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mobile phones, desires, frustrations and musings

I mentioned in my last post that my current phone is a Motorola RAZR2 V8. I got this because of its shape (nice to hold), large screen and large keys. These may not sound like funky features but are actually what are important to me.

I look at the iphone and nokia n95 with envy, the answer to all my problems is in these phones. Why? Which one? Why do I crave these when I do not use the features on my current phone.

What would I use?

  • I like the idea of pain free web on my phone, checking train times, check cd prices on play.com while walking around HMV, reading rss feeds on the train.
  • I like the idea of pain free web without constantly worrying about usage costs, i.e. wireless where available.
  • I liked my old palm pilot. I remember getting a train to Plymouth in December a few years a go (for my sister’s graduation) and wrote all my christmas season’s-greetings cards, palm pilot sat there on the little table as the reliable source of addresses.
  • I’m passionate about everything syncing with everything (another blog post me thinks). I remember in 2001 being frustrated at not being able to sync phone/palm/yahoo/PC (I got close with truesync, just missing the phone). In 2008 I still can’t get this all to work.
  • That includes syncing calendar
  • shopping lists, reminders and e-post-it notes are useful to keep in your pocket, and therefore phone.
  • Cameras and video/sound recorders are great, I was cynical of these until I realised the potential of taking pictures when you least expect it (and don’t have a phone) AND have a cable to move the files off the phone.
  • Media (pictures, videos, audio) would be much more useful if it just sync’d with something else when it had a wireless connection. Something else = PC, or decent online app (a la Google/Yahoo/flickr, NOT some rubbish in-house done-on-the-cheap company app.
  • GPS on a phone sounds cool. I don’t have a car but i see loads of potential (what IS the quickest way to walk from town, where am i, what’s that building/thing i can see, I’m late and need to get to a conference/meeting from this tube stop pronto..)
  • Music/video on a phone is good if it just works, as in Apple works. Putting music on the phone needs to be easy and pleasant, playing it by album, artist, random, not just per song, when phone rings/txt phone reacts in a thought out way, I don’t want to be deafened or forced to answer, or loss where i am in an album, or have to quit a music player.
  • I’m not a gaming person but a few games to while away the odd minute would be nice (god I miss worms), I always thought finding cool games to download would be easy but it has always eluded me.
  • I would use my phone as a read/write device if it has: a large screen, a touch screen for the web and a qwerty keyboard (for note taking, docs, etc).
  • Itemised voicemail messages (iphone) seem like such a brilliant and obvious idea, seeing the dreaded ‘5 voicemail messages waiting’ txt makes me put of listening to them!
  • It needs to act like a mobile thingy gadget, not phone with bits added on.

So what are the current contenders…

iphone

First, the iphone, like the ipod isn’t just a trendy fashion accessory, once the fuss died down a close look shows that is set a new standard.

What’s good about it?

  • Design
  • View voice mail and select which one you want to listen to (this is a brilliant idea, I have a very strange dislike of dialling my voicemail to find out which frustrated soul has been trying to ring me, especially when there are a lot of messages).
  • User interface
  • Internet connectivity.
  • good sync’ing (i think?)

Perhaps the most important aspect was the user interface. Phones have played music for a long time, but always had a bolted on feel. Often stuck away in a sub-menu, and requiring a 3rd party application, and often wasn’t easy to listen to music while doing other things (especially when you just wanted to skip a track, or swap between a phone call and music). I think some techies didn’t get this, especially the slashdot group-think type, by comparing lists of features and specification numbers they would argue that the iphone is nothing special, but they didn’t seem to appreciate that for most of us it can be the small things such as how they are implemented which makes all the difference.

It also got the web right. While Opera Mini Browser is fantastic, and copes with websites well, nothing beats seeing a webpage how you would expect to see it on a PC. The fact that many sites should work better on a phone is not the point (though a good point, a well crafted stylesheet for the small screen size would ensure a design heavy 100px wide page can be rendered nicely on a mobile and just include the essentials).

Iphone cons:

  • no GPS
  • Camera has bad reviews
  • Limited extra apps, and games
  • no proper keboard, all reviews suggest the screen keyboard is fine but ‘takes getting used to’

Nokia n95 / n96 / n82

OK confused. Until recently the N95 was seen as the must have Nokia smartphone, they recently released the N95 8Gb which fixed a lot of the problems with the N95 (eg stability), but now I’m seeing people refer to the N82 as the N95 Successor, and meanwhile seeing that the N96 is on the horizon as well.

