2003 Tech Buying Guide
If you're an intense phone, e-mail, or instant message "aholic," for whom a calendar and contact list are secondary considerations, consider the smart communicators offered by various cellular phone services.
According to Forrester Research analysts, the mobile phone market is nearing saturation. This means that providers can now only expand their customer base by luring users away from one another with more interesting capabilities. Some of them are welcome (it's always great to have e-mail access). Some are more debatable (instant messaging is already invasive enough on the desktop). But in any case, more choice in the marketplace means you're the winner.
If you need constant contact not only by phone but also via e-mail and instant messages, the T-Mobile Sidekick [$250, plus monthly service; tmobile.com] rises to the occasion. Spin out its screen and there's a roomy keyboard under your digits. The monochrome system offers a full-featured, proprietary PDA. Given its unique form factor and somewhat fragile feel, the 2.5- by 4.5-inch unit isn't for everyone. But it's hard to resist its curvaceous appeal.
STAY THE COURSE
The Motorola i95cl [$500; Nextel, Southern LINC] has a nice heft in the hand, a good assortment of PDA functions under its hood, and Nextel's "push-to-talk" service for walkie-talkie-like chatting with other Nextel users -- great for field or more industrial uses. Those who work or move around in loud environs will like this unit's very loud ringer.
Touting a built-in camera, the sleek Sanyo 5300 [$400; SprintPCS.com] also offers an exceptional screen; expect similar competing units to arrive by late spring. Also: The RIM BlackBerry 6710 [contact T-Mobile, tmobile.com, for pricing, or AT&T Wireless, www.attws.com] combines a phone with BlackBerry's worldwide e-mail, Net, and messaging services -- and the best keyboard among its peers.
THE NEED: Lisa Wible's phone, which she says is clipped to her when she's making fudge and has gotten dropped "over and over," needed not only to stand the heat but also to get out of the kitchen. Wible prefers to deliver her fudge in person -- a big job when her 45 client stores are spread over six Western states.
THE SOLUTION: Motorola i55sr (Nextel)
FEATURES CONSIDERED: Coverage area was crucial. "Our first major project after founding the business was the Olympics. I spent a lot of time in Salt Lake City," recounts Wible, who hosted an official booth in the Downtown Festival during the Games. "I knew I'd have to be able to conduct business as if I was home in Whittier." When business takes you across the Mohave Desert and up into the northern Rockies, a map doesn't tell you everything you need to know about coverage. Wible, a first-time Nextel customer, started asking everybody along the way if their phone cut out.
NEXT TIME: Wible isn't using her push-to-talk features as much as she initially expected. "It's like a walkie-talkie; you have to wait for the other person to respond. It doesn't work [for talking] with clients." Great sound quality is a plus, as is her phone's rugged chassis: "Not only has it been dropped, it's been dropped and kicked."
DON'T FORGET TO ASK: Make the most of your minutes, Wible says: "There's a lot of plan variation, and it's useful to know if minutes on your plan can be transferred to other times of day or rolled over for later use."
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