and video capabilities, including 2MP cameras, video recording, and high-speed Internet access, while keeping all the original Pearl's virtues intact.
Read the full review of the BlackBerry Pearl 8130.

BlackBerry Curve 8130 (AT&T)
$249.99 with contract
We find the BlackBerry Curve line to be the most compelling of RIM's offerings. The Curve combines a hand-friendly rounded form, a good keyboard, a bright screen, a 2MP camera, music, and Sling Player Mobile. The 8310 adds GPS navigation, and the 4.5 software upgrade tacks on video recording, among other features. We wish the 8310 had Wi-Fi or high-speed 3G, though.
Read the full review of the BlackBerry Curve 8130.

BlackBerry 8830 (Sprint and Verizon)
Sprint: $279.99 with contract
Verizon: $399.99 with contract
All business, the BlackBerry 8830 is one of the few Sprint/Verizon phones to go truly global—yes, it roams in Europe, and you can get your e-mail there. There's no camera, but you can play music and video from a MicroSD card. And the 4.5 OS -upgrade brings streaming audio and video, Microsoft Office document editing, and attachment downloading.
Read the full review of the BlackBerry 8830 (Sprint) and the BlackBerry 8830 (Verizon).

Symbian OS

Here in the U.S., Symbian is the Mercedes-Benz of smartphone operating systems—a fine European luxury product. That's not true in the rest of the world, where Symbian commands a much larger share of the market. Almost all Symbian phones in the U.S. are made by Nokia, though there are some foreign Symbian phones from other manufacturers. Symbian's poor showing here is due to Nokia's weak relationship with American carriers. The company can't get its high-end phones onto carrier shelves, and the few that do appear here don't excite buyers. So Nokia sells its unlocked phones direct, not through service providers—and there are no carrier subsidies that would make phones much cheaper with contracts. The result is a lineup of very expensive but very high-quality devices that can be used on a GSM network (offered by AT&T or T-Mobile).

The Symbian OS has three branches, but we see only one in the U.S.: Nokia's Series 60. Most Nokia Symbian phones come with integrated Wi-Fi and loads of software, including a Microsoft Office document reader, a top-quality Web browser, and music and video -players that sync with Windows Media Player and play unprotected iTunes files. The open-source/hacker community is very active on Symbian, creating cool programs like multiprotocol IM apps and even a BitTorrent client. And high-end features like 5-megapixel cameras and GPSs are becoming more and more common on Symbian devices.

Lacking the complexity of most smartphones, Symbian handsets typically look and act like standard mobile phones. Relatively few have full keyboards, and none of Nokia's models have touch screens, though Nokia has started showing off a touch-screen version of Symbian that's expected to make it into U.S. models soon.

Our Symbian OS Choices:

Nokia N82 (Unlocked; works with AT&T and T-Mobile)
$629 direct
Thanks to its terrific xenon flash, this capable smartphone is also the best camera phone we've seen—even for indoor shots. You also get DVD-quality video recording along with high-quality, high-resolution, 5MP still shots. As a Symbian device, it runs even the most intense applications with aplomb, and with its hardware graphics acceleration, it's a great gaming phone too.
Read the full review of the Nokia N82.

Nokia E90 Communicator (Unlocked; works with AT&T and T-Mobile)
$1,099.89 direct
Brimming with applications, the hulking E90 has a big internal screen and lush dual keyboards that make it seem almost like a mini-laptop—great for editing QuickOffice documents or composing e-mails. It's also one of the finest-sounding phones we've ever used. But both its form factor and its price tag look huge when compared with other smartphones.
Read the full review of the Nokia E90 Communicator.

Nokia N95 (U.S.) (Unlocked; works with AT&T and T-Mobile)
$699 direct
The main differences between this model and the N82 are a larger screen, bigger buttons, dedicated music keys, and 8GB of built-in memory. You lose the N82's memory card slot and, sadly, its xenon flash, which means the N95 is a much-less-attractive option as a camera phone. But the big display makes playing music and video more enjoyable, and the phone works on AT&T's high-speed 3G network for fast downloads and Web surfing.
Read the full review of the Nokia N95 (U.S.) .

The Rising Stars: Apple and Android

RIM, Symbian, and Windows Mobile may rule the first half of 2008, but watch out: Apple and Google are out there, and they're dangerous.

Apple's iPhone revolutionized handhelds with its gorgeous design and simple interface. But until now, it has lacked key business features and the ability to run third-party applications. That's all about to change. By late June, the iPhone will sync wirelessly with Microsoft Exchange for contacts, calendars, and notes. An "app store" available on the handset will distribute potentially thousands of free and for-pay applications from third-party developers, making the iPhone a true smartphone platform. AOL, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft Office compatibility provider QuickOffice have all said they'll be writing iPhone apps.

The app store does little to mitigate Apple's greatest weakness, though: The company has only one product, on one carrier. While a high-end, high-speed iPhone is rumored for a midyear release, the fact remains that Apple's groundbreaking product isn't available to those who don't opt for AT&T, and it won't be for the foreseeable future.

Web behemoth Google's Android phones will start appearing around the end of this year. In demos at the 3GSM trade show held in Barcelona, Spain, in February, prototype Android phones had a quick, responsive interface—much faster than that of Windows Mobile devices with the same chipsets. Though the user interface on the demo phones was mundane, Google has said that manufacturers and mobile carriers will be able to customize the operating system heavily. That could make Android an unusually diverse platform, or just another way for carriers to deliver locked-down services. We should know more by the holidays.

Palm: "Don't Bury Us Yet"

Palm Pilot was once synonymous with handheld computer, but more recently, rumors of Palm's imminent demise have been circulating. A string of failed products has left the once-proud company selling an aging line of low-end smartphones. The current Palm Centro ($99 from Sprint or AT&T) is an affordable entry-level device that is easy to use, with thousands of programs available. But it's built around an old technology. And, along with the company's other devices—the Treo 680, the 700p, and the 755p—it lacks current features including GPS, Wi-Fi, a light-sensing display, stereo Bluetooth for music, and voice dialing via Bluetooth, to name a few.

That will change in 2009, according to Palm's vice president of smartphone product marketing, Stephane Maes. The company is developing its own modern, Linux-based OS, which will replace Palm OS by the end of the year. It will have a flexible interface and a very easy development environment, and it will focus on integrating personal information, Maes says.

But will the new OS ever launch? Palm has been known to announce products and never release them—the Cobalt operating system, then the Foleo sub-laptop, then smartphones with the Access Linux Platform operating system. For Palm, the proof will be in whether the product shows up on store shelves.
The New Pocket PCs - Reviews by PC Magazine
Copyright (c) 2008Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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