A Cell, A Bell,And A Whistle

Published Date
01 - Aug - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Aug - 2007
 
A Cell, A Bell,And A Whistle


Now these aren't your run-of-the-mill cell phones... they're miniature computers aimed at making your existence just a little more upwardly mobile!

From being play-toys of the rich to becoming tools of some necessity, to trickling down to (most of) the urban masses, the mobile phone has taken almost too short a time to get to where it is in this country! There was a time around the mid-'90s when some people actually used to rent cell phones-the bricks of that era-to flash around at momentous occasions and social gatherings. Costing as much as they weighed, these devices were dysfunctional clods compared to what we have today. 

The technological improvements in cell phones have been colossal -comparable in scale to perhaps the difference between a 133 MHz Pentium 1 processor of yesteryear and a Core 2 Duo of today. Add to this the fact that underlying allied technologies have become phenomenally cheaper and you have the explanation behind the explosive growth of the cellular industry, not only locally but worldwide.

To the layman, what this translates to, of course, is better phones at lower prices. In fact, with respect to some of the devices we've tested this month, calling them cell phones is tantamount to an insult. They represent the new era of smart and truly connected devices.

Although we'd initially meant to test mostly PDAs and smartphones, we haven't forgotten our promise in May of covering a few of the mainstream models as well. You'll find a smattering of them in our entry-level category. We did a lot of market research and dug out some of the hottest handsets around for this comprehensive shootout. We've also split up the test into two very distinct categories-business-oriented devices (including PDA phones) and multimedia-oriented devices, to enable quick buying decisions!

Business Phones
Fondly called smart smartphones, PDA phones are the Einsteins of the handset world. In general, a PDA phone will have better hardware under its hood, and will be capable of running a greater variety of applications than will a regular smartphone. A faster processor and more memory equate to greater productivity, and a PDA phone will also offer additional connectivity and productivity options.

Earlier the cherished darlings of the rich, PDA phones have now become sufficiently inexpensive to be sought after by lesser mortals like executives and managers, who can utilise their many functions in a productive way. In fact, a PDA phone is also very much within reach of your average urban college-going spoilt brat (with a little money management).

Most PDA phones offer users the ability to work seamlessly with documents and spreadsheets, and will provide the flexibility of a full QWERTY keypad while providing wireless connectivity and e-mail client support, should you need to mail your labours to your boss in office while on a tour. A PDA phone is also a fraction of the size and weight of a laptop.

We called for 18 PDA phones, representing between them perhaps the best replacements for a laptop that your money can buy.

Gorgeous Value

(Up To Rs 17,000)
Features
A few years ago, expressing the desire to buy a smartphone (let alone a PDA) at this price point would probably mean a trip to a psychiatrist. These phones aren't strictly PDAs, and do sacrifice on some functionality in order to keep prices within bounds, but at half the price of a traditional PDA, heck, who's complaining…?


Nokia E50
Business is sleek

At under Rs 10,000, the Nokia E50 is truly light-weight, inexpensive and very compact. In fact, it is the slimmest phone in this category, and catches the eye because of its compact form factor. The colour itself (dull black) will not inspire much. The screen, though small, is brilliantly crisp, mainly due to the high pixel density (240 x 320). Although the camera is strictly so-so, this is forgivable for a business-oriented phone. The lack of Wi-Fi and a full keypad, and the ability to work with office documents (only document editing allowed, no creation) means this is more a smartphone than a PDA. However the price makes it a killer deal.

How We Tested 
The following is our division of the phones:

Business Phones Multimedia Phones 
Upto 17,000 Up to 12,500 
17,001 - 25,000 12,501 - 20,000 
above 25,000 Above 20,000 
Testing procedures were identical across the categories, except that the business phones were rated on their ability to work with office documents and their wireless data transfer abilities. Weightages changed too-for example, multimedia phones should have better cameras than, say, business phones, so we did not assign too many weightage points to a business phones' camera. Conversely, a business phone should have multiple connectivity options and a good application bundle, but for a multimedia phone, this isn't as important.

We divided features into the following broad heads, while awarding points for the presence or absence of a feature. Subjective criteria were awarded points on a scale of 10.

Features
Physical specifications: Characteristics like dimensions, screen size, weight, and form factor were considered here.
Memory: Inbuilt memory, expandable memory, and their characteristics.

Other phone features: These include address and call book capabilities, and features like voice recording and voice dial. We also recorded talk time and standby time here (according to manufacturer-quoted specs).

Connectivity: This includes all possible connectivity options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS, EDGE, etc.

Accessories: What came bundled on each phone (applications) and inside each box (accessories)
business functionality: We rated the ability to work with different documents, the interface of the phone itself while accomplishing the task, as well as the bundled applications that aid the purpose.

