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Smartphones - the price of functionality
Smartphones seem to have a shining lure attached which entice many people into purchasing them; however all is not perfect in the world of mobile convergence. The idea of smartphones are to bridge the gap between mobile phone and personal digital assistant (PDA). Everyone, save God himself carries a mobile phone and PDAs have been popular with the Filofax generation of the 90s. The idea of merging the two allowing users to only carry one item in their pockets is a very neat one, except there are one or two problems that aren't obviously clear until you've parted with your cash.

For the last year or so I've been using a couple of smartphones, HP's IPAQ H6350 and T-Mobile's MDA III. There are no glaring problems with either device and there are many benefits that I've enjoyed. Smartphones are a very useful store of information.

In my other job as a systems administrator for UK Gamer Networks Ltd, I have to carry a lot of information about our servers (their network addresses, passwords and so on) and previously this would be a pain as I would have to constantly keep a copy on my notebook. With a phone I just synchronize it with my workstation and I have a copy of the information I need, just as the marketing gurus promise.

On the subject of reducing the number of things I need to carry, since my phone runs Pocket PC it comes with Windows Media Player allowing me to use it as a music player (both WMA and MP3 plays fine without installing any other applications). If you buy a large memory card (at the time of writing 2GB cards are widely available) you have ample storage for your music.

I also have a very good ability for getting lost. Instead of shelling out £250+ on a Tomtom Navigation system for the car, I chose to purchase the software, a GPS receiver and a 1GB secure digital (SD) card. This isnít cheap, but it comes to around £70 less than buying the Tomtom onboard car solution, and unlike that I can use it when I'm not in the car.

So far, so excellent. I've reduced the number of devices I need to carry from three to one and added GPS capabilities to boot. The PDA and music player is left at home gathering dust waiting for its Ebay debut. But just as you start to enjoy these benefits you start to notice the flipside.

All recent touchscreen mobile phones (O2's XDA, T-Mobile's MDA, IPAQ H6350 etc) have large colour screens. These draw a lot more power than your usual mobile phone screen. The fact that you can't ever turn your smartphone fully off doesn't help matters. In order to stop receiving calls I must engage something called "flight mode". This still doesn't switch the phone off; it just disables GSM/GPRS communication. The only way to turn your smartphone off is to take the battery out. The upshot of this is that for anyone that uses their smartphone for any amount of time, you'll be hard pushed to get more than 72 hours before you are forced to find a power point. To be honest there are few of us that are away from a power outlet for more than 72 hours at a time but the fact remains battery life is still relatively poor.

The size of the phone is an apparent downside, but even when you think that you can live with the oversized nature of a smartphone you realize that you underestimated the level to which size matters. Say you want to go out with your mates on a pub crawl or even something more civilized with your better half and as rare as it is here in London, you don't have to wear a jacket or coat. What do you do with your smartphone? Take it in your trouser pocket? I don't think so. Due to that lovely touchscreen you really should try and protect it by placing it in a case. It then becomes far too big to fit in any trouser pocket. Shirt pocket? Forget it. It's too heavy to be comfortably placed in there (even without the case) and you're in constant fear that if you ever need to move from an upright position it'll clatter on the cobbled streets around Covent Garden.

So the solution? I was lucky enough to be eligible for a free upgrade from my network provider so I got myself a Motorola Rzr. Far from being my phone of choice; it got the nod simply due to its diminutive size. In truth though, this isnít a real solution. Few people would be willing to spend money on another phone after they had just spent £300+ on a smartphone.

The PocketPC operating system has been around for several years now and yet its stability is far from adequate. Many times I've faced having to reset my device because it's stopped responding to any button, a number of mobile phone discussion forums are littered with users claiming they need to reset their devices almost daily. Of course there are other smartphone operating systems available, such as Symbian but surprisingly they seem to be more of a target for viruses than Microsoft's system. Stability and better memory handling will sort itself out with future releases of PocketPC, but the problem is you can't upgrade the version on your phone that easily. In fact it's far from recommended unless you really want to get your hands dirty.

Frankly the majority of users, especially ones that require the extra functionality of a smartphone don't have the time to waste on things like operating system updates. You want a phone that does what you bought it for with the least amount of trouble. Having to reset your phone every two days is not something you shelled out 350 quid for.

There are solutions present for many of these problems. One is go with a phone that doesn't run PocketPC. To be honest I'm quite a big fan of PocketPC even with the aforementioned problems. I like its handwriting recognition and the ability of not having to worry whether my Word or Excel files will display correctly. The alternative phone that comes to mind is Sony-Ericsson's P900 series. It's a chunky thing but it's smaller, features a touchscreen and is arguably better looking. The latest version, the P990i is due out soon and fans of tiny keyboards will sure have a field-day.

Living with a smartphone is like having a pet snake. Sure it's cool and has many brownie points over the standard house pet but you have to put up with a fair amount of housekeeping. Unless you really need the features in a true smartphone you should consider something like Orange's SPV C550 which is a good compromise between functionality and size.
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