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    Smart phones keep getting smarter

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver Issue #810 May 3-9 2005; GearGuide column

    With smarter-than-ever mobile phones getting used for more than just conversation, the ability to enter text into the little gadgets has become increasingly important. Some solutions:
    Nokia 6820 At first glance, Nokia’s 6820 looks like any of the company’s other popular cell phones. But flip the keypad up and it morphs into a full QWERTY keyboard. Opening the keyboard automatically flips the image on-screen 90 degrees, resulting in a small but usable environment for text and instant messaging, email, browsing and more. Other features include contact, calendar, and to-do list, speakerphone and voice recorder, Bluetooth wireless computer connectivity, and still and video camera. $150 with a Rogers Wireless plan.
    Blackberry 7100R Canadian RIM Blackberry remains the gold-standard for always-available email access. But the shape that allows for Blackberry’s great little thumb-keyboards makes them awkward phones. Blackberry’s new 7100 series of devices tries to be a better phone while still offering superior email-ability. Rather than cramming in a standard keyboard, the 7100’s keypad’s 20 keys each lists 2 letters plus a punctuation mark, in a standard QWERTY arrangement. I expected to dislike it, but was pleasantly surprised; SureType software lets the unit predict the word you’re typing. It works pretty well, correctly guessing most words I typed.

    The 7100 includes the standard suite of Blackberry PDA applications, and uses a convenient selection scroll wheel. Speakerphone, email synchronization and attachment viewing, Bluetooth support, and great battery life. No built-in phone or MP3 music playback, but integration with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino networks makes this a system for work, not play. $400 with a plan, also from Rogers Wireless.
    HipTop II
    Fido’s HipTop II sets a different balance between work and play; closed up, it looks more like your kid’s pocket-sized game system than a phone. The screen flips up to reveal a reasonably-sized keyboard, for wireless email, web browsing, and AOL instant messaging. It can synchronize with Outlook and Exchange servers, storing calendar, contacts, and messages online. There’s a built-in VGA-quality (640x480) camera with flash, and the large screen makes it a nice system for playing downloadable games. There’s also the Paris Hilton connection: Paris was recently embarrassed when the contact list from her Sidekick device was posted online. (‘Sidekick’ is the US-name for HipTops). Fido ensures us that it can’t happen here: multiple layers of security and encryption protect customer information. $200 with a Fido plan.
    Motorola Razr V3
    Motorola’s Razr V3 doesn’t have any fancy keyboard features. Instead, its slim design (a mere 1.4 cm thick in an anodized aluminum shell) made PC Magazine call it “the sexiest cell phone ever”. Eminently pocket-able, it plays nice with Bluetooth headsets and computers, and lets you voice-dial numbers in its address book. Flip it open to display a large, bright screen and big (though flat) keypad. VGA-quality camera with 4x zoom, MP4 video playback, basic email software, AOL messaging, web browsing, and Java game support. $500 with a Rogers plan. Stylish, but getting text into it will be more of a pain than with the Nokia 6820, Blackberry 7100, or HipTop II.

    If fancy keyboards, data access, and three-year plans leave you cold, Virgin Mobile has entered the Canadian market with three basic phones and pay-as-you-go service piggy-backing on Bell Mobility’s network. Phones (ranging from a $99 Nokia 6015 to a $220 Audiovox 8910 camera phone) can be purchased at local stores including 7-11 and Radio Shack, and come with $10 worth of service included. Rates are $0.25 per minute for the first 5 minutes, $0.15 per minute for the rest of the day. Virgin’s marketing aims at a hip young demographic, but the rest of us may still find it a useful bare-bones service.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan