Phone Wars: Choose Your WeaponPhone Wars: Choose Your Weapon
A slew of new devices from HTC, Motorola, Apple; more coming when Windows Phone 7 ships; rumors of new BlackBerry handsets. Here's a guide to evaluating the combatants.
July 14, 2010
Hot Spots and Tethering. The latest phone feature lets you create a mobile hot spot from your phone. For example, using the Droid X, I was able to connect my BlackBerry, laptop and iPad wirelessly, using the device 3G for connectivity. While it's not super fast, especially with multiple devices making use of it, and it drains the battery, it's one less gadget for me to carry (I typically bring my Verizon MiFi brick everywhere I go). However, the hot spot would inexplicably turn off on me sometimes. Tethering, or using your phone as a wireless modem (via USB or BlueTooth) has been around for a while. The iPhone 4 only supports tethering.
One note: Hot spot and tethering costs extra (the carriers charge for it). While the rates are roughly where 3G dongles and MiFi cards are, at least it's one less item to purchase and carry. JOIKUSPOT on Nokia's OVI store and for Windows Mobile lets you do this for the cost of the app ($9.99 on OVI).
Unified Inbox. Many phones now include the ability to create a unified inbox. On my BlackBerry, for instance, I have an e-mail box for my Yahoo Mail, my GMail and my corporate mail. And I have an inbox that has all of those, plus BlackBerry Messenger IMs, Visual Voicemail, and texts. Another important new element is intelligent message threads -- so for example, presenting a single view of a message subject that has multiple replies. This is now part of the iPhone iOS 4.
Input - Touchy Subject. User input is an extremely personal choice for most people. I can't get used to all the touch keyboards, no matter how hard I try. The BlackBerry keyboard is such an elegant design that I expect everything to act like it. There have been some advancements of interest, however, including Swype, which is widely available on Android and Windows Mobile phones. I like the idea, and people have sworn by it, claiming that over time they get quite fast at using it. After about a week, I got more comfortable with it, and I'm not as dismissive as I once was, but it still doesn't replace a real keyboard for me. Mistakes or unrecognized items really slowed me down. Also, I tested the voice input that came with the Droid X, and it worked reasonably well, but you've got to be extremely clear when speaking. I have not tried the BlackBerry Storm 2's touch display (SurePress).
None of these handset choices can be made in a vacuum. Many users have foregone the iPhone because of the problems users have reported on AT&T's 3G network. Samsung is hedging its bets by making a Galaxy S for every network. HTC has phones on multiple networks. The Droid X is exclusive to Verizon, but you can get an Android phone on any network. And you can get Android and Windows Mobile on many devices (Windows Mobile has 22 OEMs, according to Microsoft).
AT&T's new data plans come at $25 per month for 2GB of data, but it's difficult to make direct comparisons between plans. However, this article does a pretty good job adding up and comparing costs across carriers.
In other words, the choices are becoming more exciting, but harder, especially when the carriers are locking you into two year plans. That is, you're going to be stuck with your choice for two years. Better make the right one. I haven't seen the Samsung Galaxy, except in its European form, and only for a few minutes, so with that caveat, the top choices seem to be the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint if you want a big, bad ass phone that runs superfast -- or maybe you're even thinking its tethering and hotspot capabilities could supplant home broadband; or Motorola's DroidX if you want an ultimate media consumption phone, but on Verizon's network. The iPhone 4 seems a no-brainer if you're OK with AT&T (and if you believe Apple will fix the antenna issues); or a BlackBerry if you're not as concerned about apps, and you need the keyboard and the security.
While Microsoft has promised to continue supporting Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Phone 7 is just too close to hitting the market -- I'd wait to see what's coming, and how many developers Microsoft has convinced to write apps for it out of the gate. Me? I drive a plain sedan, and my main phone is a BlackBerry.
Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
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