A month ago I got myself a Palm Treo Pro (850 unlock) and I thought I would finally get rid of my Windows mobile phobia. As you will have note from previous entries I have tried my hands on other Win Mobile 6.1 devices: Samsung Omnia i908 and HTC Touch Diamond. This is not my first foray into a Windows Mobile device. I do have a HTC Touch and an O2 XDA Atom Life.

I even chucked my BlackBerry Pearl aside to make sure my judgement isn’t clouded by happier memories. But after weeks of fiddling with the Palm Treo Pro I’ve concluded that I am probably not a Microsoft Windows Mobile friend. While the Treo Pro has an elegant external design, a little on the heavy side but solid built, I feel that the operating system is a clunker – requiring too much learning for an average phone user such as myself.

So I took out my trusty old BlackBerry Pearl, charged it and am using it every day now. The Treo Pro is just waiting in a corner – waiting to be traded in for another device – either a Sony Ericsson (for me) or a Nokia (for my wife).

More interesting I was recently loaned a BlackBerry 8900 (the successor to the BlackBerry Curve). After my brief stint with the BlackBerry Bold I had thought that the next device I would love to review is the BlackBerry Storm. The 8900 came a few months after the Bold and is a few weeks ahead of the Storm in Asia. But being a former Curve user, she (8900) is worth the upgrade. 

The 8900 display is about the same brightness and resultion as the Bold. It keys are much better to handle. The device is fast both as a personal information management (PIM) device, and communication is crisp – I haven’t had any signal drops even in my building which is notorious for bad cell signal. 

My biggest hiccup (and remaining one for both the Curve and the Pearl) is the clunky browser experience. You don’t want to use the Pearl or the Curve to surf the Internet. Yes, you can connect to any b or g network but surfing is painful at best.

The 8900 changes the game. I am very pleased that Research In Motion finally updated the software for better surfing experience. To be fair, there is no comparison to the iPhone or iPod Touch when it comes to a portable (handheld) device to surf the Internet (yes, even the Nokia Communicator series isn’t up to the challenge), but RIM has painstakingly updated the BlackBerry so that it is easier to surf.

At the end of the day, we choose ornaments because they fulfil certain functions – they are either beautiful to have, or they are functional allowing us to be productive during moments when we need to be. RIM’s BlackBerry 8900 meets both of these criteria – at least for me.

Bold by any other name

What’s in a name? As a former marketer I have learned to understand and believe the power of brands. Take away the shareholder equation ($$$) associated with brands and what you have at the very core of a brand is Trust. The old adage in IT was “no one ever gets fired for buying IBM”. While this may still hold true in some business quarters in many parts of the world, the “trust” a brand builds over time can easily be thrown out by a single, badly managed incident.

But that is not my point here. My point is that sometimes marketers can get carried away with the exercise of creating a brand name that they lose sight of a deeper goal – maintaining the level of trust a brand has established over the years.

Anyway, you’ve probably read two of my product reviews (Samsung Omnia and HTC Touch Diamond). I would not be surprised if after reading both you’d think of me as being patently pro-BlackBerry. I can assure you that while I like some of the technologies that RIM has created over the years, I am still very much not in favor of some of their current business practices. But this is a another product review so let me get that off the table and come back to my RIM issues towards the end.

I use a BlackBerry Pearl (8120). I’ve used a BlackBerry Curve (8310) earlier this year – sorry it got stolen during a holiday in Manila. Recently I was loaned a BlackBerry Bold (9000) to try out. As before, this is not an exhaustive review. If you want a technical dissertation, click on the list towards the end of this blog.

Likes about the BlackBerrys

  • Rugged form factor (I’ve dropped each model on a few occasions – unintentionally of course – and each survived mostly unscathed – yes, minor scratches – you should see what a 3 foot drop can do to an iPhone 2G – the model with an aluminum case. Imagine what would happen to the plastic iPhone 3G)
  • Simple to understand user interface plus the ability to hide functions you don’t need or don’t use. (I firmly believe that a true test of a consumer device is to use it effectively without ever reaching for the manual)
  • Syncing with MS Outlook is easy as is installing/uninstalling the software – BlackBerry Desktop Manager
  • Screen is crystal clear – but the Bold beats everyone – iPhone, all previous BBs, SonyE, Nokia, HTC, MotoQ, in fact everyone except the Samsung Omnia i900 series.
  • Power-up is almost instantaneous (except when you remove the battery)

(more…)

Finally decided to unbox the HTC Touch Diamond that a friend loaned to me to test. The packaging is catchy although I, personally, don’t like the design on the back – whoever designed this must have thought he or she was being imaginative. The HTC Diamond design is unique but not innovative (in my humble opinion).

Again I am not doing a comprehensive review of the Diamond. You’d be better of going to one of the sites below. I’m here to tell you what a non-geek would like and dislike about the new product from HTC.

What I like about the HTC Touch Diamond

  • Small form factor, fits my hand and my pants pocket (also shirt pocket) very nicely
  • ActiveSync software ran very smoothly and syncs my Outlook data to the Diamond (no worries)
  • Bright screen
  • Windows platform means, in theory, I can open standard office apps when I have to (and for once Windows Mobile 6.1 worked better than its predecessor the Windows Mobile 6 on the HTC device).

