Xmas Phones


It's official, the "so-Rui-what-phone-should-I-buy" season has started (my Mom kicked it off yesterday asking me what I thought of the 6630 for a friends' kid).

So, before you ask, here are my thoughts on some of the phones you can go out and buy right now here in Portugal. Rather than being exaustive, I'll be sticking to those I've used more than a few hours - and, most importantly, getting to the point about what works and what doesn't.

Business

  • Nokia/9500 - big, bulky, an overall disappointment for me (I lived by my Nokia/9210 and find it an underwhelming improvement). It is virtually identical to the Nokia/9210 in speed (or lack thereof) and features, even down to the funky localization (Portuguese users get a localized version of the OS, but with an Iberian keyboard - the "ñ" sucks bigtime, since it's just wasting space). Sure, the external screen is now a Series 40-like display and it has a VGA camera, but those aren't the real selling points for this sort of device. Wi-Fi works (mostly), but the configuration UI ought to be much better (and have a more clever way to input WEP settings, at least). Bluetooth support is pretty good for a Nokia device, but I gave up on testing it. If you are still hanging on to your 9210 and haven't heeded the Blackberry siren call yet, it's a good upgrade - but I expected a faster machine.
  • Nokia/9300 - supposedly out by Xmas. I found it a much more pleasant experience than the 9500, especially since I could slip it into a coat pocket without deforming it. It's not a speed demon either, but the compromise between size and features (i.e., dumping all the useless ones) make it a better choice than the 9500 for most people.
  • SonyEricsson/P910 - I spent very little time with it (I generally use these only when I have to, since I dislike the UI and the input model), but found it interesting enough to be worth a second look. Still, I'd have expected a UI overhaul and a faster machine as well - just tacking on a keyboard and adding more RAM doesn't cut it for me. Nevertheless, I'd rate it as the best Symbian smarphone out there right now, especially if you want to run Java applications.
  • Blackberry/7230, Blackberry/7100 - Yes, they're phones. And good ones, too, although most people will get one for the kickass e-mail service (Blackberry Internet Service is due out before Xmas in Portugal, and that will let you use a POP3 or Gmail account with it), they are definetly the best business handsets out there right now. Of course, there are caveats: few applications, no camera, no MMS (at least not on the current software builds), no dinky MIDI ringtones and audio-only Bluetooth (on the 7100). But my 7230 lasts me nearly a week on a full charge - e-mail and lots of web surfing included - and with the new full syncing features of the corporate 4.0 edition, I wouldn't swap it for anything but another Blackberry. Oh, and it's a killer SMS machine.
  • The Nokia/6260 is in shops now as well, and I got some e-mail asking about it. I found it to be extremely finicky to use due to two things - another bad joystick (a new Nokia trend, it seems), and the fact that all the action buttons are placed above the hinge, which makes it much harder to handle. Nevertheless, I found it to be an adequate Series 60 phone, and even marginally faster than the Nokia/6630 on occasion (although I did not load my data onto it, which usually slows Series 60 phones to a crawl). The camera placement (on the side) was also a nuisance, making it difficult to align and frame shots (and looking utterly ridiculous in use).
  • Palm/Treo/650 - Everyone from the US will point out I didn't mention this one. Well, I don't know if it's generally available in Europe, but the samples I handled were nothing special (although the MMS client is especially neat). When compared to all the other phones and PDAs we have over here, it's neither a good enough phone nor a good enough PDA, and the UI needs a major overhaul. I passed.
  • Pocket PC phones: I tried a few (QTeks, mostly), as well as the new Microsoft smartphones. I can't honestly recommend something that can't handle international dialling codes and accented characters properly - or that locks up in the middle of a call without any way to hang up. Still, AirSync is a good enough proposition for most people (I used it myself for months before I got my Blackberry), and the UI (however atrocious) is familiar to a lot of people by now. MSN on the move is still the only thing that would make me use one.