And finally, camera and media player features were listed.
We rated the build quality of the phones, more importantly, we rated ergonomics-from comfort to usability.

Performance
Signal and Voice Clarity tests: This is the most important test for any cell phone or business. Call quality and signal quality were looked at. We used two test zones-one was close to a window thereby giving a better signal (zone 2), and the other (zone 1) was right in the middle of our office, where even the strongest of cell phone signals die a non-mysterious death. We also tested hands-free clarity.

The Camera: We tested all possible aspects of the camera (if present) on each phone.

Multimedia: This test included quality of audio and video playback- basically a good test of the speakers, bundled headphones, and screen of a cell phone, aside from its processing hardware.

We also tested processing speed by multitasking, and Wi-Fi speeds were tested by transferring a 25 MB file from a laptop to the business phones. The laptop was a Core 2 Duo based, 1 GB affair connected to a Linksys WRT54G wireless router via RJ45 to ensure that the only bottleneck would be the wireless connection on the handheld's side.

Nokia's E61 and E62 duo have had their fair share of attention. With a large, clear, and crisp screen, and an even larger form factor that some like and others hate, these phones are definitely aimed at users looking at affordable PDAs. The two look identical, and are extremely well-built-very solid in-hand. A brilliant 2.8-inch TFT with 16 million colours is the right way to go, and the only difference between the functionality of the two is the inclusion of Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities on the E61. The QWERTY keypad is awkward to use at first, but after a couple of days, we really got used to them. Nokia should have made this duo slimmer-these phones just aren't for jeans! A single ear-bud is provided, meaning music wasn't given importance. Battery life is stellar thanks to the huge 1500 mAh battery on both phones. For some weird reason, both phones miss out on HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data), a feature present on the more basic E50.

Sony Ericsson's M600 is definitely a winner as far as looks and form factor go. Compact enough to fit denims, it also feels substantial in larger hands. The gorgeous screen feels bigger (though it's not) than the E61/E62 mainly due to its vertical alignment (both the Nokias' screens are wider than they are long). Although the touchscreen works rather well and picks up even finger hits, we have two complaints with the stylus: it's too short to write properly with, and after a while, it gets loose and keeps falling out of its holder-not acceptable! The keys on the M600 work surprisingly well-we were initially dubious about having two letters on a single key, but it works well: tap the left side of the oblong keys and you have a Q, tap to the right and you'll get a W. It just needs getting used to.

The only Windows Mobile (WM)-based device in test, HP's iPAQ 514 is their latest model; it tries to be a compact PDA by losing the QWERTY (typical on all other iPAQs). Based on WM6, this is a powerful PDA in the guise of a smartphone. It's built well, but feels built to a budget unlike other iPAQs, which, considering its price, seems fair.  The keypad does feel a little tacky, but is well-laid-out and comfortable to use. Voice Commander comes installed on the iPAQ 514, meaning you can go truly hands-free by using voice commands for commonly-used applications. Besides name-based number dialling, you can also voice-dial single numbers, that is, actually call out the number.

The Sony Ericsson M600's keypad is surprisingly usable-looks can be deceptive.
The Nokia E61 and E62 are even better!


One attractive-looking phone, finished in soft matte black, the Motorola A1200 has a very cool, translucent plastic flip cover over the screen. Like the ROKR E6, the Motoming a.k.a. the A1200 is Linux-based. Missing out on a keypad is never good unless the touchscreen is brilliant, and this is the A1200's first shortcoming-the touchscreen. We saw a lot of mis-registering stylus hits. There's very little space to type out characters, so composing SMSes is painful. Character recognition is not as good as WM or Symbian's UIQ. This mobile version of Linux definitely has its work cut out as a cell phone / PDA platform.

Performance
All the Nokia phones have good antennas, with almost no dropping in calls and reasonable voice clarity even in zone 1. The E50 in particular excelled here, and is definitely the benchmark-setter in this category as far as this parameter goes. The Sony Ericsson M600 takes fourth position overall, while the HP iPAQ 514 brings up the rear (voice clarity in zone 1 became a problem).

Although none of the cameras on the phones in this category are worth too many words, the E50 comes closest to being near-acceptable. The image quality on the iPAQ is poor.

If you plan on using your full-time business phone as a part-time music player, you'd probably want to take a look at the Sony Ericsson M600. The E61 / E62 duo do reasonably well-just make sure to invest in a 3.5 mm converter and get a decent set of earbuds. Video playback, too, is great on the E61 / E62, courtesy their large, high-colour displays.

The two brick-like Nokias were also the snappiest while multi-tasking, while the Sony Ericsson was the proverbial tortoise. Thankfully, a firmware flash seemed to get its gears in motion.

The Motoming gave us decent signal reception in zone 2, but very mediocre performance in zone 1. It's also not as good as its multimedia-oriented sibling, the Moto ROKR E6, as far as multimedia playback goes.

