Thursday, August 23, 2007

Buying a business-savy smartphone

Recently I purchased a smartphone for business purposes and I must first convey my frustration with this task. Really I think manufacturers are intent on frustrating us rather than serving us. They tease you with one feature whilst denying you another.
Of all the phones I looked at - whether Samsung, Sony-Ericson, Motorola, as well as a few PDAs, I found them all short on features except Nokia. I found Nokia products far superior than the competition. Having said that Nokia products are not all equal. Like the others, they want you to buy the best, teasing you with some features, but denying you others. What I did was start by identifying a wish list of features - and the best way of doing this is to look at the top of the range by each manufacturer. For Nokia thats the N-series. I came away with the following list:
1. Music: I wanted an MP3 player - even if I didn't plan to use it much. I wanted the option to play through external speakers.
2. Camera: Some have two cameras, one for face shots. I was happy enough with one to take scenic shots of property and house improvements, and sometimes corrupt officials.
3. Cellphone: I wanted a phone that would offer 3G, GPRS, GSM, Edge, WCDMA, quadband since I wanted the flexibility to connect in 90% of countries. In actual fact you dont need that many modes, but compromise comes later.
4. Conference calls: I wanted the capacity to hold conference calls, though no great need for it.
5. Email: I wanted POP3 email connectivity through wifi/LAN, so that I could email people from anywhere with wireless. The benefit is that I dont need to bother setting up my computer.
6. Internet: I wanted internet with flexible access through the telco GPRS connection or wifi at my local coffee shop if I needed it. The benfit is that I dont need a local ISP, nor do I need to pay high toll charges for Wifi.
7. Display: I wanted a large screen display so that I could use the device like a computer, and read books with it. I wanted good screen resolution so that I could watch TV or read books.
8. Communications: I wantd the option of communicating through wifi, bluetooth or the telco
9. Memory: I wanted sufficient internal memory plus alot more external using a miniSD card (500Mb+)
10. Applications: I wanted a contact manager, calendar, notes, Word/Excel/Acrobat Editor applications, as well the flexibility to load up third-party applications for stocks, forex trading, etc.
11.Keyboard: I wanted a well designed keyboard that would deal with my clumsy big figures.
12. Voice recording: I wanted the option of voice recording so I could record discussions with people or more quickly vent ideas.
13. Contract: I wanted a phone that would not require a contract. Unlocked phone means Pre-paid all the way, so I could travel overseas and just get a SIM card for each country.
14. Radio: I wanted a radio because I like to listen to music and sometimes something new and unfamiliar.
15. Texting: I wanted the ability to SMS people, with the capacity for using a distribution list.
16. Ports: I wanted a USB port for connectivity with other devices, such as a portable bluetooth keyboard for faster typing.
17. Video: I would happily accepted video 4G bandwidth
18. Weight: I wanted a phone that would weigh less than 150gms
19. Dimensions: I wanted a phone that would be comfortable to use, as well as carry in pocket.
20. Operating system: I wanted an operating system that would function with third party software. There was Symbion or Win Mobile.
21. Global Positioning System: This is a useful feature in big cities where you are always going somewhere new, but its utility falls in the countryside where there are no cell phone towers.
22. Processor: I wanted just enough processor power to do everything I need.
23. Battery life: I wanted the device to be able to last 2 days with alot of typing and texting.
22. Price: This is mentioned last, but it was an important issue. I didnt want to pay a premium for the latest, and I wanted a product road-tested so no flaws. This also gave me a long list of reviews from users of the device. Reviews are readily available on the internet, and like me they post blogs.

It was easy to settle on the Nokia - as the Samsung, Motorola and Sony-Ericson models available in the Philippines did not have great specs, whether in functionality or quality. Within the Nokia range I was frustrated. The N90-series were very pricey (all in $800 area), some were bulky (N93), and I didnt like their small keypad or screens. Stepping down from the N80 series, and I had a cheaper price ($600) but still the small keypad and screen. But it did have wifi. :) I was almost convinced this was the best I could do.

