Smartphones Flunking   -   November 18, 2005

sony_k750i.jpg Spurred by an interest in j2me bluetooth development, I gave a few GSM smartphones a whirl. What I found surprised me. The 'smarter' the phone, the less I enjoyed it. The simple star of the bunch, the Sony Ericsson K750i, but even this was no treat. I also tried out the Nokia N90 and Sony Ericsson P910i. So far I'll stick with my LG 4500.

The Sony Ericsson P910i looks to be the most impressive of the bunch. It is the only one sporting a full keyboard, and has an impressive size screen with the keypad flipped out of the way. It also sports a stylus. However, all these features can't make this a good phone. This phone is crippled with the flip closed. You can't run j2me apps, add contacts, or do a number of things you can do with a normal phone. The flip is a cute gimmick, but instead of providing a classic phone like interface with the flip closed, it's a view into a limited set of apps and operations. Once you open the flip, things are better, but not amazingly so. I found typing and motion between applications to be annoyingly slow. sony_p910i.jpg The contact management app may be powerful for a road-warrior, but it leaves much to be desired when trying to put in a new name/phone number pair. Sony/Ericssons phone UI is in need of help. The major 'ok' soft key constantly changes between competing functions. One minute it is 'call', the next minute it is 'end'. Exiting what you're doing requires using a smaller-than necessary 'back' button. Furthermore, the keypad is much more bulky in real life than one might think from seeing pictures.

nokia_n90.jpg With radical new features such as a real Carl Zeiss optics still and video picture camera, an extremely high-resolution screen, and a unique twisting display mount, the Nokia N90 sure is different. In reality the results are less than impressive. The screen-density and Opera browser do make this one of the most impressive standard-phones for mobile browsing. You can see more of the page than you can even with the huge p910i screen, because the pixel resolution is higher. However, you might go blind from the tiny font text possible at this pixel density. At least I can hit the hangup button to get back to the main menu at all times. Too many small icons with no text make the menu system on this phone confusing. Despite the great technology, this phone UI was the most sluggish of the three. However, the death-null for this phone is the awkward 2-way flip and rotating screen. While it does seem nice while shooting in video mode, these two features conspire to make the phone all but require two hands to open properly.

Finally, the Sony Ericsson K750i. While this phone is not without it's own quirks, it is actually quite nice. It has one of the best text-entry UIs I've seen on any phone. When using standard alpha entry mode, it shows a panel of upcoming characters at the top of the screen. This is a godsend when trying to enter symbols, as you can see where you're headed and avoid the dreaded symbol overshoot. The phone has a relatively fun UI which is snappier than the N90. However, I was still unimpressed with the speed. It often felt lagged and delayed moving between menus. I'm also not a fan of the push-stick. I'd rather have the four-directional pad and "ok" buttons separated to avoid mis-clicks. \\

All three of these phones make the Audiovox SMT5600 smartphone seem practical, speedy, and useful in comparison. If you forced me into it, I would have a hard time picking between the K750i and the SMT5600. I suspect the more standard fixed start-end call buttons on the SMT5600 would sway me that direction. For now I'll stick with the LG 4500 and keep my eye out for smarter smartphones.

Posted by jeske at November 18, 2005 12:53 AM