Talk to the hand

Latest batch of PDA phones shows that handhelds could be the future of computing

Smart phones, which are basically personal digital assistants with cell phone capabilities, have always proved the old adage, 'To each his own.' Everyone seems passionate about their favorite design, user-interface, features and operating system.

To objectively evaluate several smart phones, a user really has to spend weeks getting comfortable with several designs. It's time-consuming, but that's how the GCN Lab approached its look at handhelds from Motorola, Palm, Research in Motion and Samsung.

Despite the name 'smart phone,' these devices aren't just for the tech-savvy. They're increasingly used to make life and work easier. And as government officials know, a handheld is a cornerstone of continuity-of-operations planning.

So we strapped on five devices in turn and lived with them for several days to find out which we'd prefer as our lifeline to work and family.

The trick in finding an effective smart phone is to identify one that's as comfortable to use when editing a document and checking e-mail as when wirelessly attending a half-hour conference call.

A long-standing complaint about smart phones has been how uncomfortable they are to use as cell phones and how cumbersome they can be to carry. Plus the device has to be easy to navigate, with the least action required to access the most features.

And those features are becoming more varied and important. Removable batteries, memory slots, built-in cameras and high-speed Internet access have all become requirements in today's smart phones.

I still cringe when I recall that I paid $500 in 2000 for a Compaq iPaq with a lower resolution screen than my nephew's $100 Gameboy. Thankfully, a good smart phone in 2006 offers plenty of features, without breaking the bank.

After several weeks of living with these devices, we came to perhaps an unsurprising conclusion: The BlackBerry devotees and the Palm Treo lovers are both right.
Their handhelds are the gold standard these days.

But we were intrigued by the latest big-name entry to the handheld game, Motorola. Its sleek Moto Q, which has been touted as a slimmer, hipper BlackBerry, is actually a great little device. Once the com-pany works out some usability kinks, agencies are going to want to give the Q a hard look.

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