Mobile Matters

A mobile phone that I like every bit of is among the things I am always looking for. I have not found it yet; with every iteration I am getting a bit closer to the ideal. Each one was better than the previous in some aspects, while of course being worse in others. I was always able to convince myself that the trade-off was worth while, but every time I got some new features, I also gave up some. If I were able to morph the best features of my last two and my current cell phone into one, it would be close to optimal.

First off I started with the Nokia 8290 (see below). I love this phone; still do. It is so small, yet has a responsive and well laid out user interface, and a minimalist design. The battery life is ample. Despite its diminutive size it has an IR port and a built-in modem, so you can connect to it with your PDA to go online. You can backup your address book via Nokia’s PC suite. It even had voice activated dialing.

I might still have this phone if it had not had a technical defect that caused the display to show garbled-up text. It was replaced on warranty but the problem came back. I found out that other people had the same problem, so unfortunately I had to venture out to find a new phone.

Nokia 8290
There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted another Nokia. Of all phones have I used to date, the user interface by Nokia is the most intuitive. I hardly ever had a reason to pick up the handbook. I have used phones made by Motorola, RIM (Blackberry), and Siemens; none of them comes close.

After some searching, I finally settled for the Nokia 6610 (see below). This phone is slightly larger but still quite small. It is of the same candy-bar style that I like. It has a color display and the ability to store multiple numbers and notes along with one name which is a welcome upgrade. Also, it has a four-way controller which improves navigation of text messages. Except for the larger size and the lack of voice activated dialing this phone was an improvement in every way.

Nokia 6610
After two-and-a-half years the battery life seemed quite reduced which is consistent with what I know about lithium-ion batteries. At approximately $40 for a replacement battery, it made more sense to buy a new phone. While I used the battery life as an excuse, the real reason was that I desperately wanted a phone with Bluetooth because my wired handsfree set always got stuck under my emergency brake thus yanking the headphone from my ear which was painful and very distracting while going down the highway.

Also, unfortunately my PowerBook does not come equipped with an IR port, so the only way to transfer data to my computer was via Bluetooth. Since Nokia only provides software for the Windows platform, I had to resort to iSync. This was of course all part of the plan, being able to synchronize my phone and my Palm Pilot wirelessly with my address book.

It turned out to be a rather tricky endeavor. Apple’s iSync application only supports a limited number of phones, primarily from Motorola which I do not like as discussed above. The problem is compounded by the fact that I like T-Mobile, and of the non-Motorola Bluetooth phones that I liked none were offered by T-Mobile. At one point, my wife had convinced me to give Cingular a try, so I ordered the Siemens S-66, but was appalled not only by Cingular’s horrible customer service, but also by the phone’s terrible user interface and limited functions. I returned it within a few days.

Next I ordered the Blackberry 7105t from T-Mobile. I was able to synchronize it via PocketMac and for a couple of days I thought I had found a good replacement. I liked the detailed address book and word recognition was also much better due there being only two characters per key. Soon, however, I started having problems. The phone kept rebooting for no apparent reason. Also the battery lasted no time flat, clearly less than my 6610’s battery. Another problem was that the user interface seemed rather slow. I felt that I had to wait for the phone reacting to my key presses. So, on the last day of my two week trial, the phone went back to T-Mobile and I continued my search.

Last November I finally decided to get the Nokia 6103 (see below). I decided for it despite it being a flip phone with a camera. I don’t like either. I prefer the slim candy-bar style, and I have a very good compact digital camera (Canon PowerShot S330) that takes exceptionally good pictures. The quality of camera phone pictures is quite unacceptable, adds to the bulk, makes the phone more expensive, and might cause problems when visiting places where cameras are not permitted.

Nokia 6103
I was willing to neglect these concerns for the benefit of Bluetooth synchronization, voice activated dialing via a Bluetooth headset, and a clearly improved reception both at home and at work due to the external antenna. Soon afterwards, a major concern that I had neglected became all too obvious: the battery life is abysmal. The spec says four days or four hours which is accurate, but when talking up to an hour per day it lasts only 2 days before it dies. There was a time when the phone died on me about twice a week because I could not remember to charge it. The Nokia 6610 got charged half as frequently with the same usage pattern. The added problem is that Nokia changed the power tip on this phone. It is about half the diameter than it used to be, such that I cannot use my old car charger. This is particularly annoying because there is no good reason other than to make money. The phone is thick enough for the old-style power tip to work.

Speaking of thick. The phone seems rather bulky, a far cry from my beloved 8290. I do not understand why no bigger battery could be fit inside. The battery is only half the size of the 6610’s. Why? I have no idea. With the power tip, at least I can see the reason as being able to sell new products, but the battery size? Maybe because lithium-ion batteries are expensive so they save cost. That must be it.

I strongly dislike the poor battery life, but I am keeping the phone. I enjoy the Bluetooth feature way to much, and just have to hold out for the future. Maybe by November 2008 a real competitor will have emerged. Also, since the recent Mac OS 10.4.9 upgrade, I am now able to go online via Bluetooth and the phone’s built-in modem. True, I could pay for T-Mobile’s data access, but I don’t use it enough to justify the $20/month. Some time ago I found the pay-as-you-go service MaGlobe which works well enough for my limited usage and is very affordable.

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