The Nokia’s have all you could need feature-wise: loads of apps, good camera, multimedia, GPS and an accelerometer, plus every connection method you could want. However, no touch screen and no Querty keyboard (and small numeric keys) make input a pain. Plus The Nokia’s interface/stability has been critised. It just don’t have a look or brilliant user experience of the iphone, or any phone with a large touch screen. I would be worried after spending money on such a good phone that the limited input options would mena I would not use it as much as I would want (small numeric keys = difficult to take notes / add to-dos, no touch screen mean less than ideal web browsing experience).

Palm

The Nokia N95 and Apple’s iPhone have been compared endlessly, but in my mind another contender is the Palm 750 (and similar models). I like the large touch screen and the keyboard. Running Windows Mobile is good and bad. Good in that it will sync with standard PC software and use familar apps that have wide support (windows media player), bad in that all these apps aren’t as good as the Apple alternatives that of course the iPhone will sync with. At the end of the day, Windows Mobile doesn’t give me the warm fuzzy feeling or feel good factor, but better than crappy phone manufacturer’s software, and does work. Other downsides include the 1.3 megapixel camera (the same as my first camera, not good) and no GPS.

Others

Blackberry have some interesting phones, similar to the Palm above.

T-mobile have a T-mobile branded phone which has a slide out querty keyboard and touch screen.

Conclusion #1

I’m not getting a new phone in the near future so this is all irrelevant.

Conclusion #2

GPS is cool, so is the iphone. What’s key is not just a feature but that is is usable: easy to enter information and view, easy to sync with other systems, automated sync and it needs to feel like part of the device, not just an awkward add on. A cool document editor is no use if you have to use some tiny numeric keys to enter text and the files require manually moving to another device. Wireless seems like another must, paying by the kb to browser the web or download a file when you in sitting next to your wireless broadband is silly.

I’ll watch the Nokia N96 with interest, and reckon a Nokia model with a touch screen (web browsing) or qwerty keyboard (note taking, email) would be a serious contender.

The iphone is another obvious choice, and I like the fact it is Apple and not a MS Mobile based. It’s on screen keyboard, lack of GPS and limited applications at present are my main concerns (again, I’m not a gaming person but a few simple-but-fun games would be nice).

Be interesting to watch how these models are updated, and which new models come out in the next few years.

[this is one of three posts about mobiles (in my head it was going to be one but released I had too much to rant about), see mobiles (naming) and the self obsessed mobiles (and me)]

Comments

iphone software update should be available next month, and keenly expected is a 3G model (I’m suprised you don’t mention this as an iPhone con).

The software update should improve interaction with exchange (I’ve really jury rigged the sync on mine, as I sync on my Mac, and haven’t dared plug it into my work PC, so don’t know how well this really works – my calendar sync therefor goes Outlook -> Google Cal -> iCalendar -> iPhone – and is one way only)

The software update should also suddenly open up games – I’m sure that we will see a sudden explosion, especially for those simple but incredibly addictive puzzlers etc – e.g. bejewelled. Also worth noting that some games – again e.g. bejewelled – have special iPhone versions you play online.

GPS – well, the iPhone uses triangulation of mobile, plus information about the location of Wi-Fi access points – it’s OK but not stunningly accurate. However, the Google Maps integration makes up for a huge amount – generally I know where I am, and if I want proper GPS I’ll buy one (e.g. TomTom)

Overall I really like the iPhone – oddly, the things that bug me are not the things that always get highlighted in reviews that you mention, but other little things such as the lack of cut and paste, inability to select blocks of text, why MMS isn’t built in and I have to look at the pictures via the web (works OK, but can’t then use the picture as wallpaper etc.)

Chris Keene says:

Responding to Owen’s points.

3G: having never really used the web much on a mobile (which is where I presume 3g really helps) it hasn’t been a major point of contention with me, though I guess if I did use the web and multimedia more the slow speed would soon wind me up.

We use Meetingmaker at work, which syncs with little and had given up sync’ing calendar. However your sync ‘path’ has made me think : meetingmaker > intellisync > outlook > google calendar > [anything else].

In my ideal world i want a device to sync contacts, calendar, music, pictures, notes, docs, etc without me having to remember to sync them each day (and that i may want my calendar to end up on google while my docs stay on my pc).

GPS is right up there on the ‘cool gadget factor’ more than anything useful and hadn’t appreciated that the iphone is doing quite a good job without it. Funny, woudln’t dream of buying a tomtom and carrying it around but probably would end up paying £100+ for a phone that had it.

Your annoyances remind me of my pet hate of getting a new phone and finding the alarm has no decent options, the little things can really affect the overall feel of a device. I’ve never owned a phone that can do cut/paste but I guess this shows how expectations are rising.

Some of what you said reminded me of Ian Davis’ (Talis) post http://iandavis.com/blog/2008/03/iphone-day-four

Cheers
Chris

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