June 9, 2005 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I am looking into buying a Blackberry-type of device. I will be in my car and on the road a great deal with my new job. I need to be able to operate my phone hands-free, check email, browse the internet, etc. What device/phone service provider should I consider using... personal experiences would be appreciated.
posted by bamassippi to Technology (14 answers total)
It is hard to beat the Blackberry. I have one and it is my office in my pocket. It is robust, good battery life, great interface. Most functions can be performed with one hand only, thanks to the scroll wheel. No stylus needed to enter data, and with a full keyboard it is easy. The newer models have blutooth headset support. I am not sure about carriers, but if you can go for a GPRS carrier - better battery life and you can travel overseas with it. The email is robust - push technology.

Downside? Not too many applications, but if you need to be connected, Blackberry is the way to go.

Personally I would not go for the 7100xx models. They look cool and are cheaper but I like my keyboard traditional. (Old fashioned kinda guy)

Ok, I admit it, I am addicted to my crackberry ...
posted by bright77blue at 10:40 AM on June 9, 2005

I love my blackberry and think it's ideal for what I need -- email everywhere and access to a phone when I need it. As bright77blue said, it's really easy to use one-handed. My only complaint with it is browsing the internet is unideal (I have the 7230 with T Mobile).

I'm in airports a couple of times a week, and for a while the only thing you'd ever see a business traveller type person using was a Blackberry. In the last couple of months or so, I've started to see some Treos. I know a couple of people who swear by them. They've always seemed kind of janky to me, but I'm biased.
posted by MarkAnd at 11:00 AM on June 9, 2005

I use a Treo 650 (mine's through Cingular, with an unlimited data plan), and I can't live without it. I can (relatively out of the box) sync Outlook e-mails/calendar/contacts when I'm away (e-mail is pushed to me), use all the other typical Palm functionality (eBooks, games, etc) and even browse my entire "My Documents" folder to grab a file I forget (then I e-mail it to myself).

Can't go wrong with a Treo 650 if you're used to using a Palm anyway. Bluetooth allows hands-free phone use, etc.

Here's the huge thing that you'll never read on a Microsoft or Palm site, and I don't know why: PocketPC phones (and, indeed, ALL PocketPC devices), when their batteries go complete dead, are essentially reset to their in-box condition: No data, no files, no applications that you installed, no settings, no nothing but the original out-of-the-box experience. Palms, however, can retain their data/applications/settings for days or, in pretty much all current models, weeks.

I don't want to rebuild my phone every time the battery dies, do you?
posted by Merdryn at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2005

I enjoy my Danger Hiptop (T-Mo Sidekick2). The only thing I can think of to improve the email experience would be a search feature, it's a fine phone, and though web browsing can be slow, once your page loads, it's surprisingly functional for such a device.
posted by trevyn at 11:28 AM on June 9, 2005

If you hate tiny keyboards as I do, you may prefer my set-up.

I have a Palm Tungsten T3 with bluetooth, coupled with a bluetooth phone. I have a bluetooth headset (cordless). I use T-Mobile because they offer unlimited data for $20/month. If you really need a keyboard, Palm has a few fold-out (to normal size) ones you can use. I have the keyboard for when I need to take notes in class or meetings, or for composing lengthly text. For short messages, I prefer the stylus to a uselessly tiny keyboard that takes up precious display real estate. Your finger-size may vary.
posted by Eideteker at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2005

Allow me to provide a differing opinion on the Blackberry and the Treo. I thick both are completely worthless. God awful, in fact.

For my email situation (an exchange server), neither will work. You need a kludge, which for me, involved forwarding my email to a POP3 account. There are problems with this, though.

Personally, I also hated the form factory of both devices. They're both huge. The crackberry is way too big for me. I also had reliability issues, and just gave up eventually. The TREO is a much better form factor, and the keyboard was OK, but I just hated the tiny screen. Also, you'll feel foolish with the phone up to your ear, so you'll need a bluetooth headset.

My current setup is a Motorola A780 with a bluetooth keyboard I keep in my briefcase. Amazingly sweet setup for what I want. The included apps won't let you edit files, just look at them, which is fine for me, as I can live with that. I'd rather do real work with a laptop, anyway.

