of two smartphones
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
September 12-18, 2006; issue 881
High Tech Office column
Recently, I noticed two headlines in the same week. One stated that
sales of PDAs (personal digital assistants) were plunging. The other
proclaimed that PDA sales were booming. Strangely enough, both told the
The first article looked at traditional PDAs: handheld devices
requiring a stylus and using some sort of handwriting recognition. They
combine calendars, contact and to-do lists with limited connectivity
and are, indeed, seeing falling sales. Companies like Sony and Toshiba
have completely withdrawn from the market.
The second article, however, expanded its definition of PDA. It
included devices with calendars and contact lists but also used
cellphone networks for voice and data communication: smartphones. And
the market for these devices is very healthy, thank you.
Perhaps the best known of this generation of PDAs come from RIM, the
Canadian company that makes BlackBerry handheld devices. The addictive
nature of their always-accessible e-mail has led to the nickname
Despite their popularity, the very features that make them usable
little e-mail stations – screens and keyboards that are
relatively large, at least for hand-held devices – have made the
classic BlackBerries awkward phones.
Last year, RIM released the more phone-like BlackBerry 7100. Its
slimmer, more phone-like size and shape fit more easily in the hand,
but in exchange, it abandoned the qwerty keyboard of its larger
brethren for a phone-style keyboard with most keys sharing a pair of
letters. Much to my surprise, the built-in SureType software worked
well. As you type, the software almost always figures out the word you
meant rather than the gibberish it could have been.
This year, RIM has updated the 7100. The new 7130g ($250 with a
three-year Rogers plan) continues to nicely combine comfortable
cellphone and usable e-mail and data device. Quad-band and EDGE network
support provide international and high-speed connectivity. Improved
screen and keyboard brightness automatically adjust for outdoor, indoor
or dark environments. New enhancements to the BlackBerry Internet
service allow users to access up to 10 business and personal e-mail
accounts (including Microsoft Exchange, IBM Domino, and ISP e-mail
accounts) on the same device. Like other BlackBerries, the 7130g is all
business. You can view e-mail attachments in standard Microsoft Office
and Adobe Acrobat formats. But if you want frills like a built-in
camera, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
For instance, there’s Motorola’s new Q smartphone (aka
MOTOQ – also $250 with a three-year Telus contract). It follows
up on the stylish design of the company’s popular RazR cellphone,
packing a tiny but usable full QWERTY keyboard into an ultra-slim and
comfortable case. Like the BlackBerries, it offers always-accessible
e-mail (including Exchange and Domino access) and, like the
BlackBerries, one-handed operation benefits from a scroll wheel and
back button on the side.
In urban areas, MOTOQ can make use of Telus’ EVDO network, offering
higher bandwidth than Rogers’ EDGE.
MOTOQ is one of the first smartphones to be powered by
Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. This is a bit of
a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it provides MOTOQ with a strong set
of multimedia features. Users can surf the web, watch videos and play
music. On the other hand, it can take more steps to do basic operations
compared with BlackBerry or Palm-powered devices. And the
BlackBerry-like scroll wheel and back button often seem like
after-thoughts. They just aren’t as consistently integrated into
the user experience.
Nice features: built-in 1.3 MP still and video camera (with flash) and
Bluetooth wireless connection to headphones and other accessories. Not
so nice: the Bluetooth connection doesn’t let you use MOTOQ as a
wireless modem for a Bluetooth-equipped laptop. Motorola’s Q is
more fun than the BlackBerry, but not quite ready to challenge the
leader in getting-down-to-businessfunctionality.