With only two of these phones supporting Wi-Fi, it wasn't much of a comparison, but for the record, the E61 is a little faster than the iPAQ 514. Wireless browsing on both phones is acceptable-a sustained speed of 1.35 MBps should be enough for everything expect heavy downloading.

Our Conclusion
The phones in this category deviate from the classical idea of a PDA. In fact, as our test revealed, these are simply business-oriented smartphones. The biggest attraction is their price-getting a full-fledged PDA phone for anything under 20,000 rupees is sadly still impossible. This is the next-best thing.

Flashy and gimmicky generally means a touchscreen. If you want a really nice form as well as flash-bling factors, then look at the Sony Ericsson M600. It doesn't have a camera, though. Decent music quality and a gorgeous screen (its highlight, really) will be yours for the taking.
The Motoming loses out on functionality. It's definitely not for serious business users; rather, it targets those in between a fully-functional PDA and something flashy. The Motoming is only for Motorola fans who want a touchscreen real cheap…

Nokia's E61 / E62 duo have very good build quality, great screens, and functional QWERTY keypads to their credit. The E61 bags the Digit Best Buy Silver award, and shadows its cheaper twin by a hairsbreadth with the inclusion of Wi-Fi-which in our collective opinion is a must for this type of device. If you need wireless connectivity, this is the sub-17,000 smartphone to buy. If you don't, the E62 will suffice. Being a newer model, the E62 has support for A2DP, something the E61 misses out on.

For someone looking at the flexibility and application support provided by Windows Mobile, look no further than the HP iPAQ 514 at this price point. It has all the basic tools to get your job done, Wi-Fi support, MS Office support, and a host of useful applications pre-installed. At Rs 14,000, this is the cheapest way to go WM!

Blackberry's Pearl features a compact yet functional QWERTY keypad
and a roller-ball-type joypad that makes navigation a snap


Finally, we have our Digit Best Buy Gold winner-Nokia's E50 was just too irresistible a package to deny it the award. A PDA it's not, but it's got nearly all the goodies except for wireless connectivity. The inclusion of a camera certainly doesn't hurt. Just right for the executive-who wants something that looks classy, is compact, and has all the necessary features for a business-oriented device, with some multimedia capabilities thrown in.
Beyond The Basics
(From Rs 17,001 To Rs 25,000)
Features


Sony Ericsson P990i
Features galore

This category is where the fun really starts, as each manufacturer now has a sizeable budget to work with to give even more functionality, and more importantly, usability. That word was missing in the sub-17,000 phones. What's the use of all the features in the world when they aren't usable… for example, a PDA that allows you to write MS Word documents, but doesn't give you a proper keypad to accomplish the task. As many users will testify to, working with T9 predictive text is a pain for anything longer than 30 words.

HTC's Touch was something to look at. Based around the iPhone-like TouchFLO navigation, this is one smart-looking phone. It's well-finished in velvet black, which gives it a soft feel. The navigation button on the front bezel looks amazingly attractive-large and white set in a chrome bezel. TouchFLO tries to cash in on the iPhone concept of using your finger to swipe around the screen, and it works pretty well on this phone. For example, swiping your finger on the HTC logo grants access to multimedia (music, photo, and video) content. The swipe also works well for contacts-swipe left for previous and right for next, and so on. The swipe motion needs you to exert a little extra pressure, which most users will have to adjust to.

HTC's D600 is a budget attempt at a PDA-but a good one. It's got an excellent screen, in fact, even better than that on the C800 (another costlier HTC model); it looks clearer. The buttons are also very well-placed on the front bezel-a good thing, considering it lacks a keypad.

The HTC C720W has a full QWERTY keypad, a little too much chrome on the front bezel, and a really nifty and functional set of touch keys on the front bezel that control volume with a finger-flick. The keypad compromises on spacing for compactness, and the keys are hard-but once again, it's quite usable.

The O2 Xda Stealth is the fourth WM device in this category. Rounded corners and black make for a good combination, and this phone features one of the best sliders around-smooth as butter, with just the right feedback even after a couple of weeks of use. The positioning of the stylus underneath the phone and too close to the USB port is quite an irritation.

One of the only devices with both number and QWERTY keypads, Sony Ericsson's P990i is a large phone, with a large and crisp screen. The iffy materials used on its exterior didn't leave a good impression. While the backlighting is excellent, the QWERTY is not ergonomic-the buttons are too small, and it takes some getting used to. The number keypad looks uncomfortable but is surprisingly easy on the fingers. This phone also has a good camera and a good media player. For the price (Rs 19,897), the SE990i has an extensive feature list.