The beauty of my setup is the weight and size. This is small. Smaller and more manageable that a Treo or Blackberry, plus the email setup is better, the screen is way better (bigger, too), and it's a better phone. I tend to answer emails with phone calls, but if I can't, I'll either use the tough keyboard (similar to a PDA screen keyboard), rather than the handwriting recognition. If I need a longer reply, zip, out comes the bluetooth keyboard. Much smaller than a laptop, and more portable.

The A780 also has EDGE (FAST!), and a real web browser, unlike the Treo and blackberry, neither of which can surf the net, which may or may not be important to you. For me, this is important. Also, did I mention the QVGA screen? Way bigger than the useless Treo screen.

Sorry to rave, but SWEET!

I also work with a guy who has my job who swears by his iMate JAM, which is a great size (smaller than Treo).

Your mileage may vary.
posted by kungfujoe at 12:06 PM on June 9, 2005

Ok, first disclosure. I work for a company that makes a mobile outlook-sync solution that runs on a bunch of these devices. As such I've had a chance to use quite a few of them. I was also a sidekick user for a while.

First, Palm: My primary device is a Treo 600, and I've had a chance to use the 650 for a while too. Obviously there are issues with Palm OS. It is an old, single threaded system, etc. That said, I for my money these devices come closest to the ideal form factor of anything out there. The qwerty keyboard is pretty good (as these things go), the 650 has a great screen and there is tons of Palm software out there.

PocketPC Phone: The PocketPC phone I use is the t-mobile xda1. Avoid it like the plague. The screen is dim, the form factor is bad and there is no keyboard. The XDAIII and some of the HP devices are a lot more compelling, however. They tend to run on the bulky side, so as long as you are willing to carry something bricklike around, they are not a bad option.

Microsoft Smartphone: The big bonus of these phones is that they are small. The big downside is that they only have numeric keypads. If you are good at T9, they might look like an attractive choice. The Audiovox SMT 5600 is a candybar phone and the Motorola MPX 220 is flip phone. Both look like normal cell phones. Of course the screen size and resolution is not going to be as good as the PocketPC.

Danger Hiptop/T-Mobile Sidekick: This is a much more consumer targeted device, but they have done a good job at putting together a very smooth user interface. You need to be ok receiving (or forwarding to) a .tmail email address. Also, they were slow to release and SDK and have not been very open about it, so there is little third party software, and what there is you have to get through the carrier. A great device, but probably not what you are looking for.

Nokia: I have not had a change to use their series 60 devices, but I do have a 9300 communicator, which is really pretty cool. From the outside it looks like a 5 or 6 year old nokia candybar, but it opens up to reveal a very crisp 600x200 display and a full qwerty keyboard. This is at the high end of the price spectrum.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:15 PM on June 9, 2005

I use a Nokia 9500, but in retrospect I would have preferred the 9300. I like the EDGE support and wide screen and wide qwerty keyboard. The web browser is good and supports multiple windows. I've generally worked out a way to get things done and not feel frustrated with the device. It has lots of keyboard shortcuts and overall I'm pretty happy with it.

I use Tmobile because their plans just seemed to fit what I wanted to do more closely. I recommend you use either Cingular or Tmobile.

I would avoid any PocketPC device--I really think they're more toys right now than real business tools. You should absolutely take the opportunity to play around with a Blackberry and Treo at the cellular carrier's store.
posted by joelr at 12:26 PM on June 9, 2005

I use a Treo 600 and I even had an old 270 before and while the 270 was far from good as either a phone or a PDA, the 600 is pretty great. I've played with a friend's 650 as well, and it's even better - the rough edges of the 600 have been well addressed, and the quality of the screen is wonderful.

I'm not sure what kungfujo was referring to, because there are several browsers that you can install on a Treo that allow you to surf the web, and in fact they work pretty well considering the form factor.

For email I use Snapper Mail which is a very nice package, and will pick up email from a POP server on a schedule - not quite as good as push but OK. I believe they have a version which will work with Exchange servers as well, though I haven't had to look into that.
posted by mikel at 12:41 PM on June 9, 2005

"You need to be ok receiving (or forwarding to) a .tmail email address."

