The Business-Savvy Smartphone Review: Nokia E62, BlackBerry Pearl, T-Mobile Dash, Palm Treo 750

CIO compares four of the hottest smartphones available, from the perspective of four experienced IT executives.

Introduction

Smart devices—call 'em what you will: handhelds, smartphones, PDAs—make business people's lives easier. They help to ensure continuous communication by offering features like calendar applications, instant messaging and e-mail services, cell phone functionality and Web access.

Any number of today's smart devices can satisfy the basic needs of the average business user, and plenty of websites can give you consumer-conscious reviews. However, the real challenge for IT executives seeking smartphones for themselves or for their organizations is selecting a device that fits their telecom needs with as few tweaks to the company's IT architectures as possible—and therefore as little time and money expended.

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There are important differences between selecting phones as a business handheld and choosing a consumer device. Most consumers need only basic phone and messaging functionality; everything else is just frosting on the cake. Not so for business users. CIOs and their staff depend on smartphones to stay connected; in some cases, mobile devices keep their companies up and running. Depending on the organization, specific features beyond phone calls and e-mail are a necessary part of business.

Even when CIOs are willing to upgrade their architecture or buy new hardware, it pays to know the implications of launching a new device across the enterprise. Some devices don't support corporate e-mail services without specific mail servers. Some are designed to function with specific servers, so they work better with one than another.

If you're researching corporate smartphone deployment, the first thing you should do is assess the organization's needs, and thus create a sort of informal criteria for selecting a phone. Purchasing business phones without a clear idea of how the company will use them is like hosting a dinner party and offering only chopsticks as utensils, even though you're unsure if the main dish will be a porterhouse steak, fried chicken or sushi.

For instance, you need to determine if your users frequently compose and reply to messages, or if they employ the device more to monitor inboxes in case of an emergency. Do your users need the functionality to view documents, and if so, which file formats must the phone support? Do users need to create and edit documents? Do they travel overseas? What level of security is necessary? Is it OK for your corporate smartphones to include digital cameras and expandable memory, which can introduce their own risks?

Second, assess your current IT architecture to identify the mail servers your organization uses (and the version thereof), as well as corporate mail clients, firewalls and other existing systems that may be affected by a smartphone deployment.

These first two steps are on you, but we can help with the rest. In the following pages, we provide an in-depth look at four of the hottest smartphones available today—Research In Motion's BlackBerry Pearl 8100, Nokia's E62, Palm's Treo 750, and T-Mobile's Dash—through the eyes of four IT executives: Paul Roche, Network Services CIO; Stephen Ramsey, principal with Brulant; Hugh Scott, Direct Energy VP of IS; and Stacey Morrison, an aerospace industry deputy CIO. In other words, we bring to you both a technical overview and a real-world exploration of what the features mean in a business environment.

We intentionally selected devices with varying levels of business and consumer-oriented features. Doing so can help CIOs understand what a corporate deployment would mean for users and IT departments, and also highlights what it takes to support a phone that users might purchase themselves and request that you link to the company network.

<< Introduction    |   On to the reviews: Nokia E62 (Cingular) >>

Nokia E62 (Cingular)

With a large, full qwerty keyboard, thin profile and impressive messaging features, the Nokia E62 has quickly become a smartphone-fan favorite. But is it a suitable business phone for IT executives? Yes—with some caveats.

In September 2006, Nokia released the Cingular E62, an evolution of the E61 specifically tailored for the American market. The E62 is practically identical in appearance to its E61 sibling; they're both large, thin slabs of matte silver metal, with the same form factor. Both have a large, full qwerty keyboard, thin profile and impressive messaging features. However, the E62's guts are significantly different. The most notable modifications are the lack of Wi-Fi support and the fact that the phone is not a 3G device—two features that helped propel the E61 to popularity in Europe.

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Though Nokia caught some criticism for the elimination of Wi-Fi and the lack of 3G, the E62's robust messaging and Web-surfing applications overshadowed the missing features. With e-mail options for a variety of e-mail clients and a unique Nokia S60 browser, the Symbian 9.1a-based device has quickly earned a reputation in the smartphone community as a "Q killer." But does the E62 deserve the title?

To get the real deal on the E62 and its value to business users, we asked Stephen Ramsey to give the device a test drive. Ramsey is principal at Cleveland, Ohio-based Brulant, a consultancy that focuses largely on e-commerce initiatives, and former CIO of Rogers Enterprises, the parent company of Midwest retail chain Rogers & Hollands Jewelers. Though he's not currently in charge of smartphone deployment at Brulant, Ramsey did select and issue smartphones to his staffers at Rogers Enterprise and is a smartphone user himself. Ramsey's current phone of choice is the Motorola Moto Q, which he employs as both a business and personal device.