Blackberry's Pearl features a compact yet functional QWERTY keypad and a roller-ball-type joypad that makes navigation a snap. One look at the screen icons will tell you this is no multimedia phone-very business-like, with loads of applications pre-installed. For example, Yahoo! Messenger and Google Talk are set to run out of the box. The Pearl is really well-built, and the compact form factor was something Blackberry sorely needed in their line-up.

Nokia N93-Look Ma, I'm A Camcorder! 
Nokia's N93 is a camcorder under the guise of a fully-functional cell phone. It's a clamshell phone that, once open, allows you to twist the screen, thereby orienting it for viewing while shooting. Incidentally, the camera is mounted on the side of the phone. This gives a handycam-type of feel while shooting.
The keypad is very well-laid-out: great key spacing, and good feedback and tactility. Even the joypad feels good under your thumb.

It's bulky at 180 grams, but not bulky for a camcorder, we say. With Wireless, 3G, EDGE, and Bluetooth support, the N93 is really connected. We were dissatisfied with the puny 128 MB memory card bundled, although the videos we shot turned out to be surprisingly compact.
While it's fairly middling at photo shooting (the N73ME beats it hands down), video shooting is what Nokia has been harping about. VGA resolution (640 x 480) at 30 fps is good, and capable of producing some nice, clear videos. With 3x optical zoom (the only cell phone with this feature!), the N93 makes no bones about where its appeal lies. Good-quality MP3 playback, too, is a definite plus.
At Rs 42,209, the Nokia N93 is definitely costly, but it's a phone that has no competition really when it comes to video shooting. It's as close as cell phones have come to digital camcorders, but to be honest, to that section of consumer electronics the gap is more a chasm at the moment. We hope to see bigger and better sensors, higher video resolutions, and a longer optical zoom on Nokia's camcorder range in the future. If you aren't into video shooting, give the N93 a miss-other cell phones will do all it does at half the price!

Performance
The Sony Ericsson P990i offered some swift Wi-Fi transfers-to the tune of 1.75 MBps! This PDA offers great music quality while suffering a bit in on call quality.

During the voice clarity tests, the HTC phones revealed where their true genes lie-and it's definitely not as a handset. Functionality-yes, call clarity-needs to improve.

The best phone in this category was the Blackberry Pearl. In fact, it was much better than anything else in the previous category as well. Amazing… no voice distortion even while moving from zone 2 to zone 1! It does have its weak points, though-like the mediocre camera.

Our Conclusion
It's smart looking, and it's functional, not to mention nifty-and more, it's our Best Buy Silver: the HTC Touch-unbeatable value for money at under Rs 20,000. Definitely for you if you want a flashy PDA with almost all the features.

If you're looking for a multimedia-rich PDA, the Sony Ericsson P990i will fit the bill. Just remember a belt case is a must, as this phone won't fit tight jeans-we suggest you avoid trying! A good camera, a great media player, two keypads, a good screen, and all the connectivity you'll need-Digit Best Buy Gold belongs here!

The RIM Blackberry Pearl is just as flashy as the HTC Touch, but its talents are more subtle, less in-your-face. It's very functional, very Internet friendly, and it has a stellar antenna to keep your phone calls connected almost everywhere. If all this appeals, then by all means, take the plunge. We feel the price is a little steep, especially considering some of the other phones in this test. Do not forget that Blackberry phones aren't available off the market shelf. They are sold with select service provider schemes.

 
Corporate Mates
PDA Phones (Above Rs 25,000)

Features
Being a corporate user, you'll probably scoff at many of the contestants in the previous two categories. You receive a hundred mails a day. A QWERTY keypad and a fully-functional document assistant aren't something you flash about-you actually use every feature to the fullest. In such a case, money isn't the sole concern-functionality and feature-convergence is.

The GPS-ready ASUS P535 is a standout looker. It's compact, has exceptional build quality, and sports a dark grey body that suits boardroom environments. It comes with the richest software bundle we've seen in a while. Take a look at Voice Commander 2.0, a remote control / presentation utility, a GPS utility with detailed maps, an encryption software that protects all your pry-worthy data from prying eyes, and a business card scan utility that works really well. A 2 MP camera with auto-focus hasn't been forgotten.

HTC's C800 is another solidly-built device with pleasing aesthetics, except for the all-chrome buttons on the front. The full QWERTY that slides out from the side is a big plus. It's large enough for the ham-handed, and it doesn't add to the dimensions of the phone.
O2's Xda Zinc has a form factor identical to that of the P535 and the C800, but like the former, it misses out on a full QWERTY keypad. Button ergonomics are good, though some may find that the light grey body catches stains a little too easily.

A QWERTY keypad and a fully-functional document assistant
aren't something you flash about if you're a corporate user-you
actually use every feature to the fullest


The old man in this test was IMate's Jasjar. Despite the fact that the Jasjar is essentially a 2005 model, it has all the features needed to make it here, including a huge 3.7-inch screen that actually sports an unheard-of VGA (640 x 480) resolution. Then there's the full QWERTY keypad that is revealed when you open the laptop-like lid. The best-laid-out QWERTY in test, period! It uses the now-ancient 802.11b Wi-Fi protocol, and at 285 gm is by far the heaviest PDA now in our labs.

