Elbowing Into Q Territory
TECH & YOU PODCAST
When Motorola's (MOT ) Q smart phone made its debut early this year, it set a new standard for slim and hip. Users praised its full "qwerty" keyboard and PDA capabilities. The Q is a bargain at $99 after rebates with a two-year service contract. But you can get it only through Verizon Wireless (VZ )--prompting other handset makers to produce similarly slim "Q killers."
Two of the latest examples are the Nokia (NOK ) E62 from Cingular (T ) and the Dash from T-Mobile (DT ), both American versions of phones that have been available in Europe and elsewhere for a while. As with the Q, the designs and prices will be attractive to consumers and professionals, but the two phones have different strengths and weaknesses.
The E62 costs as little as $99 after rebates with a two-year contract, plus $35 per month to add unlimited data. It runs Symbian, an operating system more popular in Europe than in North America. For good and bad, the phone's features resemble those of Windows Mobile Smartphones. The E62 has the ability to sync contacts and calendar with Microsoft (MSFT ) Outlook, but like Smartphones, it has no touch-sensitive screen.
The design is unusual. The phone is a wedge-shaped rectangle, about 3/4 in. thick at the top end and tapering to less than half an inch. It's about a quarter-inch wider than the Q, just enough to make it a little hard to use one-handed.
THE E62 CAN CONNECT TO STANDARD Internet mail accounts. More endearing to many corporate or government users, it can connect with corporate mail systems that run BlackBerry Enterprise Server or Good Messaging (formerly called GoodLink) Service, from Good Technology, which is being acquired by Motorola. I tried out both mail systems on the E62. Good Messaging worked exactly as it does on Windows Mobile devices and Palm (PALM ) Treos. But running Research In Motion's (RIMM ) BlackBerry Connect software felt nothing like using a real BlackBerry. In addition to being a bit clumsy and very slow in opening messages, the software syncs only mail and calendar, not contacts or any custom applications.
The E62 is a little light in the fun department. There are far fewer third-party programs available for Symbian than for either Windows Mobile or Palm os. And at a time when at least a 1.3-megapixel camera is standard on phones, including the newest BlackBerry, the E62 has none.
The Dash is a more expensive proposition: $199 after rebates with a two-year contract, and an additional $30 per month for unlimited data, including access to T-Mobile "hot spots" using Wi-Fi. The whole experience is much more Q-like because the phone runs the same Windows Mobile 5.0 Phone Edition software. And the Dash is even narrower and shorter than the Q, providing the most comfortable one-handed operation I have seen in a phone with a full keyboard.
The biggest draw of the Dash, which is sold by various carriers around the world under different names, is that it works both on T-Mobile's cell network and on Wi-Fi. This is hardly unique in Europe or Asia. The Nokia E61, a near-twin of the E62 that is sold in the rest of the world, also offers Wi-Fi in most markets outside the U.S.
The two varieties of wireless are not well integrated: You have to choose one or the other manually. Still, it's pretty easy to connect the Dash to Wi-Fi networks. And once you have done so, it's much easier to read Web pages, download e-mail, and perform the data-intensive job of synchronizing mail and calendar entries with a corporate Microsoft Exchange server. Keep in mind that T-Mobile does not support either Good or BlackBerry Connect on the Dash.
Both the E62 and Dash are worthy additions to the full-keyboard smart-phone field. But I suspect my favorite sub-$200 product will be the Treo 680, due before yearend from Cingular. It's an updated and cheaper version of the Treo 650. While it's a good bit bigger than either of these new entries, it runs on the trusty Palm software that, for my money, remains the ease-of-use champ.
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