My pursuit of a PDA phone with data services

Kristopher and I were on the pursuit to find the perfect phone last summer. I settled on the Samsung T809 through T-Mobile due to its size, form factor and features. The features were still lacking, however, I was able to flash the European firmware from a Samsung D820 onto it to gain extra functionality such as Outlook synchronization and document viewer. It was like a new phone afterwards. The happiness was short lived when Samsung PC Studio had issues synchronizing my schedule with Outlook.

I gave up on the idea of having a single phone that would handle all my tasks for a while. Attending CES was painful with the Samsung T809. The Picsel Document Viewer, while neat, is a pain to use when actually viewing files.  It was faster to have the meeting schedule printed out on paper then attempt to view an Excel file on the T809, or even attempt to synchronize it with Outlook.

I still love the phone and it works great as a standard phone for texting and talking, but I needed more. The problem with purchasing the Samsung T809 was I had to sign a new contract with T-Mobile for two years. It doesn’t help that it’s a family-shared line with four phones either  – mine, dad’s, mom’s and my little sister’s phone all on the same account. I have also been with T-Mobile for nearly seven years with the same number and I would hate to lose this number.

In addition to the Samsung T809 I had on T-Mobile, I had a VoIP line with Vonage. I was never pleased with Vonage. The call quality was disappointing and the VTECH phone and Vonage receiver in one was not exactly great either. People would have trouble hearing me and calls would have lots of noise and static. Sure unlimited calls anywhere to US and Canada were nice, but I hardly ever used it. It did not help that Kristopher would constantly call my cell phone instead of my Vonage line either.

The thought of a PDA phone with data plan has been lingering in the back of my mind for quite a few months. It would be nice to have access to my email, full Outlook phonebook and schedule again. I could not abandon my Vonage phone number, since it is on all my business cards, so instead I transferred the number to a new PDA phone.

The PDA phone is my second phone and compliments my Samsung T809. It is also my primary work phone and I can leave it at home when I am not needed for DailyTech matters.

Cingular, now the new AT&T, was my network provider of choice. I picked Cingular because it is GSM and I love being able to swap out phones with a simple swap of a SIM card. It is also nice to have access to 3G when I am down in the Seattle-area, down in San Francisco or Vegas too, though I am stuck with EDGE/GPRS at my home in Bellingham, WA. International roaming support is particularly nice too, especially when I am in Asia. Nevertheless, I went with a basic 450-minute plan with unlimited data and I could not be happier. The process of transferring my Vonage number to Cingular took less than two weeks – typical for transferring a landline number.

Picking out a phone was somewhat annoying. At first, I wanted something small and pocket-sized, thus I initially picked up a Samsung BlackJack -- decent phone looks great with decent functionality. However, after using an iPaq 6315, it was hard to use Windows Mobile without a touch-screen. Application compatibility was also painful with the BlackJack; not many applications support it yet. The Samsung BlackJack went back in exchange for the Cingular 8525, also known as the HTC Hermes.

After using various HTC models such as the Sprint PPC-6700 and T-Mobile MDA, I love the slide-out keyboard.  I considered the Palm Treo 750, however, it cost more upfront and I prefer the slide-out keyboard.

I have to say, I have never been happier with a phone. I loved my Samsung T809, but the Cingular 8525 does everything I want it to without having to flash it with European firmware. Unlike Kristopher’s experience with his HTC Wizard, my Cingular 8525 is rock solid – not a single system crash.

The form factor is very nice. It works just as well in my hand without the use of the touch screen as the Samsung BlackJack while still having a touch screen just in case. The scroll-wheel and “close button” on the left side of the phone eases stylus-less navigation. It looks nice too. After having the phone for over two weeks, I have yet to have problems with application compatibility.

I installed the following applications so far:
The applications work well and streaming live TV from a SlingBox is neat. Streaming video from my desktop PC via Orb is cool as well, though I will go further into that another time.

Overall, I am satisfied with my Cingular 8525; it is a very feature-rich and powerful phone. Although Windows Mobile 6 was recently released, Cingular does not have plans to release an upgrade for the 8525. However, Cingular is preparing its Windows Mobile 5 AKU 3.3 update for next quarter. Brave Cingular 8525 users can install a custom version of Windows Mobile 6, though I am not that brave yet.

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer
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