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Will you still love your personal organiser if your mobile does more? Bill Bennett contemplates a techno-death.

Those shiny new Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs sitting on store shelves may look like the last word in mobile computing. However, a new generation of smart phones is about to arrive that could leave them for dead.

Smart phones combine digital organiser or hand-held computer functions with normal voice telephony in a single compact package. You can manage your address book, organise appointments and record or write memos with them, just like you can with today’s hand-held computers. At the same time you’ll be able to surf the Web, read email and handle instant messaging.

Eventually smart phones will work with a whole range of Internet-delivered applications. Business people will be able to use their phones to send or receive information from company databases or use complex commercial applications. Consumer models will even allow you to download and listen to music or capture pictures and send digital snapshots to friends.

Eventually smart phones will work with a whole range of Internet-delivered applications. Business people will be able to use their phones to send or receive information from company databases or use complex commercial applications. Consumer models will even allow you to download and listen to music or capture pictures and send digital snapshots to friends.

SMH PDA end game

This story originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Icon section on 2 April 2002.

Infofile

The potential smart-phone market is huge. Gartner’s Robin Simpson estimates that between 200,000 and 500,000 hand-held computers are being used in Australia. He says the range is wide because many people own more than one device.

This compares with Phonechoice’s estimate of 11.1 million mobile phones in circulation. (These are 2002 numbers)

Smart phone hardware is already on the market overseas and selling fast. At the time of writing, a number of manufacturers are preparing models for the Australian market.

The German computer maker Siemens will launch its first Australian smart phone later this month. Siemens’ product manager, Tarquin Swift, says the SX45, which costs $2199, is essentially a Casio Pocket PC with a built-in phone. “We added extra phone functionality to the Pocket PC,” he says.

“For example, you can click on a name in your Outlook contact file and decide to send them an email, an SMS message or call them on the phone.”

Swift says combining a Casio Pocket PC with a phone was the fastest way to get a product to market. The product is not aimed at home users, though some early adopters will buy it. He says, however: “There is a definite demand from corporate and business customers for this kind of product.”

While the SX45 is far from cheap, it is advanced. Swift says it has a colour screen and can receive streaming video or audio. The SX45 also has a number of built-in multimedia functions and works with multimedia messaging services (MMS) – an advanced version of the SMS found on conventional phones.

Another of the new breed of phones will be the Handspring Treo Communicator which, although based on Palm Pilot technology, looks nothing like the shirt pocket computer. The mono-screen version will sell for $1399 when it is released here next month.

Robin Simpson, research director with Gartner Australasia, says: “Treo brings a new level of usability to phone functions. Handspring has integrated the components very well. There’s a jog wheel and a keyboard for short messaging.” The Treo also has email and a Web browser – which he says is better than the browser on a Palm Pilot.

Simpson says that, strictly speaking, the Treo is not a smart phone – it is more of a mobile phone with a good user interface than a computer. It does point to the future, however.

He thinks it will be popular with SMS users: “People will use it as a messaging tool; SMS will  take off now someone has developed a decent user interface.”

But while the Treo has features that will attract consumers, Simpson says it will also strike a chord with business users. He says: “There’s a strong community of Palm developers in Australia. All of a sudden there’s this strong integrated platform. It is going to be a real boost for the developers and business use is going to spur the uptake of the technology.”

Microsoft is busy trying to sell an alternative smart phone technology. Previously known as Stinger, the device is now called the Windows Powered Smartphone 2002. Like the Pocket PC, it uses a cut-down version of the Windows operating system and links easily to desktop computers and their applications. It also has a colour screen.

Simpson says that, so far, few phone makers have opted to use the Microsoft technology because it requires an expensive software licence but offers few real advantages. Australian consumers may soon be offered a version of the phone, however. “British Telecom is selling a version in the UK that works and we could see something similar from Telstra,” he says.

Hand-held computers were always meant to be mobile communications devices. Almost a decade ago Apple’s marketing for the original Newton PDA showed young professionals sitting in cafes, wirelessly transmitting data to and from each other. The Newton came and went, however, long before that dream became a practical reality.

The problem is that connecting a hand-held computer to the phone network has always been a bit tricky. In general you need to carry a phone and a computer along with something to connect them. It is sometimes possible to use infrared links between the two devices, but an old-fashioned cable is generally more reliable.

