phones

So, I'm still using a Palm Centro, because (shocking though this is, with its OS that hasn't been updated in ~6 years) I think it's still the best phone on the market. This is what we call "damning with faint praise". But really, my only complaints with the Centro are the web browser and the camera.

iPhone: all the obvious Apple douchebaggery aside, it has many things to recommend it, but I hate the on-screen keyboard. That's a deal-breaker. I won't use any phone without a physical qwerty keyboard.

G1: I played with one in a store the other day, and the software is very alpha. You constantly have to turn the phone because it only occasionally notices how you are holding it. The web browser zooming is kinda crummy. There was a whole bunch of stuff about it that made me say, "Don't you people do usability testing?" Also apparently you can't sync it with your desktop, you can only sync it with online Google services. And, T-Mobile's network is composed of dixie cups and string. But, the real deal-breaker is that it has no headphone jack! There's this gigantic adapter that plugs into a micro-USB port. EPIC FAIL.

Are there any other sane options out there?

Tags: , ,

68 Responses:

  1. I'd wait until a few more hardware manufacturers get into the Android OS. I picked up a G1 for work, and as a first-generation device, it's cool, but it has some serious drawbacks (the keyboard is convenient, but the buttons get in the way of typing, sometimes, I don't really care about using the full keyboard, my cheek sometimes hits numbers when I'm making calls). I know there's a couple of Android Market programs to help sync specific data to non-Google locations. And, unfortunately, as a former Motorola Q9h user, I think the whole no-headphone-jack devices are becoming more and more commonplace.

    Like I said, I'd wait until there's a few more Android devices out there...

  2. belgand says:

    I feel that the iPhone is trying to do too much with too little storage space. It's not enough to replace my old 20 gig 2nd gen iPod and I can't even imagine having the space for video on there. This whole "app store" concept also really rubs me the wrong way.

    In general I still prefer the Palm OS and feel that it has more robust and developed selection of software though I suspect that the iPhone will quickly get up there. The idea of having to put your apps up through a proprietary, company-controlled interface, however, isn't open enough for me.

    It's a shame that Palm really got their asses kicked and the PDA market is basically dead these days. The Treos look nice, but the lack of graffiti input really hurts it.

    • noweb4u says:

      After they took away graffiti 1, having a keyboard was the only shot they had at continued relevance. My Palm Vx and my Treo 755 have a similar OS, but the keyboard makes it so much more useable. And I say that as a person that has been using Palms since 1998.

      • belgand says:

        I wouldn't say that a keyboard is better, but seriously, graffiti 2 is astoundingly terrible. It basically did away with everything good about the first version and replaced with something almost entirely idiotic. I mean, why the move to lower-case letters when upper-case are generally simpler to write and easier for recognition?

        Still, I find that those tiny thumbboards are very close to unusable.

    • zonereyrie says:

      It is possible to install graffiti on the newer devices including the Treos, if you want it.

    • lcremeans says:

      I have a first-gen iPod touch, and it's not so much the storage space (8GB is more than enough for my paltry library) as the fact that it has way too little RAM—128MB IIRC. Having more than a few windows open in MobileSafari will make it dump its cache, forcing a reload whenever you switch tabs.

      -lee

  3. buz says:

    I'm surprisingly happy with my BB Curve. It pretty much does everything. I miss the touchscreen of my Treo, but that's coming!

    • logodaedaly says:

      Agreed. I went through a ton of smartphone options, including the Centro, before I picked up a Curve (actually a worldphone version, the 8830) and have been really happy. The browser could use some work, but the Centro's browser was so absolutely horrible that it's hard to complain.

      It has some rough edges, but it's the first smartphone I've had that I haven't been tired of after six months.

      • buz says:

        Try the Opera Mini browser. It's pretty capable, but not for everyday use.
        http://www.operamini.com/

      • kingfox says:

        I'm also quite pleased with my Curve. The browser was a weak point for me as well, but the 4.5 software that's slowly trickling out really improves it.

        • logodaedaly says:

          That's what I've heard. I'm on Sprint, so I expect to be holding a BB Storm in my hands (or possibly driving my children around in a jet-car) before I get an update.

