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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The Treo 750's talk time of three hours and 40 minutes was abysmal. We also tested battery life with the Xpress Mail application, used to sync our e-mail and calendar, turned off. Xpress Mail can consume additional battery life depending on delivery settings because it's constantly checking for new mail. The results were still depressing. Some of this is due to Cingular's UMTS network, which uses more power. However, the fact remains that the Treo 750's battery didn't last 24 hours when running Xpress Mail, unless we turned off the phone—and therefore the data connection—each evening. Palm estimates the device's standby time to be about 10 days.

Business users who cannot or aren't willing to charge the Treo 750 every day or so—or at least carry around a spare battery—should think twice before investing in Palm's newest Treo.

The Treo 750's full qwerty keyboard is cramped. Typing long messages or notes using the device's tiny, hard keys can be a chore for users with large fingers.

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Hugh Scott, Direct Energy VP of IS

Scott considered the Treo 750's UI unintuitive. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 representing a UI that's not at all intuitive, he ranked the Treo 750 as a 3. His experience was largely influenced by his familiarity with BlackBerrys; it took him a few days with the Treo to get comfortable with the five-button navigation mechanism. The Windows Mobile Start menu also required adjustment; BlackBerrys are more icon driven, with most programs available within one click from the devices' home screens. Scott found it time consuming and frustrating to find applications on the Treo 750.

In defense of the Treo 750 UI, it is much like any other Windows Mobile-based device or Windows-based PC; users who prefer Windows over other operating systems will appreciate the Treo's UI familiarity.

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Though the Treo 750 is at least an ounce lighter than its Treo 650 and 700 predecessors, it is still heavier and thicker than the other phones in our review. These features help to make the device durable, but the phone also feels too big to fit unobtrusively in a pants pocket.

The Treo is streamlined to function with Microsoft Exchange Server. If your organization uses something else, Treo 750 setup can be significantly different. There are a number of ways to link corporate e-mail, calendar and other settings to the device, but each requires additional processes, and some affect device performance. For instance, to use the Good Technology solution to link the device to Lotus Notes, a separate Good server is required, as well as an associated PIN log-in. To use Cingular's Xpress Mail client, users must visit the Cingular site, create an account, download the desktop software, set up the software on the device and complete additional steps before being able to receive messages. The burden of setting up 100 separate Xpress Mail accounts could be enough to make IT staff run cowering away to hide in a closet.

The Treo 750 is by far the most expensive phone we reviewed. In Scott's opinion, the $399 price tag is a bit much—and that's after a rebate and with a new, two-year data plan. Price may mean less to one organization than another, but the Treo 750 is at least $100 more expensive than any other device we reviewed. Deploying only 10 devices would add $1,000 onto the overall project cost.

Though a number of Web forums suggest the Treo 750's camera and expandable memory features can be disabled by tampering with the device, we couldn't find an "official" way for IT administrators to disable these features. (And of course, tampering with the Palm Treo 750 voids its warranty.) If you work for an organization that has banned cameras from its premises, you won't be able to use your phone or bring it into the restricted areas, unless you do so on the sly.

Scott saw no particular business value to consumer features like expandable memory or a media player within a corporate smartphone, except perhaps for executives who might listen to music or watch videos while traveling. He did, however, think his fuel technicians in the field might find the digital camera handy, so he would deploy phones across Direct Energy that have these features—though he has not yet done so. The ability to disable a camera or expandable memory within corporate smartphones would be a benefit, Scott said, but the lack of such safeguards would not keep him from deploying a phone with these features.

We used Cingular's Xpress Mail client to link both the Treo 750 and the Nokia E62 to our corporate network. However, according to the E62's Getting Started Guide, "Xpress Mail is a self service option for accessing your corporate e-mail," and users should check with IT administration to ensure that the company does not prohibit self-service options. We linked to our network without the approval or knowledge of IT staff. (Please don't tell them; it could be embarrassing.) Scott was unaware of the Xpress Mail application until we brought it to his attention, but was quick to note that Xpress Mail would likely be frowned upon from any sort of information security perspective, and that the application "would keep [Direct Energy] from using the device."

How does the Treo measure up to the other phones we reviewed? Read on to find out.

<< Palm Treo 750: What We Liked    |   T-Mobile Dash (T-Mobile) >>

T-Mobile Dash (T-Mobile)

The T-Mobile Dash is designed more for play than for work, but its compact size, durable build and strong battery life make it a viable option for some business users. Would you find a friend in the Dash? The answer depends on your personal needs.

When the T-Mobile Dash, a.k.a. the HTC Excalibur or HTC S620, hit American shores in October 2006, the smartphone space was all abuzz over the Motorola Moto Q, and every new phone on the horizon seemed to be aimed at capitalizing on the Q's popularity. The Dash, manufactured by Taiwan's High Tech Computer (HTC), was no exception. The Dash aims to steal customers from Motorola and its Q smartphone by offering similar functionality in an equally tiny—and perhaps more aesthetically attractive—package.

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Though aimed largely at consumers, the T-Mobile Dash offers a number of features business users could find valuable, including its portable size, durable build, Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system and impressive battery life. It pays for CIOs and other IT executives to know what it means to support the Dash; its popularity means that one of your staffers could request that you link his snazzy new device to your network.