Huh? Not at all. Sidekick can d/l POP mail and send from the same account.

(Very occasionally, one of my sisters sends email to my tmail account, and it never fails to baffle me when it doesn't show up in my "real" mailstream.)

"... probably not what you are looking for...."

How not? The only functions listed are phone, email, and web access. The Sidekick does all of those quite nicely (although the browser could use an upgrade) - and as a person who only cares about those + IM in my comms device, the Sidekick has everything I need and nothing I don't care about. The only angle here I'm not sure about is how hands-free the poster needs - hands-free never mattered to me, so I don't know much about how that works on any device.

If you want a PDA, get a Treo. If you just want a multichannel communications device, the Sidekick is a great little thing. If you have to synch up with work's Exchange server, you might have to go with a Blackberry.
posted by caitlinb at 1:40 PM on June 9, 2005

Allow me to provide a differing opinion on the Blackberry and the Treo. I thick both are completely worthless. God awful, in fact.

For my email situation (an exchange server), neither will work. You need a kludge, which for me, involved forwarding my email to a POP3 account. There are problems with this, though.

I'm not familiar with the kludge of which you speak. We use MS Exchange 2003 in the office, and Outlook on the desktop. We've got nearly 40% of the office on BB 7230s (operating system version 4.0, BB Enterprise Server). All folders, subfolders, contact lists, calendars, etc are synched to the units.

We've got wireless synchronization, a load of applications, and I've gone and installed a free VNC application on my unit so I can do all sorts of fun stuff with my workstations and servers while I'm on the road.

Web surfing isn't an issue either, as we completely ignore the T-Mobile service and surf out of the Exchange server directly.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:22 PM on June 9, 2005

Just my 2ยข -- I find the UI on the Blackberry to be very, uh, weird. It's not inconsistent, just unweildy. The Danger Hiptop has a much more intuitive UI. I think this is because the Blackberry is a buisness class device, and is designed for business folk. For example, any time you go to call someone back, you're prompted (either with a pop-up, or with extended menu choices) to pick which number to call (i.e., business or home or mobile). This is because, if you're a business person, where a person called you is not necessarily where they need to be called back. But, in my life, it is, so the dialog is cumbersome and annoying (and cannot be turned off...). Many little things like this peeve me to no end with the Blackberry. But I'm a UI designer, so I guess I'm more sensitive than some. For UI, the Danger Hiptop wins hands down -- it's very Apple like in its design (and development too: when you have the same co. do the hardware and the software, it's easy to be great).

Blackberry devices are great for email and so-so for web usage. The browser is merely adequate, has a tough time with HTTPS connections (never got my bank site working), and the screen is good but not awesome. There's no advanced plug-in support either, so it's not a 100% web device. Treo is your best bet there.

For email, and especially exchange email, it's BBerry (or a Good Technologies device, though I've never actually seen one in the wild) or bust. I'd go with the 7100, the one that looks more like a phone.

On preview: thantopsis' company has Blackberry Server. This will be much different than yours, if you choose to run it standalone (like with just a TMobile Account). Websurfing is a pain. You have to download $20 software that's buggy to get running. You have to configure (and reconfigure) WAP portal passthroughs. The speeds are slow, even compared with Treo or Sidekick...
posted by zpousman at 5:37 PM on June 9, 2005

I've got a Blackberry and a Treo and the Treo gets the most use: I hardly ever drag the BB out anymore. As a pure email device it's better but, as zpousman points out, you need a properly configured server to make it work effectively. Treo can do BB-style 'push' email via 3rd party apps as well as having much better PIM and phone functions.

kungfujow is talking rubbish: web broswing is possible on both the BB and Treo. I prefer the Treo's browser, plus the screen factor makes sites easier to read. Though nothing will come close to web browsing on a proper computer.
posted by blag at 6:11 PM on June 9, 2005

I've been very happy with the treo 650 - I use it for email and web browsing all the time. I was worried about the little keyboard, and have a palm keyboard just in case, but its more functional than it looks.
posted by korej at 5:13 PM on June 13, 2005

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