Source of all smarts

As I mentioned last month, I’ve just completed a group test of smartphones. I’d been asked to review the devices from a purely business point of view, so toys such as ringtones and MP3 players weren’t deemed important, but TCO, push-email and remote management were big points winners. What made judging difficult was that over half the phones submitted were Windows Mobile devices and, although they varied in terms of size, weight and form factor, once I started to see them from a corporate angle they all started to look a bit similar.

Source of all smarts

Although a couple of devices in the test group were running the older Windows Mobile 2003, the most recent Windows Mobile 5 seems to have achieved dominance in very short order, which has to be due, at least in part, to the huge wedge of cash Microsoft threw into the WM5 advertising budget. I’m sure you’ve all seen those posters, press ads and online banners showing mobiles with green screens. The odd thing is that the default screen background for a WM5 device is blue – just as it’s always been with Windows Mobile – and I’ve yet to see a WM5 handheld that comes out of the box with that green theme installed.

A number of companies are making Windows Mobile devices, including well-known players like Palm and Motorola, but the majority of the phones on sale are made by a single company, albeit one you might never have heard of, called HTC (High Tech Computer Corporation) and based in Taiwan. Less than ten years old, this company has produced more than 80% of all the Windows-based phones sold to date, but you won’t see HTC badges on any of them: Orange sells them as SPVs, T-Mobile as SDAs and MDAs, and O2 as Xdas. You’ll see them sold as i-mates, Qteks, Wizards, K-Jams and JasJars, but under the hood they’re all HTC devices. A real surprise for many people is that even the previously A-Listed iPAQ hw6515 Mobile Messenger was made for HP by HTC – a secret that HP seems anxious to keep quiet about!

Since i-mate, Qtek and the various networks all use their own branding to sell HTC phones, it can often be tricky for a business trying to select a corporate smart device to standardise on – it’s difficult to know whether you’re comparing like with like. Table 1 is my best attempt at trying to piece together how the various HTC devices relate to each other. I’ve gone back as far as the original Orange SPV and have included the new JasJam, which hasn’t quite hit the streets yet as I write this. (Incidentally, looking at those recent i-mate product names, I can’t help wondering how long it will be before we see a phone called the “JamJar”.)

After giving the various HTC devices a thorough testing, along with those from the likes of Sony Ericsson, Palm, RIM, Nokia and others, a couple of things struck me. First, the quality of the HTC phones is very high: this isn’t an example of Taiwan churning out cheaply made products, and HTC can easily hold its own among the Japanese, US and European competitors. Second, apart from the previously mentioned similarity of their Windows Mobile cores, these HTC devices are all remarkably different, especially in form factor. You might expect a range of devices from a single source to be variations on one theme, but that’s simply not the case. The only family resemblance I could detect was in innovative design and build quality.

A Real World column isn’t the place for a review, but it’s nevertheless worth taking a peek at some of the devices that impressed me the most, especially from their “business use” point of view. Let’s start with the Orange SPV C600, a powerful Windows Mobile device with a traditional mobile phone form factor. I still find it almost incredible that a device this size will allow me to edit native Word and Excel files, although, of course, the tiny screen and lack of a QWERTY keyboard mean you’re unlikely to be tempted to write your next novel or prepare the company’s annual report on your phone. Even so, being able to update Office documents on the move is great for those moments when you realise you forgot to do something important. The phone also has push-email available (when used with Exchange Server 2003 SP 2). For those who only need to do occasional input tasks, it really is a great little smartphone.

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