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SMARTPHONES TAKE OVER

Biswajit.HD

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It’s time to forget about sitting at a desk or carrying a laptop everywhere you go. Today’s smartphones fit into your pocket and can do everything that’s needed.

It’s hard to believe that today’s phones are just as powerful as desktop computers were less than a decade ago. Apart from the freedom to move around, smartphones add new dimensions to our interaction, through video cameras, environmental sensors, GPS location awareness, and always-on Internet connections. In fact, even if phones weren’t so powerful, the advent of always-available online “cloud” services means you can safely cut the cord and live entirely out of the phone in your pocket. For those occasional times when you need more grunt, many of today’s phones can be expanded via video outputs, plug-in keyboards, Bluetooth accessories or even laptop-like docks with full-sized keyboards and screens. For personal entertainment, most of these smartphones have screens in the 3.5–4-inch range, which is great for watching movies without being disturbed. Huge libraries of streaming audio and video are available online, and if that’s too much for your 3G connection, just load up your phone at home—you won’t find less than 8 GB of storage space today!

It’s all about the platform

The first question you should ask yourself when considering a new smartphone is whether you need a full keyboard (which then precludes an iPhone) or you prefer a touchscreen (which makes BlackBerrys less likely). Beyond that, it’s all about the software you’d prefer to use. The operating system, tools and downloadable apps are what mainly differentiate the smartphones from different manufacturers today. You get different features and functionality from each of these platforms. We outline their basic strengths and weaknesses below:

iOS
We can easily divide the history of smartphones into “pre-iPhone” and “post-iPhone” eras, and we still wouldn’t be overstating the importance of Apple’s launch to this product category. This is the device that essentially redefined the entire category and made it possible for us to expect a level of power and ease of use that we never could before. The iPhone’s enduring popularity has much more to do with software than it does with hardware. Even four years after the first iPhone launched, not many competitors have managed to match iOS’s finger-friendly interface, multi-touch gestures and overall ease of use. Interacting with an iPhone is mostly painless. Users are bound to come across a number of niggles, mostly ways in which functionality is locked down, but overall, iOS gives users the tools and toys that they need quickly, easily, and without much fuss.

The greatest strength of iOS is its App Store. Apple pioneered the very idea of an app store, and has enjoyed many first-mover advantages. There are literally thousands of apps available—everything from currency converters to 3D games, network diagnostic tools and interactive magazines. Many are free and of surprisingly high quality.
However, power users could easily feel stifled. You don’t get true multitasking, there’s no easy way to store files or share them between apps (unless you have specific apps designed to share specific filetypes), options such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles aren’t available unless you drill down into the settings menu, and unless you want to deal with the hassles of jailbreaking, you’re limited to those apps that Apple approves.
Smartphone users who choose iOS will appreciate its polish and responsiveness, rich music and movie support, superb built-in Web browser, and the vast array of games and apps available.

Android
Android wasn’t much of a force to reckon with when it first appeared in late 2008, but more Android phones sell today than any other type. It’s the only thing that comes close to iOS in terms of look and feel, and after years of playing catch-up, Android phones are bringing some funky new ideas to the table. Most of the world’s major phonemakers now use Android, and while most models are the classic all-touchscreen candybar shape, a few come with interesting twists including sliding keyboards, huge speakers, and even dedicated game controls. The most important factor distinguishing Android from iOS is that it was designed to be open, flexible, and customizable. That’s both an advantage and a disadvantage—there’s a lot of innovation happening, but some manufacturers and carriers are imposing restrictions on the kind of things you’re allowed to do with your phone, such as what software you can install and when you’ll receive updates. This is leading to a bit of fragmentation in the market—there’s no single Android experience, and manufacturers aren’t always able to release satisfactory updates to older phones. If you want the true Android experience, look for the Nexus line that Google themselves design as showcases for what the stock platform can do. The Android Marketplace is growing steadily, and most popular apps are making their way over. Still, the pace of development is rapid, and the majority of excellent smartphone choices today run some form of Android. In the coming months, new possibilities for connecting accessories and controlling home appliances will make Android a serious force to reckon with.

Blackberry OS
Research in Motion is the only company apart from Apple to maintain complete control over both the hardware and the software that goes into its devices. Blackberry phones used to be the slickest and smartest around, but that was when “smartphone” meant “only good for business”. Large corporations still swear by the Blackberry ecosystem’s brilliant email and messaging features, so if you’re getting one from work, chances are you won’t have much of a choice. The messaging feature, a sort of exclusive instant messaging community, is probably the biggest reason people are buying Blackberrys today. If you’re buying a BB just because friends are pressuring you to join the gang, you might even find that the cost of a phone plus the data plan required make the “free” service more expensive than regular SMSes. On the consumer side, Blackberry phones now come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Their keyboards are probably the best in the business, but their touchscreens haven’t been well received so far. Their upcoming Bold 9900 model should combine the best of both worlds, with a standard BB keyboard and layout, plus touch functionality on the screen. BlackBerry OS definitely feels dated in comparison to today’s frontrunners, and the company has only recently started adopting friendlier menus and navigation. You won’t find anywhere near the variety of apps on a Blackberry as you will on the other platforms, and games are rarer still. If you spend more time on Twitter and Facebook than on Angry Birds, you’ll probably be happy with a Blackberry.