Smart phones sidestep these problems by integrating phone and computer hardware. Connecting the devices, however, was only part of the problem. Until recently, most mobile phone networks in Australia could not reliably transfer data at speeds faster than 9.6Kbps. This might be fast enough for dealing with email but browsing the Web is painfully slow, even allowing for the cut-down Web pages used by today’s hand-held devices.

Mobile-connected computing won’t take off until 3G networks are in place. Hutchinson, which owns the Orange mobile brand, is building Australia’s first 3G network. The service is expected to open for business at the end of the year or early 2003 in east coast metropolitan areas, with other cities to follow. At the time of writing, Telstra and Optus’s 3G plans were unclear.

In theory, 3G networks can run at 2Mbps, though few users will see anything like that. More realistically, users can expect to see a few hundred Kbps.

In the meantime there’s an interim technology known as general packet radio service (GPRS) that sits somewhere between today’s second-generation networks, GSM and 3G. The service has been live for a few months but has yet to be promoted. Like 3G, GPRS is always on, so there’s no waiting to connect to the network. But it is still pretty slow.

Australian carriers say their GPRS networks will operate at 10Kbps per channel. This sounds bad but phones can have multiple channels. In practice, most users will find the service works at about 30Kbps – that’s considerably slower than today’s desktop modems and roughly one-tenth of the practical speed available on 3G. In both cases you can expect to pay for the amount of data traffic rather than the time spent online.

While smart phones look set to replace conventional hand-held computers, they don’t pose much of a threat to mobile phones – especially in business and corporate markets.

Swift says that although you can use the Siemens SX45 as a phone, “most people probably won’t”. He says he expects it to sell as a connected PDA and that most users will probably keep a tiny, minimal-feature mobile for their voice calls. He says that devices such as the SX45 are more likely to replace laptops than anything else.

Simpson takes the argument further, saying that there is definitely a consumer market for converged devices: “The phone market is largely ruled by fashion. There’s a part of the consumer demographic that simply has to have the latest and flashiest phones.” Likewise he thinks the one-unit convenience will appeal to certain groups of people, but not everyone.

Simpson says that for lots of users the current wave of converged devices involve too many compromises to be practical. For example, they have poor battery life, small screens, cramped keyboards or are too big and clumsy. Some have limited functionality. Many of the first generation of devices are difficult to use for ordinary voice calls. But future smart phones may progress past these initial limits and, inevitably, become more affordable.

For the next five years at least, Simpson says, the majority of users will choose to buy a best-of-breed hand-held computer and a best-of-breed mobile phone. The glue that will stick the two devices together is Bluetooth. “That way you can carry a hand-held computer that doesn’t compromise on screen size and a practical phone handset,” he says.

There’s another advantage to this approach. Simpson says that the technology in hand-held computers and mobile phones is changing fast. By using separate devices you can upgrade one without having to upgrade everything.

Smart phones hit the streets

Already on sale in Australia, Kyocera’s QCP 6035 smart phone combines a CDMA phone with a Palm hand-held computer. The $1299 device runs all normal Palm applications and can be used to browse the Internet either through HTML Web pages or WAP. It also has a folding full-size keyboard add-on. Scheduled for Australian release towards the end of this year, Sony Ericsson’s P800 is a multimedia smart phone with a large colour screen, an Internet browser and a built-in digital camera. While the resolution of the camera will not be up to professional photography standards, it will enable you to take pictures while on the move and send them directly to other phones.
The P800 will also function as a pocket organiser and features Bluetooth wireless technology, making it easy to connect the phone to PCs or other devices without the need for cables. Sony Ericsson says that when it arrives, the P800 will probably be priced at the high end of the range.
Like the P800, Nokia’s 9210i Communicator uses the Symbian operating system. This is a development of the technology used in the Psion range of hand-held computers and enables the phones to work with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as well as Adobe Acrobat. Organiser information can be synchronised with Microsoft Outlook files on desktop computers.

Priced at $1800, the 9210i Communicator looks like a doll-sized laptop with a tiny keyboard and a colour screen. The phone can handle streaming video and audio as well as Macromedia Flash animations. Nokia is aiming at business users: the phone can run a virtual private network so that people on the move can link to databases securely. The 9210i is expected to arrive in Australia by the middle of the year.

