One of the nice things about having a forum like this to write in is that you can go on about your random thoughts and people will pay attention (or at least you hope they do). So today IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to expand on a topic I touched on in my introduction, my perfect device. (As always download the unwired::cast at the bottom of the article)
Now like all cell phone geeks, of course I would like to have the ultimate device with every possible technology built into a small and portable handset. Since that wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t result in much of a column I instead will take a different approach. I am going to organize the features I want into three categories and then analyze the devices available to see which ones most closely fit my requirements. I will also be asking all of you to share your opinion.
Lets begin by listing all of the features that go into our decisions about smartphones. First of all is the physical build of the device, this can include things like keyboard layout, screen, size, camera. You also have to consider the communications technologies, for example wi-fi, edge, gps, bluetooth. Finally there is software, including the operating system, third party applications and interoperability with different platforms.
In order to make this column shorter IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to exclude from this discussion ubiquitous features that any smartphone should have. For example an organizer, basic email support, etc., things that any smarpthone worth its snuff will be able to do out of the box.
Lets start out by listing the Ã¢â‚¬Å“would be niceÃ¢â‚¬Â features. These are things that would be nice to have but I could live without in almost any device:
GPS is a nice feature, but is easily replaceable with a Bluetooth capable receiver. IRDA is less and less necessary and even HTC seem to think so. A touch screen is a must have for many people, and although I find it convenient IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had no problem using a WM smarpthone device that lacks it. Sometimes I even find it inconvenient, like when the device is in my pocket and accidentally gets activated. Finally, some may think me nuts for including push email in this list but in my field of work having instant access to my email just isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessary. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve used an exchange server solution for the past couple of months and recently cancelled my account.
Next up are Ã¢â‚¬Å“I really wantÃ¢â‚¬Â feature. These features are not must haves, but it would be significantly painful for me to give them up. These include:
Either 3G or wi-fi
2mp + Camera
Word viewing + editing
Navigator button (as opposed to a joystick)
Sync support for my Mac
The first item indicates that I am willing to give up one of these as long as I have the other. Basically I need some kind of fast data access but donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily need both. Having a decent camera on my device is becoming more and more important to me. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not yet a must have feature, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s getting close, and the 1.3mp cameras that are standard on most devices nowadays just arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cutting it for me. Windows mobile is my preferred platform, and I would very much like to stay with it, but if something from Symbian or some other platform came along that met all of my other needs IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be willing to try it.
As you probably realize if you read/listened to my last thought having a fully operational office suite is important to me, but being able to edit word is slightly less important than excel support (as you will see). Also, I much prefer having a navigator button (like on the HTC Hermes) rather than the joysticks that seem to be so popular on devices today. I really, really want A2DP support, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve lived without it until now and I guess I can again (I guess). Finally, support for syncing with my Mac is extremely important to me. This is probably the item that I most struggled with placing in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“must havesÃ¢â‚¬Â list, but realistically if the device did everything else I wanted it to I would figure out some other solution (ie. Syncing with Windows via Paralles on my mac).
That brings us to my Ã¢â‚¬Å“must haveÃ¢â‚¬Â features. These are items that I simply could not live without, and include:
QVGA or better screen resolution
QWERTY keyboard on the front of the device
3G or Wi-Fi
Excel viewing + editing
Hot swappable memory card
Multi tasking OS
Good Battery Life
Excellent coverage/signal strength
Small/Slim form factor
So, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take a look at each of these. First of all the screen resolution, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t consider myself a snob when it comes to this, but having used some devices with 240x240 resolution (HP and Palm IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m looking in your direction) it simply pales in comparison with QVGA, especially since I use my smartphone to watch movies and show off my pictures. Given the amount of text entry I do on my device the presence of a QWERTY keyboard has reached the Ã¢â‚¬Å“must haveÃ¢â‚¬Â level for me. And more specifically, I want the QWERTY keyboard to be always accessible, a la the Treo, rather than the slide out variety.
As indicated in the discussion above, I must have either 3G or wi-fi on the device. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m willing to give up one, but not both. In the same vein of data connections, Edge is a minimum for me given the amount of web browsing and email I do on my device. Bluetooth has also become a must have for me, I use it for file transfers, syncing, headset support, and I imagine as it become more ubiquitous in the future it will become even more valuable.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a big proponent of having a fully featured office suite on all smartphone devices, but if I had to choose one component I simply could not live without Excel editing and viewing functions. Having now lived without a hot swappable memory card for awhile, and using a Mac that makes it difficult to transfer files across usb or Bluetooth I have become a big proponent of having the option of simply pulling out your card and sticking it into a card reader.
I mentioned already that I was willing to pass on Windows Mobile if I had to, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not willing to give up a multi-tasking OS (Palm OS fans IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m looking in your direction now). At any one time I can be surfing the net, listening to music, checking my schedule and email and even taking a picture on my device. I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be bothered to be closing one item as I move to the other and then back again.
I also need my device to last at least one full day of the heavy load I demand from it, without worrying about recharging. And, since I tend to travel out to the boonies from time to time, having solid signal strength is a must have. This is also related to the network I use, and frankly nothing beatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s CingularÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s GSM network in the U.S. Plus, having a GSM world phone means that if I ever travel I can bring my device along and use it (this was helpful in St. Lucia during my honeymoon).
Finally, being able to slide the device into my front pocket and not feel like it weighs me down is extremely important (I pause now as all of those who are obsessive about placing their device into triple padded cases surrounded by Styrofoam pick themselves up from their dead faint). I also want it to be comfortable to hold, both in my hand as I work on it and against my head as I talk on the phone.
There you go, those are my rankings of smartphone features, from Ã¢â‚¬Å“must havesÃ¢â‚¬Â to Ã¢â‚¬Å“really wantÃ¢â‚¬Â and finally Ã¢â‚¬Å“would be niceÃ¢â‚¬Â. So lets see if I put my money where my mouth is, how does my current device (Cingular 2125/HTC Faraday) stack up to this list? Well, actually, not very well. Some of you may take this as proof that I can actually Ã¢â‚¬Å“live withoutÃ¢â‚¬Â some of the features I rated so highly, and this may be true, but having this phone has also helped me decide that some of the features itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s missing are things that I Ã¢â‚¬Å“must haveÃ¢â‚¬Â in any future phone I purchase.
So assuming that I have a few hundred extra dollars lying around (donations welcome) could I go out today, or perhaps in the near future, and get a phone that includes all of my Ã¢â‚¬Å“must haveÃ¢â‚¬Â features? Well, there are a couple of contenders; probably at the forefront is a Symbian phone, the E61. Unfortunately even though this phone includes all of my Ã¢â‚¬Å“must haveÃ¢â‚¬Â features (and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve thought about it seriously) itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s missing quite a few of my Ã¢â‚¬Å“really wantÃ¢â‚¬Â features, including Windows Mobile, navigator button, camera and A2DP. What about some upcoming devices like the Excalibur? Well, this may indeed be Ã¢â‚¬Å“the oneÃ¢â‚¬Â for me, but I would like to see how the battery and signal strength stand up in real life usage, guess weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll just have to wait for Arne on that one. Finally, there is also the upcoming Treo 750, although a little on the bulky side, it meets almost every item I listed except for the screen resolution and camera quality. Again, a device I will consider seriously.
So, after quite a bit of rambling it seems like my Ã¢â‚¬Å“perfect deviceÃ¢â‚¬Â is not yet out there, but weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re getting close. What about all of you? Post your thoughts in the comments.