Supersmart phones for extreme mobility

We pick seven serious business phones with all the bells and whistles, plus the power and flexibility that real mobile professionals need

The iPhone is wonderful for well-heeled consumers and status-conscious gadget freaks (see my review, "iPhone: The $1,975 iPod"), but business users need more … much more.

[ See also: InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards Hardware winners | Smartphone slideshow ]

The iPhone also misses the mark with enterprises, which typically run their own wireless operations, wiring back-end services with custom handset software to create tailored solutions. Most enterprises standardize on a given handset that's compatible with their wireless solutions, then deploy a fleet of devices appropriately pre-configured for the company's applications and general IT services like e-mail and intranet.

So what makes a great enterprise handset? It must be highly configurable to match infrastructure and potentially to adapt to changes in geography or work assignment. It must accept custom client/server applications that may place unusually high storage, performance, and UI burdens on the device. It must be manageable from a central point within the business so that the enterprise is empowered to provision, revoke, reconfigure, blank, and alter usage and security policies without bringing the unit in from the field.

It's a tall order, but such devices exist, outside Cupertino. The seven mobile handsets reviewed here all meet the mark, albeit with varying degrees of compromise. At the top end, the BlackBerry 8800 and Nokia E61i satisfy enterprise criteria for functionality, usability, and extensibility more fully than any handsets before them, with each device showing markedly different strengths, some of which will surprise you.

One step down, the Nokia E65 and the T-Mobile Wing (HTC Herald) sacrifice some usability for a sleeker package, but don't cut corners on functionality. Sporting all of the features of an enterprise phone, these mobile executive handsets never leave you having to say "I'll have to get back to you on that" or "I'll get my people on that as soon as I get back to the office."

The remaining three devices in this roundup -- the BlackBerry 8300 (Curve), HTC Advantage X7501, and AT&T 8525 (HTC Hermes) -- make the most compromises, usually for the sake of a smaller form factor or more stylish consumer look. But while they may shortchange you on performance or battery life or build quality and durability, they are still professional-grade handsets for serious business users.

Smart and driven executives, as well as top-echelon sales and marketing staff, need mobile devices that give them unfettered access to people, projects, services, and information. No phone is a notebook replacement, but these seven devices give you the option of traveling without a full PC or Mac and the bulging bag of necessities that accompany it. Together, they represent the cream of the crop for executives, mobile professionals, and the enterprises they are a part of.

Enterpriseclass: BlackBerry 8800 and Nokia E61i
When Research In Motion (RIM) started out, there was one thing that its BlackBerry did well: Push messaging. Now that the BlackBerry 8800 is here, we have one handset that does push messaging, mobile phone, media playback, Java GUI, PDA, and GPS navigation equally well.

If you've never encountered one, BlackBerry is the prototypical big-screen-over-QWERTY-keyboard mobile device. Every BlackBerry comes with the capability to receive and send push messages, which contain e-mail, application data, and management commands.

BlackBerry's uniqueness lies in distributed infrastructure that is located at wireless operators' facilities, at RIM's datacenters in Canada, and on BlackBerry Enterprise Server systems hosted by IT organizations that support BlackBerry users. BlackBerry devices are also uniquely easy to use, self-configuring, and centrally managed. A BlackBerry never fetches e-mail. E-mail finds your BlackBerry: accurate, intact delivery of all messages sent to and from BlackBerry handsets is guaranteed by the infrastructure and the handset's messaging software.

Previously, all data moving to or from a BlackBerry, including Web content, had to pass through RIM's servers in Canada or a private BlackBerry Enterprise Server. A significant change brought the option of direct connection from the handset to the Internet for some applications, including BlackBerry's built-in browser. That shift boosted Web performance considerably and brought about a new browser, along with a new human interface to go with it.

The BlackBerry 8800 ushered in a completely overhauled, and now standard, BlackBerry-to-human interface. The lighted trackball centered under the display has taken the place of the familiar thumbwheel across the BlackBerry line, and the contour and layout of the keys has evolved. The keyboard is now indescribably comfortable, with each key cupped on one side so that your thumbs don't slide off.