BlackBerry Z10

tech.scoop.co.nz/reviews/blackberry-z10/blackberry-z10-a-smartphone-for-business/
A review by Bill Bennett for Scoop Techlab

Blackberry’s Z10 is the company’s come-back phone. It’s a solid, capable device. There’s much to like, but it may not be enough to revive the company’s fortunes.

Let’s break the laws of reviewing and start with a history lesson to explain the opening paragraph.

Until Steve Jobs decloaked the first iPhone, Blackberry was the smartphone superpower. The company’s range of qwerty-keyboard equipped handsets and its back-end messaging services meant Research in Motion, Blackberry’s former name, dominated the business mobile phone sector.

Momentum, a strong brand and those rock-solid back-end services saw the company ride out the first iPhone waves, by the time Apple was on it third generation things started to look bleak. Apple showed you could type messages without a physical keyboard and safely send mail without heavy-duty systems.

Blackberry responds to iPhone

So the Z10 is Blackberry’s response to six years of the iPhone and the rise of the Androids. The company has learned much from its rivals, maybe not enough to steal the lead it so desperately needs, but enough to turn in a credible performance.

What needs to be kept in mind is the Blackberry isn’t priced as a premium smartphone. At around $800 in New Zealand it belongs to the second tier. It doesn’t come out badly when compared with other phones in the same price range.

Physically the Blackberry Z10 is an iPhone-like touch-screen phone. The company also has the keyboard-equipped Q10 for die-hard Blackberry fanatics.

The display is as good as any other phone I’ve seen. The phone feels good in my hands. It has a rubbery back cover which makes it comfortable and easy to grip most of the time. Unlike the more sleek models, it won’t slide out of your hand.

The Z10 is roughly the same size as an iPhone 5. You can do most phone tasks using one hand and your thumb. It weighs a fraction more than the iPhone 5 – but you don’t notice the difference in practice.

Camera weakness

On paper the Z10’s 8 megapixel camera looks good, in practice it can’t take pictures as good as you’ll get from top of the line rivals. Pictures are often grainy. The Blackberry Z10 struggles with poor light conditions – the real test of a phone camera.

Taking pictures is easy enough and for most of the time the picture quality is acceptable, even if they lack crispness and clarity. If picture taking is important to, go and buy a Nokia 920 or an iPhone.

Hubba Hubba

Blackberry’s software innovation is the Hub, this is a central point pulling together all your mail, Twitter, notifications, calendar reminders and other incoming services. Think of it as a unified inbox. It’s a good idea: perhaps the place where you can expect to spend most of your time.

A little red LED lights up when something arrives in the Hub. If you’re like me there’s a constant stream of incoming stuff. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. A tip for new players, don’t enable the Twitter feed, it will ping all day long and you’ll never do any work.

Swipe-based user interface

You control the Hub, and most other phone features with a simple set of swipe gestures. They tend to be unfamiliar at first, once you’ve tuned in, they work fine.

One thing the swipe gestures replace is the traditional hardware home button for that matter there isn’t an obvious home screen.

When you swipe the screen to open the display the phone takes you to a grid of open apps. You can easily move between them, close them and see what’s going on, but I don’t find this as good as the live tiles on the Windows Phone 8 home screen or even the messy Android home display on phones like the Galaxy S4.

Some of the gestures are good. I like being able to slide up the screen to see if there are incoming messages waiting for me. I prefer this to the Android notification bar. A simple swipe up and right will take you to the Hub from any other application.

Keyboard

Blackberry fans expect nothing less than the best software keyboard on a screen-only smartphone. The BlackBerry Z10 delivers this in spades, although it takes getting used to. At the launch the company said the keyboard learns your behaviour – that’s good but I haven’t seen it yet.

Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are the blogger’s own. Find out more about Telecom Moblile Phone Picks here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

You’d think there would be no surprises. After all there were weeks between Apple’s iPhone 5S launch and its official arrival in New Zealand. Yet when I first saw and held the phone, it was smaller and lighter than expected.

Apple has stuck with a four-inch display while most other phone makers have moved on to bigger screen sizes. The iPhone 5S is also one of the thinnest phones on the market.

