Between the nines

I’d planned to sit down this month and write about how disappointed I am that we’ve got so few perfect products in the mobile and wireless arena: the column was going to be a real whinge-fest about flawed products. However, during the few short steps I’ve just taken from the espresso machine in the kitchen to my office, I’ve had a complete change of heart.

Between the nines

I realised that, although my search for “perfect-ten” devices will have to continue, I ought to be more grateful that we’re so well served by a whole host of nine-out-of-ten products- and that’s something I should be celebrating rather than complaining about. The ability to choose from an abundance of products that are “almost there” is certainly not what you’ll find in most other marketplaces. Try shopping for a new car (something I’ve been attempting recently) and you’ll find out exactly what I mean. So I’m going to start off this new positive-thinking approach by applying it to smartphones, which seem to have become the mainstay of this column recently.

I’m still mostly carrying a BlackBerry Curve 8310 (although that could well change soon, given the way I currently feel about RIM’s PR agency, but that’s a story for a future column). The Curve only scores a nine because it doesn’t have a fast data service and is limited to viewing emails as text, but in so many other ways it’s a brilliant device. First, unlike far too many recent smartphones, it actually works well as a telephone: its number buttons may be small but at least it has them, and voice calls are very clear. Second, despite its text-only limitation, I still find BlackBerry to be the best push-email solution. I’ve tried several others, but none seem to work as well.

I also like the fact that I can pay T-Mobile about £7 a month for the BlackBerry Enterprise service and never have to worry about data bills, because even if I get lots of email or view lots of web pages, all the data goes down the same encrypted virtual pipe to my servers here at CST HQ and is covered by the standard tariff. That makes budgeting monthly phone charges more predictable and, of course, it makes mobile data usage so much more secure. I find the built-in GPS on the 8310 really useful, too, although that’s becoming less important now that Google Maps has started to exploit cell-tower co-ordinates. The Curve is extremely good, but not perfect, so it doesn’t score ten out of ten.

Another popular device is Nokia’s N95, which is a real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair with brilliant multimedia capabilities, a great camera, built-in GPS, Wi-Fi and the rest. It fails to score ten because despite offering the same S60 operating system as on its E Series phones, Nokia has deliberately disabled the N95 from running BlackBerry Connect, thus rendering it useless for many corporate environments. Nokia will tell you that’s because its N Series devices are all about eNtertainment, whereas the E Series was designed for Enterprise users, but that argument presumes that corporate users don’t want great multimedia facilities – some of them definitely do, but there’s nothing in the E Series range that matches the facilities of the N95. Another flaw I should mention is that the N95 could do with a bigger battery. The newer 8GB (black) version is much better than the original in this respect, but very heavy users will still have to charge it once per day. So it’s good, but it isn’t a ten.

I could go on. For example, what about Windows Mobile devices? The TyTN II is a brilliant phone that thoroughly deserves its position on the PC Pro A List, but it will be a bit too bulky for some people and, because it doesn’t have a proper numeric keypad, making calls isn’t as easy at it could be. Its younger sister, the S730, is a cracking little candy-bar phone, but as I said last month its internal GPS receiver has been disabled. The Touch Dual is a stunning-looking and very usable WM6 Professional phone, but it lacks Wi-Fi and, despite HTC’s valiant attempts to make WM6 more finger-friendly, it’s barely scratched the surface. No tens there then, either.

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