        • lohphat says:

          I'm on T-Mobile for three reasons:

          1. UMA calling -- GSM tunneled over 802.11g wifi = unlimited calling (does not count against my minute plan).

          2. No international roaming fees ($1-$5 a minutes) when in UMA mode overseas.

          3. Unlimited bberry data (well, for $20/mo prorated) when overseas.

          I was a Cingular for years. They and AT&T don't get intl roaming; things just are broken overseas. Voice mail doesn't work. SMS doesn't work, irregular connectivity.

          T-Mobile being Deutsche Telekom, just "get it". They've had a 10 year head start on GSM and know how it works.

          Despite fewer t-mobile towers, I just care at work and at home (where I have 802.11g) and I have full call quality.

      • logodaedaly says:

        I should mention, too, that my BB is the first smartphone I've ever had with lots of useful network tools exposed to the user. I mean, ping is built in. That sounds absurdly simple, but name another smartphone platform where you don't have to download some crappy freeware app in order to use ping. It's a very geeky little tool.

        The freeware SSH app that's available is pretty good, too — one of the better smartphone SSH apps I've used.

    • ommadawn says:

      But when I found out that there was a $20/month penalty for this in the form of "blackberry service", I balked. The friendly kid at the Sprint kiosk showed me a Treo Centro, and as it turned out that week they had a rebate/sale that made it close to free, and I'd always liked the Palm PDAs I'd owned...

      And yes, it is too bad that Palm doesn't seem to have much of a future. My next phone is probably gonna be an iPhone, but until then I like my Centro.

      And I like my Centro even better since I upgraded the firmware to 1.7 and google maps "my location" became something that was actually somewhat useful. One less thing to be envious of iPhones for.

  4. fo0bar says:

    I used to swear by physical keyboards (mostly HTC phones), but my iPhone-carrying friends (especially HTC converts) kept saying that they hated the iPhone keyboard at first, but after the phone trained them and they got better, they preferred the iPhone keyboard.

    I'd look at them and say "you must be insane."

    I used to prefer physical keyboards. I hated the iPhone keyboard. I switched to an iPhone. It trained me. I now prefer it.

    • pallmalls says:

      I just got an iPhone a week ago after being on a prehistoric flip-phone for years. (The allure of $199 big-screen Intarwubz in my pocket was too strong.) I am usually an anti-shiny techno-luddite, but I am already a touch-keyboard convert. It's predictive/corrective typing is simply amazing. I can fat-finger and type sloppily at 60+ WPM (in landscape mode), but it's like the phone knows what I want.

      What is your specific hatred of touch-screen keyboards, jwz?

      • ommadawn says:

        I don't know what jamie's bitch with them is, but one drawback of on-screen keyboards is they force you to use your eyes. A little history...

        In the mid 1980's I worked for Cadillac engineering. Some of the new Buicks had these touch screen dashboards that let you go to different screens (a screen for climate control, a screen for radio, some hidden screens that let you change things like fuel-air ratio and throttle angle if you knew the right combination of buttons to push). Some usability studies (yup, GM does those) showed that the lack of tactile controls forced drivers to look away from the road, which is dangerous. I don't remember if these made it to production or if they decided not to use them because of the hazards.

        I DO NOT RECOMMEND TXTING AND DRIVING... but it's much harder to do on a screen keyboard.

  5. The gyro sensor thing is because paying attention to the sensor is an application-specific thing - apps need to be set up to deal with the change in the screen orientation. It's really easy to do, but a lot of things just ignore it.. I'm not sure why many of the bundled apps do this, pretty silly.

    I guess the headphone jack thing doesn't bother me at all, there's a small adapter that doesn't really get in the way. I agree that it ought to have a standard jack... I mean, that's what standards are for, right?

    Can't complain about the network though, I've been using it for over two years with no problem. *shrug*

  6. boggyb says:

    I've a friend who uses a HTC TyTN2 on T-Mobile in the UK, and I've not heard him complaining about it yet. I've had a quick play with it myself and it all seems to work well. On the downside, it's Windows Mobile-based rather than Symbian or PalmOS, so you'll probably have problems syncing with anything other than Outlook.

  7. kfringe says:

    I suggest switching to mature technology.

  8. Physical keyboard? Nokia E90.

    • mhoye says:

      I strongly endorse the Nokia E series, which do all kinds of things (tethering, wifi, browsing, not being a bunch of cocks about who you sync with, etc) right. The I lurves my e51 very much, and if you want a physical keyboard, the E71 is a great phone.

      • quotation says:

        I lurves my e51 even more than Mike lurves his, but I disagree with the keyboard comment.

