phil wilson :: a geek commodity

9:36 AM

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Monday, February 16, 2004

Over the Christmas period I got two mobile devices, a Nokia 6600 and a Sony Clié NR70V/E (I was also hoping to get a PocketPC 1940, but seeing as I’d just got a new job, cutting my daily commute down from four hours a day to just thirty minutes, it seemed a bit of a waste). I’ve been using them both on a daily basis now for a reasonable amount of time and so here’s what I think:

Basically I’ve been really disappointed with the 6600, it promises so much, and delivers so little. Perhaps it’s just because my expectations of it were so high to begin with, but I feel quite disappointed, especially with all the great reviews it’s had all over the Interweb. The physical design is mostly good – big, bight screen, usefol side keys, reassignable soft keys, decent enough joystick control, but the keypad itself is very poor. I’ve got very small hands (yes, that’s enough giggling at the back thank you) and fingers, but because of the design of the keys, I find it hard to always hit the key I want when writing an SMS, (and then the “delete” key is in a completely different place from almost EVERY OTHER NOKIA PHONE, completly destroying my muscle memory to quickly delete the character I’ve just typed, and instead saves my mail out to Drafts and puts me back at the Messaging menu screen – comparatively, this is just a minor niggle). If you lay the phone on its back and view it from the side, you can see that each key is shaped a bit like a wedge, with the bottom of each key higher than the top. What this means of course is that because of the key above, only the lower half of each key is actually usable – try and press the top half, or aim centrally and you’ll also hit the key above it. Very infuriating, especially when coupled with the change to the delete key mentioned above.

I’ll readily confess that this is the first Series 60 phone I’ve owned, and most of the apps seem fairly usable, and there’s a great range of easy-to-use software bundled for first-time owners (although the games are poor), and when I first got it, I couldn’t see myself ever using my Palm for things like calenders, reminders etc. because the 6600 tools seemed so much nicer; but MY GOD IT’S SLOW! I’d been hoping to delegate all PDA-like functions to the 6600 and basically use the Palm as a crappy camera and quick note-taker, but as it turns out, the 6600 has a better camera anyway. And thank God for that because there’s no way whatsoever that you could use the 6600 for things like calendering, appointments, decent address book storage etc. unless you’ve got a LOT of patience, which, for the guy (or girl) on the go, isn’t an option. Almost every keypress on the 6600 takes between one and two full seconds to bring up the selected application. From the press of the button, it takes a full three seconds just to bring up my contacts list, and there are only about thirty names in it. From a user perspective this is blatantly unacceptable, and if I didn’t know better, would suggest that it’s beta software standard. Oh, did I mention how long it takes to turn on? From off to being able to do anything is around thirty seconds, and that’s possibly being slightly generous.

I like my 6600, it’s got some great features, and the screen quality really is great, especially for when you’re browsing the Interweb. It’s nowhere near as chunky as people seem to think it is and is all-round an OK phone. But that’s all. If I could get my list of contacts up in 1.5 seconds or thereabouts I’d be much, much happier. If I didn’t seem to spend most of my time on it waiting to see if I’ve actually pressed a button rather than actually using it, I’d recommend to anyone and everyone, but I do and so I can’t.

The Palm, on the other hand, is an absolute revelation. My model is about two years old, and was given to my by a relative who wasn’t really using it. I’d never used a Palm before (especially not a clié), although I had used several high-end PocketPCs and been fairly impressed. The consensus of most people I knew (and know), is that Palms suck – the poor man’s PocketPC if you will. If I had an equivalent PocketPC I’d be able to judge that aspect better, but as I can’t, for the time being I’m just going to say that my Clié rocks.

I’m of no doubt whatsoever that a lot of my good impression of the Clié comes from using both it and the 6600 daily – the Clié is mega responsive, you hit a button, something happens straight away. You can turn it on and off with impunity, as it doesn’t seem to have any concept of having to “boot-up”, the instant you turn it on, it’s in the exact state that it was when you turned it off – genius stuff. In fact the slowest part of it is when I load Plucker, a third party application used for reading documents (a desktop app can convert just about any normal PC text document such as a web page, text file or rss/rdf/atom feed into a Plucker document) which currently has about twenty of my subscribed feeds in it – this probably takes a whole second.

As far as I can tell it’s running PalmOS4.5, which is fairly old now, but most of the apps are pretty good, with plain, understandable options, and easy-to-use functions. The only two major downsides are the quality of the camera (which is pretty poor), and the fact that it didn’t seem to come with any manuals, which limits what I can do with it quite a bit – for example I have no idea of how to get photos I’ve taken with it back onto my computer! Google was no help, and I’ve not yet tried the Palm forums, which could be of some help.

So all in all, I like my Palm more, but now can’t survive without carrying both devices around with me at all times (my clié doesn’t have bluetooth built in like the 6600, and although bluetooth memory sticks are available, they’re generally far too expensive (around £250) to even consider, especially for a piece of hardware as old as the Clié). I’m fairly sad about this, as I was really hoping that the 6600 would suffice for the day-to-day stuff, but the lack of responsiveness and dodgy keys means it’s just not good enough. What it does mean, on the other hand, is that I’m now far more likely to take a look at the newer Cliés (you just gotta love that swivelling screen) to see what they can offer, and if it’s possible to get one that acts a little like the XDA from O2 - a PDA with a phone built in. If so, I wouldn’t think twice about dropping the 6600 immediately and switching.