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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We appreciated the Dash's dedicated e-mail key, which is meant to bring users to the device's e-mail inbox with a single click from any application. (The Nokia E62 has a similar key.) Business users who employ their devices mostly for messaging will appreciate this fast and easy access to e-mail.

T-Mobile's myFaves plan (which starts at $39.99) lets you select five people for unlimited calling. When you click on one of your myFaves, a screen displays that person's name and contact information and lets you make a call, send a message, share a photo or send a voice note.

The Dash also includes out-of-the-box support for AIM, Yahoo Messenger and ICQ instant-messaging services.

And on the flip side ...

<< T-Mobile Dash: Bottom Line    |   T-Mobile Dash: What We Didn't Like >>

T-Mobile Dash: What We Didn't Like

The T-Mobile Dash has a full qwerty keyboard. However, due to the tiny size of its buttons and the minimal space between keys, the keyboard was difficult to use. It was frustrating; we frequently depressed two or three buttons when trying to push only one. Morrison called the Dash's keyboard its worst feature and said she'd avoid typing messages on the device due to its cramped keys. Business users seeking a device with a full qwerty keyboard to frequently type messages will want to pass on the Dash, unless they've got very tiny fingers.

The Dash's UI is somewhat awkward. With its five-button navigation mechanism—which like the Treo 750 is composed of one "action" or "enter" button surrounded by "up," "down," "left" and "right" keys—we often had to click through multiple screens to find an application. Because the Dash runs on Windows Mobile, navigation is largely menu-based, beginning with the Start Menu for the majority of applications. That means users often must click through multiple levels of menus. Morrison, who is used to her BlackBerry's icon-based navigation, quickly became frustrated with clicking through multiple screens to find what she wanted. She also missed a track wheel or trackball feature that would've cut down on the number of times she had to click the device's navigation buttons.

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Stacey Morrison, Aerospace Industry Deputy CIO

With its ClearVue suite of office applications, the Dash can view Word documents, Excel worksheets, PowerPoint presentations and PDFs. However, you cannot make changes to documents using the Dash. Fortunately, none of the CIO reviewers felt document-editing capabilities were required for corporate smartphones.

The device should be a breeze to link to Microsoft Exchange Servers for access to Outlook e-mail and calendar information, but setup could be less than simple depending on your organization's Exchange settings, firewalls or additional security measures. Furthermore, your organization must have a Microsoft Exchange Server or Good server to link the Dash to Outlook or Lotus Notes corporate mail accounts. Due to a setting in her Exchange server that doesn't allow for wireless synchronization, Morrison was unable to wirelessly access her Outlook mail or other information. She was, however, able to sync Outlook e-mail from her PC via USB connection.

The Dash accesses T-Mobile's GSM/EDGE network, which means it is not a true third-generation (3G) phone. T-Mobile's EDGE network gives users download speeds of up to 168Kbps, the company claims. T-Mobile USA doesn't currently offer a 3G network like Cingular's Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UTMS) network or its faster high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) network, which offer average download speeds of 220 to 320Kbps and 400 to 700Kbps, respectively. If your users frequently download large files, or need to search the Web while on a phone call or send an e-mail message during a conversation, you may want to invest in a 3G device.

The Dash has a digital camera and expandable memory. It cannot be disabled by IT administrators.

One of our least favorite features of the Dash was its Volume Touch Strip, a small section of plastic that's used to turn the device's volume up and down. You can set the Touch Strip's "activation speed," or how hard you must press it to activate the control, and its sensitivity—how hard you must press it to adjust volume—but it was frustrating no matter what the settings. Our biggest complaint is that you almost always have to remove the phone from your ear and look at the screen to see if the Touch Strip is activated before you can make volume adjustments. Doing so interrupts calls. When the strip's activation speed is set to very slow, you have to push your finger on it repeatedly to register the command, and when it's set to "very fast," you can't hold the device in your palm without the Touch Strip being activated. There are three settings in between for both activation speed and sensitivity, but we had trouble finding a balance between the two, and decided to disable the control completely to avoid further frustration. We couldn't adjust call volume after the strip was disabled, but this didn't bother us too much because we just turned the volume up to its maximum level.

We also missed the presence of "convenience keys," or keys that are specifically meant to launch your most-used applications. Two of the four devices we reviewed have these buttons, which we appreciated particularly because we could set frequently used applications to the convenience key and eliminate the need for device navigation.

Finally, we know it's never intelligent to judge a book by its cover, but that doesn't mean it never happens. The fact that the T-Mobile Dash looks very much like a consumer phone—with keys that glow bright blue when activated, rounded shape and rubberized body—may turn off business users. If you want your business device to reflect its purpose, you may want to go with a less flashy phone.

