This is an overview of my findings after switching to a Pocket PC Phone Edition. If you are balancing on the edge of getting a Phone Edition device, but are not quite sure if you should make certain sacrifices, this is a guide for you.
From nothing to Smartphone
A few months ago I had the opportunity to purchase an i-mate Smartphone2 (also known as SPV E200 or XPhone), for a great price with no contract or strings attached. In true geek fashion, I thought about it for about a nano second, and jumped at the chance. I really enjoyed the Windows Mobile Smartphone, I particularly liked having access to my e-mail constantly and the ability to surf the web anywhere anytime.
From Smartphone to Pocket PC Phone Edition
Then the company I work for was purchased by a mobile operator and I was forced to switch from my GSM/GPRS based Smartphone to a CDMA 1xRTT based Pocket PC Phone Edition.
Iíve split it into two main sections, things to like and things to improve.
Things to like SMS
You've probably wrestled with T9's predictive system in the past, and no doubt you've been frustrated by having to switch between T9 and multitap because T9 canít make head or tails of what you are trying to enter. Well, the good news is that the Smartphone had the best predictive text of any device I've used, and it was quite good at learning too.
However, the first time you send or receive a text message on a Pocket PC Phone Edition device is quite mind blowing. You are not restricted to T9, in fact, you can use any input method available on the Pocket PC, including handwriting recognition, a standard qwerty keyboard or any of the (very good) third party input methods.
In Pocket PC Phone Edition, SMS is an extension of the inbox functionality. This means, you can select the recipients from your contact list without endless scrolling, usually with only a couple of taps of the stylus. In addition, the Inbox is SMS aware and counts the number of characters in your message and automatically splits the message into multiple messages if required.
Reading messages is simple. When a message is received, an envelope appears in the menu bar at the top of the screen. Tapping the envelope opens a dialogue telling you that you have a new message. You can the select whether to open the message or ignore it for the moment. If you choose to open the message, the inbox application opens and you can read the message just as you would read an e-mail. You also have all the normal e-mail controls available to you, e.g. Reply, Forward, etc.
While we are in the inbox, it is hard to under state how useful it is to have your e-mail with you and the ability to send and receive messages anytime.
It means someone can contact you anytime via e-mail and know they will get you. More importantly, it means you can be out of the office and away from your computer and still be able to interact with work and stay on top of your workload.
Once you have experienced always on e-mail it is hard if not impossible to go back.
Analysts are predicting that handheld devices (including phones and smartphones) will surpass computers as the primary means of connecting to the internet in the next few years. Why? Because the way information is being delivered is changing and is becoming more accessible from anywhere. Increasingly information is being delivered through web services to smart clients. In addition more websites are formatting their pages for mobile web browsers. Browsing some sites on a 320x240 screen is still a struggle, but it is getting easier, and having access to resources like Google on the go can be very powerful and useful.
RSS is one of those technologies that is changing the way news is delivered. I've installed 93539 Egress on my Pocket PC Phone Edition so I've got all the latest news downloaded automatically each hour and scrolling on my today screen so I always know whatís going on in my industry. It is worth noting that you probably want to keep the number of subscriptions to a minimum because of A) data charges and B) it takes ages to update RSS feeds on a mobile device.
Blog from anywhere
If you've got a blog, you'll appreciate the ability to just sit down and write down a post while itís in your head. There is nothing more frustrating than getting home and having lost the thoughts that you wanted to post about.
On a Pocket PC Phone Edition, MMS can become so much more powerful. If you really want to wow your friends with MMS, why not touch up your pictures before you send them. Download one of the image editors that run on the Pocket PC and have some fun with your pictures (and your friend).
Some of the new phones are shipping with 1.3 megapixel cameras and even flashes. If your business needs lightweight imaging, one of these devices could reduce the load in your bag quite considerably.
With a number of phones now allowing Internet access via a web browser and with a variety of applications available for smartphones, it is great to be able to get away from the tiny screen to something useable. Reading e-mail (and text messages for that matter) is much easier when you are not constantly scrolling. If you have wanted to read documents and ebooks, you can do this much more effectively on a device with a larger screen.
