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

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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.

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