I’ve used the bigger, and thicker 4.5 inch Lumia 920 for almost a year. Before that I had a HTC One X, also with a large display. So moving back to thin and small meant changing how I deal with a smartphone.

iPhone 5S size is right

Apple’s size decision is wise. The iPhone feels good in my hand. The new slightly more rounded case helps too.

It weighs next to nothing – about 110g. That’s light enough that I can forget it is in my pocket. It can also slip into a shirt pocket without causing problems.

Best of all, I can use the smaller phone one-handed. During my time with bigger phones I forgot how useful that can be. It never gets uncomfortable, that’s easily overlooked.

Retina display

The iPhone 5S screen is one of the best I’ve seen. Apple uses the Retina display which makes text crisp and keeps images looking clear and beautiful. Colours are vibrant and you can view the display from a range of angles. I expected the smaller screen to mean more squinting. That didn’t happen.

Another surprise is just how wonderful Touch ID is in practice. We still have an old Windows laptop with a fingerprint reader, which never got used. It was temperamental and needed resetting each time we upgraded or changed any system software. So I had low expectations.

Apple’s fingerprint reader is straightforward and natural. It allows you to unlock the phone without entering a passcode. You quickly become aware of how often this happens – dozens of times a day – and how much pain the fingerprint reader saves.

Reliable fingerprint reader

Once set-up, a process that takes a minute or two, it works reliably. During my week of using the iPhone 5S I had two occasions when the fingerprint reader didn’t work. On one of them my thumb was damp after washing some dishes – so no complaints there. On the other time I had to take four or five tries to get there.

Touch ID becomes second nature so quickly, I found myself trying to open the iPad the same way.

There’s no question the iPhone 5S is fast. There’s a new processor inside, which Apple says is 42 faster than the original iPhone processor. That’s not important. What matters is things happen quickly and the experience is smooth, never missing a beat.

Smart coprocessor

One nice touch is the coprocessor which handles the phone’s sensors. It knows if you are walking or driving and adjusts the Maps display to match.

I’ve already written about the camera. As well as taking great still images, it does a good job with video and now has a slow motion mode which has some other reviewers excited. I can’t see any practical use for it in my work, but it is fun.

Battery life is not the iPhone 5S’s strongest point. Apple says it will work for up to 10 hours on 4G networks. In practice I found I could get through a day of light use on a single charge, but if I worked extensively in the phone it wouldn’t make it to the end of the working day. Perhaps I work for too long at s stretch.

Overall

Should you buy an iPhone 5S? If you’re an iPhone user or otherwise mainly live in the Apple stack it may not be worth switching right away, but it makes a good next upgrade. Frustrated Android or Windows Phone users may find it ticks the missing boxes.

It’s not right for you if a big screen is a must. Nor is it necessarily the best choice if you’re locked into the Android or Windows way of doing things.

And the iPhone 5S is quite possibly the most expensive choice on the market at the moment. Although you get a lot of phone for your $1050 or more depending on the amount of storage, you could spend the same money and get a lot more kit, even from Apple. The 5C is $150 less, the 4S is still on sale with prices starting at $649.

Telecom NZ’s 4G network opens for business Tuesday morning with 40,000 sim cards already in circulation. The cards were sent to existing Telecom mobile customers who requested an upgrade ahead of the service launch.

Telecom Retail CEO Chris Quin says while the company has distributed 40,000 sim cards, not all those cards have been activated yet.

At first, the service will be limited to coverage only in parts of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Customers will need a suitably-equipped handset. Quin says Telecom NZ stores will stock 18 suitable 4G devices from Tuesday.

Quin was speaking at an informal function to announce the start of the Telecom NZ 4G service. He told the audience the network is “superior in the real world”. He says that’s because it is backed by Telecom NZ’s own fibre network.

Telecom Wi-Fi hotspot network

Telecom NZ’s other drawcard is a nationwide Wi-Fi hotspot network based on the company’s payphone boxes. The company says there are now 750 sites and the number is continuing to grow.

The carrier’s customers can download up to 1GB of additional data each day from this network. It’s a move that massively extends the scope of the mobile network – most plans only allow two or three GB of downloads each month.

Telecom NZ is on the back foot with 4G. Rival Vodafone established its 4G network more than nine months ago. The service is already reaching into smaller cities and towns.

At the launch function, Telecom NZ showed off application it thinks customers will use with the 4G network including mobile video conferencing, streaming English Premier League football and music downloads.