Check out our additional review sections to learn how the Dash measured up to the Nokia E62, Palm's Treo 750 and Research In Motion's BlackBerry Pearl.

<< T-Mobile Dash: What We Liked    |   Executive Summary >>

Executive Summary

We handpicked four of today's hottest smartphones—the Nokia E62, RIM's BlackBerry Pearl 8100, the T-Mobile Dash, and Palm's Treo 750—to judge how well they satisfy the needs of IT executives and business users. While each has compelling business-oriented features, your budget and project schedule probably limits you to one. See which phone gets our nod.

We set five main criteria in examining smartphones appropriate for corporate deployment or personal business purposes: phone features (including voice quality), Web access, e-mail and messaging options (with associated security safeguards), productivity applications and battery life.

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The BlackBerry Pearl and Treo 750 offer the best phone feature sets of the devices we reviewed. On top of basic phonebook functionality, both the Pearl and Treo 750 have easy-to-use voice dialing options and simple one-button access to contact lists. The Treo also offers a cool option that lets you ignore a phone call and reply with a text message—with only two clicks from its home screen. We liked the Treo 750's touch screen and stylus combination best for typing messages or entering Web addresses, but the Nokia E62 was the most functional for typing via keyboard.

As far as voice quality goes, the Treo 750 consistently provided the clearest call quality, with the Nokia E62 close behind. On calls from the Houston and Boston areas, the Treo sounded crisp and clean with little feedback. The Nokia E62 also had great call quality from the Chicago and Boston areas, but we noticed a slight buzz whenever we used the device for an extended period of time.

The Treo 750 is the only phone we reviewed that is a true 3G device. Because it accesses Cingular's GSM/Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) network, average download speeds are 220Kbps to 320Kbps. Cingular's UMTS network offers data transfer speeds that can double those available via Cingular's or T-Mobile's EDGE network. Though we didn't find the Treo's data transfer speeds to be far speedier than those available via EDGE, it was clearly faster, particularly when accessing sites with minimal graphics or images. We also liked that the Treo lets you place a phone call when browsing the Web, and send e-mail while on a call.

On the Web side, our favorite is the Nokia E62's default HTML 4, WAP 2.0 Nokia S60 browser. The application has unique features we took a liking to, including a cursor that lets you click anywhere on a webpage, and a "back" function that displays tiny screenshots of your last viewed pages.

For organizations that already have a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), the Pearl is (unsurprisingly) easiest to get up and running on corporate networks. If you've standardized on Microsoft Exchange Server, both the Treo 750 and T-Mobile Dash will be the simplest choice (though you may need to upgrade your Exchange Server for the coolest features to work). However, the device with the most out-of-the-box options for corporate e-mail and calendar setup is the Nokia E62, no matter which mail server your organization employs; it has multiple methods of linking to Outlook or Lotus Notes accounts, via its Mail for Exchange, BlackBerry Connect, Cingular Xpress Mail and Good Mobile Messaging solutions.

The security safeguards for smartphone users rely heavily on the enterprise mail server and other infrastructure. A variety of security options are available to BlackBerry users with the appropriate BES in use, including safeguards to disable, say, the digital camera on the Pearl. The T-Mobile Dash and the Palm Treo 750 run on the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, and rely largely on Microsoft's Messaging and Security Feature Pack and Microsoft Exchange to set security policies.

Our top choice for office productivity tools is the Nokia E62, as it enables users to view Word and Excel documents, PowerPoint presentations and PDFs. E62 users can also edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files; it is, in fact, the only device we reviewed with PowerPoint-editing functionality.

The battery lives vary widely. At the top of the list was the Nokia E62 with a whopping 12 hours and 45 minutes talk time, followed by the T-Mobile Dash, which clocked in at nearly 11 hours of talk time. The Pearl also had impressive talk time, at just under eight hours and 30 minutes, while the Palm Treo had a meager three hours and 30 minutes.

While your personal needs and your company's deployment concerns will vary, if we had to vote with our own checkbooks for a business-class smartphone, the Treo 750 is our winner, with the Nokia E62 just a notch behind. Typing functionality, voice quality and Web features are arguably a smartphone's most important features. For us, what sets the Treo 750 apart from the others are its touch screen and stylus, high voice quality and 3G capabilities. You can type messages faster and hear calls better, as well as access webpages and download files more easily and in less time than any other device we evaluated. It's that simple. The E62's full qwerty keyboard was its main draw, and if we preferred to type with a keyboard instead of a stylus, we would've been hard put to pick a victor—though the E62's large size would have helped. The Treo 750's weak battery life will certainly scare off some users, but we're willing to carry around an extra battery and charger in exchange for the above-mentioned benefits.

Read the full reviews for the reasoning behind our decisions.

<< T-Mobile Dash: What We Didn't Like    |   Feature List >>

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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