Windows Phone
To be honest, Windows Phone 7 feels more like a placeholder than anything else. Microsoft needed to compete in a changed world where people don’t want to poke screens with a stylus anymore, but it feels like there’s just too much missing for it to be a serious contender right now. Microsoft needed something to sell, however, so let’s hope that today’s Windows phones will be upgradeable when the inevitable updates do come out. On the plus side, Microsoft has laid down the law in terms of hardware requirements, so WP7 devices are slick and powerful. The user experience is fresh and unique—rather than mimicking real-world objects in its icons and app layouts, the “Metro” experience is unashamedly modern, electronic and eccentric. In fact we’re all a bit tired of seeing grids of icons now, so we’re excited to see where WP7 will go. We also like the use of homescreen “tiles” which combine shortcuts and status updates for individual contacts or sections, and “hubs”, which combine actions such as social networking and contact management, potentially making interactions easier but blurring the lines between casual contacts and close friends.
To its credit, Microsoft has managed to build not only a whole new OS from the ground up, but also a new way of thinking about what a smartphone should be. We’d wait at least till the much-awaited “Mango” update is released later this year, but you should still consider WP7 if you want something stylish and unique.

Others
Symbian is still popular in India, and Nokia will continue to release a few new models till it’s finally laid to rest next year. The platform has a lot going for it, including Nokia’s dependable hardware, but the lack of a clear future makes it almost certain that app developers will stop spending time and effort on it, so you’re doomed to a life of limited options. That said, Nokia’s latest devices are still excellent choices today, and Symbian will most likely live on in lower-end phones for a while to come.
WebOS was supposed to usher in a new dawn for the beleaguered Palm, but sadly, that was never meant to be. HP now owns it, which we hope will result in those phones launching in India, unlike Palm’s own Pre and Pixi that never took off here. WebOS has a brilliant multitasking system and handles notifications like no other. We’ll wait and see how its new owners capitalize on it, and whether app makers will finally jump on board.

Leave your laptop at home
Today’s smartphones are capable of doing anything you might need your laptop for on a business trip or holiday, plus much more. You can not only stay in touch via email and surf the Web without wires and dongles, but also capture HD video and play intense 3D games. Save yourself from shoulder aches and leave the bulky laptop behind. These are the best phones available anywhere in the world today.

Basic phone and text communication:
Voice clarity and battery life are important, considering your phone is still also a phone. See how the phone feels in your hand and choose one with a comfortable weight and grip. BlackBerrys are usually the styled well and are comfortable for long periods. The physical keyboard might make texting and typing more comfortable, but that’s an individual preference.
Best picks:
BlackBerry Bold 9780, Samsung Nexus S

Web surfing:
There’s nothing quite like breaking free from crippled mobile sites and browsing the full Web on your phone. Most handle Web surfing with ease, though the main pain point is still Adobe Flash support. Still, better standards mean you won’t really miss it much these days.
Best picks:
Apple iPhone 4,
Samsung Galaxy S II

Email and business:
Surprisingly, Microsoft’s own Windows Phone devices aren’t the best when it comes to syncing with a corporate Exchange server for mail, schedules and business collaboration. If you need to punch out lots of long emails, a physical keyboard will most likely be more comfortable in the long run. BlackBerry phones win this round hands down, followed by Nokia’s E-series.
Best picks:
BlackBerry Bold 9870,
Nokia E7

Cloud sync and backup:
Android was designed around the Web, and even though others try to integrate Web-based storage and backup features, it pays to have it all built in. When Google’s music and movie services launch later this year, these phones will be even better poised to take advantage of the cloud.
Best Picks:
HTC Sensation, Samsung Nexus S

Social Networking:
Get all your updates live and in real time! Chat with Facebook friends and send photos to Twitter without the hassle of logging into their websites or waiting for them to load. Social networking should be seamlessly integrated with the phone’s main functions, which is what the latest crop manage to do quite well.
Best Picks:
BlackBerry Torch 9800, Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc

Audio, video and streaming:
Considering how many iPods they’ve sold, it’s no surprise that Apple’s iPhone has the best media functionality. You’re stuck with iTunes for desktop syncing, but navigation and playback are easy as can be. It’s only if you need a much larger screen or advanced format support that you need to look elsewhere—the Nokia N8 for instance has HDMI output and can read files from USB pen drives (dongle required).
Best Picks:
Apple iPhone 4,
Nokia N8,
HTC Desire HD

Gaming and entertainment:
Again, just the sheer number of games available makes Apple stand out. The iPhone 4 has a tilt sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope, making control fun and intuitive. Sony Ericsson’s foray into serious mobile gaming on a phone has been a bit of a slow starter, but the Xperia Play should pick up steam soon.
Best Picks:
Apple iPhone 4, Sony Ericsson Xperia Play

Productivity apps:
iOS rules the roost in terms of polish and variety again, but Android is fast catching up. Productivity apps include schedulers, note takers, document editors, file storage and security tools, and even utilities that sync with online services.
Best Picks:
Apple iPhone 4,
LG Optimus 2X

Raw power and expansion:
Although it depends on the OS and software you’ll be running, the raw processing power of a phone greatly improves your chances of keeping up with the latest upgrades. To make sure you have enough grunt going forwards, dual-core CPUs are becoming the norm. For sheer oomph, the Atrix is a first-of-its-kind phone that can be docked into a laptop-sized shell for more comfortable use.
Best picks:
LG Droid X2,
Motorola Atrix 4G

Style:
There’s no point having a supersmart phone if you can’t whip it out and catch people staring in awe. If you want to look just as good as you’ll feel, there are plenty of slim, sleek choices available. Dress your phone up with any of the dozens of covers and accessories available for even more oomph.
Best Picks: Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, HTC Sensation

Source : Chip magazine.
 
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