is a special group of features by CrunchGear writers on the latest smartphones available or soon to be available in the US.
In this installment, we froth at the mouth at the current crop of smartphones.
My wife wanted to sync her Nokia with a PC. We dug around a bit and discovered she needed a special cable. Search for the cable — uh-oh, didn’t come with the phone. OK. No problem. We try to order one — $70! Wha!?
Smartphones are not PCs. They don’t have any tried and true standard connectors. Power ports, sync ports, and headphone jacks come in all shapes and sizes, from mini plugs to stange pin-outs only seen on alien spacecraft. Some devices — SK3, ahem — won’t take a charge over USB. Other phones don’t have USB ports at all and depend on Bluetooth for most devices. Come on, people: USB, mini-Jack, and Bluetooth. Let me plug my device in, sync it, and leave it there to charge. Let me buy off the shelf headsets when your headset breaks. Let me avoid proprietary software and pin setups at all cost. Also, allow me to charge over USB. Let everything charge over. You could even not include a charger, just a cable. Let me figure stuff out. I do not need 50 chargers in a box downstairs.
That said, companies like HTC are moving steadily in this direction, adding MiniUSB to almost all of its products. Companies like Mark/Space are slowly bridging the gap between PC and OS X syncing. It’s a start, but it’s still not enough.
Need to delete all your emails in Windows Mobile 5.0? Sorry. Need to turn up the volume in the T-Mobile Dash while talking and the phone is locked? Sorry. Take it away from your ear, press a few buttons, and then TRY to use the volume buttons. Need set up an email account in Symbian? Call your IT guys, because you’re going to need all sorts of crazy info. Then, no matter what, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded or why you failed.
Some carriers and brands are remedying this by offloading much of the configuration to an external server. Most phones don’t have the smarts or the wherewithal to try multiple ports and servers. However, by sending basic email data to a main server — domain, username, and password — carriers are making it much easier to set up email. Many smartphone OSes avoid the endless menu trek by creating a simple, easy-to-grasp interface. Others, like Windows Mobile 5.0 and, to some extent, Symbian, do not. What are we to do? Suck it up until the next release and buy a Treo.
Oh, and put on a damn mute switch. A physical switch. No menus, no buttons. A switch.
This is related to number 10 but deserves its own point. People like Macs. People like iPods. They want their phones to work with Macs. Microsoft — are you listening? Mark/Space makes a great ActiveSync clone, but should I really have to pay $39.95 to use my phone.
This has long been a bone of contention in the hardware space and must be remedied. Just because your programming team knows Visual Basic doesn’t mean your entire audience runs XP. Make a Linux version, port it to OS X, and you’ve killed two birds with one keyboard.
Slap a button here. Put in some hot appz. Make it download music, video, and recipes. Give it a vibrate mode, a 10-megpixel camera, and a scroll wheel. Then add in a fold-out QWERTY keypad, a speakerphone, and maybe a 12-inch screen.
Yes, friends, when in doubt dump everything you can think of into the latest smartphone. Make it a music player. A video recorder. A WiFi terminal. But don’t make it easy to use, stylish, and slim. That is changing, but too often we deal with smartphones that look like boat anchors.
The Cingular 3125 — it’s not a coincidence that most of the phones we’re mentioning that are getting things right are from HTC — is a perfect example. It’s slip, powerful, and smart. If only it didn’t run Windows Mobile 5.
My Sidekick 3 officially lasts 10 hours on a charge. The Dash I’m using now lasts about 14. Granted, I get a lot of email and lots of AIM messages, but come on. I feel like Pavlov’s dogs — when the battery hits one bar I know I’m in trouble so I race to an outlet. None to be found? No email for you!
This is 2006. I have a Blackberry from 2002 that lasts about a week on one charge and standard phones service at least a few days. I realize there’s a lot of radio usage that might effect battery life, but come on. 12 hours? 10?
We’ll accept a slightly larger package, people. I mean the SK3 is as big as a Choco-Taco, yet the battery life is atrocious. How about this – work with the laptop people on new, smaller batteries that actually hold a charge and, as an added bonus, don’t explode.
Many smartphone applications are like cockroaches — they scurry at the first sign of movement. Pick up almost any smartphone — Palm OS devices excluded — and you’re offered a “start page” full of arcane symbols and strange readouts. Need a real app? Figure out which menu button to press, drill down through menu after menu, and start it up. Need to take a call? You’d best remember where you are, because you might not find that app again.
My welcome screen needs a few basic icons and a few notifications. I want to be able to find BubbleBreaker in a second rather than a century.
While on the topic of apps, let’s talk about third-party offerings. There are literally thousands of programs out there — alarm clocks, games, currency convertors, and the like. Out of the box, however, most smartphones come hopelessly crippled. Give me a nice selection of apps and maybe a nice link to an online store for “signed” and “tested” applications that will work with my phone. Otherwise, I’m going to download 50 world clocks until I find the right one. And I’m going to be angry.
I need to get my work done. You pick up a smartphone expecting it to have the features you read about on the Internets. Then you buy it, take it home, and find out that most of those cool features that were available in Asia or Europe are disabled by the carrier. This hasn’t happened lately, but when it happens, it usually means the carrier is trying to milk 25 cents per MMS message sent rather than letting us send our baby snaps via email.
Greed shouldn’t stand in the way of innovation; it shouldn’t but that’s never stopped the greedy.
There are two parts to the word smartphone: “smart” and “phone” (edit: Biggs went to college to be able to deduce that. – Blake) The smart part a lot of companies have a lock on — give it a processor, an OS, maybe a keyboard and a PIM. But what about the phone part? If you own a Blackberry, put it up to your ear and stand in front of a mirror. You look like an ass. It’s big, bulky, and blue. Slap a Dash or any other uber-thin smartphone up to your head and stand in the street. Apparently the processor is so big it pushed out all of the wind canceling circuitry, because 9 times out of 10 your smartphone is going to peter out. Remember, smartphone people, we still need to make-and-take calls. Snake 2000 is great but if I can’t figure out which end is up on my new Nokia, how am I going to get through to granny?
Before you ship, test the phone. We can live with a few OS slowdowns if you can ensure a good quality call. Otherwise, your product is worthless.
Oh. My. God. Could this thing be any worse? It’s like a telephone menu system without the nice lady telling you what to do. Press 9 to go to setup. Hit 1 to delete an email. Press 4 to run miniWord! Press 8 to slow things down to a crawl by adding more than 50 contacts in your address book! Write once! Run everywhere! Sure, if you reduce your UI to a list of characters on a screen topped by a shiny icon. Windows Mobile 5.0 must die and let us be the ones to bury it.