Bottom Line

The Nokia E62's wide, full qwerty keyboard and bright display, combined with its strong voice quality, robust messaging feature pack and office suite, make it a fully functional device for business users who focus on messaging. On the downside, its large, slab-like form factor makes the Nokia E62 too big to carry around without a holster or bag, and its Symbian operating system can be sluggish and unresponsive.

Among the other things we liked was the Nokia E62's document viewing and editing capabilities. Also, its impressive battery life—the longest of all the smartphones we evaluated—gives users more than 12 hours of talk time and multiple days of standby time. If you type lots of e-mails or other messages and prefer a keyboard to a touch screen, you don't mind the device's large package and you are patient enough to deal with the Symbian OS, the Nokia E62 is a great option.

But it's not a great option for everyone. Ramsey said he would not deploy the phone across an enterprise because of configuration issues and difficulties in linking it to Microsoft Exchange Server. Ramsey also found the device's operating system to be notably less responsive than his Windows Mobile-based Moto Q. Faced with a choice between the Moto Q and the E62, he'll stick with the Q as both a business and a personal phone.

<< Introduction    |   Nokia E62: What We Liked >>

Nokia E62: What We Liked

Among the most compelling features of the Nokia E62 is its full qwerty keyboard. Ramsey called out the keyboard and display as his favorite features. (We'll get to the display in a moment.) Business users who prefer to use a keyboard on mobile devices, as opposed to a touch screen, will appreciate the size and performance of the E62's keyboard.

Most keys are bigger than the ones on the other phones, and they're housed snugly in the device's face. There's little room for sideways movement, which can lead to typing errors. The key spacing makes it easy to depress a key without hitting another, even if you've got wide fingers.

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Four horizontal rows of keys are all the same size, except for the left-most and right-most columns, which are slightly larger, and the entire bottom row of keys, which are smaller and beveled. The bottom row of buttons are a bit too small for our liking, as they're about half the size of the rest of the device keys, except for the elongated space bar, but none is a letter key. The overall functionality of the keyboard makes this factor only a minor inconvenience. This may seem like excessive detail, but you'll spend a lot of time with this keyboard—and it's among the device's most compelling features.

The screen (320 by 240 pixels) is notably bright and clear, and colors are vibrant. That matters when you're using the device's document viewing and editing capabilities, and for Web surfing, because there's more screen space to display content. The display, however, is not touch sensitive; if that matters to you, look elsewhere.

The E62's voice quality was quite strong on calls placed from the Boston area, though we had to turn the volume to its maximum—an issue with all the phones reviewed. Ramsey made calls from the Chicago area and agreed the quality was impressive. However, we noticed a constant buzzing feedback whenever we turned the device's volume to its highest level, especially after staying on a call for any extended period of time.

The Nokia E62 offers the most out-of-the-box options to set up corporate mail. You can link the device to a Microsoft Exchange Server, Lotus Domino and a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) via Good Mobile Messaging, Mail for Exchange, Cingular's Xpress Mail and BlackBerry Connect. For example, Mail for Exchange lets users wirelessly access corporate Outlook e-mail, contact and calendar information, though Exchange Server 2003 SP2 is required. To set up the Nokia E62 with an Exchange Server, the user (or whoever performs the setup) needs the name of the Exchange Server, a user name, password and domain. The setup does vary from one system to another, from "no assistance needed from IT" to the need to activate a BlackBerry Connect plan through Cingular.

Business users who travel internationally will value the E62's overseas functionality. The E62 is a Cingular GSM/EDGE phone, which means that it functions in North America, Europe and Asia.

In our tests, the Nokia E62 had the most impressive battery life of the devices we reviewed. With approximately 12 hours and 45 minutes of talk time—without any e-mail redirect applications running, which can reduce a device's battery life significantly—the E62 blew away its competition. It more than tripled the battery talk time of the Palm Treo 750, which had less than three hours and 40 minutes, and significantly outlasted even the number-two ranked device for talk time: the T-Mobile Dash, which had just under 11 hours.

Another strength of the E62 is its document viewing and editing capabilities. You can view documents in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF, and edit existing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. The E62 is the only phone we reviewed that offered the ability to edit PowerPoint presentations. Though none of the CIOs who evaluated phones for this review said that document management was a necessity, users who want this capability on the go will find the E62 to be one of their best options.

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Security isn't an afterthought. The Nokia E62 keyboard can be locked while not in use. A PIN code can lock the SIM card (or "SmartChip" in Nokia's terminology) or disable the device if a new SmartChip is inserted. A secondary PIN2 code can lock specific device functions, and users can set a predefined text message to remotely disable the device. The phone can be set to block entry once three consecutive erroneous passwords are keyed in, and that block can be circumvented only with the personal unlocking key number, which can be obtained from a service provider.

Depending on your mail server, the E62 can offer various levels of IT security based on the specific safeguards administrators have applied. For instance, because the E62 can connect to corporate mail clients using the BlackBerry Connect service, many IT policies available in an organization's BES can be applied individually to E62 users.

The Nokia E62 has a few other features that bear examination—and appreciation.

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