Nokia's Communicator series gets a new flagship-the E90 exemplifies what the Communicators are all about. The hinge quality has been beefed up, the camera now captures 3.2 megapixels, and both screens now display 16 million colours. Incidentally, the smaller outer screen is very crisp and ultra-usable-something earlier Communicators missed out on. The keypad is typically Communicator-good tactile feedback and well-laid-out.

RIM's Blackberry 8800 is their flagship, and it shows: a well-laid-out QWERTY, and all the great features aboard the Pearl minus the camera that RIM figures corporates could do without anyway. But mysteriously, Wi-Fi is absent. When you take into consideration that this phone will be part of a service provider bundle, this seems to make sense. Browse using GPRS if you must!


Nokia Communicator E90
The new brick!

Performance
Despite our best efforts at signal scrambling, the Blackberry 8800 wasn't fazed one bit-signal quality was even better than that of the brilliant Pearl. This 8800 loses out on multimedia performance-music quality isn't really acceptable-you just have to live with the fact. The screen is good, however, and that makes for a good visual experience, as we discovered in our video playback tests.

Nokia's E90, too, has good signal quality, and is snappy to boot. Its camera does surprisingly well,and at 2.1 MBps on our WLAN, this PDA is truly for the wireless at heart.

ASUS' P535 is very responsive and has decent signal quality too. Some loss in voice clarity in zone 1, but that was acceptable.

The Jasjar didn't drop any calls, but quality was low, especially in zone 1; do not opt for this phone if cellular reception is an issue in your area, and if that is an important factor affecting your decision. That aside, music playback is very good-a 3.5 mm jack is always appreciated. Wi-Fi performance was surprisingly good considering the older 802.11b protocol in use.

Both the HTC C800 and O2's Xda Zinc performed better than the Jasjar as signal strength and quality go.

Our Conclusion
For an unbeatable mix of features, like a stellar screen (two screens actually), a great keypad (both keypads in fact), good signal quality, and unbeatable connectivity options, the E90 is special. Add to the party loads of applications bundled, a great camera, and quality accessories… It sums up to a Digit Best Buy Gold award-Nokia's E90 is highly recommended to corporate users who need the features and don't mind the size.

It's hard to recommend the Imate Jasjar to anyone looking for a PDA phone, despite its features and performance. For one, the model is on the verge of being phased out. It does have the most easy-to-work-with screen of the bunch.

Our Best Buy Silver winner, the ASUS P535, is a combination of great and usable features, superb build, functionality, and a good bundle. How we long for a QWERTY keypad on this one! GPS means it's the PDA for road warriors who don't want to invest in an add-on GPS unit.

The Blackberry 8800 makes for a sensible purchase if you're looking for one-touch connectivity to mail and popular chat services; remember that service providers have special schemes for SIM cards bundled with this phone.

MULTIMEDIA PHONES

The difference between a multimedia phone and a business phone is more about about the way manufacturers position devices than anything. For example, Nokia has always had a business series of phones. They now choose the prefix "E" to denote "enterprise," we presume, to denote this category. Their multimedia series now has the prefix "N" (Njoy? Ntertainment? You choose.) Similarly, Sony Ericsson has a "P" series for business class phones, and a "K" series for camera phones. Their Walkman series of phones have model numbers prefixed with "W".

The one thing to remember is that 99 per cent of all phones are built to a price. While thinking business phone, a manufacturer would think office productivity, long e-mails (read QWERTY), and Wireless LAN, among others. Similarly, multimedia phones are used for entertainment, and the tools for entertainment are good PMP features and quality, funky looks, a good camera, and such. With looks ranging from sexy to cute to bizarre, there's literally something for everyone.

After sorting through this month's lot of phones, we selected 19 of them for a comparison shootout that spanned three categories.

Grab 'Em Hot!

(Up To Rs 12,500)

Features
The tiniest phone in this category has the soul of an MP3 player-the BenQ-Siemens' EF51 has a flap that holds all PMP buttons (playback, next / previous track, pause, etc). Open the flap and the keypad appears. A tiny screen with blurry icons isn't really fun, though.

Samsung had a trio of phones in this category. The SGH-E840 is by far the best looking of the lot. With an ultra-slick slider, this phone has touch-type menu buttons. The keypad is a little recessed, but feedback isn't a problem. The other two Samsung phones were the slimmest phones we received.