The BlackBerry 8800's trackball is innovative in ways that won't be apparent until more BlackBerry applications make the trackball de rigueur. There is no more natural one-handed way to move around on a map or within a Web page than with a trackball. Remote administration tools can use a GUI interface without weird key-thumbwheel combos to scroll and move the mouse pointer. Forms are easier to fill in when you can move randomly around the form, and within a text field, the way you would when you're driving a mouse. Selection of large blocks of text is quicker, too.

The BlackBerry browser is vastly improved, taking on the desktop view that's enabled by the trackball. Perhaps this browser is the best that can be done in Java, but it's well behind other mobile browsers discussed here. The BlackBerry 8800 can spend several minutes chewing on scripts and styles for a Web 2.0-ey page such as the landing page. Dealing with the pain of desktop-style browsing requires turning off scripting and style sheets, and although any intelligently designed site should adapt to this, more and more sites just bail out if scripting is turned off. The new browser is welcome, but it can't meet the expectations created by the new desktop view.

The BlackBerry 8800 integrates a feature that many mobile users don't realize they need: GPS. I was among those who saw GPS as a gadget, and with respect to stand-alone GPS boxes that stick to the windshield, gadget is the right word. BlackBerry 8800's GPS receiver works in concert with its EDGE mobile network radio to provide real-time, turn-by-turn navigation on the same handset that you use for phone calls and e-mail.

BlackBerry Maps is bundled with the 8800. It presents simple, fast, and accurate real-time tracking of your position on an easy-to-read 2D moving map. The trackball lets you explore around the map, snapping back to your GPS position ten seconds after you stop moving it. If you don't do a lot of driving for business, BlackBerry Maps is as much mapping and trip routing as you need.

BlackBerry 8800's killer application is TeleNav GPS Navigator. After a 14-day trial, this application will cost you as much as $9.95 per month, but if you drive, it's worth it. TeleNav puts every stick-to-the-window stand-alone navigator to shame with crystal-clear spoken directions that include street names and exit numbers, with automatic re-routing to navigate around traffic jams. Integration with BlackBerry's address book lets you select a contact, click "Drive To," and be on your way. I'm reviewing the TeleNav service separately, but having it on the BlackBerry 8800 has changed the way I travel.

The flagship BlackBerry handset is the best yet in all regards. No, it won't replace your notebook's browser, but the GPS, battery life, and the greatly improved interface go a long way toward making up the difference.

Given its shape and core features, Nokia's E61i is bound to be compared to BlackBerry, but the E61i is very much its own, quite exceptional handset. The E61i's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, wireless network universality, market-leading "Web 2.0" browser for Web apps, large display, two-week standby battery life, VPN, VoIP support, local and remote configurability, strong security, and incomparably flexible programmability make the E61i my recommendation for workforce, team, workgroup, and fleet deployments that leverage existing IT infrastructure and services.

You can add wireless to an existing solution using the technical resources you already have. You can dole out a batch of E61i handsets, make no alterations to your back-end services, create some Java, Perl, Python, AJAX, or C++ code to run on the handsets, and you've gone wireless in record time. If you want to do the whole UI in HTML and JavaScript and yet maintain off-line operability, you can run your Web app on an HTTP server that runs locally on the E61i. (Executives who want to be fully plugged into a wireless solution built around the E61i but who don't want to lug around a big handset, will find the phone-sized E65 identical to E61i in functionality and price. The E65 will be reviewed here tomorrow.)

An especially noteworthy recent addition to the Series 60 3rd Edition platform is Open C, a set of libraries and headers that offer an unexpectedly rich subset of POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface) functionality. With Open C, it's possible to port some existing UNIX and Linux software to run on the E61i and other S60 3rd Edition handsets, as well as write new code using the easy and widely accepted BSD Sockets networking API. Oracle developed a cut of its database using Open C, and other projects including an Apache-based, handset-hosted HTTP server have emerged.

The E61i's OSS Web browser is grand, outdoing all other browsers in this review. It's made from the best stuff -- Apple's open source Webkit -- but if you're hoping to sneer at Nokia for plagiarizing the Safari or iPhone browser, you're in for a letdown. Nokia managed to nicely emulate a mouse-driven desktop browsing experience using only a five-button directional pad. A picture-in-picture full page overview pops up during rapid scrolling to make points of interest easy to find with zero rendering delay. The scale of text and images can be altered independently, an approach that's superior to zooming the entire view. The user can turn off graphics loading entirely for instant page viewing, loading images for a single page on command. Clicking on an image brings up a full-screen view of it, which can be zoomed, rotated, and saved to disk.

