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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro

MPx200 'Smartphone' Keeps Things Simple

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, December 7, 2003; Page F07

The awkward truth about handheld organizers is that many people operate them in read-only mode: They ignore the handwriting-recognition software or miniature keyboards on Palm or Pocket PC handhelds and enter data only when they synchronize these gadgets with their computers.

The awkward truth about Internet-connected phones, meanwhile, is that most people don't want always-on access: Instead of a BlackBerry buzzing with new e-mail every few minutes, they would just like the option to check their inbox every now and then.

Motorola's MPx200 costs $300, but smart shoppers can find rebates that bring the price down to zero. (The Washington Post)

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The Motorola MPx200, the first cell phone available in the United States with Microsoft's "Smartphone 2002" Pocket PC software, must have been built with those truths in mind. This AT&T Wireless phone doesn't do a lot of things, but it handles a few important tasks well: It remembers your schedule and address book when you can't, and it provides e-mail and Web access when you need it.

As a result, the MPx200 offers enough utility to replace many handheld organizers while taking up no more space or weight than many cell phones, delivering excellent battery life -- just more than four hours of continuous talk time -- and costing less than a separate phone and handheld. In some cases, much less. AT&T charges $300, but Amazon.com offers it for free, after rebates, when bought with a two-year AT&T subscription.

(Verizon Wireless sells a comparable Smartphone model, the Samsung i600, but has laughably overpriced it at $500.)

As a phone, the MPx200 may not seem like much. Its flip-open case features a sharp, 176-by-220-pixel color LCD and a speakerphone, but it lacks this year's most talked-about features, a digital camera and Bluetooth wireless.

Once you plug the phone into a PC running Windows 98 or newer, however, its ActiveSync software automatically updates the MPx200's address book, calendar, to-do list and e-mail inbox, but not text notes, with the records in Microsoft Outlook. (It ships with the obsolete Outlook 2000, but the phone worked fine with the much-improved 2003 version.) Now all the records that were stuck on your computer are in a device you already take everywhere.

The MPx200's screen cleanly presents your day's agenda and allows access to the address book, calendar, e-mail and Web browser and other programs with a press or two of a button.

Those buttons -- the standard phone keypad, a four-way controller, four function keys and a jog-dial switch -- are the only way to get data into the MPx200 outside of ActiveSync. Text must be painstakingly entered with the phone keypad: Press "2" once for the letter "a," twice for "b," three times for "c" and so on (T9 "predictive text" input can speed this up in some cases).

To me, that's okay: Leaving out handwriting recognition or a miniature keyboard allows this phone to work well as a phone.

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