Buyers Guide to Windows Mobile Devices

June 24, 2008

Buying a portable handheld device to run Winged Explorer can appear bewildering at first but once you know a few facts of life, it's actually very easy.

PDA vs SmartPhone
There are two ways to you can run a program like Winged Explorer. You can run it on a PDA (personal digital assistant) which is basically a small handheld computer, or you can run it on a Smartphone, which is that PDA along with a cell phone built in. Examples of PDA's are products from the Palm, HP, Dell, Asus and Acer. PDA's are less expensive then Smartphones since they lack all the cellular electronics, but they're also fewer models available for PDA's as there are Smartphones. Last time I counted there were about 40 Smartphones that would work with Winged Explorer but only about 16 PDAs. I will explain later why you may WANT to keep your PDA and SmartPhone separate.

Historically, the PDA came first. It had a large 4 to 5 inch portrait mode screen of 240 x 320 pixels. Microsoft called it a Pocket PC. Then the smaller phones starting appearing with screens only a few inches tall, so Microsoft adapted the Pocket PC OS and called its Windows Mobile Smartphones. That name was confusing since phones where out that used the larger PDA screen. Microsoft called these Mobile phones, not SmartPhones. The confusion became monumental when all phones that did computer and cell phones were SmartPhones. So Microsoft finally changed all the names of the Mobile Windows operating systems, which I find even worse, so I wont bore you with it (ok here it is - windows mobile standard, windows mobile professional and windows mobile enterprise).

PDA (large 4 - 5 inch screen)
Touch Screen 240 x 320
SmartPhone (small 2 inch screen)
Non-touch Screen 320 x 240
SmartPhone (large 4 - 6 inch screen)
Touch Screen 240 x 320
1
HP iPAQ Classic 100 Series Sprint Motorola Q9c Sprint HTC Touch
Winged Explorer Works: YES Winged Explorer Works: NO Winged Explorer Works: YES

To keep things from getting too confusing lets first understand the difference between a cell phone and a smartphone. Keep in mind that the line between a cell phone and smartphone is becoming increasingly blurred. With each new generation of cell phone, new features and capabilities are added on, including GPS, email, media playback, web browsing, voice commands, tex messaging, maps, television, FM radio and wireless access, which makes the dividing line fuzzy.

Game Changer
At the time of this writing the smartphone marketplace is undergoing a transformation brought about by the Apple iPhone and the Google Android open source phone. Both these devices are game changing products - the iphone for its remarkable user experience and Android for its being the first open source hardware standard. These should spur other manufacturers to reach higher and will result in more choices for the consumer. That's a good thing. Thank you Steve Jobs and the Google boys.

A Smartphone runs on a single operating system, which may be Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Blackberry, or the Macintosh OS for iPhones. The operating system may provide any or all of the following features and functions.

  • Personal and Business Organizational applications (contacts, PMI, calendar)
  • Wireless functionality (WiFi, Bluetooth, etc)
  • e-mail and web browsing
  • Business document display (PDF, Word, Excel, etc)
  • Touchscreen for input
  • Applications from 3rd parties (like Winged Explorer)

Confusion arises because cell phones and Smartphones share a lot of the same functionality. There is another factor that divides up the Smartphone market: touch screen or non-touch screen.

  • A touch screen uses a stylus or your finger to select and manipulate information
  • A non touch screen uses a numeric keyboard and a 4 way pad to manipulate information

Most touch screen devices have a display which is about 2 to 2 1/2 inches diagonally with a resolution of at least 240 pixels horizontally by 320 pixels vertically (240 x 320). This resolution is usually referred to as QVGA. VGA is 640 x 480. To understand what this means consider that a popular laptop today has a screen resolution of 1280 x 960 or better. You could fit exactly SIXTEEN of device screens on one laptop screen. This may help you appreciate why mobile devices are so much of a challenge to build. There are some mobile devices such as the Dell Axim, the and the HP 200 series which offer resolutions of 480 x 640 pixels. The iPhone is 320 x 480. Higher is always better. The display of a non touch screen Smartphone is smaller than the touch screen, on the order of 240 x 240 pixels, and about 1 1/2 inches square. This small screen coupled with the difficulty in entering information using a non QWERTY keypad in my opinion drastically limits non touch screen Smartphones. We deliberately stayed away from the non touch screen smart phone because we could not imagine a more difficult task then selecting icons and check boxes with your thumb. Consequently Winged Explorer requires a touch screen. It will not work with non touch screen smartphones like the Treo or Blackberry.

Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine
If you are anything like me you are a magazine junky. Currently the best source of information is Smartphones and Pocket PC magazine. They have capsule and full size reviews of almost all the great software and hardware available for the Windows Mobile platform. And the reviews are honest. I particularly like the summary table at the end of each issue that compares the specifications of most of the devices on the market today. You can visit the SmartPhone & Pocket PC Web Site and if you are serious about mobile computing and hope to expand the software you use, I suggest you pick up a copy at the closest Barnes' and Noble or Border's book stores. Or better yet start a subscription. Here is a link to the most recent Smartphone Magazine edition. A good place to compare Smartphones is phonescoop.com

Start with the Carrier
Windows Mobile OS devices that run Winged Explorer can be found on every carrier and at many price points. Touch screens, no touch screens. Full keyboards, phone keypads, no keyboards. You can get ones that are big and small. Fast and slow. So you might as well start with the four major carriers in the United States: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-mobile). Each of these carrier's web site has a category called PDA/Smartphone or Handhelds. Each carrier has a set of phones in this category that run on a specific operating system (not just windows mobile). Here are the current choices.

  • Windows Mobile
  • BlackBerry
  • Palm
  • iPhone
  • Symbian

Symbian - Ghost in the Phone
Symbian must be honorably mentioned, because while it has small market share in the USA, it has the largest share of the world cell phone market. To people in North America cell phones from Symbian are the Volvos of smartphone operating systems. Sleek, simple, reliable; a luxury car. In the US market Symbian has been unable to get any traction with the carriers, and Symbian sells its phones direct in unlocked mode. An unlocked phone has a SIM card that works on GSM networks (Spint and AT&T). Here in the USA we see only one branch of the Symbian tree - the Series 60. Don't get us wrong, Symbian has powerful software and a huge following of open source programmers, you can find Office word readers, web browsers, video players, even iTunes players. But the Symbian acts, looks and works like the more traditional cell phone, not a true SmartPhone like the ones offered from the other four USA carriers.

Cell Phones
Many cell phone manufactures have adopted the word Smartphone to describe there products, but when you strip back the layers almost all cell phones use some variant of the Symbian OS. This name is unfamiliar to most consumers but it is used by these companies

  • Nokia (who just bought Symbian)
  • Ericsson
  • Sony Ericsson
  • Panasonic
  • Siemens AG
  • Samsung
  • Motorola

SmartPhones
Lets take a look at the contenders in the SmartPhone arena and see how they compare to Windows Mobile devices. You have three main choices when shopping for a smartphone and each carrier offers one of more of these platforms.

  • Palm
  • BlackBerry
  • iPhone

Market Share
During the first 9 months of 2007 RIMs Blackberry had the most market share at 44.7%. This was followed by Windows Mobile at 29.2%, Palm and Apple had 11% and Symbian came in with 2.8%. Windows Mobile had a new update to 6.1 in February of 2008 and Blackberry 4.5 OS shoud be arriving soon.

Palm - the Boneyard?
Palm started the handheld revolution and for many years held a huge market share. People learned to say Palm Pilot before they even knew it was officially a PDA. The real innovation was how easy the Palm was to use, it did not crash or lock up, its battery lasted a very long time, the applications such as its calendar and note taker were extremely stable. A huge number of 3rd party applications were developed for the Palm (20,000). Today Palm is the story of greatness undone by lack of innovation. Perhaps Palm was too successful and ignored the warning signs, but their transition to SmartPhones was slow and plagued with poor design choices, allowing both Research in Motion (BlackBerry) and Microsoft (Windows Mobile) to eat Palm's lunch. But because Palm is built around an old technology it lacks common features such as GPS, WiFi, stereo bluetooth for music, and bluetooth voice dialing to name a few. Today Palm offers the Treo and Centro series of phones and even some based on Windows Mobile. Palm has introduced a cool all red Smartphone called the Centro line which has been well received but given how the company has fallen well behind Microsoft, RIM and Apple your better off with another manufacturer. Winged Explorer will not run on the Palm and we don't recommend you try using it with StyleTap. (Palm is developing its own Linux-based OS to replace the Palm OS by the end of 2008)

If you already own a Palm and wish to use it as an interactive field guide try National Geographic's Handheld Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Read the complete review of National Geographic's Handheld Field Guide for Palm which I authored.