        The e51 keyboard is useable with one thumb, and I refuse to use a phone that demands more than one digit for speedy texting. I can send a text message with my e51 blindfolded, and I don't think that's something I could do with the e71.

        The e75, however, is ideal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYvmDSocdiE -- it's the same candybar format as the e51, and it has a slider qwerty to pop out.

        The e90 communicator is huge. Very capable, but I'd be hard pressed to think of many things I could do with it that wouldn't be almost as good as on the e75.

        The blackberries have so much "carrier integration" (no tethering, requires server-side co-processing for many features, etc.) that I think they would drive you absolutely insane.

        If you need to get a new phone right away, then yes, I'd agree with the e71. If you can wait a few months, I'm sure the e75 would be even better.

    • thargol says:

      Agreed 100%. The Nokia E90 is without doubt the best phone on the market right now, by quite a large margin. You might want to double check the support on North American networks. I don't know what it's like over there, but here in Europe, it's great. I got one for my girlfriend, and am so impressed, I'll be upgrading mine to one as well.

    • catenoid says:

      My E90 works OK - it has a lot going for it, especially for someone who wants an 80x24 ssh client.

      But. It's shockingly expensive, crashes occasionally and lacks a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack, so it's still not what I'd call a _sane_ option. Just a better one for my requirement set.

    • _nicolai_ says:

      I like my E90 too. Just Works. Even the ssh client (putty for S60) works fine and manages to display 80x24 readably. Upside: battery life, connectivity (and good radio performance), keyboard, can install any software I want. Downside: size/weight, it's chunky.

    • catenoid says:

      To my knowledge, no e90 does US UMTS/HSDPA, which is sad.
      i don't know about the rest of the E series.

  9. fylke says:

    Joel Spolsky is raving about the Nokia E71: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/08/22.html

    • pnendick says:

      The Nokia E71 is shockingly good. It's easily the best mobile I've ever used - even with its craptacular Symbian OS. If you want a keyboard like I do, you will find the E71's ace. And I've just done a road trip around the Balkans with brilliant GPS coverage using Nokia Maps requiring ZERO spend on data access.

      Get one. Really.

      • blarglefiend says:

        Indeed. I've been very happy with my E71. The big thing that turned me off the iPhone in the end was the closed nature of the platform: if Apple says they don't want that feature on their phone, then you have to hack the damned thing to get it. And there's one feature I find critical that isn't available on iPhone, presumably because Apple are beholden to shitty US carriers: SIP support.

        (And apparently same deal with Android. No VOIP for you says Mr Google.)

        In addition to all the other good things about the E71, it's a lovely SIP handset too. So when I'm within range of my home wireless network it automatically signs in to my provider's SIP service.

  10. roninspoon says:

    The HTC Touch Pro just dropped this week. It's got touch screen, but a slide out full qwerty keyboard. Runs some flavor of modified windows mobile. Has a 3 megapixel camera as I recall. Takes microSD.

  11. jcurious says:

    http://www.mobileburn.com/news.jsp?Id=5569

    Hopefully someone will come out with a phone w keyboard and this OS soon.

  12. httf says:

    I don't really think there's anything better out there that's going to have this level of functionality. Apple was our best bet for a well-executed product, and they've thrown their lot in with imaginary keyboards. I suppose that Palm could still come out with something worthy if they developed robust web browsing and really utilized a touch screen. The Helio Ocean piqued my interest, but I haven't played with one. It has the phone keyboard and qwerty separate, which is both tempting and possibly an obscene waste of space.

    As to the G1, I'm basically their target user.

    I don't mind the micro-USB headphone jack because I don't use my phone for music. I have an iPod, and I'm not interested in combining them. I'm unreasonably fond of Google, and I want to sync all of my data to the internet, because I hate trying to sync with my desktop; I gave it up years ago. I like that the G1 will probably have a broad base of applications, including lots of tiny trivial ones, like you get with the Palm community. And my two dealbreakers with the iPhone are the on-screen keyboard and no open source apps.

    I don't understand your complaint about the G1 not knowing which way you're holding it. The screen rotates to horizontal when the keyboard is out, and otherwise remains vertical. Some applications may choose to implement iPhone-like rotation via accelerometer feedback, but that's not the UI standard for the G1. And I haven't had any trouble with the phone knowing which way it should be oriented.

