I’m a quite happy user of my Sony Ericsson W880i / iPod Touch combo: The touch is for listening to podcasts and watching video, the W880i is for SMSing and making a phone call here and then, though it’s mostly for getting called these days. Skype exists and works well.

Now with all the new toysinteresting devices coming out all over the place, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the different options. 3G iPhone? Something Windows Mobile based (though the touch diamond seems to be the way to go)? My old phone? Or a combination of any of them?

I tried to make a tabular comparison, where I’m listing the phones by use cases. And I’m only listening features interesting for me. Your points may differ from the ones presented here. This is, after all, a guide I used to pick a solution.

iPhone Touch Diamond W880i
Phone usage
Quick dialing of arbitrary numbers yes
Acceptable battery life (more than two days) ? ? yes
usable as modem probably not yes yes
usable while not looking at the device limited yes
quick writing of SMS messages yes
Sending and receiving of MMS messages1 yes yes
PIM usage
synchronizes with google calendar/contacts2 maybe yes. Contacts limited
synchronizes with Outlook maybe yes not reliably
usable calendar yes yes
usable todo list yes
media player usage
integrates into current iTunes based podcast workflow3 yes
straight forward audio playing interface yes
straight forward video playing interface4
acceptable video player5 limited yes
hackability
ssh client maybe yes
skype client6 maybe yes
OperaMini (browser usable on GSM) yes yes
WLAN-Browser yes yes

Notes:

  1. While I'm not using it often, here and then I come across something funny which I want to share with my parents or my girlfriend. MMS is the optimal medium for that. I send about one MMS per two months and I receive around 2 MMS per month, so this is probably not as important.
  2. Using Services like GooSync it is possible to synchronize the W880i with the Google services, though Google's Contact API currently isn't in a state where it would be useful for actually using it to synchronize contacts with the pone - mainly due to not providing an option to synchronize only certain matching contacts.
  3. iTunes not only downloads Podcasts but also keeps track of playback position and the new/not new state across devices and computers. I'm subscribed to more than 20 podcasts, so such features are essential for me.
  4. Neither the iPhone nor the WinMob devices provide an user experience for playing video that even comes close to match the one the iPhone would provide for Audio files.
  5. The Video player on the iPhone is limited to MP4-packaged H.264 files, whereas there are Media Players for WinMob that can handle whatever you throw at them.
  6. Skype is available as a JavaME application, but in addition to the (horrendous) GPRS charge, Skype also charges you, whether you make or receive calls. This is why I listed skype support as missing on the W880i

What’s missing in the comparison table is one of the upcoming large Windows Mobile devices with built-in keyboards like the Sony Ericcson XPERIA or the Touch Diamond pro. This class of devices does provide more convenient typing, but their usability still doesn’t even come close to matching a pure phones one. You’d still have to browse through menus, search special keys (like umlauts) and stuff. It’s just that typing has become a bit easier.

These little usability benefits do not even come close to offset the weight and especially thickness of these devices which is why I’m not listening them in the table above.

But let’s discuss the tables content for now:

First the obvious: The best phone in the list is… well… the phone. Neither of the two smart phones is capable of bringing a pure phone user experience that comes even close to what a real phone with a real keyboard can provide.

In case you wonder: I’m a heavy user of T9. Typing with a 10-key keypad assisted by T9 feels completely natural to me and the W880i provides really nice T9 functionality with quick access to suggestions and other shortcuts, so I’m actually inclined to say that I’m quicker to type on that phone than I would even be with one of the larger keyboard-based smart phones, mainly due to shorter distances to travel with the finger(s). With my ~100 SMS per month, I consider myself to be a heavy user of SMS, so quick and easy SMS writing and reception is a key feature for me.

Aside of that, the phone is more or less just that: A phone. It doesn’t really shine in every other aspect. Music kind-of works, but is unusable for Podcasts due to not saving playback position between launches of the media application, let alone synchronizing the playback position across devices.

Video, applications and even just browsing beyond the means of what OperaMini can provide are out of the question.

As such, the W880i basically is like grep. Or sort. Or uniq. Or like any other of these little UNIX utilities: It does one thing and it does it well.

The WinMob phones provide not much better media support (they do play video, but for Podcasts they are still not as good as iTunes), but they shine in the realm of hackability and, of course, the PIM synchronization, though there they more or less only work with Exchange. Also, the larger screen provides the user with a lot more possibilities UI-wise.

So while the W880i is the better phone, the WinMob devices are the better PIM solution and better platform to hack on which appeals the geek in me quite more - obviously.

The iPhone is limited in its capabilities as a phone, provides next to no hackability and will probably come with some enforced phone contract here in Switzerland. It does shine in the media department though, but that part is also perfectly well handled by my current iPod Touch to which I can easily (at the cost of $10) add the limited hackability the iPhone is going to get - should I need it.

Looking at this, the iPhone certainly looks like an uninteresting solution: All it would provide I currently have in the touch, aside of the phone, for which I currently have a better solution anyways.

Replacing the W880i/touch combo with either an iPhone or a WinMob solution seems like a stupid thing to do as I’d lose the good usability of the phone and/or the nice Media capabilities of the touch.

So in the end, I have only a couple of options which would work for me:

  • Replace my W880i/touch combo with a W880i/iPhone combo and use the iPhone as an always-connected surf station with limited hackability. This, frankly, is just too expensive to be of any value as it would mean to get a second mobile contract just for surfing here and then, while still forcing me to keep the data option for my W880i because the iPhone is not usable as a modem in case I need to emergency-repair a server or something.
  • Replace the W880i in my combo with the Touch Diamond: With every earlier model of WinMob devices, this would have been completely un-doable due to the thickness of the devices. The Diamond is not much thicker than the W880i, so the Diamond and the iPod Touch would still fit the same pocket in my trousers. I would lose the kick-ass usability of the W880i, but I would gain a real in-bed media player (without transcoding), an emergency SSH client and a completely working PIM with totally working synchronization.
  • Keep my solution as it currently is, while keeping in mind that ever since I got the touch, it provides all the features I would ever need: A kick-ass phone, an acceptable video player, a kick-ass music player and two browsers - one for each type of usage: The OperaMini when I'm forced to use the slow GSM and Safari on the Touch when I have WLAN (you would not want to use Safari over GSM - I tried).

It’s funny: I’m so much in love with technology and gadgets. I’m always on the lookout for new stuff, always trying out new, so called revolutionary technology. I’ve tried to many phone solutions in my life (just look at this blog), but I finally think that I have found a solution I’m willing to stick with.

The current W880i/Touch combo works so well that I don’t see any other solution that would only provide me with advantages. Each and every other new device comes with inherent drawbacks.

I guess, for once, I pass. I’ll stick around with my outdated solution and I’ll wait for the next revolution. What I currently have just works too well.



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