I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Smartphones only need four things to make me happy: my contact list, my schedule, an MP3 player, and a rock-solid cell phone. I don’t need a below-average camera, nor the ability to sort of surf the Web (maybe), nor even access to my 2GB e-mail inbox carefully reconfigured server-side so my 256MB SD (secure digital) storage card doesn’t burst into tears. Oh, and for the record, text messaging is obviously an Orcish plot.
That's right, I just want a list of the people I know, the places and times I’m supposed to meet them, a phone so I can call them and tell them I’m not coming, and an MP3 player so I have something to listen to while they’re screaming at me over the phone. How hard is that?
Apparently it’s pretty difficult, because the perfect device to fit these specs still doesn’t exist. And for those who just read this far into my columns before sending me e-mails with colorful adjectives: I realize smartphones have the ability to play music. In fact, I just reviewed the Sierra Wireless Voq Professional Phone (as part of a roundup of handhelds). Although it behaved pretty well during testing, its voice quality left a little to be desired, and its MP3 capability is crippled by the same thing that cripples every other smartphone’s MP3 capabilities. Follow the mantra: The ability to run Windows Media Player doth not a music playback-device make.
Put an MP3 player next to a phone like the Voq, listen to a song on both, and tell me which you like better. (That’s just what I did, too, mainly because I wanted to see if I could convince the editors at InfoWorld to let me test an MP3 player. Wow. It worked.) I got my hands on the wonderfully cool Creative Labs Zen Micro 5GB. For $249 you get a 5GB media player that also includes the surprisingly functional Creative Labs MediaSource software, full DRM (digital rights management) 10 compatibility, and -- here’s the enterprise hook -- it syncs with Outlook. Tasks, schedule, and contacts.
You won’t get e-mail, but then many of us harried execs don’t want that anyway. We need keyboards for e-mail; real keyboards, not those hobbit-sized migraine generators. But having our tasks, calendar, and contacts on a portable device would be a boon, and that’s exactly what the Zen Micro provides, in addition to its 5GB worth of disk storage (which can also act as a USB-based external hard disk), 12-hour battery life, and (gasp!) sound quality worthy of my Sennheiser headphones.
Setup is a breeze, when you’re talking about a single device, and this is where systems administrators will start to whine. There’s no internal way to provision multiple desktops for Outlook-to-Micro syncing. It’s strictly a per-device, per-desktop process, so installing 20 of these for some ultra-funky sales department, for example, would take quality time. Once installed, however, you can import not only music, but also most of your Outlook desktop data. The box even has alarm-clock functionality that can alert you to pending appointments and a voice recorder for taking quick notes. Now if it only had a phone … .