    The web browser zoom is lame, I agree. It needs pinch zoom, which the G1 could totally do if it wasn't patented by Apple--hopefully someone will find a way around this and patch it soon. I haven't been using the zoom much though because the trackball scroll is very responsive, and it scrolls through links, so I never need to zoom to click a small link.

    It's certainly true that they don't do enough usability testing. The biggest complaint I have is that the t-mobile network does seem on the crappy side. Although, with wifi, I don't mind much. My G1 did have some interesting network connectivity spasms yesterday, although I think that a nice quick restart application or a widget to reset network settings would help this considerably. Although of course, I'm an ex-treo user, so I'll accept the occasional "soft reset" in stride.

    • jwz says:

      Re rotation: I forget exactly what I was doing (looking at pictures, maybe?) but I was holding the phone landscape with the keyboard out; realized I didn't need the keyboard and closed it; and the image on the screen immediately rotated to portrait even though I was still holding the phone landscape. And some apps seem to be landscape-only while others are portrait-only. Basically it just behaved inconsistently all over the place.

      • evan says:

        My understanding is that it:
        1) completely ignores phone orientation and only relies on keyboard position for deciding orientation
        2) has a buggy sensor for keyboard position -- sometimes I'll get the unlock screen in portrait mode

        G1 is promising but definitely still beta, using the original meaning of beta.

  13. icis_machine says:

    i'd say danger/M$'s hiptop but

    1. it's much less open than it use to be.
    2. it getting worse.
    3. you'll smack me for even thinking about suggesting it.

    i love the form factor, pricing, keyboard and even the OS, but it is closed and limited and I cannot find something to replace it but don't want to continue to support the product line.

    • mooflyfoof says:

      I agree with everything you said about its downsides. That said, I love my Hiptop 3. I just wish it had a better camera. I'm also not a power user by any stretch of the imagination, so this may be completely irrelevant information to jwz.

      Ed bought an iPhone and I can see how it's really awesome in many ways (I love its browser and email client), but wow it sure does crash a lot. And I hate hate hate its (lack of) keyboard. I would never get one myself because of those two things. Not to mention, he still carries his Sidekick LX around because AIM on the iPhone blows -- what's this crap about not being able to multitask?

      • icis_machine says:

        or cut and paste.

        personally, i liked the SK2 slightly better. it was more durable and had a better handfeel. SK3 is filmsy by comparison. I blame outsourcing HW design. I just wish someone could take the feature set and truly improve it but with M$ taking over, I am thinking that won't happen.

        • I think the G1 is the path for sidekick users, after all, that is where the founder of Danger is now, running Android. Give it time, the G1 is the get something in peoples hands release, early next year there should be many phones to choose from.

  14. endquote says:

    The Blackberry Storm sounds cool, and has a headphone jack, but whatever "business-focused" decisions they may have made might be a turnoff.

    I love everything about my iPhone but the keyboard. If I used it more for text/email than I do, I'd probably be looking for something else.

    • endquote says:

      Oh and it has a software keyboard too, but the review says they nailed it ("we're in love", they say). I'd like to play with it.

  15. allartburns says:

    I'm liking my XV6800 (Verizon, but there's a Sprint version). Yeah, it's WM6, but it's pretty damn stable. Easy to expand with microsd, lots of free software, keyboard is good, wifi is good. Only downside is the wimpy battery, but there are plenty of upgrades available.

  16. vordark says:

    I won't use any phone without a physical qwerty keyboard.

    Amen! This is the precise reason why I went with the latest (as of a month ago) Blackberry. Well, that and no other phone with a qwerty keyboard was actually available in my East-Buttfuck town. One of the guys at the store tried to sell me on the Samsung Instinct but after five minutes I was like "Yep! Precisely why I hate onscreen keyboards!"

  17. cacepi says:

    The Curve 8330 really is a nice phone. The mail program is tough to beat - S/MIME support is cool - and keyboard is very plush. The trackball thingie takes a little getting used to, but it isn't too bad.

    I had a Centro, but the Blackberry is a much nicer phone. I won't go back.

  18. pdx6 says:

    The Centro is passable if you install the Opera Mini browser. It has it's own problems, however, like finding a JVM to run it, no copy and paste from other Palm apps, and a tendency to lock up the phone.

    When it does work, it renders most pages great and does zoom in/out.

  19. justinjs says:

    Seconding those that mentioned the Nokia E-series if a physical keyboard is important. The E90's only major drawback is that it's a big heavy brick. It has an excellent keyboard, portrait/landscape always works perfectly because it's actually two different screens, it works fine on US GSM-based networks, etc.