I have a HTC Touch (gen 1) and when you load even a small excel spreadsheet, the phone runs like a snail pulling a dead weight. With the Diamond, I ran the picture slideshow, open a spreadsheet, called another phone number, and ran Bubble Breaker and the phone still worked “almost” flawlessly.

What I don’t like about the HTC Touch Diamond

  • It is designed to power-off (you can program it for up to 5 minutes). I think this is to save battery but the during first day I used the phone, I tell you it freaked me out that the phone kept switching off. I had to run through the innards of the operating system to come to the conclusion that there is the built-in power off mode. Just to be safe I asked a friend to call my number to see if the phone rang when it was “powered off”. The Diamond wakes up when a call comes in.
  • The Diamond touts the new TouchFlo 3D but I tell you the version I got, (ROM 1.93.707.1 WWE), is quirky to say the least. There are times when I had to keep repeating movements to get the darn thing to do what I want it to (doesn’t always though so I had to keep pressing the HOME key every now and then).
  • I can’t use my standard headset with mini-jack to listen to the music although bluetooth was ok.
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • The processor can, at times, be slow (like trying to watch some photos, scrolling through the favorite phonelist).

Other HTC Touch reviews
Geek.com – Review: HTC Diamond
CNET Australia – HTC Touch Diamond
MobileTech Review – HTC Diamond

My first product review was the Samsung Omnia – another Windows Mobile 6.1 device. After holding this HTC Touch for a couple of days I have to admit that the Touch wins hands-down versus the Omnia. GSM Arena has done a great comparative review of the Omnia versus the HTC Touch Diamond. Read it if you are trying to decide between these two devices.

Personally which one would I consider buying? If I really have no choice I would pick the HTC Touch Diamond. But if I have to choose a new phone to replace my BlackBerry Pearl, I’d probably try the new BlackBerry Bold first before I make any commitments. In case you are thinking I’m overly biased towards the BlackBerry, I was once an avid Sony Ericsson customer with the P900 being my last SE smartphone. I am curious to try the SE Experia but that would be for another day. I’ve also used the Nokia E70 – that was also a painful experience.

One last point to ponder. The true test of a consumer product is the ability to use it out of the box without reading the manual. To be fair I was able to switch the Diamond on and make a call. But to do other stuff like look for a phone number, send SMS, or get connected to the web, those took time to figure out and get used to the way the Diamond wants to be handled. Beautiful it may be but the HTC Touch Diamond is not as intuitive as the vendor makes it out to be.

Oh well, back to my BlackBerry Pearl – the no fuss, no hassle, smartphone.

PS: I recently met up with Mark Russinovich. He asked if I switched off TouchFlo to see what my experience would be like. At the time of review, I wasn’t aware this was possible. Oh well, my lost.

A friend asked me to test out the newly launched Samsung Omnia SGH-i900. But rather than do the usual indepth product review I thought I’d look at it from the angle of the common user – my wife. If you still want to read one of those in-depth product reviews, click on the links below:

TrustedReviews: Samsung Omnia i900
CNETAsia: Samsung Omnia SGH-i900 (8GB)
Wassup: Samsung Omnia – New 3G iPhone Killer?
Pocketnow: Review – Samsung Omnia i900

So what do I like about the Omnia? It comes in a beautiful box that reminds me of those expensive luxury watches from Switzerland. Thanks to the Samsung heritage of great LCD panels, the Omnia boasts the best LCD screen I’ve ever come across barring those beautiful Samsung LCD computer monitors. Beats the iphone and every portable wannabee when it comes to crisp, clear display.

I only have a couple of gripes about the Omnia: (1) it takes close to 1 minute to power up. If I were to come across someone having a heart attack and I needed to make a call and unfortunately my Omnia was powered off, the guy will be close to death’s door before I can reach someone on the emergency hotline; (2) the back panel gets warm when the display is on – not toasty hot – but warm. Which is great for winter when you need something to warm your hands but very lousy during hot summer days in Hong Kong. 

One more thing: I am not a geek but certainly after 22 years of being in the IT industry, I am no newbie either. But I can tell you that you can get really frustrated trying to connect to your WiFi with this phone. I’ve been trying to do it for two days now and I still haven’t found the magic sequence to connect to my WiFi at home. My iPod Touch took about a minute to find and connect to my WiFi. My favorite BlackBerry Pearl managed to get connected in under a minute as well. So why can’t I get the Omnia connected? Beats the hell out of me. Fortunately I am not alone. Lots more folks shouting for help out on the WWW (just type – I can’t connect to WiFi on Omnia).

So we go back to the topic of this article: Do you buy a phone for its features or ease-of-use? Apple has shown that if you can make a phone easy-to-use while still being cool, people will buy it. Manufacturers like to think that if you stick a supercomputer on a handheld device, people will buy it. Yes, I am sure a few geeks would love to get their hands on such a device. But time and again, consumer statistics and common sense tell us that people like to use things that are simple to use, and oh yes, it does as advertise (OSX vs Windows).

I’m not taking a swipe at Windows. I am writing this blog on a Windows XP PC (I have a Mac too). But when it comes right down to it, the more elegant and simple a device is, the more people are drawn to it. Wll you buy a sleek, sexy, curvey jacquar or a tank? Both can bring you from point A to B. But you only need to know how to steer, where the gas and break peddals are to drive a Jag.

So you tell me!