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What’s so smart about smart phone’s?

Nokia 7650My first smartphone was a Nokia 7650. Chunky, solid, poor keyboard and questionable styling, but this was the future. Lots of groundbreaking features that weren’t quite perfected but a big step forward. My dream of one device to rule them all was looking like a vague possibility. I became the department geek where I worked at the time, the only person with a camera on their phone. Believe it or not, I was in great demand. The department manager wouldn’t buy a digital camera and I had by far the easiest method of getting photo’s into a powerpoint presentation.

Unfortunately, it all seemed to go wrong after that.

The next smart phone was an o2 XDA 2. Big touch screen, the promise of a computer in my pocket. Only the user experience was awful. It reset itself every other week and lost all the contacts and calender events. Usually when I had to make an important call. Ten minutes to re-start while all the O2 ‘added value content’ was re-installed, and unusable. The windows mobile experience was terrible, active sync needed fixing once a month, and I spent most of my time trying to keep the thing working.

Before taking the smart phone path I had used a combination of pda and phone for my needs. A Palm 105 and Handspring visor had served well, and after the horror that was the XDA 2 I abandoned my dream of integration and went the dual device way again. A Sony Ericsson T630 phone and a chain of Palm PDA’s did very nicely. T2, T3, T5 and Tx all served courtesy of eBay, and wise buying and patience meant I always bought cheap and sold for more, with the profit paying for the next device.

Once again I encountered the same problem though, stability. The T2 was rock solid. The T3 with it’s landscape or portrait orientation added some ‘quirkiness’ (polite way of saying bugs and crashes). The T5 introduced the NVFS memory system and more crashes. The Tx should have sorted it all out, but still crashed. Still, I could run Tomtom, manage my contacts and calendar, read eBooks and surf the web in a clunky 1995 sort of way.

The problem came when I wanted something better. Palm were going the way of the Treo, a smartphone that was already becoming stale and clunky. Windows Mobile was slowly evolving in true Microsoft fashion, the first few generations act as beta testers until they get it better, if not right. Then Nokia announced the N73, a multimedia computer.

It sounded so good, a 3 megapixel camera, video, internet, add your own apps. I took the plunge, finally one device to do everything. Only it sucked. Sloooow like treacle, prone to crashing if I looked at it in the wrong way. The nokia software suite was also flaky, unintuitive and slow. Three firmare updates later, and it’s half way to being an average phone. The N95 was announce, as a multimedia computer. Hadn’t I heard that before? Looks like Nokia had taken lessons from Microsoft’s marketing team. Let the early adopters pay for your beta testing, get it right on a later generation of device.

My experience of the N73 led to my second abandonment of the one device dream. The iPhone was announced, and looked promising. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s the best first attempt I have seen since the original Palm Pilot. This one device single handedly raised the bar by concentrating on the single most important part of a smart phone, the user interface. Suddenly every phone maker had a tablet phone with large touch screen in development for the past two years.

The only problem came when the iPhone was launched in the UK. £35 a month minimum contract after paying £269 for the phone? No 3G? Only 8GB? No thanks. I’ll wait for the second generation.

I recently took delivery of a Nokia 6300 as part of a ‘please stay with us’ bundle from o2. It’s not new, it’s not smart, but it works. It doesn’t crash, menu access is instant, and I have nothing bad to say about it at all. PDA duties are now being served by an iPod touch. Not the most obvious choice, but the interface is fast, and if you jailbreak it you can read ebooks as well as listen to music, watch movies and surf the net with the best mobile browser I have ever seen. Even the Contacts and Calender apps work fine and sync to my Macbook. Native apps are due in February, so if Tomtom would kindly launch a plug in GPS receiver and software bundle I will be happy. Even a software only solution may persuade me to buy a 3G iPhone.

The perfect do-it-all device is not here yet. But next year is looking good……..

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