Smartphones offer the functions of a mobile phone and a PDA in one device, but they are not for everyone. Here's what you need to know before buying one.
HTC Touch Pro is a compact smartphone option with a full QWERTY keyboard (Credit: HTC)
What are they?
Smartphones essentially eliminate the need for two separate devices by combining mobile phone and PDA functions in one unit. While they are generally more expensive than standard handsets — you can expect to pay anywhere between AU$600 to AU$1,500 for a decent unit — the extra functionality means that not only are smartphones replacing the humble mobile phone, but also, in some instances, the need for notebooks as well. Smartphones these days come in almost all the popular form factors, from the conventional handheld and candy-bar shape to sliders and clamshells.
Previously there had been a distinction between a smartphone and a PDA-phone, however, as the popularity for both kinds of devices increased, the lines which separated them blurred, making "smartphone" and "PDA-phone" interchangeable terms for the same class of mobile handset. Common features of smartphones include the ability to install applications; syncing contacts with PC and "push" email; and software to view and edit popular business files, like Microsoft Office documents and PDF files.
Why do I want one?
They're most appropriate if you spend most of your time away from the office and need to have access to your emails, contacts and appointments. They also come packed with tons of useful features, including a speakerphone, keyboard, Bluetooth, an infrared port and a camera. With increasingly more on-board multimedia features and cheaper flash memory cards, smartphones have become great companions for mobile entertainment, from picture and music playback to games and video.
The ability to install applications is becoming the most compelling reason to buy a smartphone. Apple's App Store shows the diverse range of applications being developed independently, with apps to improve your productivity or some excellent games to waste time with.
Apple iPhone 3G is the new smartphone in town, taking the world by storm (Credit: Apple)
Can I live without it?
The average user can live with the more rudimentary contact features within their mobile phones or continue to use a separate PDA if they've already purchased one. If you are looking at phones with more than just the standard PIM features, a smartphone is probably the way to go.
What else should I know?
Keep in mind that in addition to the expense and size of the device, if you go the smartphone route, you'll need a mobile plan that can accommodate the extra data usage involved in sending email and surfing the web. All the major carriers provide various data plans for mobile users. Also, check if the smartphone you're interested in has Wi-Fi capability, as this will relieve the strain on your data plan when accessing the internet when you're in the office or at home.
Windows Mobile 6.5
Pros: mobile versions of Microsoft Office applications, seamless integration with Outlook, wide range of brands to choose from
Cons: steeper learning curve than Palm OS
Major handset brands: HTC, Samsung, HP
Series 60 (Symbian)
Pros: lots of available devices, compatible with Flash, tight mobile Java integration
Cons: complex, steep learning curve
Major handset brands: Nokia, Samsung
Pros: solid, user-friendly platform; resource efficient; thousands of apps available
Cons: available exclusively to the iPhone, third-party apps controlled by Apple
Major handset brand: Apple
Pros: open-source, user-friendly platform; access to Google services; builtin App Market
Cons: Still feels like a work in progress; smaller developer community than Apple App Store
Major handset brand: HTC, Samsung, Motorola