General-Purpose

  • The SonyEricsson/V800 has replaced my old T610 as my weekend phone. Besides having a decent 1.3Mpixel camera and excellent Bluetooth (not just audio, but also OBEX transfers and Mac syncing), it is a very good 3G data modem (having also replaced my Z1010) and has a fairly good speakerphone/"loud" mode (good enough for doing videocalls without a headset on a quiet room). Besides doing everything I need well enough, it has a reasonably decent XHTML browser (with Flash lite and SVG support), runs all the Java midlets I threw at it (and I run some pretty wierd stuff, like MidpSSH and the fabulous Calc), and plays MP3 and AAC files (the media player is simple, but adequate). I find it faster and easier to use than all the other 3G phones, but, more importantly, I find that it has the hallmark of a sucessful gadget - it does relatively little but does it very well, without a bunch of useless features. Like a lot of good things in life, it's pricey, but worth it.
  • SonyEricsson/K700 - all of the above, but without the 3G features, MemoryStick and USB. Lower-resolution (but still serviceable) camera, slightly slower, but overall it has the same bang-for-the-buck ratio.
  • SonyEricsson/S700 - I keep forgetting this one, even though I carried it around for a couple of weeks. The camera is excellent (i.e., for a 1.3Mpixel phone - it won't win any prizes as far as real photography is concerned, despite the CyberShot-like menus) and it has pretty much the same features as the SonyEricsson/K700, but on a bigger, better screen - which I find to be woefully misused, since there is lots of wasted space in menus and borders. Provided you're OK with the rotating design (which puts some people off), the only real drawback is the relative bulk - it is a bit too big to carry around comfortably in a pocket, and the screen is rather prone to minor nicks (despite a scratch-resistant coating).
  • Nokia/6630 - A 3G phone you can't do videocalls with - unless you get the desktop stand, which kind of negates the point. Good camera (marginally better than the SonyErcisson/V800 in some instances). Suffers from the usual Series 60 feature bloat - too many options and applications hidden away in several menu levels, made more difficult to navigate due to a lousy directional pad. Bluetooth works (for audio, transfers and data modem), but I find it increasingly tedious to fish items out of the Inbox. I also found the browser to be somewhat buggy and maxed out the RAM after launching only a couple of built-in applications, but if you like the Series 60 interface and want to run some of the gazillion games and applications for it, there's nothing better right now - even if Nokia is being stingy with RAM.
  • Nokia/6230 - The only Nokia 2G phone I'd buy right now. Good Bluetooth, radio, etc. in a decent-sized package and without the extra baggage (or funky keyboards) of its Series 60 cousins.
  • Sharp/902 - I dub this one "the fridge". Besides the white exterior, its most distinct feature is the 2.0Mpixel camera (with optical zoom, no less). Besides the usual Sharp features (large screen, SD/MMC slot, etc.), it also sports a video output (yes, you can plug it into your TV to display pictures, although I didn't try it) and a few interesting features (the ones I played around with had a barcode reader and basic OCR). But in the end, the lack of Bluetooth for data (i.e., OBEX transfers and syncing) made it useless for me, and the Sharp menus were a bit slow on occasion.
  • If you don't need 3G and want a simple, no-frills camera phone, the Sharp/GX-25 or Sharp/GX-30i are also good options. Simple, excellent screens, good battery life, etc.
  • Motorola/E1000 - A candybar 3G phone with all the usual Motorola UI issues, which are somewhat mitigated if you buy a branded operator version. I had a lot of trouble with the SX1-like keys alongside the display, but liked the excellent audio quality (and its loud speakerphone mode). I also found its Bluetooth features lacking - I need more than just audio - but other people liked it quite a bit.
  • Motorola/V980 - I won one in a company MMS contest, so it's been around the house for a couple of weeks. Even with the awful Motorola UI, it's a usable, practical phone when branded. Despite lacking any sort of connectivity (no data cable, IrDA or Bluetooth) and a funky 32MB card with an SD adapter, it has good videocall quality and an adequate VGA camera with digital zoom. A good 3G entry level phone with a nice, big keypad, suitable for older people (who will also find the smooth screen font very readable despite the smallish screen). The only caveat: as far as I know, it doesn't come with a headset (unlike the pricier 3G phones), which is a bit odd considering it's being marketed as an entry-level video call phone (and sold in pairs at a significant discount). Doing videocalls without a headset is... well, just plain dumb, unless you're in a really quiet place.

Golden Oldies

There are also a few phones that you may be able to pickup at bargain prices and that are always excellent value for money:

  • The Nokia/8310 - no color, very limited WAP, but can be used as a GPRS and HSCSD modem and has an FM radio. Big plus: it's really, really small. It was probably the last Nokia phone I really enjoyed using.
  • The SonyEricsson/T610 (or 630) or its clamshell cousin, the Z600. Miles ahead of the aging T68i, and still one of the best phones in the market today. I recently lost a chance of buying one in a stock clearance, and it still stings.