Another fundamental problem with phones is that the number of applications available for each phone platform is limited. Not only in terms of limited development by third party developers, but also in terms of how much can be done with such limited screen real estate.
There are literally thousands of applications available for the Pocket PC platform, with more being written and published every day (you can subscribe to Geekzone's RSS list of new applications for Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone Edition).
In addition, the Windows Mobile platform holds huge potential for corporate deployment. Using Microsoft's .Net platform, organisations can quickly extend their corporate applications to a completely mobile workforce using their existing (.Net) developers. With the Pocket PC Phone Edition devices, the mobile users can work with data in real time, giving customers the best experience of your organisation wherever they are.
I use my Pocket PC for data centric purposes. I write stuff (including this document), read stuff, listen to stuff and play the occasional game on my device. Up to this point, I've had two devices on me all the time, a Pocket PC and a phone. Pulling both of these devices together into one is immensely useful. I donít have to fumble past my phone while I get out my Pocket PC to look up some data, or find Iíve left one of the devices behind on my desk or at home when I need it. Of course, this functionality assumes that you have a headset to free up your hands, which most Phone Edition devices ship with by default.
Things to improve
In spite of the fact that I'm an optimist, not everything is perfect. Hereís a few areas I think could improve (and probably will in the future).
The biggest complaint I hear about the Pocket PC Phone Edition devices is the size. Most people can hardly believe that you "hold that brick up to your ear".
I donít think the problem is just with large phones either. I (and others I've spoken to about this) feel just as self conscious with a tiny phone. In todayís world, a phone is more than a communications device, it is also a fashion accessory. If it makes you look or feel stupid holding your phone against your head, you wonít sell many handsets.
This can be and is offset in a number of ways:
Pocket PCs are more powerful than typical phones and more practical for data intensive work than a Smartphone. This is a trade off.
The inclusion of handsfree kits by default
The inclusion of Bluetooth so Bluetooth headsets can be used
Make smaller Pocket PC Phones
As you may know, most Pocket PC Phones ship with headphones by default, and all new Pocket PC phones have Bluetooth, so this is not really as bad as it might seem.
Until the recent announcement of the HP iPAQ h6300 series, battery life was not as good on a Pocket PC Phone Edition as a standard phone.
I donít really think this is as much a practical problem, as much as a perception problem, as the way a Pocket PC Phone Edition is used is different to a normal phone in that it may often spend time in a cradle synchronizing and charging.
However, the typical Pocket PC phone is good for a couple of days standby, or about 4 hours talk time. Donít forget to factor in "normal" PDA usage.
You have to have Bluetooth in these devices for no other reason than Bluetooth headsets.
It is also useful as a modem (assuming the Bluetooth stack supports it), to allow remote access to the office and the internet from Bluetooth equipped laptops and tablets without carting cables around (you should still be able to do this with IrDA - but Bluetooth is faster).
All new Pocket PC Phones have Bluetooth built in. Unfortunately, mine does not (a HTC Falcon based device).
One handed operation
We are used to one handed operation of mobile phones. Unfortunately, a Pocket PC Phone Edition does not always allow you to do this. I believe this will improve with future versions of the platform (read Operating System). As a trade-off, most (if not all) of the functions that cannot be done with one hand, are much more efficient with two hands than the same operation one handed on a Smartphone - this doesnít help when you have your hands full, but often means a quick stop will work better than trying to do something while walking - even with a smartphone.
By no means is a Pocket PC Phone Edition for everyone: if you only want phone functionality, then buy a phone. I hear loads of people say "I just want a phone". If you are one of these people (if you are still reading, then you probably are not), buy a phone.
The question really comes down to size vs. capability. If you use a Pocket PC and a phone (smartphone or otherwise), the convergence of these devices is fantastic so you'll love the Pocket PC Phone Edition.
My personal thinking is that the Pocket PC phone is the future of the Pocket PC as a platform. Make the jump - there are loads of nice phone edition devices which make it really easy to move, but hard to choose.