Product Review – Three Smartphones and a High Speed Network

I recently dropped three new smartphones on the desktops of our technical support representatives at Nicom IT Solutions, and they immediately went to town with them. The devices, compliments of Andrew Sherbin of Rogers Communications, are the Nokia N95, the Blackberry Bold, and the Apple iPhone. All three were configured to work with Rogers’ 3G high speed wireless network that was launched this spring in Halifax and Moncton.

Nokia

The N95 is geared for multimedia. It comes with built-in stereo speakers, wires to hook it up to your home entertainment system, and a whopping 5 megapixel camera. It has a slide-out tray that contains multimedia controls on one side and a keyboard on the other. The keyboard is of the type where one key can stand for multiple letters.

The N95 even comes with a tiny clip-on remote control with the same multimedia controls as on the tray, connected via a wire to the main unit.

Bold

The Bold is the next evolution to the World Edition version of the Blackberry. Some improvements were obvious right from the start, like a better keypad (QWERTY, as was the World, but larger and easier on the thumbs), a better program for viewing and editing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and a camera.

iPhone

When you get three devices to test at one time, it’s hard not to make comparisons and, right off the bat, there are things about the iPhone that stand out. For one, it is thinner and sleeker looking, and even the power supply is cool – a one inch square piece of plastic with a USB port on it.

Second, you move around the iPhone by using your fingers on a touch-sensitive screen. You can scroll through a document or a web site by sliding it around on the screen with your finger, as if you were pushing a piece of paper on a table. You zoom in and out by putting two fingers on the screen and opening them up or pulling them closer together. Most applications work in either portrait or landscape mode, and to change orientations all you need to do is hold up the device and turn it sideways 90 degrees. For applications that need a keyboard, email for example, one pops up on the screen.

Common themes

The N95, the Bold and the beautiful iPhone all have built-in GPS with downloadable maps. This is essentially a portable version of what you’d see in a car. GPS requires high-speed access, since it continually downloads map refreshes. Constant use of GPS really takes its toll on the battery so I wouldn’t plan on getting lost in the woods with one of these devices. (In fact, the iPhone only has a built-in battery, not a user-replaceable one.)

The Nokia requires you to sign up for a service to get the full GPS service, something I didn’t bother doing.

All devices come with earphones and can be used for listening to music and watching streaming video. On the Bold, you can browse the mobile version of YouTube at m.youtube.com. The iPhone has a “YouTube” icon right on the screen.

People have written other applications for these devices, and these are typically downloadable over the Internet. allnovascotia.com, for example, allows users to download a utility that provides a Blackberry version of their news items. I found it very useful and easy to read.

Oh, and they are all cell phones, too.

Since I had free access to a fast network, I decided to do some web browsing. I found the network quite fast, in that web sites loaded quickly enough, but the small screens made them difficult to read. Zooming in makes it easier, but then you have to scroll up and down as well as sideways. I wouldn’t use any of these devices for serious web browsing.

And the winner is…

The bottom line: If you want a device to use primarily for email and as a cell phone, and you want it to securely and seamlessly connect to your email server back at the office, I’d suggest the Blackberry. It’s tactile keyboard works better in my opinion, and it is renowned for its security. If multimedia is your thing, then the Nokia gets the nod. And if just plain cool is what you’re after, then the iPhone gets it hands down.

But the real winner is Rogers Communications with their 3G network. Other local carriers don’t support these devices, although industry analysts suggest they soon will. For now, the closest rival seems to be the Samsung Instinct, although I’ve yet to get my hands on one of those for testing.

Pricing and other information can be found at www.rogers.com.

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