Stacey Morrison, an aerospace industry deputy CIO, agreed to review the Dash to reflect the needs of a real IT executive. Morrison, who requested that we not reveal the name or identity of her organization, is in charge of an IT staff of five managers and 30 contractors. She is responsible for smartphone deployment, and she selects and supports smartphones for about 100 corporate users. Her organization standardized on BlackBerrys, so her experience with smartphones has largely been with Research In Motion (RIM) devices. Morrison currently uses a BlackBerry 8700c as her business phone.

Bottom Line

The T-Mobile Dash is a consumer-oriented smartphone, and it shows. Among the device's best features are its media player and messaging applications—though its cramped keyboard makes typing a chore. The Dash's more business-oriented offerings, such as document management capabilities and corporate e-mail setup options, suffer at the expense of pleasing the Sidekick set. For users looking for a smartphone that can be comfortably pocketed, who want to receive e-mail but don't always need to respond, or who require only basic document management capability, the Dash is a viable option. Organizations standardized on Microsoft products will also appreciate the device's Windows Mobile OS and the ease of connecting it to Microsoft Exchange.

However, users who want a high-end business smartphone with robust document management features, an easy-to-use keyboard and multiple options to sync with various corporate mail servers will want to look elsewhere. For Morrison, who was unable to wirelessly sync e-mail from her Exchange Server due to a security setting, the device was somewhat difficult to configure. She much preferred her BlackBerry's user interface (UI) and track-wheel navigation to the Dash's UI and five-button navigation mechanism. Morrison also disliked the device's full qwerty keyboard, which she said she'd rarely use because it was too frustrating to type more than a few words. Because Morrison's organization is standardized on BlackBerrys, she won't likely be deploying any Dash phones in the near future. Were she to purchase a personal smartphone, she said she'd probably seek out a device with a touch screen and stylus to improve typing, but would consider the Dash.

<< Palm Treo 750: What We Didn't Like    |   T-Mobile Dash: What We Liked >>

T-Mobile Dash: What We Liked

Though longer and wider than the BlackBerry Pearl, the T-Mobile Dash is the thinnest device we included in our review; its size and shape are its main strengths. We liked the Dash's size best of all the devices we reviewed—small enough to fit unobtrusively in a pocket, yet large enough for a full qwerty keyboard. Morrison also appreciated that no holster is needed to comfortably tote the Dash around, and it was notably smaller than her BlackBerry 8700c. The Dash is thin and somewhat slab-like, but it's not so wide that it's uncomfortable when holding against an ear to make a call. The Dash's width and contoured rear panel also make it sit comfortably in the palm of your hand.

Because the Dash runs on Windows Mobile Version 5.0 and functions best with a Microsoft Exchange Server, organizations standardized on the Microsoft product line will appreciate its simple Outlook e-mail, calendar and contacts synchronization. The Dash also includes the Windows Mobile 5.0 Messaging and Security Feature Pack (MSFP) with Microsoft's Direct Push Technology, which instantly delivers Outlook e-mail when it hits an organization's mail server. Exchange Server 2003 SP2 or later is required to take advantage of Direct Push. All that's needed to sync the device to an Exchange Server is the server name, domain name, user name and password. However, Exchange Server 2003 is required to wirelessly sync information, and it must be set to allow for wireless synchronization. For security reasons, Morrison's Exchange Server has wireless synchronization disabled, so she was unable to wirelessly sync the device.

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Like the other phones featured in this review, the Dash offers various levels of device security, depending on which mail server is employed. Security safeguards available to any Dash user include password options to lock the device via PIN if a new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card is inserted, and to lock its keyboard with two levels of password security when not in use.

T-Mobile Dash users who link their devices to Microsoft Exchange Servers can take advantage of identity security functions. For example, you can individually sign and encrypt Outlook e-mail to protect message privacy and prove to the message recipients that the message is from whom it claims to be from. Remote data wipe is also available should the device be lost or stolen.

Additionally, since the device is meant to function best with a Microsoft Exchange Server and it includes the Windows Mobile 5.0 MSFP, various security safeguards set by IT administrators through the Exchange Server can be applied to the Dash.

The T-Mobile Dash has impressive battery life with a little less than 11 hours of talk time, second only to the Nokia E62. T-Mobile estimates the device's standby time to be about nine days.

The Dash feels sturdy and durable the second you touch it. Its body is composed of two separate materials, not including its keyboard and navigation buttons: a black rubbery plastic that makes up the rear panel and battery door, and a silver metal plate on its face behind the keyboard and navigation buttons. More than half of the Dash's body is made of this rubbery plastic, which protects the device by absorbing shock and making it slip resistant.

The Dash accesses T-Mobile's GSM/EDGE network, which means it is a "world phone" that functions not only in North America, but also in Europe and Asia. Because 90 percent of Morrison's smartphone users travel overseas regularly, GSM phones are a necessity.

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The Dash is the only device included in this evaluation that supports Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g compliant). None of the CIOs who participated in this review required Wi-Fi support for smartphones deployed across their enterprises, but users who travel outside of T-Mobile coverage areas, or who wish to save on data charges, will value Wi-Fi on the Dash. (Note: Wi-Fi drains device power, so the Dash's overall battery life will be affected by Wi-Fi use.)

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