On current smartphones

The time has come for me to get a new phone (my current one can’t keep up with the demands and the speed or lack thereof ends up frustrating me).

So I’ve been looking at the plethora of devices out there – Berries, Windows Mobile, iPhone, etc (disclaimer: I’ve been a Blackberry user for many years now).

For me, the ideal mobile device needs to:

  • Synchronize seamlessly all my Exchange stuff
  • Be able to display PDF and office docs (not necessarily edit them)
  • Be a great phone (reception, clarity)
  • Have tethering ability
  • Be fast when I multitask on it
  • Offer GPS (almost all current ones do)
  • Have a decent supply of third-party apps
  • Be able to last me for a whole day (NOT just a business day) of pretty heavy usage
  • Have not so much an intuitive OS but an OS that doesn’t get in the way
  • Let me input text very, very fast (I’m writing this on my phone now)
  • Be tough (Mil-Spec would be great)
  • The ability to play music/videos is not essential but is nice to have (all do it now)
  • Camera nice-to-have but it doesn’t need to be amazing
  • Should be able to have a decent web browser
  • Shouldn’t be ridiculously huge…

So here’s the Executive Summary if your needs coincide with mine:

– Get a Blackberry Bold

For the nitty-gritty:

We HAVE to mention the iPhone, it’s a marvel of social engineering, industrial design and amazing marketing/branding. Of course the battery life utterly sucks if you try to use it the way I’d need to but, most importantly: I cannot type on the sucker! I don’t have abnormally large sausage fingers, indeed I believe my digits are downright elegant, yep I just cannot type fast or accurately on the iPhone (this paragraph might have taken me 10 mins to write on it). So we stike that one out.

Then you have the new Blackberry Storm, also touch-screen. On this one, the entire screen is a gigantic button that you need to press in order for it to register. I found that this approach seems to make it way more accurate for me than the iPhone. The battery life and build are also great. Too bad that the hardware can’t keep up, it feels decidedly slow, more so than the iPhone. Scratch that one too.

Then we have the narrow-form-factor Berries. Can’t type on them quickly. Out they all go.

Next are the various and sundry Windows Mobile devices. Almost too much choice here, huge third-party support, some great hardware from a few vendors. But I find that the OS really gets in my way and all of them also feel amazingly slow. Battery life is no great shakes, either.

Nokia has some good ones, the E71 is my favorite, but they don’t sync that elegantly with Exchange plus the keyboard is weird. Great build, though. If you like its keyboard go for it. OS can take some getting used to…

What remains is the Blackberry Bold. Sure, size-wise it feels like holding a slipper against your head (fortunately size was never a very important criterion) but it passes almost all the other tests! It also lets you send/receive emails while on the phone, feels fast, and has an amazing keyboard. Probably because it’s slipper-sized…

Well-made but it’s so nice that it needs a decent case to get ruggedized so you keep it looking nice, in which case it’ll look more like a size 13 boot against my face and I won’t be able to see just how nice it is anyway.

Am I alone in believing that many people would gladly pay a premium for a sleek, ruggedized device that doesn’t look like a Casio G-Shock? I’d be totally OK with the silly and easily disfigured plastic chromed bits being replaced by Kevlar or rubber, a scratch-proof screen, the ability to withstand immersion for 30′, successful drop-testing from 1 story to concrete, flexible circuit boards (not the ultra-thin ribbon type, you can get boards that are almost rubbery), Mil-Spec connectors, port covers…

It’s all possible, it just adds to the cost. But I guarantee most professionals will pay $100-200 more for the ruggedized model that doesn’t need clunky cases. Ericsson, Siemens and Nokia all had standard phones (never made it to the US) that would fit the above description with the exception of the scratch-proof screen (the Ericsson one was pretty amazing – they suggested you wash it to get rid of the dirt – albeit pretty large), but they slowly stopped making them. They weren’t even much more expensive than the plain models!

The old, thick Blackberries used to be pretty tough, I dropped mine onto concrete many, many times (drop-kicked it once) and the only damage was that the vibrating thingy inside stopped working 100% of the time, a no-no among Berry addicts. It did look scratched but it wasn’t painted on so the scratches weren’t that visible.

I hear the iPhone can be tough, at least the original one. The 3G – not so sure. A colleague had his stop working after he dropped it 3 feet. It landed on its back (should be an easy knock to absorb), you can’t even see a scratch on it. Unacceptable, IMO.


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