Smartphones Buying Guide

A smartphone is a hybrid device that has all the features of a mobile phone and most of the features of a PDA such as calendar, e-mail, Web browsing and office applications. Here's what to look for when buying one.

Operating system The first thing you're choosing in a smartphone is an operating system. The most common operating systems are Palm OS, Microsoft Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Symbian. More recently, Apple has introduced the iPhone, which runs on a mobile version of its Mac OS X operating system. The choice of operating system will affect the functionality and applications that the phone runs. Palm OS smartphones are slanted towards PDA functionality, while Symbian devices are oriented towards phone applications and Windows smartphones are intended for computing applications. BlackBerry smartphones are designed with a focus on e-mail capabilities while Apple's iPhone focuses mainly on multimedia features.

Palm OS The Palm OS is used in some Palm smartphones, although Palm has recently launched a range of new smartphones running the Windows Mobile OS. The Palm smartphone was developed from its uber-popular PDA range.

Functionality includes contacts, calendar, memo, calculator, phone, SMS and MMS messaging, still and video capture, world clock, Web browser, e-mail and audio/video player. Free third-party applications are available to open, but not necessarily edit, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. The Palm Centro is the latest example of a device that runs the Palm OS.

Symbian The Symbian operating system is used in devices that are designed as a full-featured phone with the inclusion of some PDA functions. As such, the operating system is used in Nokia and Sony Ericsson devices that have been developed from standard mobile phones. The phone-like shape of these devices is designed for one-handed use in dialling and retrieving information. Smartphones in this group tend to have a complete range of phone functions, including SMS/MMS, multimedia capabilities and voice recognition. The PDA functions include office applications for viewing documents and spreadsheets, as well as calendar, Internet, e-mail and to-do lists. A licensing agreement signed by Symbian and Microsoft allows Symbian smartphones to access Microsoft e-mail through a plug-in for Exchange Server ActiveSync.

Microsoft Windows Mobile

In the PDA market, devices based on the Microsoft operating system run Windows Mobile Pocket PC OS. These PDAs may also have some phone functions. In the smartphone market, devices based on the Microsoft operating system now run Windows Mobile 6.1, which has applications such as Word and Excel that have been optimised for handsets. Typically these models have full phone and computing functionality without the need to convert documents, and are intended to sync to desktop computers. Such smartphones run Pocket Outlook, a version of the desktop Outlook software that has been optimised for handsets. This means a reduced functionality for Inbox, Calendar and Tasks, as well as Internet Explorer. Windows Media Player is the player of choice for audio and video capture and playback, while for desktop synchronisation, Microsoft ActiveSync is the default software.


Motorola Q9H

BlackBerry was first launched as an e-mail-only device. Since then, there have been a number of phone and e-mail BlackBerry devices that have expanded the capabilities of the handsets. More handset manufacturers are expected to build devices with BlackBerry compatibility. BlackBerry devices download e-mail from an e-mail server, support up to 10 e-mail accounts, and have a range of e-mail options such as e-mail download to a PC.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

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