LG's KE820 is an unusual-looking phone. A wide phone with a large keypad that much resembles the keys on a calculator, this is nonetheless really comfortable to type SMSes on. The screen is a let-down: blurry. On to the Motorola KRZR K1: Motorola really has their ergonomics right, and while attending a call, the KRZR K1 feels natural in the hand, and the positioning of the speaker and mouthpiece is such that they coincide with your ear and mouth respectively. Some of us liked the keypad, some didn't (too much colour), but it's well-laid-out overall, and feedback is good.

Nothing extraordinary about the Nokia 6300 as looks go. A slim phone, slightly long, with a solid steel back, the 6300 is built to last. A good screen, great on-screen icons (typical Nokia), only Samsung's E840 gives it a bit of a run for its money as far as the display goes.


Nokia 6300
Sleek and functional

Performance
Nokia's 6300 dominated both the call and audio quality tests. In zone 1 the signal quality was pretty good, very little distortion; zone 2 had no issues whatsoever.

Despite having dedicated PMP buttons, the tiny BenQ-Siemens' audio quality is mediocre at best. The real culprit is the lower-quality headset that comes bundled. The audio quality on the Samsung phones is also mediocre; once again, poor-quality headphones are the culprits rather than the device itself. The only redeemer for them is the SGH-E840, which offers decent call reception and acceptable music quality.

Coming to the camera quality, let's face it-none of these devices have cameras worth anything more than a cursory shot. Samsung's SGH-X820 and SGH-E840 offer the best cameras in the sub-12.5 grand block. Since none of these phones have a lot of applications installed, they're all reasonably fast.

Our Conclusion
If you're looking for a good phone in this category, Nokia's 6300 will satisfy at Rs 11,489. Its overall dominance in our tests, and signal quality in particular aside from the solid build, make it one of the candidates for our Digit Best Buy Gold award.


Samsung SGH-E840
Slick Slider

However, this was a close affair: the Samsung SGH-E840 was neck and neck all the way, with the 6300 just sneaking ahead by a hairsbreadth. Samsung's E840 shares the precious yellow with Nokia-joint Best Buy Gold. These phones are very different, however-the Samsung should be your choice if you want a slick-looking phone with a decent camera; just 10,700 rupees.

If you want a cool-looking clamshell phone, the Motorola KRZR K1 is for you. At under Rs 10,000, and with great build quality, a flashy keypad, and a body that will get onlookers all hot and envious, this is a good phone for college-goers who want something compact and curvaceous.

Dare To Flash

(Rs 12,501 To Rs 20,000)

Features
Motorola is the only brand to have featured a touchscreen phone in this price category. The ROKR E6 uses Tux mobile (Linux), similar to the Motoming (the A1200). Neither phone had any sort of a number keypad, a glaring omission in our opinion. Just try typing with an on-screen keypad and a stylus and you'll understand why. The typing area on-screen is also limited to a small patch where letters are detected. Also, only characters can be detected, not entire words (Windows Mobile does that). These gripes aside, it's a brave effort from Motorola-touchscreen phones rarely cost under Rs 20,000.

Last year's winner, the N70, quickly gets overshadowed. The 5700 Xpress Music is a quality offering from Nokia featuring a twist keypad similar to the one on the Nokia 3250. The other side of the keypad has dedicated music keys.

The best-looking phone in this comparison (this writer's personal choice!) is the Sony Ericsson K790i. An exquisite matte-finished rear (some soft-feeling surface coating) contrasts well with the piano black finish on the front. The bezel surrounding the screen is brushed metal, again black. A good keypad and a joystick smooth as butter makes working with this phone a delight. The ultra-crisp screen and high-resolution icons are other attractions. While on topic, how does a 3.2 MP camera with an ultra-bright Xenon flash sound?

The SE W880i is the slimmest phone in this category. Surprisingly usable, though-the buttons are tiny and good for similar fingers. The joypad looks painful at first but works well. The W610i has an even smaller keypad that is uncomfortable if you're using your fingertips: the trick is to use your nails. The circular menu buttons don't offer feedback and you need to press at a particular place to get the desired key hit, else it might not register. The older W810i is still around-decent keypad, and a crisp-looking, small screen.

Performance
Camera…? One word-K790i. This is perhaps the best 3.2 megapixel camera out there (neck and neck with the N73's camera). Brilliant image quality, and colours are reasonably neutral, with only a slight hint of red. All this at default settings; we could have seen better results with a little tweaking, but we reminded ourselves that this wasn't a digital camera test. The other cameras are mostly mediocre, with the Sony Ericssons sporting the best image capture hardware. The only possible gripe against the K790i is the painful SIM removal. To be sure, not many users would keep swapping SIMs, so this shouldn't sway you.

The Nokia N70 performed surprisingly badly in the signal quality tests-we even got a couple of disconnected calls. Voice quality wasn't bad, but the call getting disconnected wasn't fun. This happened in zone 1; zone 2 was a little reassuring, but still by far the worst of the phones. Hands-free quality was, strangely, the best in the test.

