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Keeping in Touch With Smartphones

Our new travel columnists review two new smartphones.
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For years one of the most frustrating parts of business travel is keeping up with all the cords for all the items designed to keep you in touch with the office.

But with the recent wave of so-called smartphones that are finally affordable, those days of cord hauling are gone forever. The new technology promises to let users check e-mail, make phone calls, surf the Web and manage schedules, all in a device the size of your old PDA. Cool concept, but does it really work?

With both of us traveling every week, we each have our own smartphone, and have had mixed results.

The two phones we use are the Audiovox PPC 4100 (www.audiovox.com, $349) and the Treo 600 (www.palm.com, $349). Here we list what we both like, and dislike, about both of the products.

Audiovox PPC 4100

Pros: The phone's software works just like your PC, so the programs, like MS Word and Excel are familiar, and easy to learn. The screen is big and bright, making it easy to read. Retrieving e-mail is easy, and being part of the AT&T Wireless network has meant that coverage has never been an issue. With Cingular and AT&T Wireless now one, the coverage area is even more enhanced, ensuring that the "dead zones" are kept to a minimum. E-mail attachments, which are usually MS Word or Excel anyway, can be downloaded and easily read. While some may like QWERTY keyboard on their phones, Suzanne likes the handwriting transcriber method, so the PPC 4100 is perfect in that respect. As a mobile computer, the Audiovox PPC4100 is top-notch. The phone is advertised to work overseas, although we haven't tested that feature yet.

Cons: as exciting as it is to be able to retrieve e-mails, the Audiovox isn't much of a phone. Quirky faults like the five second delay before hanging up, or the awkward feel of the phone makes it frustrating to use. The proprietary earpiece is uncomfortable and has already had to be replaced twice for malfunctioning. We haven't been able to find earpieces anywhere but at the Audiovox website, and the price is high for such an uncomfortable earpiece. The speakerphone feature isn't perfected yet, as sounds are distorted, even in a quiet room. The stylus dislodges easily, and gets lost often, and reordering them is an expensive proposition at $7 each through the Audiovox website.

Treo 600

Pros: The phone is an upgrade from the Treo 300, which set the standard for affordability and convenience in the market. As a phone, the calls are clear and as a Sprint PCS customer, coverage is nearly always available. The QWERTY keyboard is comfortable to use, so writing extended e-mails is easy and quick. The size of the device makes it easy for a man to carry is his pocket and easy to hold for a long conversation. Because it uses a standard earpiece, each owner can choose what type fits best. Surfing the Web is easy and quick using the Blazer software. Battery life is phenomenal for such a device at nearly three hours.

Cons: Despite claims to the contrary, e-mail attachments just aren't going to be seen until you get back to the office unless you purchase additional programs like DataViz's Documents to Go. The camera feature, rarely used for business anyway, is not useful unless the sun is shining, the subject isn't moving and the camera is within two feet of the subject. The new Treo 650 version is supposed to correct several of these issues, but unless they are a major problem with your Treo 600, there's no need to change to the new model yet.

Bottom line

As regular business travelers can attest, the smartphone, whether it's a company-supplied Blackberry, or one of the systems we have, is an essential item in the new business world. When deciding what to purchase, users should ask whether they prefer a great portable PC or a great phone. Staying connected helps ensure that being on the road doesn't mean you're leaving the office, you're just leaving the desk.


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