Until recently, choosing a mobile phone was like buying bottled water: There was an abundance of brands and prices, but roughly the same thing inside. Not anymore.
To better serve busy professionals and computing-savvy young adults, software maker Microsoft has teamed up with telephone makers to introduce an array of advanced Microsoft smart phones that have transformed this water into a high-tech wine cellar of options. Aptly called "smart" phones, these high-tech handhelds offer a wide variety of features not found on mobile phones before, including wireless Internet and e-mail access, music and video storage and playback, downloadable applications, and games. Oh, they can send and receive phone calls, too.
With demand growing, manufacturers will nearly double shipments of smart phones by 2008. This is nearly twice the anticipated growth rate of phones with built-in cameras, according to technology forecasters InStat/MDR.
Tom O'Keefe is among those who have already ditched their old mobile phones. The chairman of Tully's Coffee Corp. uses his Motorola MPx200 with Microsoft Windows Mobile software to answer e-mail, monitor his calendar, check stock quotes, show off pictures of his kids and listen to music. He has even stored a video of his mother-in-law singing the national anthem before a baseball game on his phone.
"This phone does everything, and it's no bigger than my old cell phone," said O'Keefe, a self-described "gadget geek."
For those who aren't as tech-savvy, here are a few things to consider when choosing a Microsoft smart phone:
- Familiar programs. To shorten the learning curve, shoppers should look for a smart phone that uses the same e-mail and programs as their desktop PC.
- PC synchronization. Phones with features such as ActiveSync technology help ensure that contact, calendar and e-mail information are the same on a person's smart phone and PC.
- Personalization. Smart phones that easily download screen savers, ring tones and music via wireless infrared or USB connections reflect the owner's style and tastes. Also, to ensure lifelike picture quality for playing games and viewing photos, phones should offer a screen with at least 65,000 colors and 176x200-pixel resolution.
- Expandable memory. Advanced smart phones offer a slot for memory cards, which add up to 256 MB of extra storage for games, music and other files.
- Smart text entry. To make typing messages on the keypad easier, look for phones with tools such as T9 Text Input, which predicts words as they're being entered. Similarly, auto-suggest features offer information such as e-mail addresses as the user types them.