Coming to PMP capabilities, we were surprised to see the "best sounding as an MP3 player" award going to a non-Walkman phone. In fact, the K790i pushed away from all its Walkman siblings to grab the accolades here. It's just limited by the mediocre headphones.

Nokia's 5700 did well in the music test, aided by good headphones of the supra-aural type. We also liked the concept of the wireless earphones on the ROKR E6. While these sound good, they are a little uncomfortable. People with smaller ear canals, watch out!


Sony Ericsson K790i
Awesome camera, great music…

Our Conclusion
Sony Ericsson's K790i is simply unbeatable-an excellent camera, great music quality, an excellent screen to add to a good keypad, and excellent joystick. A no-brainer-the Digit Best Buy Gold to this excellent all-rounder. Highly recommended if you have a budget of rupees 16,000.

The Digit Best Silver award has been bagged by Nokia's 5700 Xpress Music, we declare. Good music quality, a good screen, and nifty MP3 buttons! Do pad up your thumb before touching the joypad though!

If you want something slim yet very inconspicuous looking, consider SE's W880i. Just remember, you'll pay a hefty premium for the features. If you're OK with something just a little less slim, go with the SE W610i-it's a little flashy (lots of orange). Both these phones performed well overall. Remember, these should only be your choice if you absolutely do not like the looks of the K790i. However, this would be a rare event indeed, and most users will just blindly buy the K790i-superlative choice really…

Nokia's 5700 is not an option-not with the K790i around in a similar price range.

The Motorola ROKR E6 is another phone that grabs attention. A touchscreen and a Bluetooth headset (which costs Rs 3,000 extra), this is something for those who like to flash their handsets around.
Nokia Sirocco 8800 Gold Edition: Of Luxuries And Sinful Indulgences! 
So you've got the cash to burn, but being the self-made millionaire that you are, spending upward of 5 lakhs on a Vertu seems criminal. Enter the 8800 Sirocco and Nokia's upmarket offering, for those who delineate the term upwardly mobile. A beautiful box, well designed accessories, and a phone whose body is glossy steel that will shimmer when exposed to light will greet you. You immediately get a feeling of cash well-spent (though we can't afford to test this parameter!). Remember to have your valet carry around chamois leather with him-the surface of this phone is a smudge magnet.
The display is scratch-resistant sapphire glass. You won't think much of the display itself once you see the N95 (256K colours and 208 x 208 pixels doesn't seem much in comparison), but who gives a hoot about the screen when you probably have PAs to do all your dirty work, right? That said, the display is crisp in its own right, owing to its smaller size. Two batteries are provided, and so is a neat-looking charging dock that can charge your phone and the spare battery simultaneously.
The 8800 has an unbeatable slider (quality- and ergonomics-wise) that we initially had no clue how to operate. Pushing downward on the keypad recess to reveal the keypad does nothing and we thought, "Oi, what's up here!" Instead, you have to push upward on the silver-coloured protrusion. Voila! The display and keypad slide out together. Engaging is a very decisive metal click. We must have done this at least 200 times on the phone-absolutely no give in the mechanism, superb!
The 8800 Sirocco has 128 MB of memory onboard with no expansion. Music quality is good; however, with a paltry amount of storage, you're never going to ditch your PMP. The camera is strictly decent-more for show than anything. Incidentally, the lack of a POP port (ugly things those!) means you will be solely reliant on Bluetooth for data syncing. Best leave that task to your PA.
The 8800 Sirocco, true to its pedigree, is all about class and less about functionality. It's a full fledged phone and gives you the added functionality of a camera and a music player. This is not where the charm lies in though-simply carrying around a Sirocco is bound to get you a lot of attention! Think of more as a fashion accessory and an essential part of your designer wardrobe! At rupees 65,000 it'll bring out the latent class in that Armani (while ensuring your PA stays busy!).


Super, Smart, Sexy

(Above Rs 20,000)

Features
The LG KG-920 stands out here-very gimmicky-looking, with an array of buttons sticking out from nearly every angle. A lot of buttons usually spells ergonomics with a capital E. The camera button is beautiful-soft click (less chances of shaking) with great feedback; not so the other buttons. The joypad is hard on the fingers owing to sharp ridges. The tiny keypad is a pain for all except the tiniest fingers. The sharp screen is a plus.

The Sony Ericsson W950i is basically an M600 in a different garb-the Walkman series colour tones are evident, and the QWERTY is absent. The diaphragm type keys work well, but longevity is an issue with such keypads-you can't replace the keys. A brilliant screen dominates the W950i. The stylus gets slippery in its sheath after a few weeks, though.

