Looking for PDA Phone with "always on" internet
December 6, 2006 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find a PDA/phone combo that handles instant messaging decently.

I currently carry a Sidekick (Hiptop) 2, but I'm about ready to dump it. I know there have been several threads on this in the past, but I have very specific requirements. Is there any hope for me?

My reasons for getting rid of the phone are the restrictions on customizing and syncing, and the lack of new growth in the platform. I can't download any applications or customizations except those that the provider itself makes available. I can't sync with anything but MS Office on Windows (I regularly use OS X, Linux, and Windows in a typical day).

I tried out an MDA (Windows Mobile) for a while, but ended up returning it, mostly due to the lack of good instant messaging support. I would lock the device, and it would show me as still logged in to AIM, but messages sent to me would just disappear. I need a phone that's always connected and alerts me when an IM comes in.

Features I can't live without:
- Decent AIM support as mentioned above
- Full keyboard - I don't want to go back to a 12-key pad
- Web browsing
- GSM support
- Syncing with a computer that doesn't have MS Office
- Email support (preferably POP/IMAP in real time with notifications)

Bonus points for:
- Ability to use SSH or even a VPN from the phone over GPRS
- Wi-Fi capability
- Bluetooth
- External media (flash card) support
- Voice memos / Camera / Video
- Ability to download or develop applications
- Support for syncing on Linux or Mac
- Not insanely expensive

Again, the Windows Mobile phone would have been great, except for the fact that it wasn't always on, alerting me when I had email or instant messaging like the Sidekick did. I realize that for a device that's not running through a special gateway like Danger's, this can be very hungry for batteries, but if I can charge it nightly and not talk on it much during the day without running out of batteries, I'll be happy.
posted by tkolstee to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Nokia 6820 is supposed to be able to do most of this. I just picked up a used one, and have been able to tether it via bluetooth as a a GPRS/EDGE modem, as well as use the built-in browser to brows the web (even Metafilter, though it's very, very slow). There's an IM application but I haven't been able to figure out how to change it from the previous owner's screen name so I'm not sure how well it works. iSync supports it on the Mac and I think there's hacks for Linux. At least one person claims they've gotten ssh on the phone. No POP or IMAP that I've found yet.
posted by weston at 7:49 PM on December 6, 2006

i would suggest a Palm Treo with The Missing Synch for syncing everything up all nice with OS X and I would have suggested VeriChat for IM duties, but it appears that is no longer available (seems Nokia bought them out).
posted by threeze at 9:00 PM on December 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

You might want to check out a Blackberry. I've been using a Blackberry Pearl for a few months and am loving it. It has a "SureType" keyboard that maps 2-letters/key on a QWERTY layout, but it's the first/only Blackberry w/ a camera and the size is pretty amazing. If you can't live with that, the 87XXs have a full keyboard and the 88XXs will be coming out soon.

* Ramble is the free AIM client I run
* SureType keyboard works surprisingly well, and is also one-handable
* Really good Java support for RIM and J2ME programs (Google Maps Mobile runs way better on my Blackberry than anything else I've tried it with)
* Blackberry has sync for PC and Mac
* The Blackberry Browser is pretty good (even supports some JS). Also, Opera Mini runs fine on the Blackberry
* Blackberry's always on email support is still the best there is.

On the bonus list:
* MidpSSH is the free J2ME SSH client I run
* the 88xx series is supposed to have wifi but no current models do
* the Pearl has MicroSD support (you have to pop the battery out to change it - I just bought a 1GB card and leave it in there)
* the Pearl has a camera and will play. No video.
* Blackberry supports Java downloads and you can install third party apps from desktop sync app as well
* Not sure about Linux, but RIM bought a site license for PocketMac, which is awesome.
* I got mine for about $200 when it came out, but apparently there are deals to get it for $0-50 w/ contract rebates now (gadzooks!)

Anyway, as both a phone and data device, I'm incredibly happy with it and I don't think there's anything out there that compares. (I used Treos for years and then hated a WM5 device for almost a year; also at work, I've tested/played around with pretty much every single one of the latest Nokias and some of the latest SE's and they aren't better, especially if text entry is an issue).
posted by lhl at 9:16 PM on December 6, 2006

Missing Synch is available for syncing a Sidekick with a Mac...

I don't think, overall, that you're going to be able to beat the SK for overall usability. A lot of the things you highlighted as pros are things that are, still, impressively, pretty unique to the SK. The always-on, multitasking OS is something that still hasn't been done well, if at all, on other platforms. It really sounds like your only complaints are lack of multi-platform sync, and the relative closedness of the platform. I sympathize with these, they frustrate me too.

