They're All Smart Phones, but With Different Types of Intelligence

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By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, December 3, 2006

Smart phones -- cellphones with a big screen, a keyboard and the ability to run add-on programs -- are not necessarily phones to the people who use them. Their versatility allows them to impersonate the other handheld devices you might otherwise carry around; in reality, any given smart phone may be a datebook, a Web browser or an MP3 player that happens to place the occasional call.

Then again, it's hard to find a device equally competent at all of these possible uses, as a trial of four recent models showed.

These four gadgets -- Nokia's E62, Palm's Treo 680, Research in Motion's BlackBerry Pearl and T-Mobile's Dash -- bear a superficial resemblance. All can fit in a pocket, though the wide E62 and the relatively thick 680 do so less gracefully than the other two.

They also cost less than many other smart phones -- at least until the bills start coming in. Cingular sells the E62 for $200 and the 680 for $300, with $100 rebates on both. But voice and data use start at a combined $80 a month.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, sells the Dash and the Pearl for $250 each. The Dash carries a $100 rebate, with voice and data service starting at $60; the Pearl has a $50 rebate and voice/data service from $50. On Friday, Cingular began selling the Pearl as well, at the same price as T-Mobile.

(Note that neither Cingular nor T-Mobile's network reaches the subway parts of Washington's Metro.)

But each device's software leaves it best suited for only some roles.

As a phone, the Treo works best: You can turn its phone on or off, silence the ringer, activate its speakerphone or lock its keys with the press of a single button or switch.

The other devices all gum up phone functions by forcing you to navigate though on-screen menus, though the BlackBerry was less compromised than the others. Its key-guard button is right on the top, and its silent-mode command is only a couple of button presses away.

All four phones included Bluetooth wireless connectivity, but the Dash was the only one that could use the hands-free capability of a Bluetooth-equipped Toyota.

As an organizer, the Treo and the Dash almost tie each other. The Treo can synchronize its address book, calendar, to-do list and memo pad with more software, either the simple but antiquated Palm Desktop or Microsoft's Outlook. But the Dash's Windows- and Outlook-only ActiveSync software is faster and simpler than Palm's HotSync.

Microsoft has boiled much of the original complexity out of its Windows Mobile system, making most tasks on the Dash about as quick as they are on the Palm. Unfortunately, the Dash's smart-phone edition of Windows Mobile leaves out the essential ingredient of a notepad application. And hardly any third-party programs have been released for that version of Windows Mobile, leaving the Dash ultimately less capable than the Treo.

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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