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Get Smart, phone-wise

Camera phones may soon be passé. The last few weeks have seen a flurry of mobile phones beefed up to work like PCs


FINALLY IT has happened — the sangam of computing and communication functions has created the ultimate handheld device — a cell phone that, to a large extent, doubles up as a portable PC. In recent weeks, handset makers, usually tying up with mobile service providers, have been queuing up to launch a new generation of smart phones which provide many features that were special to pocket PCs and PDAs — Personal Digital Assistants. In October, Airtel launched the Blackberry range of smartphones in the country. In addition to normal phone functions, the three models ranging from Rs. 18,000 - Rs. 32,000 allowed users to send and receive e-mail with a variety of Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations and Adobe Acrobat PDF files. It also had the usual features of an office organiser.

Advanced models

A month later, Hewlett Packard, makers of the Compaq iPaq Pocket PC, launched some advanced models including the rx 3715. Thanks to its Wi-Fi option, this PDA allowed the user to go online even while enjoying the usual office tools like Word, Excel and the Internet Explorer browser. However, you needed to use a GPRS-enabled phone, in conjunction, for full communication functionality. Palm, makers of the best-known PDA, launched the Treo 600 and the Tungsten TF in the country. These smart phones were the familiar palm pocket PCs, beefed up for voice, data and text communication. Priced between Rs. 23,000 and Rs. 27,500, the two models competed directly with Blackberry. Motorola also has a model or two in this category. The A-760 was unique — it used the Linux operating systems while almost all smartphones are based on either the Palm OS or Microsoft's Pocket PC software. The other Motorola model, MPx200, costing around Rs. 26,000, was the first phone in the country to offer a Microsoft Windows environment.

Possibly, the most complete PC solution integrated into a mobile phone is Nokia's 9500 Communicator. This bulky-looking cell phone has two displays: One, is the normal LCD screen you find with all mobile phones, but flip open the hinge along the length of the phone and it becomes a miniature notebook PC with a second 12-centimeter display and a full-fledged keyboard.

The functions are almost identical to what you would find in any desktop PC and you can go online either using the usual GPRS service provided by Hutch, Airtel, Idea and others, or you can use the Wi-fi capability whenever you are close to a wireless hotspot.

On the principle that `small is still beautiful', a leading European phone provider O2 launched what is claimed to be `the smallest PDA phone in the market.' The Xda II Mini is a light-weight thing of beauty at 150 grams with a 2.8 inch touch-screen display. Its functionality is similar to the Blackberry and the phone includes a 1.3 megapixel camera. It has the usual GPRS mode for accessing the Internet but can also take a Wi-Fi card. Current prices may put most of these devices out of the reach of the average mobile phone user, but seeing how fast technology grows (and prices fall) in this arena, it may not be long before you too can join the `smart set' complete with smartphone.

A. VISHNU

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