The Nokia OSS browser doesn't support tabs or multiple windows. Instead, pressing the Back button brings up a set of thumbnails for the pages you've visited so that you can randomly jump among them. The OSS browser is extremely fast at redrawing pages from cache, and it has excellent JavaScript performance.

Embedded Java works perfectly in Nokia's browser, but embedded media launches an external Real Player. Sites that insist on wrapping media playback in JavaScript or Flash won't work this way, but audio and video on your intranet will work just fine, as will Flash content downloaded to the E61i for stand-alone playback. The E61i ships with an older release of Flash Lite. Adobe's Web site offers a free upgrade to the latest release.

Symbian Series 60's principle of "write once, run on any phone" hits a snag with the 3rd Edition. Code signing requirements and binary interface changes in the 3rd Edition platform can cause some existing native and Java S60 applications to quit working or refuse to install on 3rd Edition devices. Series 60 is so overwhelmingly popular worldwide that the majority of S60 projects in active development have already adjusted to 3rd Edition foibles.

The E61i needs IT's hand in deployment. It has more configurable options than any wireless device I've used, although it's certainly no harder to configure than a desktop PC. Fortunately, IT, or an S60 power user or developer, can tune a single device to perfection, capture that configuration, and apply it to multiple devices. That configuration can be reapplied in case a curious user gets in trouble, and handset features can be hidden and disabled using Nokia management software.

Lastly, the E61i is not an "oh, and it also makes phone calls" device. It is an enterprise handset that is a Nokia phone through and through. That means it's a best-in-class voice device with integrated PDA functionality, rich standards support, and an easy-to-use Windows sync and management UI. It has Bluetooth file browse/transfer support on Mac systems, and E61i will gateway Windows and Mac notebooks to the handset's wireless Internet connection. Nokia's E61i is, by all measures and across all mobile platforms, the best enterprise wireless handset for the money.

Mobile executive: Nokia E65 and T-Mobile Wing
A mobile executive's phone needs to possess all of the qualities of an enterprise phone, including VPN, rich document viewing and editing, push messaging, and no-compromises compatibility with an enterprise's custom mobile software. It also must look good enough that you don't need to duck into a hallway or turn your back to the group to use it.

I've chosen two phones that fit what I consider to be the executive device profile. The Nokia E65 and the T-Mobile Wing (HTC Herald) represent the top end of their platforms' capabilities in out-of-the-box functionality and customizability — Symbian Series 60 3rd Edition and Windows Mobile 6 Professional, respectively — so there's no enterprise application they won't run. Both are also extremely compact. They pocket discreetly without a case or holster and they are presentable even in formal settings.

Nokia's E65 is identical in functionality to the E61i, but without the alphanumeric keyboard and large display. The E65 replaces these with a tall portrait-type display and a slide-out 12-key dialpad. Even though the display is the same resolution as the E61i's, text is drawn across 240 pixels instead of 320. The impact on readability is noticeable, and the E65 also lacks the E61i's ability to flip to a landscape view. There is a third-party utility that does this for you, but it's something that Nokia should provide out of the box. I'd use the E65 in landscape mode most of the time.

The E65's predictive text entry helps mitigate the pain of 12-key typing; C-level execs don't text the likes of "CU@12" to each other. Nokia supplies quick-reply message templates that usually leave only one variable, like time or location, to fill in. It's worth noting as well that the E65, like the E61i, supports all popular instant messaging services and standards.

In a clear nod to managers and executives, E65 dedicates a key to conference calling, a process that the handset automates on your behalf. A Team Suite application lets you organize contact list entries into groups. The team works as a mailing and messaging list, and you can share browser bookmarks among team members, but if everybody's on the same wireless service you can convene a sort of pushed conference call in one operation. Each team member's phone rings, and when they answer, they're put on hold until the conference leader kicks off the call. On wireless networks that support push-to-talk (PTT), team members are automatically placed in a PTT group. Matching functionality exists on the E61i.

