How Smart Is Your Phone?

 From blogs to podcasts, agents are finding interesting ways to communicate with travelers

By: Kathy Chin Leong

During a recent camping trip, my friend Stanley was checking the latest baseball scores on the Internet, not on his laptop, but on his Palm Treo 700p — a multi-media smartphone, touting web, email, video, television and GPS capabilities. If you’re like me, your gut instinct says, “I have to have one!” But whoa, how practical are these things, and would travel agents find these more cumbersome than handy?

We’ve spent a month examining the features of the three most popular smartphones on the market: the Palm Treo 700p, the Verizon Motorola Q, and the RIM BlackBerry Pearl. Our conclusion is that they are all great products but require hours of learning, ergonomic adjustment, and thumb dexterity.



The Treo 700p smartphone, at six ounces and less than an inch-thick, is slightly larger and heavier than a deck of cards. Ranking high on the “cool” factor, this 4 ¼ x 2 ¼-inch handheld device lets you listen to digital tunes, surf the Internet, and enjoy a range of wireless voice and data functions. With a vivid 320 x 320 high-resolution color touchscreen, the Treo boasts a visually pleasing display and a QWERTY keyboard that combines with a numeric keypad for dialing. We found using the stylus easy for activating the applications on the touchscreen.

This power package supports Verizon and Sprint, and has more features than you’ll ever need in your lifetime. While on the road for business, we found the Treo a useful tool for phoning clients, jotting appointments, setting alarms and taking photos and videos to transmit to the home office. Its voice memo lets you record thoughts and impressions of that new resort or dream destination with ease.

While supporting Bluetooth for wireless headsets and other devices, the Treo 700p does not yet offer international calling. So, while you can’t call home or go net surfing from Paris, you can still take advantage of its other non-phone features, such as calendar, global clock, calculator, etc. Costs range from $619 to $299, depending on Sprint or Verizon carrier plans. TomTom GPS Navigation system sold separately at $299.



Slim Jim

The first thing we noticed when opening the box for the Verizon Moto Q was its slender profile. At barely a ½-inch thick and weighing only about four ounces, the Moto Q is as light or even lighter than today’s cell phones and has a footprint (4 ½ x 2 ½-inches) slightly wider than the Treo. So, this ‘Slim Jim’ with a full QWERTY raised-button keyboard offers a smorgasbord of services, with an emphasis on lots of calling and voice recognition features and support for downloading documents from major applications. And, yes, it’s true that you can access the Internet, but be forewarned that unless the Web site is formatted for smartphones, you will be viewing bite-sized portions of the Web page, and downloading a page takes time compared to a DSL connection. TV services are optional add-ons. An impressive feature of its email access is the ability to click on a phone number inside the email you are reading, and the unit will dial it for you. Camera and video capabilities work well too.

While Palm’s Treo relies on a touchscreen, this new creation by Motorola requires pressing on navigation buttons positioned under the screen. A thumbwheel on the right side allows you to scroll up and down through menu options. For now, the Moto Q only allows domestic calls, so you’ll have to wait to see if an international carrier decides to hook up with Motorola in the future. While prices continually drop, the Moto Q currently costs $199.99 after a $100 instant credit when purchasing a two-year agreement with Verizon Wireless.



Sleek and sexy

Teeny-tiny. That’s our first impression of RIM’s BlackBerry Pearl smartphone. Weighing in at 3.16 oz, the 4.2 x 2-inch unit is practically anorexic. Among the three, the Pearl looks most like a phone and its design is the most glamorous, with its shiny chrome and sleek black housing, crowned by a matchbook-sized screen touting 65,000 brilliant colors.

What’s interesting about the Pearl design approach is that it uses a mini-trackball to guide users around the window. Menu icons are strewn across the bottom of the screen, and you highlight the functions with the trackball’s cursor. You press the trackball like a button when making your selection. The Pearl offers the same spate of applications as the other two, minus videocam and personal voice recorder. Perhaps the most niggling thing about the Pearl is the miniature QWERTY keyboard, which vies for real estate with number keys. Razor-sharp eyes are required to read the two to four digits per key.

Folks who travel internationally will find this useful, for Pearl’s carrier, T-mobile, covers global calling. On one charge, you get 3.5 hours of talk time, versus 4.5 hours on the Treo and nearly 4 hours on the Moto Q. For those who are fussy about photos, we found the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera and its automatic flash feature handy. For design-hounds, this is first and foremost a fancy picture phone that will cover all your basic transmission needs. Figure on spending $199.99 to $349.