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.

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GSM phones commonly cause interference with nearby speakers, or any devices with embedded speakers; this can happen when a message or phone call is sent or received or when the user accesses the Internet. Some GSM phones also cause speakers to buzz without apparent cause, because the network is verifying that the phone is still in range. There are technical reasons behind this, but the end result is that, according to Roche, the speaker interference caused by the Pearl was nearly unbearable. He had to keep the phone away from his workstation or it'd cause his desktop speakers to howl. "From a CIO perspective, if I deploy phones and no one can keep them on their desks, well, that's a problem," Roche said.

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All of the devices we reviewed are GSM phones, and each caused some degree of buzzing when in close proximity to speakers, but the Pearl was by far the worst in this respect. Our review copies buzzed nearly constantly at times when anywhere near speakers; even when they weren't in use, the smartphones buzzed briefly every hour or so, sometimes more often.

The Pearl features a 1.3-megapixel digital camera with 5X zoom; that's great. But to snap a photo is difficult, due to the size of the device and the fact that you must depress the trackball—which is sensitive and rolls easily.

Though Roche indicated that it's not particularly important to have Wi-Fi support on the smartphones used throughout his enterprise, business users who travel outside of Cingular coverage areas or who wish to save on data charges will miss the functionality.

The Pearl can be equipped with a microSD card to expand its available memory (card is sold separately); however, the slot is located inside the device, and users need to remove the battery to access it. That means the device must be powered down to insert or remove the microSD card, and then powered up again before use.

How does the BlackBerry Pearl stack up with other smartphones for enterprise use? Take a look at the other devices we reviewed.

<< BlackBerry Pearl 8100: What We Liked    |   Palm Treo 750 (Cingular) >>

Palm Treo 750 (Cingular)

How does Palm's Treo 750 measure up to its Treo siblings, and is it a viable business device? The benefits include Microsoft Direct Push technology, a touch screen/stylus combination and unique messaging options—but the smartphone is marred by really lousy battery life.

Palm has built a loyal base of business users who depend on its PDAs and Treo smartphones. However, U.S. Treo fans had to be patient to get their hands on the Treo 750, which was available in Europe via Vodafone months before its introduction in the United States. In January, Cingular became the first to offer the smartphone in the states.

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So what sets the Treo 750 apart from its elder siblings? To start with, the device is the first Treo available in the United States to run on Cingular's 3G/Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard (UMTS) network, which promises average download speeds of 220Kbps to 320Kbps. It has the same, streamlined design as its consumer-oriented sibling, the Treo 680. The Treo 750 (like the 680) is slightly smaller than earlier models, as Palm has done away with the protruding knob-like external antennae, and is an ounce lighter. Palm also made modifications under the hood, with more messaging and security features, many of which are detailed in the coming pages, via the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack.

To evaluate the Treo 750 from the standpoint of an IT executive, we recruited Hugh Scott, Direct Energy's information services vice president for its retail business in the United States and for its energy trading and risk management groups in both Houston, Texas and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. With U.S. headquarters in Houston and North American headquarters in Toronto, Direct Energy is a retail energy provider with annual revenue of $8 billion.

Scott, a "dyed in the wool BlackBerry user," is in charge of 80 IT staffers. He has roughly 500 smartphones deployed throughout Direct Energy, all of them BlackBerrys. Because this was his first experience with a Palm Treo, Scott provides an interesting viewpoint on what features he missed and which he wished were available on his BlackBerry. In the following pages, we examine the Treo from the eyes of a real business user and provide facts on what you and your IT department might like—and dislike—about this phone.

The Bottom Line

The Cingular Palm Treo 750 is a Windows Mobile-based business smartphone with many features to appeal to CIOs, such as Microsoft Direct Push technology, a touch screen/stylus combination and the ability to respond to phone calls via text message directly from the home screen. However, the device's battery life seriously hinders its overall value. If, however, your organization is standardized on Microsoft products, yearns for a device with a touch screen and can deal with frequent phone recharging, the Treo 750 is a good option.

Scott's affinity for BlackBerrys will likely keep him from deploying Treo smart devices across Direct Energy. But if he were in the market for a personal phone and could get over its steep $400 price tag, he would consider the Treo 750.

<< RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8100: What We Didn't Like    |   Palm Treo 750: What We Liked >>

Palm Treo 750: What We Liked

The Palm Treo 750 runs the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition operating system with Microsoft Direct Push technology. If your enterprise uses Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2, you can receive "push" Outlook e-mail and calendar information via the Treo 750 without manually retrieving messages. Though Scott had a problem getting his device linked to his Exchange Server due to a company firewall setting, syncing up Outlook e-mail and calendar information to the Treo 750 should be simple for most using Microsoft's ActiveSync program. To begin syncing, you need the server address and domain. Outlook and Lotus Notes corporate e-mail accounts can also be set up using Cingular's Xpress Mail solution and the Good Mobile Messaging application.

