We live in an exciting time right now, as we are at the cusp of an explosion of innovative smart phone technologies. Smart phones are finally smart, with less bugs and more functional operating systems as well as applications (or Widgets). But if you are about to buy a smartphone, what should you be looking for. The mobile experience will put some basic rules down for you to avoid any mistakes. Please take a look at our smart phone buyers guide below, 1st edition:
Three Absolute Must: 3G, WiFi and GPS
There are three absolute requirements for any smartphones today. I would personally avoid a phone that is missing any one of the above. Many people would argue that they don’t need all of the above or why have WiFi when you already have 3G support. I don’t really care what they say. Just remember that you are paying for a high price for a mobile device and you better get every mileage out of it; its better to have every important feature and not use it, then not having it when you need it in a hurry. In the event you are traveling to a foreign country, having free WiFi and GPS navigation can be a very nice thing to have. Regarding to 3G, you’ll have to decide between a GSM (AT&T, Tmobile) or CDMA (Verizon, Sprint, Helio, etc.) carrier. Most of the phones sold exclusively through Verizon or Sprint are less confusing, so long as it supports EV-DO Rev A spec, you’ll have a blazing fast 3G connection. If you are buying a GSM network phone, make sure it supports WCDMA 850/1900 to use AT&T’s 3G network or WCDMA 1700 for Tmobile’s latest 3G network coverage.
Niche functionalies: Email, Media, Camera, Touchscreen, Mobile OS etc…
Email: Every smartphone will provide the basic functions of email either via the browser or through built-in mail program; however, non of which can perform like the way BlackBerry(s) do. Their reliability and ease of use trumps everything else. BlackBerry now comes with 3G, WiFi and GPS integrated which makes it a very appealing option for those in the market for a super email communicator. There are other communicators on the market designed to compete with BlackBerry; the Nokia E90 communicator is a great example, however it costs about twice as much and I would still argue it doesn’t really compete with the Push-Email integration BlackBerry offers not to mention it is quite big.
Media: Some smart phones are uber strong media players. iPhone is the epitome of such. When shopping for a smart phone capable of media support, ask yourself what you are looking to do. If you have a huge library of MP3s and Videos, an iPod may be your best choice. If you are looking to stream TV or YouTube, the AT&T LG Vu or Verizon phones supporting V-Cast may be better for you to get content on the go. Nokia’s up and coming N96 will support the new DVB-H broadcast standard. I will briefly touch on Internet as it is assumed that mobile browser is part of the standard package within any smartphone. Some things to keep in mind are: is the browser a full browser like Safari Mobile or Nokia Browser or is it a WAP browser like Mobile Internet Explorer which strips web content down to a minimum? Do the handset/os support 3rd party browsers like TeaShark, Opera Mini or Skyfire? Check the vendor websites first to make sure your phone is supported. To me, mobile internet is the most important element of a smartphone!
Camera: Again, almost every phone today will come with some sort of camera/camcorder function. The minimum standard is 2 megapixel. Some smartphones will go above that with a 5MP camera (ie. Nokia N95, LG Viewty, Sony K850i, LG KG920, etc.). I’ve seen phones go up to 7MP+ (ie. Samsung SCH-V770). Cameras are one of the most under-appreciated functions today because of all the buzz are around “3G”. Ironically it is probably the most functional feature. In a James Bond-like fashion, your camera phone can take snapshots of anything on the go, for research, for documentation and for those special moments in life that are priceless. I would recommend going with at least 3MP on any smartphone and the more manual control the phone offers, the better. I personally prefer to have a phone with a secondary camera on the front of the phone. Its designed for video conferencing if your network carrier supports that function.
Touchscreen: Since the beginning, touchscreen goes hand to hand with PDAs and Smartphones. It gives users an extra level of precise input to command the tiny screens. Some people can’t live without touchscreens. Personally, it took me a while to go from a Windows Mobile OS using touchscreen to Symbian S60 which uses only a D-pad to navigate the phone. The iPhone has one of the best touch screen I’ve ever seen. While we are on the topic of screens, VGA resolution (640x320) and SVGA resolution (800x600) are on the rise. They offer much finer pixel display than the tradition QVGA (320x240) which is popular on most of the phones today. I’ve already decided my next phone will have to be VGA or better, for higher productivity.
Mobile OS: There are currently four major mobile os at play: Windows Mobile, BlackBerry 4.6, Symbian S60 and Apple OS X Mobile. As mentioned by the features above, each OS kind of ties to the unique feature set and user experience. This is why I talk about OS last because going by the functions you want, for example, email, you’ll be forced to live with BlackBerry OS. The only thing to keep in mind is Windows Mobile and BlackBerry are more enterprise/wor- friendly. Whereas Symbian and OS X are more multimedia driven. Of course, both Symbian and Apple are going to work hard to make their OS more enterprise friendly in the upcoming months. Finally, there is the highly anticipated Google Android OS which should show up by end of 2008 on some handsets. It offers true open-source which yields a lot of promises to reshape the entire mobile industry.