Editor’s Note: The following article appears in
PC World’s Techlog
I bought a new phone from AT&T week before last. I’m pretty happy with it. And the weird thing is, it isn’t an iPhone—it’s an
AT&T 8525, a Windows Mobile-based model that’s been around since the middle of last year.
I picked it up after a week of living with an iPhone, during which I learned that for all the cool things about it—and it is the coolest cell phone ever made—it’s not a practical everyday phone for me, or at least not as practical a choice as the 8525 is. Here’s why:
The iPhone isn’t 3G. Its version of Safari is a thing of wonder, but it’s profoundly hamstrung by the slow EDGE connection. The 8525’s Pocket Internet Explorer is no where near as evolved, but the high-speed UMTS connection pretty much evens the playing field in terms of overall experience, at least if you install a neat little add-on called
The iPhone can’t serve as a modem. And the 8525, despite being a Windows phone, works just fine as a wireless broadband modem for my MacBook. I’ll be able to use it instead of paying for hotspots and hotel broadband, which will save me lots of money when I travel.
The iPhone doesn’t talk to Lotus Notes. For you, that’s probably not a problem, but we use Notes at
, so it’s where my work mail and schedule live. The iPhone’s IMAP support lets it get Notes mail, but it’s as important to me to have my calendar on my phone as my in-box. I did work up a Rube Goldebergian, extremely manual solution involving exporting an ICS file from Notes, importing it into Google Calendar, having OS X’s Calendar grab that feed, and then getting it onto the iPhone via the Missing Sync syncing software. But AT&T’s Xpress Mail service, which works on just about all of its smart phones except the iPhone, puts my Notes calendar onto the 8525 wirelessly and automatically.
The iPhone doesn’t have a chat client. Chat’s a killer phone app for me, and while my favorite phone chat client, Verichat, was axed by Nokia after it acquired it, I’m using another app called IM+ that’s not bad.
There’s no Slingbox client for the iPhone. And I’ve grown addicted to watching my living-room TV on my phone—I’d rather have that option than to be able to download movies and TV shows from iTunes.
The iPhone doesn’t have enough storage to be my primary media player. Its iPod functions are things of joy, and the single place where the iPhone is a biggest advance on the 8525. But I carry my entire music collection and hundreds of podcasts with me, and since they won’t fit into the high-end iPhone’s 8GB, I still carry my iPod. So media isn’t a compelling reason to opt for the iPhone over the 8525. (I did, however, upgrade the 8525’s music capabilities by adding a 2GB card to it, and I’m syncing it with iTunes on my MacBook via
The Missing Sync.)
The iPhone requires too many clicks to get stuff done. Steve Jobs may be proud of the fact that the phone’s face has one button, but it makes for a cumbersome experience in a lot of instances. The 8525 has scads and scads of hardware buttons; it’s nowhere near as elegant as the iPhone, but I’ve programmed all of those buttons to take me directly to the applications I use most often. Speaking of which…
The iPhone is remarkably uncustomizable. Apple provides hardly any ways to tweak its applications or modify its default settings, and unless it opens up the platform, nobody else will be able to, either. By contrast, I’ve installed a third-party toolbar on the 8525, added the aforementioned PiePlus to Pocket IE, and done any number of other things to make the 8525 my own.
The iPhone doesn’t let you edit office documents.
And it doesn’t have a To-Do List.
And its note-taking app is too bare-bones to be very useful. The 8525 has the Pocket Office apps (far from perfect, but still useful), a decent To-Do program, and a respectable note-taking program. And if you don’t like the ones it comes with, there are an array of third-party alternatives. I think that Web-based productivity tools will quickly fill in some of the gaps that Apple left on the iPhone, but you won’t be able to use such services unless you’re online, and EDGE will be at least something of an issue.
The iPhone’s contract requirement rankles me. I can live with the fact that it’s a really expensive phone, but the fact it’s pricey, and there’s a two-year contract requirement drives me a little nuts. That AT&T does have a no-contract option but only offers it to people whose credit history it doesn’t like is even more annoying. Meanwhile, you can get the 8525 for
as low as $80
with contract. (I’m such an anti-contract whacko that I paid full price for a no-contract 8525—$599, same as an 8GB iPhone. Rather than relying on a contract subsidy from AT&T, I’m subsidizing the 8525 myself, by selling my old Treo 750.)
The iPhone’s virtual keyboard is surprisingly good; the 8525’s real one is better. A week with the iPhone showed me I could be adequately happy tapping out text on its screen. But I’m happier still with real keys with actual tactile feedback—the 8525’s slide-out keyboard provides nice big ones with a dedicated period key, real arrow keys, and other luxuries. And the dirty little secret of the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard is that it covers up so much of the screen that you lose a lot of the real estate and resolution that make the iPhone so sexy.
I don’t mean to sound like an iPhone basher or a Windows Mobile apologist—there are dozens of ways in which the iPhone is more impressive than the 8525, and it’s just plain fun in a way that the 8525 will never be. It’s a landmark device that people will marvel at years from now, when not a single Windows Mobile phone will be remembered by anyone outside of Redmond.
Ultimately, the iPhone vs. Windows Mobile question is remarkably similar to the Mac or PC one on the desktop—when I ask the people around
who have bought iPhones how they like them, they get the dreamy, smitten looks in their eyes that Mac fans often have. By contrast, I don’t think it’s possible to love a Windows Mobile phone, just as you’ll never meet anyone who feels strongly enough about Windows to put a Vista sticker in his or her car window. (Hint to Microsoft: I’d love Windows more, in both its desktop and phone incarnations, if it was more reliable—I’m having to reboot my phone even as I type this.)
I’m confident that nearly all of the issues I have with iPhone 1.0 will get fixed, either with software, via Web apps, or in future iterations of the phone; I wouldn’t be surprised if I turn into an iPhone person myself when the first 3G model comes out. And I’m lucky to work at
, where I’ll be able to use an iPhone every day if I feel like it, and watch the platform evolve, which it’s going to do quickly.
But for now, I’m remaining a happy and product non-iPhone owner, even if I lose out on the bragging rights that come standard with Apple’s handset. (People keep assuming my 8525 is an iPhone when they glance at it, and they’re always disappointed when they see it’s not one…)