The Treo 750 supports POP3 and IMAP accounts. It recognizes the server settings for most major e-mail providers, such as AOL and Gmail, without outside assistance. Hotmail accounts are even easier to access via the device's Pocket MSN application.

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Scott cited strong voice quality as absolutely necessary for a corporate smartphone. The Palm Treo 750's voice quality was the best of all the phones we reviewed. Scott placed calls from Texas, and we made calls from the Boston area. The phone's volume doesn't go quite as high as we'd like, but this is an issue common to all four smartphones evaluated.

The Treo 750 has all the security safeguards you've come to expect from high-end cell phones today, including a device lock option with two levels of password security to prevent access to the phone or to the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card. IT administrators can apply existing Exchange Server security settings to the Treo 750, including content encryption using S/MIME, antivirus measures and remote data wipe, in case a device is lost or stolen. The Treo also includes Microsoft's Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP), which provides administrators with additional security options via Exchange server.

The Treo 750 is a Cingular GSM/Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) phone, so it functions in North America, Europe and Asia. Only 5 percent of Direct Energy's 500 employees with company-issued smart devices travel outside of North America, so it's not a necessity for smartphones to offer international roaming. Yet, the functionality is very important to Scott's users who do travel.

The Palm Treo 750 is the only device we reviewed with a touch screen, along with its color (240-by-240-pixel) display. Scott didn't find the touch screen to be particularly valuable, but our own experience was quite different. The Treo 750's stylus was particularly helpful when typing messages on screen. It cut in half the time it took to type a message using the Treo's keyboard, and made it easier to scroll long webpages. The stylus tucks neatly away into the back of the device, and the touch screen is automatically disabled when the device is locked.

The Treo 750 is meant to be fully functional using one hand. The stylus and touch screen are not required for any task—fingers can be used on the touch screen as well—so users like Scott who prefer to avoid them aren't trapped.

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The Treo 750 is the heaviest and bulkiest of the devices we reviewed. Whereas the BlackBerry Pearl instantly feels delicate in a user's hand, the Treo 750 feels much more durable.

The Palm Treo 750 is the only device we reviewed that is a true 3G phone; while the others are GSM/EDGE phones, the Treo 750 can access Cingular's 3G/UMTS network, which offers average download speeds of 220 to 320Kbps, compared with the 74 to 135Kbps available via the company's EDGE network, according to Cingular. The wireless carrier also recently announced that it will offer Treo 750 users, among others, an upgrade to its faster, high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) network, which offers average download speeds of 400 to 700Kbps, within the coming months. 3G support is not mandatory for Direct Energy employees, but organizations whose users need to download large files should be aware of the time-saving benefits of using a UMTS or HSDPA-capable smartphone.

Using the Palm Treo 750, you can both view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents via Office Mobile. The device can view PDF files using the Picsel PDF viewer, but it can't be used to create or edit such documents or PowerPoint presentations. None of the CIO reviewers considered document-editing capabilities a priority—Scott, in fact, stated the functionality is not at all important—but this matters significantly to some business users. If yours are among them, give this device another check mark.

We didn't find the Treo 750's user interface (UI) to be particularly intuitive—Scott ranked the UI as a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely intuitive—but it does have some unique business features. For instance, you can find contacts directly from the home screen; you don't need to navigate to a separate contact list page and then scroll. Also, users can search the Web via Google directly from the home screen.

Because the device is powered by Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC Phone Edition, it is designed to function best with Microsoft Exchange Server. The OS includes Microsoft's MSFP, which adds a number of messaging features and e-mail security safeguards, as long as you use Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 SP2. Even so, the process may not be simple. Scott was unwilling to modify a firewall setting to allow the Treo to link to his network, so he never linked his Outlook mail to the device.

One unique feature allows users to silence a phone call and instantly respond via text message, with two clicks from the home screen. For instance, assume Scott was in a meeting, with the phone set to vibrate. When the phone rang (er, buzzed), he could answer the phone call, ignore the call altogether or ignore it with a text message. With the text-message option, Scott could type, "I'm in a meeting. I'll call in an hour." The Treo 750 is the only phone we reviewed with this functionality. A threaded chat view for text and MMS messages is not unique to the Palm Treo 750. But the Treo's message organization makes it easier to keep track of conversations, showing time received, color-coding and status icons.

Treo 750 users can assign specific device buttons to voice-mail control functions, such as rewind, save and fast-forward. Those functions are displayed on the screen while you access voice mail, so you can, say, delete a message using the touch screen.

That's a lot to like. But we found several faults, too.

<< Palm Treo 750: Bottom Line    |   Palm Treo 750: What We Didn't Like >>

Palm Treo 750: What We Didn't Like

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