The latest Windows and Blackberry email handsets for business
RIM’s BlackBerry devices are the quintessential business smartphones. Built around RIM’s push service, they offer a mix of email, calendar, contacts and an increasing range of third-party software applications.
A major update of the familiar keyboard-driven BlackBerry, the Bold adds a high-resolution screen, and significantly upgrades the available memory. There’s also a rewrite of the BlackBerry Web browser, so it’s capable of working with most modern Web sites – though there’s still no Flash support. Mobile email is the key to the BlackBerry, and the Bold doesn’t disappoint. You can use it with the prosumer BlackBerry Internet Service if you don’t want to set up a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (or the newer SME version of RIM’s mail connection tools). If you do use it with BES, then your clients will be able to file mail on the road, as well as use live calendaring and contacts. They can’t flag messages though.
There’s a decent camera, and a GPS – so the free Google Maps can pin point the device accurately for quick navigation solutions (and there are also pay-for turn-by-turn applications from a wide selection of third parties). Wi-Fi gives a faster connection when it’s available, and the built-in connection tools simplify registering with a Wi-Fi hotspot.
If your clients want BlackBerry for business, then this is the device for them. By far the best BlackBerry yet, the Bold has a superb list of features (including working with Office documents), an excellent keyboard, and all the radios you’ll ever need.
Google’s Android OS is one of the mobile stories of the year, and the G-1 is the first phone to use it. A typical HTC design, the G-1 mixes a touch screen with a QWERTY keyboard – though here the screen hinges away to reveal the hidden keys.
Android is a very new OS, and is tightly connected to Google’s online services. Don’t expect to find it easy to connect to enterprise email services, or to synchronise with familiar desktop applications. The platform is still very much a work-in-progress, and while promising, still isn’t quite ready for the enterprise market.
It’s worth waiting to see just how business friendly Google makes Android – at the moment it’s still very consumer-focused.
Dropping the BlackBerry’s famous keyboard in favour of a touchscreen is both the Storm’s strongest and weakest feature. It makes working with large Web pages easy, and the large clear screen is easy to read under most conditions. Unfortunately it means you’re going to have to learn how to type on a touch screen – something that’s not really suitable for long messages. Even so, the touchscreen keyboard with its two modes (QWERTY and SureType) is an improvement over many of the screens out there, and will work well under most circumstances.
Where the Storm’s touchscreen differs from other touchscreen devices is in just how you use it. You’re not just tapping on the screen – you actually physically click it. This makes it abundantly clear when you do something – tap to select, see a highlight and press to confirm – but it can also lead to some confusion if what you select isn’t what you wanted.
There’s GPS in the Storm too, but no Wi-Fi – RIM has had to make some compromises with the design. Tools like Google Maps take full advantage of the large screen, giving you a clear view of the world around you. Physically, even though there’s a big screen, the Storm is slightly thinner than the Bold, and will slip easily into a pocket.
At its heart this is a consumer BlackBerry, with plenty of user-friendly features. The keyboard may not be the best for long emails and while it has many traditional BlackBerry tricks like two spaces to get a full stop and capital letter, it isn’t as good for typing long messages fast as the always-excellent BlackBerry keyboards. However, it’s perfectly adequate for quick replies and SMS messages. Your clients may choose it for the consumer features, but it’s the BlackBerry security that really seals the deal.
Palm Treo Pro
Palm has been building Windows Mobile devices for some time, and the Treo Pro is its latest device to come with Microsoft’s smartphone OS. There’s a lot of similarity between the Treo Pro and earlier Treo devices – it’s a candybar device with a full QWERTY keyboard that fits nicely in the pocket. A 3G radio means there’s plenty of capability for high-speed data – and there’s Wi-Fi for even faster connections in the office or the coffee shop.
You’ll find a few little Palm tweaks to Windows Mobile, but the OS remains the familiar workhorse with push mail via Exchange ActiveSync, and full integration with Outlook contacts and calendars. The built-in GPS works well, and uses assisted GPS to get quick fixes, though users will need to connect regularly to download the latest ephemeris.
Connect the Treo Pro to a PC for the first time with its non-standard USB cable, and that it appears as a USB device loaded with all the software and drivers you’ll need to set up a partnership. That’s a big time saving – and also means you won’t have to hunt for CDs when setting up the device for your clients. It does demand a PC restart though. One thing with the Treo – it’s not the easiest device to get into. Opening the back to put in a SIM or a memory card can be more than a little tricky.
The Treo Pro is a good Windows Mobile device, and shows what good hardware design can offer Microsoft’s OS. Remote management from Exchange and a high-quality screen make it an ideal business device – just make sure to put in an extra few GB of microSD card to make up for the minimal internal memory which won’t take a whole month of email attachments and can slow it down if you’re running several apps at once.
Sony Ericsson Experia X1
The Experia X1 is another of the new generation of Windows Mobile devices. Built on top of the Windows Mobile Professional 6.1 edition, it attempts to add its own user interface to Microsoft’s familiar service.
Sony Ericsson’s panel UI is a layer on top of the familiar Windows Mobile, and it’s easy to get from the panels to the everyday workhorse underneath. Designed to offer a basic touch interface, panels load as images before populating with content. You can have nine different panels on a device, and there’s an SDK to help you develop them for your clients if they want more than Google search and Facebook.
You may find the Xperia’s touch UI a little clunky. That’s not surprising considering that it’s a layer on top of a stylus-based OS. Things get a little faster when you get to grips with the optical trackpad, using the small black sensor as a mouse to move the cursor around the screen. There’s a full QWERTY keyboard there too, which slides out to give an ergonomic curve reminiscent of the classic Psion 3.
The hardware’s impressive enough – a powerful processor and plenty of memory. Even before you plug in a microSD card there’s around 400MB free for email and programs. Connectivity is good too, with a 3G radio and Wi-Fi.
Sony Ericsson has delivered a high quality Windows Mobile device. It’s got great specifications, and all the connectivity you need. It’s just a pity that the panel UI is slow and unresponsive – and composed of static images rather than the dynamic display a smartphone really needs. Users may still see it as a business device rather than a consumer cross-over they can work with.
HTC Touch Pro
HTC is the name behind many popular Windows Mobile devices. The Taiwanese manufacturer sells devices under its own name and brand, and the Touch Pro is one of a family of new touch-based devices. Similar to the angular Touch Diamond, the Pro goes a step further and adds a slide-out full QWERTY keyboard for email and document entry.
The HTC touch UI, Touch Flo, gives a carousel view of various system functions. You can use it to select messages as well as quick dial frequent contacts. It’s still somewhat jarring to jump from the smoothly rendered 3D finger-driven UI to Microsoft’s pen and button powered OS that lies under the surface, every time you open an application or look in your inbox. The screen itself is impressive, squeezing a VGA resolution display into 2.8”.
Unlike most Windows Mobile devices, the Touch Pro doesn’t use Pocket Internet Explorer as its default Web browser (though it’s still there if your clients want to use it). Instead HTC has licensed Opera, and this gives it a powerful Web browser with a much more desktop-like look and feel. You will need to use the touch-based zoom and pan controls to get the most from a site, even in landscape mode.
You get 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as a GPS receiver. One quibble is the slightly non-standard mini-USB connector used to charge the phone (as well as delivering audio and video signals to the outside world). You can use a standard mini-USB cable to charge the Touch Pro, but its bundled cables can’t be used with anything else.
The Touch Pro is a high-end Windows Mobile device that delivers a lot, but is let down by the differences between HTC’s UI layer and Microsoft’s applications. Stay in the consumer tools and you’ll be happy but two very different ways of working don’t work at all well together. Two stars.