On the other hand, I'm biased. I work for Danger.

That said, if I were going to encourage you towards a competitor, my impression is that the Treos or other Windows Mobile devices are the best for the geek value. The MDA is a toy, nothing more. If you're going to change, spring for EVDO service so you can do high speed browsing, audio streaming, etc etc. You can also hook them up to a PC and use the internet anywhere. That's the sort of thing I really find myself wishing my SK had.

You don't mention contracts. If you're stuck with T-Mobile, I really REALLY don't think you're going to beat the SK.
posted by autojack at 10:20 PM on December 6, 2006

Just a note in favor of the SK: there's a reason they're so popular with the Deaf community, namely, IM support. Other than the Blackberry, I haven't seen any others in the field that are anywhere near as popular.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:52 PM on December 6, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far.

threeze: There's something about the 6820 that I'm not too crazy about and I'm not sure exactly what it is. I've heard from people who owned (PalmOS) Treos that it doesn't do what I hope, or sucks down battery like crazy.

lhl: BlackBerry always struck me as more of a corporate email device - I didn't realize it had as many features as you listed. I will definitely have to look into that.

autojack and spaceman_spiff: I agree that the SK platform has some unique features, especially the IM support. If they were more common I wouldn't need to hit up the Hive Mind for an answer. The Sidekick version of Missing Sync, however, was discontinued. I can still find a demo version, but no way to buy it even if I wanted to.

By the way, I'm NOT stuck with T-Mobile at the moment, but would prefer to stick with them if possible. I do like the fact that they offer unlimited data plans (MDA and sidekick-style), but am sure some other providers offer that as well. I guess I'm not absolutely stuck on GSM in that case.

Anyone else have a suggestion? Does the Motorola Q come anywhere close, maybe?
posted by tkolstee at 5:54 AM on December 7, 2006

I have an E70, and I think it's the single best PDA or Smartphone type device I've ever owned (Palms, Treos, Newtons, and others among them.) Right now, support isn't built in to iSync, but it's an easy hack to get it working. It might break your price requirements, but if you have the dough, I think it's worth it.
posted by j-dawg at 6:11 AM on December 7, 2006

Missing Synch is available for syncing a Sidekick with a Mac...

It was discontinued over three months ago.

On the other hand, I'm biased. I work for Danger.

And you didn't know that? Seriously?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:59 AM on December 7, 2006

The Nokia 6682 or E70 or somethins else in that line would score the highest for your desired feature set. SymbianOS devices really have the advantage when it comes to extensibility and compatibility with a range of devices.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:17 AM on December 7, 2006

I love my Nokia e61 - it has everything you want from the 'required' to the 'bonus', it has it all.

Personally, the wi-fi is a God-send.
posted by ASM at 10:54 AM on December 7, 2006

If you can wait a few months, the Blackberry 88xx (will likely start with the 8800g for T-Mobile) sounds like a perfect fit for you. Has all your musts plus wifi, "audio and video playback" (details TBA), a microSD slot, and a camera in some models (reportedly will be released both with and without cameras).
posted by allterrainbrain at 5:14 AM on December 10, 2006

On the Blackberry audio and video playback, it'll probably be identical/similar to the Pearl's (which I forgot to mention does media playback). It supports polyphonic and MP3 ring tones of course and plays MP3s (can play entire folders, but doesn't do playlists right now). You need a 2.5-3.5mm adapter for earphones. Fun fact: speakerphone plays surprisingly loud. The movie player does 3GP and MP4 but otherwise is sort of finicky. When properly encoded though, the playback is surprisingly good (silky smooth, responsive jog dial). Here are my mencoder settings: http://randomfoo.net/blog/id/4103

Moto Q: runs WM5, which pretty much scratches it off the list of things I'd consider.

SK3: Man that thing's a brick. But the biggest issue is that it's the only phone mentioned that doesn't run Google Maps Mobile. That's probably the one mobile app I use more than anything else - it's indispensable for me and personally, I think it's the best mobile app ever designed/made so far, bar none.

Oh, and I may be biased against the SK3: I was an early adopter of the Sidekick (got it the first day it came out a few years ago) and I have to say, rarely have I been more disappointed in a product or a company. It took 8 months for the SDK to come out, and once it did, I wasn't allowed to load anything on it without sending it through Danger, even if it didn't touch the network. There was no USB loading, and in fact syncing, which had been promised from the get go never happened and apparently didn't happen for years afterwards. Not that I stuck around. The last app I wrote for my Hiptop was a Perl Mechanize script that dumped out my Address Book and Notes from their web interface.
posted by lhl at 2:00 AM on December 12, 2006

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