    There are things the iPhone is better at, but based on your priorities the E90 might be the best match.

  20. lafinjack says:

    I like my Samsung i760.

  21. a_dead_bird says:

    Sprint Lotus?
    http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/patterson/29619

    I can't believe no one has mentioned it yet.

  22. zonereyrie says:

    I, like you, have stuck with PalmOS. I'm still using my Treo 680, since the Centro has very, very little difference - mainly just a smaller screen and keyboard.

    I'm a Beta Program Manager for Sling Media and I seem to have become The Mobile Guy, so I'm running our SlingPlayer Mobile betas - which means I have a pile of phones. A Motorola Q9c (WinMob Smartphone), Treo 700wx (WinMob Pro), Nokia N95 (Symbian S60), and a BlackBerry Pearl 8120. I'll also have a BlackBerry Bold 9000 Real Soon Now.

    I'm like you - no physical keyboard, no sale. Personally not one of those has swayed me enough to switch from Palm OS. If someone forced me to buy a WinMob device I'd probably take the Treo Pro. In the past I've played with other Nokia Symbian phones, including the E90, but I just haven't liked the Symbian OS very much. Nothing I can really put my finger on, just not pleasant.

    I would never buy a BB Pearl for myself, but I have to say I'm looking forward to playing with the Bold. That's the first BlackBerry to really put together the features that might sway me, but it'll take a lot of work.

    Most likely I'll hold on to my Treo 680 until more Android devices are on the market. The G1 is definitely tempting, and my AT&T contract is up in February, so I might switch. But I'm hoping that by then there'll be some more Android phones out there, or at least announced so I can decide if I want to wait.

    Or maybe Palm will have Nova out by then... HAHAHAHA! Oh, I kill me.

    • xrayspx says:

      Totally agreed, I work at a company that develops for mobile platforms, and so we have several of everything. One of the application-porting-guys got pretty excited for the G1, but agrees with me that HTC blows and that I'm correct in waiting until Motorola launches a decent Android handset. I haven't played with anything yet that would make me ditch my Centro. The rest of the company is moving to Blackberry for company phones, but I actually bought my Centro, and will not be making the move. I see nothing about the Blackberry that makes it that good.

  23. mhagler says:

    Blackberry. It sounds lame and yuppie, the software isn't shiny and pretty (the Bold is somewhat prettier and has a gorgeous high res screen) but it does its core functions extremely well and it's been a very stable platform for a while now.

  24. dr_gluck_ says:

    Bold... You, being a not-windows person might make this less of a choice, but other than the mediocre web browser and so-so battery life, it is the best "hiptop" I've used. 3.5mm headphone jack that works fine with any headphones I've tried :). I've used it for ~5 months now. I've had many complaints but in the last month the software has gotten to the point that I think ATT should accept it. Unlike all the currently-available BBs out there, the Bold is 3G/802.11/BT fully functional.

  25. heresiarch says:

    i suggest getting over the whole keyboard issue. my iphone keyboard works fine, especially with the auto-correct that learns your mistakes. i can type as fast as i could on my treo, if not faster, especially in landscape mode. at least when i'm not drunk. how is that different from a physical one? :P

  26. malachus says:

    I have found my centro to be a decent phone and there are several apps I have found handy. Most importantly, I like profiles. Although it's a little obscure, it works very well. Basically it lets you set configuration profiles that change based on a schedule or other trigger (or manually), so I don't end up being the guy who leaves his phone at his desk and it rings all day annoying coworkers.

    http://www.kwik.cz/palm/treo/profiles/

  27. gryazi says:

    I'm hopeful about Android, and/or at least about the collective force of it and the iPhone nudging the big US carriers to be more open and device-agnostic.

    But if you missed it on Slashdot, this complete failure at prerelease testing is good for schadenfreude.

    As to the G1's lack of a headphone jack, I believe that started as an "acceptable" tradeoff -- phonemakers want to reduce the connector count because connectors take up space, cost money, and result in returns when they're broken by customers -- but became an unacceptable one when the ability to use a Bluetooth stereo headset was lost. (They caught some sort of gaping security issue with the initial Bluetooth implementation over the summer and had to rework it before release. Presumably it'll be available in the next version of the software.)

  28. lroberson says:

    no there aren't.