There are multiple ways to dial calls on the E65. There is the slide-out dialpad of course, but unlike most clamshell or flip phones the E65's 15-button navigation array works when the dialpad is not extended. A dedicated button on the handset's side puts it in listen mode for voice recognition dialing and commands. A long press on a Bluetooth headset's call button will do the same thing.

As in the E61i, Voice Aid lets you drive the device "blind," that is, without using the display or keypad. A very clear synthesized voice walks you through your contacts, call log, voicemail, and clock and enables very easy dialing of arbitrary phone numbers. It's easy, safe to use while driving, operable without breaking your stride while walking, and works in those environments that confuse voice recognition.

A text-to-speech facility, with a selection of synthesized voices that well exceed the quality and modulation range of software voices on Windows and Mac OS, is built into the E61i and E65. There is a message reader among the office tools, but the speech capabilities are really there for custom software to tap.

The fact that the E65's pricing and feature set are identical to the E61i's makes it clear that Nokia expects multi-unit E61i deployments to include less cumbersome, less flashy E65 handsets for managers and executives that need a phone most of all, but who also need to be fully plugged into enterprise solutions built around other Nokia E-series handsets.

If you have a bias against Windows Mobile, as I find a surprising number of people do, T-Mobile's Wing (HTC Herald) has the power to bring you around. It is a full-fledged enterprise handset, not an underpowered smartphone, that is in a league of its own with regard to style and usability. Wing leverages the extremely impressive Windows Mobile 6 to lend it high configurability, a large array of standard applications, access to a huge library of available applications, and flexibility in custom application development using familiar Windows tools.

What lands Wing in the mobile executive category is its tasteful looks and compact shape. Its case is completely covered in a soft-touch, scratch- and fingerprint-resistant, quietly iridescent midnight blue matte finish. Its only chrome flash consists of a thin ring around the circular navigation control and its center select button. The shape and finish were clearly chosen to skew neither male nor female.

T-Mobile's Wing has a right-sized touchscreen display that operates in portrait or landscape mode, and a circular navigation pad flanked by six convenience keys that wrap around the sides of the case. The USB/headset jack is covered by a rubber door that lifts and swivels out of the way. The Micro SD memory expansion slot is externally accessible and covered by a rubber flap that fits snugly when closed. Having all of its external openings covered lends to Wing's uncanny ability to disappear when it's not lit.

Wing is not a fast Windows Mobile 6 phone, but keep in mind that even at its best, Windows Mobile is, in general, not a performance platform. It is built for portability and guaranteed application compatibility across hardware vendors. To build Wing light and compact, its manufacturer, HTC, dialed back the device's clock speed and went with an application processor that lacks ATI's accelerated graphics (which other HTC devices use only in media player apps). Wing exhibits launch-time delays for many applications, but these can be reduced by disabling HTC's memory-sparing feature that removes programs from fast RAM once they are closed. Most Windows Mobile devices keep apps in RAM.

Unlike AT&T's 8525 (HTC Hermes), T-Mobile's Wing shipped as a Windows Mobile 6 Professional device (AT&T plans a free upgrade for 8525 users that was not available in time for this review). The differences between WM5 and WM6 are substantial, and mark a departure from the staid Pocket PC. Office is now a standard feature, so you can view PowerPoint decks and view and edit Word and Excel documents. The WM6 e-mail client is second only to BlackBerry, which is no small feat considering that WM6 does on the handset much of what BlackBerry shifts to the server. WM6 has HTML e-mail, an Outlook-like interface and even Outlook-like functionality, and Internet sharing (tethering) that is much easier to enable than it was in WM5. Further, Pocket Internet Explorer is much closer to a desktop model than it was in WM5. If you've got Exchange Server or a mail server compatible with it, WM6 takes on the attributes of a Windows desktop client. If you don't have Exchange, or if fate causes you to temporarily lose access to your IT services, WM6's Windows Live integration with its free Hotmail and Microsoft Messenger IM can be a lifeline. As small as it is, Wing takes full advantage of WM6 Professional.

