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    Sun sets on PCs as mobile devices gaining ground

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver Augusut 11-17, 2009 issue #1033

    High Tech Office column

    The sun has begun to set on personal computers – at least in Japan, where the PC market has been shrinking steadily for several years. Instead, Japanese users are getting their data fix from increasingly capable mobile devices.

    Most of those devices never make it to the North American market, where users are hampered by relatively low-bandwidth, high-cost data networks.

    Sony Ericsson was created in 2001 by its Japanese and Swedish parents to develop mobile products. It has become the world’s fifth-largest mobile phonemaker. The company only produces products based on world-standard GSM technologies – used locally by Rogers/Fido, ignoring the CDMA networks used by Bell and Telus. It recently launched three feature-laden models in Canada.

    The Xperia X1 ($249 with plan) is another entry into the smartphone market competing with iPhones, BlackBerrys and Google android-powered models. Offering built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, its Windows Mobile interface provides good compatibility with Microsoft Office file formats and Exchange server mail. The X1 includes a sleek slide-out keyboard, a big improvement for text entry over many Windows Mobile models, but it too often requires awkward poking at tiny onscreen buttons with a stylus.

    The super-sharp screen is also a blessing and a curse: very high resolution for video playback, but onscreen elements are tiny and most websites squeeze too much onscreen at a time, resulting in unreadable tiny text requiring excess zooming and panning.
    Sony Ericsson has added a series of “panels,” providing an attractive way to quickly access sets of applications. A (small) variety of additional panels can be downloaded, but there’s no way for users to create their own.

    The other two new units build on non-phone Sony brands. The W705 Walkman ($149 with plan) adds a better-than-average music player to a pretty good slider phone. Like the X1, though, Sony didn’t quite get it right. Accessing the music player, for instance, is harder than it ought to be. There’s a dedicated “Walkman” button on the top, but it’s tiny and almost impossible to press down. The music player is also accessible through the menu, but buried several layers deep.

    The phone uses an odd connector on the side. For USB connections, AC charging and headphones, an adapter is included to use a standard set of headphones. A four-gigabyte Sony memory stick micro-format memory card is included. Facebook and YouTube applications are built in, along with Wi-Fi, an FM-radio tuner, and a 3.2-megapixel camera.

    My favourite of the trio is the C905 Cybershot ($249 with plan). While on most phones the camera is an afterthought, the C905 is more like a digital camera with a phone grafted on – the 8.1-megapixel camera is arguably the best on any Canadian mobile device.

    Though it lacks an optical zoom, it offers 16x digital zoom, a flash and a strong digital-camera feature set: face detection, scene modes and a variety of white-balance and focusing settings. GPS can be used to geotag photos. An accelerometer lets you view photos in portrait or landscape orientation.

    In addition, like the W705 Walkman model it has Wi-Fi, a radio and music player. Like that model, it also uses the awkward connector on the side and takes the relatively uncommon memory stick micro cards – a two-gigabyte storage card is included. Nicely, it’s much easier to access the C905’s camera than the other model’s Walkman features.

    Along with the Sony-influenced Walkman and Cybershot models, Sony Ericsson also has a TV-centric Bravia mobile phone-model. But only in Japan.

    Looks like we still have some catching up to do before we can do all our digital business on our mobile phones. •

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