Monday, September 11, 2006

Why I love the SmartPhone...

...or, why I think the SDA is better than the MDA.
(Part 1)

I've been accused of being a mobile computing junkie. My collection of handheld devices that I've owned at some point dates all the way back to the Psion II from the mid-80's. Yet, they all shared the same problem: a portable computing device is only as good as it is convenient to carry.
The latest-and-greatest full-featured devices are generally larger than their cheaper and older versions (compare any Palm Treo with the Palm V), and were actually rather uncomfortable to carry around. I found myself taking it out and putting it down whenever possible, which led to it never being there when I needed it on a whim. How functional can such a device be?

Enter the convergence devices: The PDA/Cell Phone combo.
We're all familiar with the Palm Treos, and the handful of Pocket PC phones that have been released lately. This should have been a perfect option for me... I always have my phone with me, so why not have one device which I can keep track of?
The problem is that once you add the phone components to a PDA, you end up with an abnormally large unit that just makes my problem even worse. I tried a few, and I was generally unhappy with the results- they seemed to be part phone, part PDA, but not entirely good enough at either.
So I just accepted my fate and tried to just find the smallest PDA and smallest phone I could and carry them in separate pockets.
(To those that are interested, my research led me to the Ipaq 4150 as a PDA, and the Nokia 6230 as a phone).

That is, until my searching brought me upon the latest smartphone offerings from a Japanese company called HTC.
HTC doesn't actually sell any of their devices directly, but rather designs devices and then sells them to other companies for manufacturing.
Last year, T-mobile released 2 current HTC devices under their own brand name, as the MDA and the SDA.

The MDA, based on the HTC "Wizard" is a sidekick-style device, or in other words, it has a large screen that conceals a fold-away QWERTY keybard.
When closed, this device resembles the classic pocket-PC portrait orientation device. Since it is a true Pocket PC, it has a touch screen and runs the Pocket PC Phone Edition of Windows Mobile 5.
This phone really does everything:
  • 200Mhz omap CPU, overclockable
  • Mini-SD expansion slot
  • QVGA (240x320 pixels) resolution
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • Quad Band GSM (world phone, can be used pretty much all over the world)
  • Class 10 EDGE (while not quite 3G speeds, this is the fastest EDGE access possible, and it does perform quite well, in excess of 200kpbs even outside of major cities).
Now, the MDA is still quite a bit bigger than my Ipaq was, so while it was very tempting to try it out, I just couldn't justify using one on a regular basis. As a phone, its grossly over-sized. I mean, its better than holding up a blackberry to your head, but it still doesn't have the ease of use and form function of a regular phone. Not to mention the SIZE. Sometimes two seperate devices are better than one huge one bulging off your belt or pocket.

The SDA, based on the HTC Tornado, is a totally different beast.
Running the latest Smartphone platform, this device is designed to be "a Phone first, and a PDA second".
That means that while it shares almost all of the specs of the MDA, the focus on the design is to be used as a phone. This means no QWERTY keyboard, and a lack of touchscreen.
But here's the kicker... its much smaller than the MDA, but its still running Windows Mobile 5. So, what's the difference between the two devices? Let's look at the specs:
  • 200Mhz omap CPU, overclockable
  • Mini-SD expansion slot
  • QVGA (240x320 pixels) resolution
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • Quad Band GSM
  • Class 10 EDGE
Look familiar? Yup! Its the EXACT SAME SPECS as the MDA in half the size!

So, obviously I was intrigued, but the question was could you really do all the same things on the smartphone as you could on the Pocket PC phone?
I know the core OS is the same, but the device seems to be radically different, and the lack of touch screen made me doubt the functionality of any input. How annoying would it be to have to navigate a menu with the joystick instead of clicking on the touch screen?
Still, the idea was a good one, and I decided to try it out.

What were the results? Well, the name of this entry betrays my answer... but you'll have to wait for part 2 to read my explanation.

For now, lets just say I learned a lot of things from this experience that I never realized before...