One of the benefits of WM6 Professional devices is that their touchscreens allow drawing and handwriting. The handwriting recognition is highly accurate, and in Transcriber mode you can write anywhere on the screen to make an entry in a text field. WM6 Professional devices also work well with fingertip pressure, although it takes a fairly strong push to be heard.

Wing doesn't look big enough to have a QWERTY keyboard, and that's central to its charm. The keyboard slides out easily, and it's on a stiff spring so that once it's out, it stays out until you squeeze the case back together. I discovered that giving the case and keyboard a bit of a squeeze causes a timed-out backlight to come back on. Wing's keyboard is unremarkable. The backlighting is uneven, making some of the symbols hard to see in dim light, and the two softkeys that select the left and right functions shown at the bottom of the display aren't backlit at all. You get to know their location. I like that the Shift and Alt modes have LEDs that show they're active, so you'll know that the next keypress will be a capital letter or symbol, respectively.

Wing ships with the display oriented for portrait use, but when you slide the keyboard out it rotates to landscape view. A configurable setting can make landscape orientation the default, and that's how I use it. It's difficult to use Pocket Internet Explorer in portrait mode because I prefer desktop view, which lets you scroll across a site as though it is formatted for a wider PC display. Wing's compact screen is 320 pixels across, and the tightly packed pixels make for relatively sharp text.

Wing lacks in consumer appeal, which isn't a show-stopper for what I classify as an executive phone. Even low-res videos, like those on, play haltingly in Windows Media Player. The camera, which has HTC's typically rich controls, suffers from unacceptable shutter lag and blur. Like HTC's other Windows Mobile phones (except the X7501, also reviewed here), the headset connector uses extra wires on the USB connector. HTC and T-Mobile include a very cheap headset that plugs into this, but it would have been more useful to have a 3.5mm adaptor to allow the use of a plug-in headset. If you want an external headset, it'll have to be Bluetooth, and fortunately, the quality of Wing's Bluetooth audio is quite good.

Tipping the scales in Wing's favor is its networking. As with Nokia's E65, no one would suspect that anything as small as Wing could do Wi-Fi, but Wing does it, and with surprisingly good performance considering Wing's slow CPU. Downloads of relatively large files are quick, although Pocket IE sometimes forgets it is downloading if you continue surfing while a download is in progress. Fortunately, those who eschew Pocket IE can take comfort in Opera. Along with alternative browsers, the Windows Mobile platform has a public library of software that boggles the mind. The small, light Wing runs it all.

Wing will do anything that any Windows Mobile 6 Professional device can do, which is to say that there's very little it won't do. IT won't have to create any special portals just for your underpowered device. Whatever solutions they create for the best-wired users will work equally well for you and your compact, attractive Wing. You can have a phone that's sleek enough to use in the most formal of settings, and yet powerful enough to tap into every back end and hosted service your company offers.

Mobile professional: BlackBerry Curve, HTC Advantage X7501, and AT&T 8525
BlackBerry 8300, or Curve, is not RIM's first swing at a personal BlackBerry. Indeed, the BlackBerry Pearl is enormously popular as a phone-format BlackBerry device, and predictive typing makes Pearl's abbreviated keypad work better than any other device on the market. Curve is the first personal BlackBerry with a QWERTY keyboard. With the keyboard and trackball, Curve runs the full library of BlackBerry standard and third-party applications with no reduced functionality.

That's not to say that Curve hasn't cut some corners, literally and figuratively. Curve is a lightweight handset with a contoured shape, slightly smaller than the BlackBerry 8800 and much more comfortable to use as a phone. Curve's weight loss comes mostly from a smaller battery, giving Curve more smartphone-like battery life. While the BlackBerry 8800 is a device you can safely charge once a week, Curve is a device that you ought to put on a charger nightly, just like any phone.

I've been a BlackBerry user since that first device that used the two-way paging network, and my primary attraction will always be the keyboard. The curve in Curve could refer to the keyboard layout, which arches steeply on the sides like a 35-toothed grin. There are gaps between the keys, which in my experience makes for slower typing, and the keys have a translucent silver tone with dark legends, which I find harder to read. Further, when the keyboard backlight kicks in, all of the keys light up so brightly that it competes with the display. It's a cool effect in a club, but it's borderline obnoxious in dimly lit business settings. In contrast, the 8800 lights only the legends, which are stark white on black.

