All-Purpose Cell Phones

Are you constantly synchronizing e-mail addresses and to-do lists to different devices?

Tangled in multiple wires to your computer for cell phone, digital camera and PDA?

How about trying to stuff three or four devices in your pockets or purse, not to mention all those power supplies?

I’ve tried to manage this conglomeration of digital paraphernalia for years, and fortunately it’s become a little easier over time. But that’s been mostly because successive units have shrunk in size over the years.

The good news is that a few new phones make it possible to carry a single device that addresses a range of functions that have traditionally required bulging pockets, or even a backpack filled with gadgets.

Here’s my list of functions I want to/need to have access to during the day along with some items I’ve heard from colleagues. Cell phone, PDA, e-mail, Web browser, digital camera, MP3 player, games, and a modem connection for a laptop.

Okay … the MP3 player and games are a little out of the range of business applications, but there are at least a few minutes during the day when you’re not working, right?

The Contenders
Cellular phones have gone from a gee whiz curiosity to an indispensable small business communications tool. Despite the enormous popularity of cellular phones, it pays to be choosey in order to find the right device that will maximize your performance.

I took a look at two products that feature the combination of functions I required. The Treo 600 I looked at came from Sprint, and the Sidekick from T-Mobile. Both of them are great examples of devices that cram an amazing amount of functionality in a single, pocketable device. The chart below shows a comparison of features for each unit.

Sprint Treo 600 versus T-Mobile Sidekick

Sprint Treo 600General Use
Both of these phones are delightful. But be warned, if you’re now using a diminutive cell phone, holding either of these to your ear may feel a little awkward. I use the supplied ear-bud with each phone, which work great and are a must for driving. But I’ve also held them to my ear. The Treo is surprisingly comfortable and a little thicker than a standard Palm device. The Sidekick felt a little more boxy but wasn’t uncomfortable.

Speaking of Palm devices, the Treo 600 uses Palm OS, which makes it familiar to anyone who’s used a Palm Pilot. The Sidekick uses its own operating system so it’s unlikely you’ve encountered this particular interface before. Regardless, the layout is clear and the functions of the icons are obvious, so you’ll be familiar with operations after only a few minutes.

Both the units have color screens but there are differences. The Treo has a 2.6-inch screen measured diagonally. It has the same 160 x 160 pixel display area as a Palm device though it’s slightly smaller physically. I found it clear and bright and easy to see even outdoors in bright sunlight. The Sidekick has a larger 240 wide by 160 pixel high screen. Though it isn’t as bright outside, the additional width makes browsing the web more familiar.

The Treo’s miniscule keyboard replaces the Graffiti gesture input system Palm users are accustomed to using. To me, this is a good thing since I can type a whole lot faster than I can scribble. The keyboard is similar to one found on the popular Blackberry devices, and I found that after a couple hours of practice I could actually type with my thumbs at a rate that I would feel comfortable answering email with. Though I’d hate to attempt to write this story using it.

The Sidekick’s screen slides over a keyboard that’s larger than the Treo’s. This made typing easier at first, but a little familiarity made them equally easy (or hard, depending on your viewpoint) to type on.

T-Mobile SidekickBusiness Use
Overall the Treo 600 has more features for more money. With service activation discounts, I found the Treo available for as little as $450, and the Sidekick for $250. The Treo is part of Sprint’s business products portfolio and Sprint has put considerable effort into making the Treo useful in the business world while the Sidekick is marketed by T-Mobile as a “cool” device.

If you aren’t completely sure these all-in-one devices are right for you, the Sidekick is the less expensive option and will give you a feel for the services. If you’re a veteran Palm Pilot user and tired of the hassle of multiple devices, sell your Palm and use the sale price toward the purchase of the Treo.

Scott Koegler has been in the technology field for more than 25 years, and has written a book about systems integration as well as hundreds of articles about computers, software, digital photography, and networking over the last 12 years. He has been an IT executive in industries as diverse as health care, printing, and custom apparel.

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