This week in New York, Microsoft released Windows Mobile 6.5, and I got three early mobile handset prototypes that utilize the operating system to play with for several weeks. I’m not a huge fan of the iPhone because I don’t like touchscreen models, and wouldn’t you know it, all three of the phones Microsoft sent are just that, including two from HTC and one from Toshiba. It is interesting to note that while I like the Toshiba best, I really don’t like having to do without a keyboard, and the current market trend towards touchscreen setups is starting to really piss me off. While I’m using Windows Mobile 6.5 release as the trigger, much of this is going to look at how you should choose a phone and why I think viable alternatives to the iPhone do, in fact, exist.
Smartphone Buying Basics
The original gold standard for smartphones didn’t use Microsoft software, nor was it from Apple. It was made by Research in Motion and it had a keyboard that you could type on with one hand. You see, back then, we kind of got that this was a communications device, not a replacement for a $200 gaming system, an iPod, or a camera. It was designed so we could communicate easily. Even so, they weren’t really great phones, but they were, for their time, wonderful e-mail machines. They weren’t dubbed Crackberrys for nothing.
Knowing this, the following should be the first step in selecting a new phone: Sitting down and asking yourself what are the primary things you are going to do with it. And recall that if you do use a phone for watching video and playing games, there is a reasonably good chance the battery will be dead if you suddenly, oh I don’t know, need to make a frickin’ telephone call.
A lot of people suddenly are complaining that they have no battery life on their iPhones. HELLO, that is likely because they are frying the battery doing a large number of tasks that don’t involve making calls. To me, it is nearly insane that Apple would create a device that could burn as much power as the iPhone now burns and not provide extended battery options. Did the team miss a memo? They don’t get that doing all this stuff will drain a battery faster than a tire with a harpoon in it?
Anyhow, if you need a phone to be a phone, regardless of who makes it, you need the battery to last long enough so you can make that emergency call if you need to. Speaking of, I’ve run into a nice little device called the Kensington Portable Power Pack for mobile devices, and it’s a lifesaver if you find yourself with a dead phone. It charges from a laptop, and then can be plugged into a number of phones to give you the emergency power you need.
If you do a lot of texting or e-mail, well, you may want to think about a phone with a keyboard as well. Typing on a screen pretty much sucks. Yes, you can learn to live with it, but you don’t have to. There are lots of keyboard phones out there, with the best coming from RIM, Palm, and HTC at the moment. Just because half the manufacturers out there think that keyboards are suddenly obsolete on phones, you don’t have to.
Don’t get me wrong – applications are actually rather cool and there are some incredibly good applications out there for a variety of the phones. Apple clearly has the majority at the moment, both good and bad, but ask yourself – do you really want your phone to be crammed with stuff like your PC is?
Personally, I kind of like the idea of an application store, and it is important to me, but it may not be to you, and it does add complexity to the phone environment. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Palm all have application stores. However, most (with the exception of Apple) aren’t very full of applications at the moment, and this will change a lot as we go forward. But if applications are important, then Apple’s offering clearly does stand out, and the iPhone is the uncontested leader in this department
Choosing a Cell Phone Carrier
The last rankings I saw with regard to customer satisfaction ranked Verizon first, followed by T-Mobile, AT&T, and then Sprint for the majors. (I just looked for a recent update and JD Power ranks T-Mobile first now.) In terms of actual coverage, Verizon comes in first, followed by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. And while this is anecdotal at the moment, available bandwidth puts AT&T last, largely because iPhones are apparently saturating their network in a number of places. Right now when I’m having phone problems (and I use T-Mobile), people just assume I’m using AT&T because connectivity apparently is so bad with them at the moment.
Last time I shopped for possible cell phone plans, T-Mobile gave you the most for the least and if you go to Europe and use your phone they have been substantially cheaper. However, while they treat you very well (or at least have me) they aren’t always up front with outages and there have been a lot of buildings I’ve been in where people with another carrier got signal and I did not.
On this one, you likely should ask around and see who is getting the best experience where you most often use the phone. By the way, be careful with AT&T in Europe: There were a lot of reports of folks taking their iPhones there and coming back with cell phone bills over $4,000 because of push email on the device. Th is fluid and often depends on area, so always shop this. You can use sites like this one to compare carriers.
Windows Mobile 6.5: Worth the Upgrade?
I’m a long-time Windows Mobile user, and like most folks, once I get used to a platform it’s hard to move me off of it. I know how to work the phones, they do the job I need them to do, and I’ve generally been happy with them. The 6.5 update improves the usability, increases the performance, and adds an application store (with only about 200 applications), but then I’m not a big cell phone application user yet, so that isn’t a big thing for me. I tend to buy unlocked phones, because I won’t use Sprint or AT&T and use T-Mobile (whose phone selection kind of sucks) because I do seem to be going to Europe and using my phone reasonably often.
For me to move to Windows Mobile 6.5, I’ll need a phone with a keyboard because I type a lot, and this initial run of 6.5 phones simply doesn’t have one. My friend Michael Gartenberg likes the HTC HD2, which may be the best out of the current batch, but he is clearly more tolerant of touchscreen phones than I am. I do agree with him that, of the ones I’ve seen, it appears to be the best.
But you should start with a list of things you want and need in a phone, and then look at the phones to match up the mobile handset that’s most capable of fielding the specific tasks you need it to perform – and this is true of any device. Too many people get excited about what’s new and flashy, and end up with a gadget that simply isn’t well-suited to what they will actually do with it. Think of this as you approach any purchase, and you’ll likely be happier with the result.
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