Curve's unique appeal lies in its lifestyle attributes. It has a camera accompanied by a bright white LED, but software is lacking. On the device I tested, camera mode blanks the display, so there's no viewfinder. After shooting an image, the camera complained that it was unable to save it. I expect that the camera will improve in future software releases, which, unlike Nokia and Microsoft, RIM always makes freely downloadable.

Curve's most satisfying personal touch is found in the BlackBerry Media Player. Yes, Virginia, you can leave your MP3 player or video iPod at home. Curve's video player is the same player that's on the BlackBerry 8800, but only Curve has stereo Bluetooth: Using a stereo Bluetooth headset like the Plantronics 590, you can listen to music on Curve from the other side of the room, and the wireless audio quality is identical to that of high-end wired headphones. The Plantronics 590 headset has remote control buttons for next and previous track, which are recognized in Curve's music player, and the mute button works to pause and play music. Like the 8800, Curve has a standard 3.5mm headset jack for wired listening and calling, a feature that I prize and which is becoming increasingly rare as Bluetooth takes over.

Curve is the first laid-back BlackBerry with a full keyboard, and its shortcomings are balanced by the fact that it is completely compatible with heavy, square BlackBerry devices. The difference is that Curve is more likely to be a mobile professional's phone, one that you'd buy yourself and use with your wireless operator's BlackBerry Internet Service. As a final note, AT&T has a U.S. exclusive on the 8300, but handsets that are purchased unlocked, or unlocked after purchase, will work on other GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks.

The HTC Advantage X7501 is a Windows Mobile 6 Professional handset that I didn't expect to like, but after I figured out what it was designed to do, it soon became my favorite battery-operated device.

The X7501 shares iPhone's can't-put-it-downedness. The display is of extraordinary quality. The screen resolution is 640-by-480, and even at its lowest brightness, the white is snow white. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the display is the most expensive part in this handheld.

The X7501 shares Windows Mobile 6 Professional with the T-Mobile Wing, so it has all of the qualities described in the T-Mobile Wing review. HTC licensed the Opera browser. Opera has a substantially different feel next to Pocket Internet Explorer, which is also standard on the X7501. The browsers are enhanced by HTC's proprietary VueFlo, an innovation that scrolls Web content up and down as you tilt the handset. This struck me as a novelty until I realized that without the keyboard, there's no easy way to scroll smoothly through a Web site. VueFlo worked for me, but only when I set it to low sensitivity. Otherwise, a mild tilt would send a Web page zipping off the top or bottom of the screen before I could set the display flat.

Unfortunately, VueFlo only works in Internet Explorer or Opera, not both, and it functions in no other Windows Mobile applications. The only other place I'd find it useful is in Adobe Reader.

Once again, Windows Media Player inexplicably turned in a pitiful performance with video. A freeware app called TCPMP plays video content without dropping frames. A TCPMP add-in called flvbundle enables direct viewing of full-resolution Flash video content from YouTube, Google Video, Veoh, and other sites. With its 8GB Microdrive plus swappable, expandable SD memory, you can blow raspberries at your iPhone-toting friends.

The X7501's three-megapixel camera is autofocus, rather than fixed focus as most phone cams are, so you will get satisfyingly blurred backgrounds in bright light. The attached LED light is no substitute for a flash. Close-in objects shot with this light are usually overexposed. The X7501 won't make you want to leave your camera at home, but it will do in a pinch, and it shoots movies as well.

As a phone, the X7501 is, well, not a phone in the traditional sense. You can't hold it to your face, and I'm glad that HTC didn't even try to make that possible. The X7501 works just fine as a speakerphone, and it mates with every Bluetooth headset I tested, including the Plantronics 590 stereo headset. This handheld also has a headphone jack, in part, so that you can connect the X7501 to a monitor or projector and a speaker system. HTC includes a VGA adapter in the box, so you can jack it straight into a data projector and run the slides that you organized in Pocket PowerPoint without transferring them to a PC. At 640-by-480, it's a little tight, but it beats balancing a notebook on a podium. An optional cable uses the same connector to output a composite or S-Video TV signal, but I didn't get that cable for testing.