BlackBerry - Email Addiction
This is the device that gave reality to being "on the grid". Known by millions as the "crackberry" because of the addicted state of mind it encourages, Research in Motion (RIM), its developer, had the inspiration to create a custom email network, and in doing so this device shaped our email culture. They also had the insight to allow "push" type email which means messages are sent to the device as soon as they arrive at the corporate email server. RIM offered integration with Microsoft's Exchange Server or you can use Blackberry's Enterprise server in a corporation. Only many years later are there similar solutions appearing from Apple with its new iPhone 3G and from Palm. These features made Blackberry a popular choice among businesses and you can find a version of the Blackberry from all the carriers, including the new Curve and the Pearl which are aimed clearly at consumers to compete with Windows Mobile. Winged Explorer does not run on the Blackberry, and there will probably never be a Windows Mobile version.

iPhone - The Disrupter
You have to use an iPhone a bit to really get why this device is so much fun to use. The beauty of the iPhone is its incredibly intuitive interface which eschews the stylus and relies solely on touching and pinching the screen with your fingers. It uses a new approach called "gesturing" and a special "haptic" touch screen to make this possible. While most people grit there teeth before using their phone to surf the web, the Safari web browser and its integration into the iPhone make surfing the web a wonderfully smooth experience. Rotate the phone and its internal accelerometer reorients the screen from portrait to landscape mode. And when you bring the phone to your ear it turns the screen off, so you can't accidentally select a function. How cool is that? Once you own an iPhone its going to be hard to go back to any Smartphone. However before you pop the champaign cork there are some iPhone dysfunctions to be aware of. There is no cut and paste, no external keyboard, no SD Card slot. You wont find Excel or Word or any 3rd party applications. But this is all about to change with the newest iPhone 3G model which will offer a way to buy programs using iTunes. Oh and did we mention that the iPhone is also an iPod music player?

You may be wondering if the iPhone is so revolutionary and cool why should you even consider a phone based on Windows Mobile. The answer is the beauty of competition. Every major carrier and every cell phone manufacturer is working on iPhone clones. Sprint is first out the gate with the Touch and HTC, the world's 2nd largest cell phone manufacturer, has released the iPhone-esque Touch Diamond, a black glass slab right out of 2001 Space Odyssey with a 3D interface. What I like about a haptic interface wrapped around Windows Mobile is you get all the great applications to run immediately. Plus you get none of the flaws of the iPhone. However like the iPod it may take a few years for companies to really equal the iPhone.

Windows Mobile
The Windows Mobile platform has been around for about 7 years. However even today if you mention Windows Mobile most cell phone owners have no idea what you mean. This is mainly due to the fact that SmartPhone have sexy names like the Inspiration, Curve, and Touch to mention a few. The software that runs the phone is hardly ever discussed. Yet every carrier has a line of Windows Mobile based SmartPhones. Why then is it so popular? First you can't count on every cell phone to work on every network but you can count on a Windows Mobile phone will. For example Palm has no T-mobile support and the iPhone is only available from AT&T in the USA. The other Ace Windows Mobile holds is that almost every manufacturer in the world make a phone for the OS, including Samsung, Motorola, HP, HTC and even Palm. What this means is that you will find a WIndows Mobile phone in many shapes, sizes, prices and hardware options. You can get one with a 5 inch VGA screen or a 2 1/2 inch square screen, with or without slide out QWERTY keyboards, touch or non touch screens, GPS, FM Radio, ruggedized devices that work even if tossed in the ocean, and special GMS phones that may be unlocked so they work with any carrier in that has GSM network (Sprint and T-Mobile for example in the USA).

Also Windows Mobile phones have the largest number of 3rd party software applications of any SmartPhone. For a good example of the possibilities visit Smartphonemag.com/encyclopedia. Here are the other advantages of Windows Mobile and how it compares to the other 3 platforms (Palm, Blackberry and iPhone).

E-MAIL
There are two kinds of non-web email processes - pull and push. Pull email is when your phone sends a request for email from the server (we are talking about non web based email here) and the server returns the message(s). Push email is when the server sends the email(s) to your phone as soon as they come in. Blackberry was the first to offer push email and is also available on the Palm and Windows Mobile phones. It requires a special kind of server and is very important to businesses so they can send out messages to everyone in the company, like sales force for example. Apple just started offering push email on the iPhone. Windows Mobile uses a portable version of its desktop mail program called Outlook, and it can sync your email contact list, calendar, music and programs on your desktop or laptop computer as long as it is running ActiveSync.. The iPhone does not allow cutting and pasting and lacks a hardware QWERTY keyboard which will prevent a lot of corporations from using it, but it is surprising how often you can use email without it.

WEB SURFING
There are two kinds of non-web email processes - pull and push. Pull email is when your phone sends a request for email from the server (we are talking about non web based email here) and the server returns the message(s). Push email is when the server sends the email(s) to your phone as soon as they come in. Blackberry was the first to offer push email and is also available on the Palm and Windows Mobile phones. It requires a special kind of server and is very important to businesses so they can send out messages to everyone in the company, like sales force for example. Apple just started offering push email on the iPhone. Windows Mobile uses a portable version of its desktop mail program called Outlook, and it can sync your email contact list. The iPhone does not allow cutting and pasting and lacks a hardware QWERTY keyboard which will prevent a lot of corporations from using it, but it is surprising how often you can use email without it.

PRODUCTIVITY SOFTWARE
Every SmartPhone comes with software for keeping track of contacts, appointments (Calendar and Task apps), and other specialized applications. WM devices are all full of standard Microsoft applications plus PDF readers, Word, Excel and Powerpoint applications that create Office compatible documents. In addition there are applications for playing music, viewing pictures, taking photos (if the SmartPhone has a camera). The Windows Media player takes care of much of the entertainment video and sounds, but some manufacturers of Smartphones enhance there packages by bundling special mobile software packages. And of course there are the mobile games, one of the really fastest growing categories of mobile software. You can find many of these at handango.com.

WEB SURFING
There are two kinds of non-web email processes - pull and push. Pull email is when your phone sends a request for email from the server (we are talking about non web based email here) and the server returns the message(s). Push email is when the server sends the email(s) to your phone as soon as they come in. Blackberry was the first to offer push email and is also available on the Palm and Windows Mobile phones. It requires a special kind of server and is very important to businesses so they can send out messages to everyone in the company, like sales force for example. Apple just started offering push email on the iPhone. Windows Mobile uses a portable version of its desktop mail program called Outlook, and it can sync your email contact list. The iPhone does not allow cutting and pasting and lacks a hardware QWERTY keyboard which will prevent a lot of corporations from using it, but it is surprising how often you can use email without it.

Windows Mobile SmartPhones
Here are six Windows Mobile phones worth considering for purchase.

 
AT&T Tilt    
The AT&T Tilt has a powerful 400MHz microprocessor, the minimum to run a program like Winged Explorer smoothly and with no unexpected screen delays. It has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a remarkable hardware QWERTY keyboard that rotates out from the side of the phone and double as a stand. AT&T has the only truely global 3G network and the device comes with all the Microsoft Office components. The AT&T Tilt has a powerful 400MHz microprocessor, the minimum to run a program like Winged Explorer smoothly and with no unexpected screen delays. It has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a remarkable hardware QWERTY keyboard that rotates out from the side of the phone and double as a stand. AT&T has the only truely global 3G network and the device comes with all the Microsoft Office components. The AT&T Tilt has a powerful 400MHz microprocessor, the minimum to run a program like Winged Explorer smoothly and with no unexpected screen delays. It has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a remarkable hardware QWERTY keyboard that rotates out from the side of the phone and double as a stand. AT&T has the only truely global 3G network and the device comes with all the Microsoft Office components.
    Verizon Samsung i-760
The AT&T Tilt has a powerful 400MHz microprocessor, the minimum to run a program like Winged Explorer smoothly and with no unexpected screen delays. It has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a remarkable hardware QWERTY keyboard that rotates out from the side of the phone and double as a stand. AT&T has the only truely global 3G network and the device comes with all the Microsoft Office components. The AT&T Tilt has a powerful 400MHz microprocessor, the minimum to run a program like Winged Explorer smoothly and with no unexpected screen delays. It has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a remarkable hardware QWERTY keyboard that rotates out from the side of the phone and double as a stand. AT&T has the only truely global 3G network and the device comes with all the Microsoft Office components.
Sprint HTC Touch    
 
    T-Mobile Shadow
Don't recomend because of its sluggish 200 MHz processor.
Verizon XV 6800    
 
     
 
     

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