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phone thingy buyer's guide

I've been doing a lot of research into this mobile internet phone stuff. I thought I'd share. If anybody has experience with cell phone things and would like to offer advice, I'd be grateful for it. I apologize for the length, but I try to make up for it with pictures. ^^

I don't really want a cell phone. There are occasions when I want people to be able to get ahold of me (and vice versa), but it never really justified the expense and hassle of carrying something around. I kind of want a PDA, mostly because the idea of having a little computer you can carry around makes my geeky heart swell. I can't think of much that I'd use it for, though, except maybe to take an inventory of books and DVDs so I don't end up buying the same thing twice (it's happened--mostly with Doctor Who books on sale. I don't really read those anymore, but I'll buy them if they're cheap just because I might someday). What I'd really like is to be able to have access to the Internet when I go places. I used to hang out with people who worked at RIM and was always intensely jealous of their Blackberries. They're still too expensive, but it's becoming easier and cheaper to find decent alternatives nowadays. So much so that it's started to tip the balance in favour of my actually getting something.

I made a half-assed attempt to get a phone before I left on the trip. Since I've come back, I've decided to take some time and be more methodical about it. I'm probably going to be locked into a subscription for two years if I do this the way I want to do it, so it strikes me as a good idea to know what I'm getting into. In doing that, I've made my life a bit more difficult. I've found a few good options, all of which have their pros and cons. I figured I'd share what I came up with.

Everything here is under $250 up front with a two year subscription and I'm shooting for under $40/month, realistically. My basic criteria for these is that they all have phone (ruling out the cheaper Blackberries), thumb keyboards (because I like those) and Internet capabilities (including email and IM).

[hiptop] Part of me lusts after the Danger hiptop from Fido. I've wanted it since Tycho first mentioned it. It's got a fantastic keyboard, cool design, scroll wheel, and all around niftiness. It does all the stuff I want to do, even if it's not a full PDA or anything. It runs Java and has an open SDK, so I could probably write an inventory program without too much of a problem. It was $200 with a two year subscription at Future Shop. Not bad.

On the downside, it's Fido. Now Fido's supposed to be pretty good with deals and stuff, but a coworker who got this said he was paying $50/month, which is more than I want. Worse than that, though, its coverage really sucks. There's no signal at all between Oshawa and Ottawa. So I wouldn't be able to use it back home. One of the things that got me thinking about the cell phone thing in the first place was being stuck on the 401 outside of Grafton for two hours and not being able to let anyone know what was going on. This wouldn't help.

All the rest of these phone/PDA things are through Rogers. I don't really like Rogers, but they do have good coverage, a fairly flexible data plan and decent voice rates. Besides, with the exception of expensive Blackberries, Bell and Telus don't sell anything like what I'm looking for. And Fido has crappy coverage. So Rogers wins by default.

Per month, I think I'm looking at $25 for a basic voice plan, plus some amount for data. They have these "navigate" data plans. I can get 1MB/month for $7. 2MB for $12. If I can limit myself to the occasional email or instant message, I can probably live with that. I'm hoping over the course of the two years, prices will come down and I can get a bit more out of it.

[treo 270] The Handspring (now PalmOne) Treo 270 is pretty much what started me on this whole adventure. As I mentioned, Radio Shack has these on for $99 with two year subscription. Good deal. It's a full-fledged Palm organizer. This one's pretty much the base-line. The flip cover phone design is pretty good for talking, which, besides price, is its one real advantage over some of the others. On the down-side, this was designed to be more of a phone than a PDA. There's no expansion at all and it's running an ancient version of PalmOS and it's only got 16MB (they say RAM, but I'm assuming that's flash storage as well). The keyboard is serviceable, but probably the worst on this list, based on just poking at the Radio Shack display model and trying to hit the right keys. The price makes this one a contender, but there are a couple other options out there that are pretty tempting.

[palm tungsten w]Just as I was finally settling on just going out and getting the Treo, I went to the Roger's webpage and discovered that the price of the Palm Tungsten W had dropped to $200 with two year subscription. The Tungsten W has the same memory and processor as the Treo (old and slow), but it does have an expansion slot and a newer (but still old) version of PalmOS. The keyboard's better than the Treo, but only just. Worth the extra $100? Probably. It still sells for $600 at Future Shop without the subscription.

The biggest problem with the Tungsten W is the lack of built-in phone bits. It comes with an ear bud headset, but that's no good. The Roger's website comes to the rescue by selling this with the "audio flip cover." Seems kludgy, but it's probably better than the headset. The Phone Booth store at Fairview Mall was selling the W for $20 less, but they didn't include the phone cover. I think I need that.

[nokia 6800]I saw the Nokia 6800 a while ago and didn't think much of it. The hidden, transforming keyboard is cool and stuff, but I figured it was just a gimmick. Then I read through a review of the 6820 on the Reg this morning and decided I'd take another look. I found one at the Rogers store and messed around with it a bit. The keyboard is great--up there with the hiptop. And it's nice that it disguises itself as a "normal" phone so I'd look like less of a dork talking on it. Not that I care that much, but these things matter sometimes. As an added bonus, this is a current model. The Palm and the Treo have been discontinued. It's not a PDA, but it can run small Java applets, so I'd probably be able to do my inventory thing. The small, low-resolution screen also counts against it. Still, the price on the Rogers site is now down to $150 with two year subscription, which definitely puts it in the running price-wise.

I haven't quite made up my mind yet, but I'm really leaning towards the Tungsten W. It's not the greatest thing in the world, but, if nothing else, at $200, it's a pretty darn good deal for a colour Palm, particularly one that can do phone and Internet stuff.

Disclaimer: Just in case anybody thinks this is a full review, I haven't actually tried to use any of these. The Nokia 6800 was operational in the Rogers store, so I got to go around menus and things, but that's the closest I've come.


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