The X7501 is a master of all wireless networks, covering HSDPA/UMTS high-speed 3G and GSM/GPRS/EDGE cellular networks, as well as 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 2.0. The device is sold unlocked, so all you need to do is get a SIM card from a wireless operator, slide it into an easily accessible hatch on the side of the phone, and power up. (HTC seems to have built the X7501 in anticipation of frequent SIM changes.) The GPS feature, paired with TeleNav's GPS Navigator, turns the X7501 into a terrific, turn-by-turn navigation system with a gigantic display and clear-spoken directions. It works with other GPS-enabled apps, too, but TeleNav's solution on this big screen turned out to be a real mind-blower.

This device uses a magnet to attach the removable keyboard to the display. The magnet is effectively the entire keyboard. If you stick this keyboard to your fridge, you'll have a hard time getting it off. It will wipe out the mag stripes on your credit cards. Fortunately, the X7501's carrying case is shielded to reduce the magnet's strength to a level comparable to the Mag Safe power connector on a MacBook Pro. I have had my wallet next to the X7501, while in its case, without incident.

The HTC Advantage X7501 is the best that Windows Mobile 6 Professional has to offer, at least among the devices that I've seen to date. True, it is too big for a pocket or a belt clip, but it's about the size of a Day-Timer, and everyone was okay with that. The screen is big enough for handwritten notes, and could well obviate the need for a paper pad. I've found room for the X7501 in my working life, and while it would never be the only phone I'd carry, I wouldn't feel lost if, for a short trip, I brought this machine instead of my Mac notebook.

The AT&T 8525 (also known by manufacturer HTC's model name "Hermes") was the second device I received for this review and the first Windows Mobile phone I had seen in a couple of years. Running the 8525 and Windows Mobile 5, I discovered what became of the Pocket PC, and I was impressed. Then I received the T-Mobile Wing, and I discovered where the Pocket PC is heading now that Windows Mobile 6 Professional is the standard: eBay. And I felt a bit silly for being impressed with the 8525. We evolve.

AT&T's 8525 is enormously popular as a hacker's toy. It is quite fast for a Windows Mobile device, and it can be overclocked to run even faster. Even though AT&T hasn't released the free promised upgrade to Windows Mobile 6 Professional, there are lots of 8525 owners running Windows Mobile 6. Putting WM6 on Hermes was a worldwide cause before iPhone begged to be cracked, and various leaked and concocted WM6 firmware upgrades for Hermes abound. Windows Mobile platform hacking is fun, and the AT&T 8525 is great for it.

None of that does you much good as you shop for Mobile Professional phones. The AT&T 8525 is a nice handset if it's your first brush with Windows Mobile. After being tweaked with some freeware, it plays many types of video clips smoothly. It performs marvelously on AT&T's 3G network, and it's even more impressive on a Wi-Fi LAN. The two-megapixel camera has a light, along with a switch that enables macro focus, unique among devices reviewed here. The display is clear and it responds well to stylus and finger pressure.

That's pretty much where the AT&T 8525's charms end. We all love speed, but it comes at the cost of battery life, and where this handset is concerned, you have to trade speed for looks. I'd rather have a good-looking, slower phone with a longer battery life (T-Mobile Wing) than an ugly, faster phone with a shorter battery life (AT&T 8525). The 8525 is a contourless brick, uncomfortable to hold to the ear and unsightly in a pocket. There are too many controls around the edge of the phone, and they are poorly positioned and faintly labeled. I had to take the phone down from my face to look at the buttons, and that's a show-stopper for me. Also, I never found a good way to carry the 8525 other than in the pocket of my notebook bag.

It's not that the AT&T 8525 is a bad phone; it's just not good enough to justify the extra bulk and the user-unfriendly, throwback exterior design -- not when there are so many good and good-looking handsets on the market.

Note that the scorecard for this review reflects the shortcomings of Windows Mobile 5, which was shipped with the device received for this review. A check of HTC's Web site on the filing date for this review showed that the Windows Mobile 6 update was still unavailable.

