By Yardena Arar
Most cell phones that let you add customization options have to be connected to a PC first. Verizon Wireless's Z-800 helps pioneer a new generation of phones that let you download applications over the wireless cell phone network itself. The technology, however, is more interesting than this phone.
Manufactured for Verizon by Sharp, the trimode (CDMA, PCS, and analog) Z-800 is one of the first cell phones to use Qualcomm's BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) technology, a complete system for developing and delivering applications to small wireless devices. After you flip up the Z-800's clamshell lid to reveal a 2-inch, 256-color screen (which looks a bit dark indoors), select BREW Apps from the main menu, using the navigation buttons, and then browse the offerings in categories such as Sports Games, Digital Arcade, and Productivity. You can download any app on the spot--for free, if a demo version is available. Otherwise, you must either pay a one-time fee or buy a subscription (all charges appear on your Verizon bill). The BREW version of Tiger Woods Golf, for example, costs subscribers $3 a month. Airtime charges apply during purchase and download, but not while you use the app (unless it runs online).
Using a shipping Z-800, I was able to purchase, download, and begin to play a game in about a minute. At launch, most BREW applications were entertainment oriented; Verizon says that other apps are in the works.
The Z-800's $400 price and two-year service commitment are in line with those demanded for other high-end, Web-enabled cell phones. However, the Z-800's so-so screen, its lack of Windows XP support, and the inability of its phone book to sync with any existing contact manager all limit this model's appeal. I'd let BREW percolate for now.
From the June 2002 issue of PC World magazine