How smart are smart phones?

I have wanted a geeky cool smart phone for a few years now and have been using a Dell Axim 5 Pocket PC since January 2003. While the Dell Pocket PC is not a smart phone, it is a device that has changed my life over the past few years. My Dell Axim came installed with Windows Pocket PC 2002. I have even been able to upgrade the operating system a year after I purchased it for $199.00.

This OS upgrade from Pocket PC 2002 to Pocket PC 2003, which I am still using on the device, was scary but easy to do. It speaks volumes for the flexibility of this device.

This Dell Axim has been the best portable PDA device that I have ever used. The key reason this Pocket PC has been so great for me is that it is capable of extending my current PC experience. The Pocket PC is able to do just about everything I do on my full Windows PC. I write blog posts, read e-mails, keep track of my calendar, and get access to my 1500 contacts — all with 1 gigabyte of SD storage.

The full truth is that this Pocket PC does not meet all my mobile needs. It does not have an always-on Internet connection, which cuts out the ability to send and receive emails, browse the Web, use instant messenger applications or download and stream digital media from anywhere.

To solve some of these limitations, I bought a Wi-Fi card that gets this device connected, but so few places have accessible Wi-Fi that it makes it almost useless. I can use it on my home Wi-Fi network, but it is better to use my Wi-Fi enabled laptop. The other downside is the massive power drain caused by the Wi-Fi card.

The reason that I am talking about my Pocket PC is that it helps set the stage for my expectation in a smart phone type device.

I was recently selected to be a blogger reviewer for Nokia N-Series phones. For a few weeks now, I have been using the just-released Nokia N90 smart video and picture phone. This phone is very capable, but does not entirely match my expectation for a phone PDA device. I believe that my Pocket PC has set my expectation in a smart phone type device. That is not to say this N90 is lacking in technology or cool integrated functions. I love its ability to get to Web sites via the Opera mobile phone browser and to retrieve multiple POP e-mail accounts. I also listen to Podcasts via Mobilcast software and it has very powerful technology to record and edit full motion video. It also takes very good 2 mega pixel photos.

I also own a 7.2 mega pixel Casio Exilim z750 digital camera, but it is not fair to compare these two devices. I am realizing that with the N90; I use the video and still camera functions more equally than I do with the Casio Exilim. I use the high quality video recording feature on the Exilim digital camera more than the still camera feature. That is not saying that the still camera at 7.2 is not high quality. I am concluding that as the quality of video recording on the phone goes up, the adoption also will go up. My own experience generally is that if I must choose between taking convenient high quality photos or high quality video that I will more frequently choose video.

I believe that people expect photos on the phone to be lower quality and this lower quality makes it easier to share because the file size is lower. I do think that quality of video and photography on the phone will get better. When we see 3-5 mega pixels imagers in mobile phones and full 30 frames per second video, then users will start replacing old phones with new ones.

I just came back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. I saw multimedia phones everywhere. Nokia had a new phone, the N91 music phone, on display that had 4GB of internal mini-hard disk drives. I was told that no US Wireless carrier had picked it up yet. Yet I had a sense that the handset manufacturers are being stonewalled by the carriers. The carriers want to deliver all the content that gets on their network only.

The Nokia N90 is a fairly large clam phone that has a unique swivel design that creates a typical camcorder form factor. The device has a small screen, but is very clear and colorful. The core issue for me is that this N90 is a phone first and I think that it might be better for me to have a phone that is primarily a PDA or Pocket PC type device with the phone capability and a larger screen.

The Nokia N90 is a Symbian operating system-based phone that comes loaded with a bunch of preloaded software that enables editing of photos and video. The device also comes loaded with cool moblog software called Life Blog. This software allows phone recorded video, audio and photos to upload directly and posted to a live personal Life Blog Web site.

I believe that this type of direct to the Web content publishing is going to be a very important way for millions of people who will want to share their personal media creations. This media sharing needs to have extensive privacy controls. You and I will need and want to select viewer groups that will only be able to get to these media posts with a user name and password or some other kind of user authentication.

Rob Greenlee is host of the WebTalk Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and webcast show featuring technology news and interviews. He is Senior. Marketing Manager for Mobilcast Network at