Investing in a new smartphone

6 Aug

August 6, 2007

By Geoff Meeker Image

This week, I gave in. After months of watching the market, I finally bought a smartphone.

No, I didn’t buy the Apple iPhone or Blackberry Curve.

The many reviews I’ve read of the iPhone boil down to this: It’s an amazing gadget, incredibly fun to use, but not a great business tool. As well, the call quality of the phone is lacking, the touch keypad is tricky to use, it won’t work as a tethered modem (more on this shortly) and it still isn’t available in Canada, with no release date in sight. Then there’s the issue of the battery, which can’t be replaced by the user.

I rejected the Blackberry Curve (available through Rogers) and the Blackberry 8830 World Edition (through Aliant) because Rogers has poor cellular coverage beyond the overpass and the 8830 is nice, but it’s ‘the latest thing’ and thus higher priced, at $300 with a three year contract (retail price is $738).

The Motorola Q is just $120 on the same contract (retail price is $736), and it comes with an extra battery (worth about $70). It also has an Internet browser, email, camera, calendar, media player (video and music) and a tethered modem.

This last point is important because I will be taking my laptop when I travel, so that I can work comfortably in large documents. The Motorola Q serves as a modem, providing portable Internet connectivity for the laptop.

The Q doesn’t have global roaming capability, like the 8830, but it does work across North America. The 8830 also has built-in GPS, which is nice but not essential for me (and that’s the point, you need to choose features that are right for you).

However, you can’t buy a smartphone based on features alone. It is essential to visit the stores and see how the devices feel in your hand. It is especially important to try the keypad, where you type your messages and place your calls.

There are two types of keypads – the QWERTY, a compressed version of a regular keyboard with 30-odd keys, and a phone keypad, which has numeric phone keys with three letters per key (like a regular phone). In my opinion, the QWERTY is easier and more intuitive to use, and most reviewers seem to agree with me.

It can be tricky typing on such a small keypad – you cradle the device in two hands and type with your thumbs – and I found some keypads more difficult to use than others. I liked the Motorola Q because the keys were nicely spaced, rounded at the top and rubbery to the touch. It just felt ‘right’ for me.

The 8830 doesn’t have a camera, a feature that has risen near the top of my priority list. I know that image quality – just 1.3 megapixels on the Q – is not enough for serious photography. But how many times have you said ‘I wish I had a camera right now’? The fact is, I rarely carry my camera any more but always have my cell phone with me. And a smaller image of a great moment is better than no image at all.

The Q is about a year old and thus not ‘the latest thing’. However, it is far from obsolete, costs much less, has everything I need in a smart phone, and feels great to use.

I did, however, run into some technical issues. While visiting various dealers, someone – I am not sure who – told me that the devices were Mac compatible. Turns out that most handhelds and smartphones aren’t. This may not be a dealbreaker, because I receive email from the service provider, not my desktop iMac, and have got that working already. As I write this, I am working with the tech support people at Aliant – who have been fabulous – in getting my tethered modem working with my PC laptop before leaving in just a few hours on vacation.

I will give the Motorola Q a test drive over the next few weeks. After that, I will try the Palm 700p smartphone because it is fully Mac compatible.

My next column will offer more information about smartphones and Internet connections, along with tips on choosing the right data plan and saving money on downloads.

Geoff Meeker is public relations consultant who has always had a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about local media, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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