Inside The New Sierra Wireless Voq Phone

The Sierra Wireless Voq Professional Smart Phone is an innovative and useable (albeit expensive) Windows Mobile gadget that can be easily integrated into your company's communications infrastructure -- if you're a Microsoft Outlook shop.

David DeJean, Contributor

December 29, 2004

4 Min Read

Two models of the Voq offer two levels of e-mail support, the Voq Personal Edition offers Voqmail Personal, and the Voq Professional Edition offers Voqmail Professional Edition, known to its friends as VoqMail Pro.

Personal is just the opposite of what it says it is: It's for accessing public POP3 servers, like AOL or your ISP, or a company mail server that's not protected by a Virtual Private Network.

Pro, which really rests on the Windows Mobile OS more than on the Voq hardware, is an obvious effort to compete with the success of the Blackberry. (Another clue: Microsoft has unleashed one of its pet pit bulls on the Blackberry. I hope this guy's had his rabies shots.)

Like the Blackberry, the Voq phone offers "always on" e-mail for both Personal and Pro. Also Like the Blackberry, VoqMail Pro can be configured to connect through your company's Virtual Private Network to your mail server. The Blackberry requires its own server on the company network to do this. Windows Mobile doesn't. Rather it includes support for the most popular VPN protocols -- IPSec and L2TP -- and Microsoft's own PPTP, so that a Voq phone can connect through your company's VPN to any mail system, as long as it's Exchange, Notes, or Groupwise.

A key gotcha: You can configure up to eight e-mail and SMS accounts on a Voq, but only one type of account, either Personal or Pro. If you choose Pro to handle your VPN-protected company server-based e-mail, you can't receive your private AOL e-mail directly on the same Voq phone: you have to configure any POP3 accounts on your desktop PC and then use synch to move the messages to your Voq. One possible way around this with some personal accounts is to auto-forward them to your company server, but your IT people may have some very negative reactions to this practice where they discover it.

A Phone In the Hand . . .

The Voq is a tri-band GSM phone. Official specs say talk and standby time is "typically 6 and 100 hours, respectively." In practice it seems to be less by about a third. It is equipped with 20MB of flash memory for user data like the address book, and 16MB of RAM for user applications. I/O includes an infrared port, a Secure Digital/multi-media card slot, and a USB connector to a PC for synch unfortunately through a cable that's non-standard at the phone end).

The cell phone features are pretty much the equal of others -- it doesn't have the alarm-clock functions of some, but there are lots of ring tones and a vibrate mode. And it's got features that any teenager would want: Mobile Windows comes with a version of Windows Media player. The Voq compliments it with a 2.5mm stereo headset connector (though the headset included with the phone is mono). Load up a Secure Digital storage card with MP3 files and bop your way to work -- and if you really want to drive your co-workers crazy, leave the headset at home and use the built-in speakerphone to play Led Zeppelin in the elevator.

The 176 x 220-pixel color display is adequate for short videos as well. And the Voq comes with file translators for displaying presentation files, spreadsheets, and other types of Microsoft Office documents that can be opened from e-mail attachments. If the bundled utilities don't do the job for you, you can run some of the many software applications available for the Voq and other MS Windows Mobile-powered phones.

Unfortunately, the look and feel of the physical phone aren't matched by the look and feel of its user interface. The operating menus are bewilderingly deep. And while there are several extra buttons on the Voq, there's no genius user-interface breakthrough to equal the Blackberry's thumbwheel. Some other niceties have been omitted, as well. There's no way to select and delete several e-mails at once, for example -- a possible showstopper for e-mail intensive users.

The two Voq models are expensive -- the Voq Personal Edition (for ISP-based e-mail) is in the $500 range and the Voq Professional Edition (for corporate server-based e-mail accounts) $600 or so, street price. Of course, smart phones are like yachts -- if you have to ask how much they cost you can't afford them. The real bottom line is how easily the Voq, with its Windows Mobile OS, can be integrated into your company's communications infrastructure. Here the Voq may be just what floats your IT department's boat, even though it's not quite as shipshape a smart phone as you might have wished for.

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