I flirted with the E-series, the E65 was a bulky device with a fold-out keyboard. But I thought it was too bulky, heavy and use of the keyboard was not intuitive since it was split between two components. There was the E61 and the E61i. This was a much wider screen and keyboard device. Playing with the device it wasnt too cumbersome for my big fingers, but it did have the challenge of the fingers getting in front of my key view. But by playing around with the keyboard, just pretending to type on a model, it seemed good enough. So, in the end I settled on the Nokia E61i. This did carry some compromises but I did pay just P19,600 ($US400).
Nokia E61i
Looking back on the feature list above, the E61i ranks accordingly
1. Music - yes it has though I doubt its as good as an ipod. Have not used yet.
2. Camera - The built in camera doesnt have a flash, and the picture quality was not great, but its ok I have a good waterproof camera if I need a specialised application. The picture quality was poor in late afternoon light.
3. Cellphone: I got all the communication standards I wanted - except 4G bandwidth. It is a little hard to hear on this phone.
4. Conference calls: Not sure it can do this - though it was not a priority
5. Email: It provides POP3 email connectivity through I tend to use Gmail software downloaded through wifi/LAN.
6. Internet: This phone offers the option of selecting Wifi or telco, and you can select the wifi hotspot you use. Using the internet on this device was good as far as roaming around a page, though there were memory issues, and its not easy to toggle between pages. There were also difficulties logging in to certain sites, though I was able to do banking and share trading. Clearly the free access through Wifi is a huge benefit - which those suckers with Blackberries can't get, and thus pay $200 per month, and are tied to a contract for global access.
7. Display: The screen resolution is fine, and I could even read books on it at 66% page reduction, though only just so if you hav poor eye sight you will struggle.
8. Communication: As indicated, I got the wifi and cellphone access I wanted.
9. Memory: It has plenty of external memory using a miniSD card (500Mb+) and internal memory is good too.
10. Applications: I got the contact manager, calendar, notes, Word/Excel/Acrobat Editor applications, though I found that there are not so many applications supported by the Symbion OS, though perhaps there are more for European equity markets.
11.Keyboard: I wanted a well designed keyboard that would deal with my clumsy big figures. This brand was great, and although my fingers get in the way of seeing the keys, that problem subsides over time. The keyboard is a buying point, the key layout is great.
12. Voice recording: It has this feature though I tend to use the notepad option to save typing later.
13. Contract: Yep can use pre-paid.
14. Radio: I didn't get the radio, but you can get this from the internet anyway I think, so maybe I do have it. But this feature has not been road tested, so dont know if internet offers sound.
15. Texting: Yes, with good integration with the contact manager.
16. Ports: I have a USB port but only through docking
17. Video: I can play videos through software but I dont have 4G bandwidth so it would be cumbersome to play off the internet, but I have not road-tested this feature.
18. Weight: The phone weighs 150gms - the limit I set but because the unit is thin it doesnt feel so heavy, not like the blocks I would be comparing it to.
19. Dimensions: I found this unit much more comfortable in the pocket than my old phone. Because it is much thinner it has a smaller footprint and you can place it in your coat or shirt pocket as well, but I worry about the effect on my heart, and it might jump out if I was running.
20. Operating system: The Symbion OS does not seem to offer the range of 3rd party software I want. BourseData trading software is not compatible, though I have yet to check out the range at various websites, so stay posted.
21. Global Positioning System: I already have a Garmix Etrex for outdoor GPS requirements which uses satellites rather than cell phone towers, so I really didnt need a GPS capability, though I believe I can link my Nokia phone to a GPS device to navigate. But for me the feature is redundant. Not road tested.
22. Processor: I think this is perhaps the biggest weakness of the phone as I have found it to fall over a few times when using the internet. But using the internet alot is not so important.
23. Battery life: When I originally bought the phone the battery was lasting a week without charging, though I'm not a big communicator, but I do write alot of notes. But I realised that battery life falls off alot in provincial areas where the phone might struggle to make a connection, in which case the battery lasts 2 days. Still not bad.
24. Synchronising: This phone synchromised well, no problems other than a little corruption of my notes on one occasion.
25. Price: I thought the phone was very cheap compared to the others. I thought the E61i was better than the much more pricey N90 series.
25. Reviews: The reviews I read were overwhelmingly supportive of the phone and largely similar to mine. Many buyers had upgraded from the E61, as they wanted the better battery life and wifi.

So the only negatives were the camera picture quality, the under-powered processor (same as E61) and arguably the Symbion OS. Overall I am overwhelmed with this unit. Its very durable and functional. My GF wants one as well.
Nokia E61i Smartphone - Buy It!

1 comment:

Andrew Sheldon said...

This is feedback I gave to Nokia on this phone. For me its the best Nokia phone at this point, unless you are a women with small fingers, then the Nokia E71 is far better.

My feedback is about the Nokia E61i phone. I am looking forward to a replacement for the E61i phone. Its a great product, but its becoming dated. The E70 seems to be replacing it, but its keyboard keys are so small that Western men will get little value from it. The E61i is a good size (for bigger keys), its just needs better applications (so better integrates with Word & Excel, cut & paste, editing functionality), screen resolution (so I can read eBooks at 60% reduction), better camera (so I can take better photos), longer battery life and faster processor. Often I have to wait for the processor to complete a sentence before I can continue typing). Other than that, its a great device, and I get a lot of value from it. But I do think its time for another upgrade.

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