Enterprise, executive, and mobile pros and cons
No round-up of mobile devices could cover the entire range of purchasing options. I initially chose the four vendors -- BlackBerry, HTC, Nokia, and T-Mobile -- that were most approachable, and my priority was to hit the three most prevalent, most open mobile platforms on the market: BlackBerry, Symbian Series 60 3rd Edition, and Windows Mobile 6 Professional. You can be sure I'll cover more platforms and review more devices in the future.

Brand and platform shouldn't necessarily lead buying criteria for mobile users. It's more important to choose a device that fits the way you'll use it, and that's why I chose to split my reviews into the enterprise, mobile executive, and mobile professional categories. Don't see these as lines that can't be crossed. Upscale mobile professionals will find mobile executive devices worthwhile. Any professional who manages remote networks will probably find an enterprise handset to be an invaluable asset, far more useful than an ordinary phone and much more convenient than a notebook.

Still, a review needs winners, so without further qualification, here they are. The BlackBerry 8800 is the best BlackBerry yet made, and it is responsible for my discovery of GPS and TeleNav GPS Navigator, both of which I find indispensable. But the Nokia E61i's combination of Wi-Fi, a fast GUI, Adobe Flash Lite, in-device rich attachment viewing and editing, a quick and accurate browser, Voice Aid, ubiquitous messaging (which includes BlackBerry Connect), VPN, VoIP, and native custom application support gives the Nokia E61i a decisive win in the enterprise category and overall. I hope that TeleNav gets GPS Navigator ported to this device soon.

If trophy phone were a category, Nokia's E65 would win it hands-down. But the T-Mobile Wing (HTC Herald) looks great, feels good in your hand, pockets easily, has a full slide-out keyboard, sports a fine touch-sensitive display with portrait and landscape orientation, and shares many of the qualities of Nokia's E61i (but neither its performance nor its platform). Plus, it's compatible with all Windows Mobile 6 Professional applications. Of all the devices here, the Wing also fits best in both mobile executive and mobile professional categories.

Of the devices I judged suited to mobile professionals, the choice comes down to the better of two so-so devices. The BlackBerry 8300 (Curve) and the AT&T 8525 (HTC Hermes) are both imperfect. Of the two, AT&T's 8525 is more powerful, but it's a brick. Life's too short to carry an ugly phone. Curve is attractive and capable, but if you need a BlackBerry, I'd skip Curve and go straight to the 8800, which is marked down in preparation for the arrival of BlackBerry 8820.

Assuming you want better than so-so, your choice comes down to the Nokia E61i or T-Mobile Wing. It's only fair to subject myself to my own recommendations, so I'll be carrying these devices for the next several months, switching between them as my primary mobile phone. It will take me some time to transition from the BlackBerry 8800 to the Nokia E61i, and I'll chronicle that experience in my blog.

Now, if you can afford two iPhones and you can stand to carry something the size of two iPhones, then HTC's Advantage X7501 may be your wireless dream come true. It has everything: Wi-Fi, GPS, broad cellular network compatibility with no operator lock-in, Bluetooth stereo, a perfect display, a detachable keyboard, and video output. Expensive? Yes. A phone? If you already have a Bluetooth implant, then yes. For me, no, but with a data-only wireless plan and TeleNav GPS Navigator, the X7501 will be accompanying me everywhere I go.

I'm still dependent on the MacBook Pro, but I'm dumping the spiral notebooks that I always use to take notes and then promptly misplace. Maybe I won't need to blog on a BlackBerry or balance a notebook on my knees in a meeting hall. With the X7501 recognizing 95 percent of my sloppy handwriting (that's better than I can do), maybe I can just blog my notes. Or maybe I'm just dreaming. I'll find out, and you will too as you read my blog.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Networking (20.0%)
Multimedia (10.0%)
Messaging (20.0%)
Usability (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Extensibility (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
AT&T 8525 (HTC Hermes) 7.0 8.0 6.0 5.0 5.0 7.0 6.3
BlackBerry 8300 (Curve) 7.0 8.0 9.0 7.0 6.0 7.0 7.4
BlackBerry 8800 7.0 7.0 10.0 8.0 9.0 7.0 8.0
HTC Advantage X7501 10.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 8.4
Nokia E61i 10.0 7.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.3
Nokia E65 10.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.1
T-Mobile Wing (HTC Herald) 9.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 8.1
From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
You Might Like
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies