The smartphone and other new devices merge cell phone and PDA functionality
One of the cruel ironies of the digital age is that every electronic device adds convenience, but at the cost of making our lives more complex. We must not only learn how to use each piece of equipment but also manage and maintain these devices, which can challenge us at times. This challenge is most apparent when we use digital phones and PDAs.
In a perfect world, the two devices would be one—you could carry all your calendar, note, and contact information together without having to look up the data in one device, then use the other device to call or email. This lack of device integration is time-consuming, frustrating, and sometimes maddening; lugging around different pieces of equipment is a pain. Yet, that's exactly what most of us endure on a daily basis.
Falling Short of Expectations
I've grown exasperated by the inability to use phone and PDA functions together. Today's Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phones are tedious to use—sometimes even impossible to use for handling realtime email—and loading contact and calendar data into these devices can be a chore. I used to carry QUALCOMM's QCP-860 Thin Phone and a Palm V; both are fine devices. But when I often left my Palm V behind because I lacked the pocket space for it, I found myself missing a crucial phone number or address.
When Qualcomm introduced its pdQ smartphone in 1999—the first integrated organizer-phone device—I was intrigued, but not enough to spend as much as $500. Although the pdQ smartphone offered Internet access, email, and the simplicity of the Palm OS—all built into a phone—the more than half-pound electronic brick wasn't practical. So, like many users, I waited for something better. Although I had previously experimented with a Palm VII and considered buying an interactive pager, both would have put more weight in my pocket. What's more, monthly network access fees ran $30 to $50—a high price to pay if you're retrieving email or checking sports scores only occasionally.
Fortunately, recent product introductions, including Kyocera Wireless's QCP 6035 smartphone and Samsung Electronics' SPH-I300 Palm-powered phone, are finally creating opportunities to morph the world of personal data and the Internet into one device. (Qualcomm sold its handset business to Kyocera in 1999, and the QCP 6035 is the follow-up to the pdQ.) Unlike earlier products, these devices are streamlined, usable, and powerful. Handspring's Treo 270 is also making waves with its phone, organizer, messaging and Internet access, and keyboard.
Using the QCP 6035
In 2001, I traded in my Palm V and the QCP-860 Thin Phone for the QCP 6035 smartphone. Although integrated organizer-phone devices will likely evolve during the next few years, they're already far more sophisticated than a WAP-based phone or a dedicated PDA. Moreover, they're affordable—about $400 with service activation.
Setting up the QCP 6035 is a breeze—follow the same routine as you would for a standard Palm device: Connect the docking cradle through your PC's serial port (which also recharges the phone); install the Palm 3.5 OS software on the PC; and designate which, if any, contact management program you're using. After your phone is live, you can import your contacts from Microsoft Outlook, ACT! (by Interact Commerce), or other PC-based contact managers, as well as calendar information, memos, and notes. You can keep the data current by synchronizing your QCP 6035 with your PC. If you're using a notebook PC, you can also connect the device with a serial or USB cable.
The 8MB QCP 6035 offers Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) digital personal communication services (PCS) and CDMA digital cellular and analog network connections. The Palm component supports Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)encrypted HTML browsers for secure online transactions and multiple wireless data technologies, including HTML, WAP, and Short Message Service (SMS). Offering up to 5 hours of talk time and 180 hours of standby time, the QCP 6035 measures 5.6" x 2.5" x 0.86" and weighs 7.34 ounces.
The QCP 6035's capabilities become apparent from the moment you switch it on. The phone's keypad sits on a small cover on the bottom half of the device and includes four additional buttons. The first button lets you use mnemonic-key entry to find the contact you're looking for. A second button controls the volume—you can change the ring tone and put the phone in vibration-alert mode or display-only (i.e., no sound) mode. The third button controls all messaging functions, including voice, text, and numeric pages; you can also use it to file messages for later use and to adjust settings. The fourth button toggles a speakerphone.
You can access many of the functions by using a jog dial—a small button, similar to a mouse wheel, that you rotate and click. A click of the jog dial displays a main menu, which offers items such as phone information, contacts, recent calls, settings, voice memos, and messages. The QCP 6035 also has built-in voice-recording options, including the ability to auto-append dictations and record a conversation. The unit has a jack for accommodating a headset.
To access the PDA, simply flip open the cover to reveal a screen that's slightly smaller than a Palm display. The tight integration of the phone and Palm 3.5 OS is obvious. By tapping a phone icon on the main screen or on the graffiti area of the device, you can access a soft keypad that displays all the phone's keypad buttons.
A speed-dial icon lets you set up frequently dialed numbers. When you select a number from the PDA's contact list and set it as a speed-dial entry, you can easily access that contact's name and phone number by using the jog dial. A voice-dial feature lets you use speech recognition to add contacts. Unfortunately, ambient noise can interfere with the phone's ability to recognize the name you speak, and similar names can confuse the device.
The unit's real charm is that you can pop open the cover, find a contact in the PDA's address list, and tap the phone number to dial it. Because the QCP 6035's address book holds multiple phone numbers for each contact, you can select any number from a drop-down list. I carry more than 700 contacts in my QCP 6035, and I've found the instant accessibility to phone, email, and address information indispensable.
You can set up different ringing patterns for incoming calls. For example, you can create a "friends" category as an address-book entry. After you assign the contacts to that category, click the jog dial to open the phone's main menu. Click Settings, choose Sound Settings, then choose Ringer Type. The phone prompts you to open the cover, and you use the PDA stylus to associate any of the phone's 11 rings with the friends category. By creating ringer-type categories, you'll know when you have an incoming call whether to answer or let the call go to voicemail.
Another handy feature is the detailed call-history information list, which tracks all calls that you make and lets you sort them by type. When you use this feature through the PDA, the device lets you tap an entry and view the Call Detail dialog box. You then can update the Address Book or create an expense record for the call—a helpful feature if you can bill by the hour. If you add the call to the Expense module, you can transfer the data to your PC to import into Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft Excel.
Cross-integration in the QCP 6035 is apparent in other ways, too. Because the unit is a computer, setting up preferences is much easier than using a typical mobile phone's keypad. You can use the jog dial to scroll to a particular menu item. If making a selection is more complex than a simple click, the unit prompts you to flip up the PDA cover to make selections using drop-down menus and check boxes. The unit also includes a lock-out feature that makes securing your data easy.
Connecting to the Internet
Integrated phone and PDA devices redefine the concept of wireless data access. With the QCP 6035's built-in data modem, you can connect to the Internet through your primary carrier (e.g., Verizon, Sprint), if you subscribe to its wireless Web service. Or, if you have dial-up access to EarthLink, AOL, or any other ISP, you can program the phone to dial into an access number, and you're connected.
One of the advantages of connecting through your ISP is that your monthly fee might include the time you spend online. In fact, if you have a cable modem or DSL through a national ISP, you probably won't have to pay a penny more for connectivity. Providers such as EarthLink and Comcast include national dial-up access with their broadband offerings. This approach can save $10 or more per month for Internet access over the cellular carrier, which itself is a less-expensive alternative to using wireless providers.
Another appealing advantage to the QCP 6035 and other devices using the Palm OS is that you can easily load Palm query applications (PQA) on them. These PQAs are designed to gather and display data from the Internet in a format optimized for the device. Simply download an application from Palm's Web site (http://www.palm.com) or through a third-party site, then install the applications on your PC by using the Palm Desktop software. When you sync your device with your PC, the application appears on the PDA. Currently, you can download hundreds of PQAs. For example, Charles Schwab offers stock trading; United Airlines offers flight schedules and personal account information; and Wells Fargo offers online banking. In addition, portals and news organizations, including Yahoo!, Bloomberg, USA Today, MapQuest, The Wall Street Journal, and ESPN offer live access to information.
You can view Web pages by using a pocket browser (e.g., QUALCOMM's Eudora WebBrowser for the Palm OS) and send and receive email and faxes by using various PQA applications. Although the QCP 6035's modem operates at only 19.2Kbps, that's sufficient for most tasks. However, if you're expecting a Web experience on a PDA's small screen, think again. The browser can get you to a site and help you retrieve the information you need, but the device will strip out graphic elements and won't always display text in a neat format.
Using an optional serial or USB data cable to connect the phone to a laptop, you can use the QCP 6035 as a wireless data modem. The serial cable also lets you sync your PDA with your laptop and connect a portable keyboard, such as iBIZ Technology's KeySync. This function makes typing easier and lets you use spreadsheet and word-processing applications without having to endure the Palm's tedious graffiti system.
Heading in the Right Direction
These days, convergence is the name of the game, and merging PDAs with mobile phones will certainly gain momentum in the months ahead. What makes the QCP 6035 so functional is that it has real buttons, looks streamlined, and provides a remarkable array of features. Although the product lacks the 256-color display of the SPH-I300 and the small, integrated keyboard of the Treo 270, the QCP 6035 remains a great choice for those who think phone first and PDA second. Users who depend primarily on their PDA and use the phone less often should take a look at the SPH-I300 and the Treo 270. (Microsoft plans to offer a Pocket PC phone late this year or early next year.)
Recently, Kyocera announced the Kyocera 7135, the successor to the QCP 6035 smartphone, which will feature a small, lightweight clamshell design and CDMA2000 1X technology that enables data speeds of up to 153Kbps. The 7135 will offer a high-resolution screen with 65,000 colors, Assisted GPS (A-GPS) technology, and an expansion card slot compatible with both MultiMediaCard and Secure Digital (SD) card standards, letting users add memory, specialized applications or accessories. An onboard MP3 player will let users download and listen to songs in CD-quality stereo sound, whereas a separate external display will allow for Caller ID when the phone is "closed."
Initially, I worried that the QCP 6035 wouldn't live up to my expectations. Like many early users, I've had more than my fair share of disappointments, and I have no patience for technology that makes my life more complicated. However, the Kyocera smartphone and similar devices are clearly redefining mobile communications. Excellent design, outstanding usability, and the tight integration of the Palm OS make the QCP 6035 and other similar devices powerful tools for navigating the digital world.