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A Bright Idea?

Are 2.5G phones really as smart as they're supposed to be? Judge for yourself.
October 1, 2002
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/55458

The mobile phone industry is sweating just a little because more people are now hanging onto their phones longer. What's the point of upgrading when your current one works fine on America's limited- bandwidth networks? That's where technology temptation is stepping in. Internet-capable--aka 2.5G--smartphones are the next big leap for all regular mobile phone users.

But it should take more than just bells and whistles to separate your money from your capital expense budget. If an upgrade helps you and your employees work more efficiently, that's fine--you can definitely justify the investment. Be sure, however, to take a closer look.

After all, these devices can cost five times more than a typical high-end phone. And even after you decide on your hardware, you'll have trouble sorting through the service plans that will make your new tool worthwhile. If you plan on using data features like e-mail, SMS text messaging and Internet access, you should look closely at the total cost of the plans involved. You could get charged extra for each feature unless you shop for bundling deals.

Of course, this all begs the question of what mobile phone Internet access is actually good for. After all, how many business uses can you find for sports scores, movie tickets and Amazon.com orders? Certainly, being able to easily look up flight updates, directions, weather and city information is a plus for road warriors who often touch down in unfamiliar towns. In addition, e-mail and SMS text messaging just might deliver the most productivity in the short run.

The $340 (all prices street) Sony Ericsson R380e is a good example of a smartphone that has it all. SMS, e-mail, address book, calendar and notepad functions top the feature list. In an age when connectivity goes way beyond just handshakes and phone calls, these capabilities can prove to be indispensable business tools.

Actually, SMS, e-mail and personal organizer programs come standard on the majority of the current crop of smartphones. The Samsung SPH a500 is 3G-capable. That sounds impressive, but it will be a while before we have 3G networks with enough bandwidth for things like streaming videoconferencing. A more immediate payback from the SPH-a500 is the airplane mode feature that turns off the cell phone portion while leaving open access to the personal organizer functions. You should give this phone special thought if you're a true, dyed-in-the-wool early adopter.

Microsoft has caught on to the new trend and has thrown its massive bulk behind the new smartphone concept. The Z100 from Sendo is one of the first on the market that features the Smartphone 2000 platform. Perks include Mobile Outlook, a speakerphone and an HTML browser. In addition, it will be expandable up to 520MB. If you're sticking with Microsoft no matter what, then take a good look at the Z100 when it's released in the United States. Keep your eye out for it on the market sometime later in the fourth quarter this year.

Here's a riddle: Is the Palm OS Handspring Treo 270 a wireless PDA with a phone tacked on, or is it a wireless phone with a PDA tacked on? OK, it's both. They don't just call it a "communicator" because it resembles a Star Trek prop. It does its dual job admirably-giving you good phone quality, more room for all your contact information, and more access to the entire Web, not just to WAP-compatible sites.

But if it's Palm OS applications you want, Kyocera is renowned for producing one of the earliest PDA/smartphone devices. They've refined the concept with the $499 QCP-6035. It's sleeker, more user-friendly and still offers all the comforts of a PDA in addition to a phone. Be sure to stay tuned to this column when we take a more in-depth look at wireless PDAs in December .

Perhaps the oddest-looking smartphone of the bunch is the $599 Nokia 9290 Communicator. It flips open lengthwise to reveal a screen and a small built-in keyboard. That's a nice touch if you are or aspire to be a master thumb-typer-not a bad skill to have nowadays. It's well-stocked with PDA-style features as well as mobile office applications and a presentation viewer. If you're really determined to cut down on the amount of hardware you have to haul around, this model will do it for you. After all, they don't call them "smartphones" for nothing.

Shopping List
Get in the know before you choose a smartphone.

COMPANY
MODEL
CONTACTFEATURESTREET
PRICE
Handspring
Treo 270
(888) 565-9393
www.handspring.com
Palm OS, 16MB memory$499
Kyocera QCP 6035
QCP 6035
(800) 349-4188
www.kyocera-wireless.com
Palm OS, 8MB memory$499
Nokia
9290 Communicator
(888) 256-2098
www.nokia.com
Symbian OS, PDA-only flight mode$599
Samsung
SPH-a500
(972) 761-7000
www.samsungusa.com
3G-capable, 10-line color screen$259-299
Sendo
Z100
(972) 432-9707
www.sendo.com
Expandable up to 520MB around with memory cards$400
Sony Ericsson
Smartphone R380e
(800) 374-2776
www.sonyericsson.com
Voice memo, syncs to PC via USB cable$340