The Nokia N73Music Edition is a weirdly long phone. Wonder why so much of space was wasted below the gorgeous screen! A larger keypad would have been appreciated. Feedback is good, though, but the joypad is once again a pain. No such ergonomic issues on the other Nokias, though. The N80 feels a little chunky and boasts of a surprisingly high resolution screen (352 x 416) pixels. We'd like to have seen a larger screen though-just not enough real-estate to take advantage of all those pixels! The N73ME is all black, and comes with a 2 GB memory card. Nokia's POP to 3.5 mm converter is bundled too-this accessory costs Rs 1,000 all by itself.

The N95 is superb in every way except one: its slider isn't tactile, and feels tacky. Whether this is intentional or not we don't know, but extra friction should affect life, in our opinion. The display's absolutely superb, and with 2.6 inches displaying 16 million colours, everything looks clear, crisp, and rich… The phone also has GPS inbuilt; although Nokia's maps are currently rudimentary, this can only get better.

Performance
We spent a lot of time with the N73ME, having used the N73 before this. The inbuilt speakers are powerful-more so than those on the N95. Music quality is very good, with higher volumes than those on the SE K790i. Clarity is good, but the midtones sound a little recessed. A good set of earplugs will get the most out of this phone.

The N95 has a superlative camera, a little better than that on the LG KG920, which nonetheless has the second-best camera in this entire test. Excellent colour rendition, great clarity and crispness, with good detail mean both these phones can easily replace a mediocre digital camera. The N73ME also has a brilliant camera, and places a joint third (with the K790i, not part of this category).

The N80's camera isn't as good as those on the other two Nokias-no auto-focus is a big no-no for anyone even remotely interested in cell phone photography. The slider on the N80 is more tactile than the one on the N95. Once again, longevity cannot be commented on, considering our limited duration hands on with these phones.

Sony Ericsson's W950i offers good quality music. The only problem is the poor maximum volume levels. The N73 / N95 duo wins hand down here. The LG KG920 isn't quite in the same league as the other phones when it comes to PMP capabilities.

Our Conclusion
The Nokia N95 is a very expensive device but also the most powerful multimedia phone in the market right now. An excellent camera, great keypad, great music, excellent screen, 160 MB of onboard memory, and a fast processor that runs the inbuilt GPS application flawlessly. Our Digit Best Buy Silver award belongs here-a topping on an already delicious treat.

Our Best Buy Gold-the N73 Music Edition-is a little more down-to-earth, something you (and with luck, we!) can afford. This phone has a great camera, superb music performance, and a crisp, large screen.

If you want a touchscreen phone, look at SE's W950i-though we can't really recommend it because of the high price tag (Rs 24,995). The 4 GB inbuilt memory is a plus, too.

Nokia's N80 is a classy-looking phone if you can get past the bulk. For the same price as the N73ME, you get Wi-Fi. You get a less capable camera and music player in return.

LG's KG920 has a lot of features for the price, but it loses out on ergonomics big time. Still, it's attractive-looking in a unique way!


Nokia N73ME
The audiophile's delight!

Summing It All Up
We've noticed the sharp increase in the number of higher-end phones-Rs 16,000 and above-in the market. Convergence is a keyword with such phones. It's a pleasant surprise to see people demanding more out of their phones. Better cameras, better PMP capabilities, and all-round usability: people have turned demanding, and more importantly, discerning. Earlier all a vendor did was say glibly, "This phone has FM"-done deal, sold. Now customers want to know whether the phone supports Wi-Fi, and whether the Bluetooth supports A2DP. They know their MMCs from their miniSDs! This is a trend we're thrilled to see emerge-may it continue! This trend has also caused prices to fall drastically. Although MRP prices take a while to fall, it's the all-determining street prices that keep plummeting.

By December 2006, India was ranked among the top five cellular markets globally, behind giants like China and the US. By 2008, cell phone penetration is expected to cross the magical 50 per cent mark worldwide. India is expected to contribute upwards of $25 billion (Rs 1,00,000 crore) as annual revenue by 2011 (current revenues are around a third of that figure). The contributing factor to this growth is, naturally, demand. Demand itself is a function of the binaries of population and necessity on one hand, and falling service provider charges on the other. The recent entry of Vodafone in the Indian market should also be a factor as it will, in all probability, affect international call rates. With domestic rates at an all-time low, many people are actually opting for a second cell phone and entirely doing away with their fixed voice lines.

The only area we're still to see cell phones really penetrate is the data arena where broadband is still reigning supreme, and Internet browsing is largely restricted to mail checking, downloading little themes, etc. Wi-Fi is emerging as a connectivity option, but is largely restricted to airports and certain large shopping malls. Current devices support extremely high speeds, but infrastructure is lacking. Storage is another issue… solid-state drives promise to resolve that one, and we're seeing 16 GB Flash modules penetrate the computer market. More please! 


Michael BrowneMichael Browne