“One device to rule them all and in the darkness bind them …”

June 30, 2005

Convergence is a term we have all heard of – and the new range of devices hitting the shelves are delivering true all-in-one communication capabilities. Many lawyers are out on location for extended periods, and need to keep in touch: they certainly want a mobile phone, would like easy access to e-mail, need to make appointments and perhaps would like to make the odd note from time to time.

A few years ago, this would mean a mobile phone the size of a brick and a laptop that threatened spinal injury, plus cabling to allow access to someone’s office network, but this need no longer be so. Everything could now be done with a device no bigger than your hand – and perhaps smaller even than that. This article looks at two devices that could make your life much easier and asks which of them would be the best buy for a lawyer.

Sony Ericsson has been producing smartphones for some time now – they are devices intended to combine the communications of a mobile phone, while providing PDA[1] functions (agenda, contacts, tasks, notes) as well. The P800 was slightly bulky, but well received, and its successor, the P900 has been a runaway success. The P900 has recently been updated to a P910 – and some improvements in that model will be noted in this review.

So it’s been successful, but this review will pit the P900 against a Pocket PC rival – the HP ipaq h6340. This grew out of a new chip developed by Texas Instruments, the OMAP 1510 processor which delivered the WANDA[2] design concept. It basically allows a device to use GSM/GPRS mobile phone communications, WiFi and Bluetooth – all on one device. So you could talk to someone on the phone, using your Bluetooth headset while surfing the Web at the same time. Amazing. The P900 does not have WiFi but does do GSM/GPRS and Bluetooth.

Both the P900 and the h6340 proved easy to use, navigation of the devices was fairly intuitive and connections were easy to make. The screens were bright and colours bold. The speakerphone on the h6340 was not so good, however. Going under the skin proved a different story. One point is perhaps worth making: without a SIM card, the P900 would not start, so access to agenda etc. functions was denied. The h6340 on the other hand functions perfectly happily as a Pocket PC without a SIM card.

First Impressions

The P900 is gorgeous and something of a fashion icon at the moment – small, only slightly larger than an ordinary mobile, but with a flip down number pad that reveals a larger screen. It is in this flip-down mode that you can access a wider range of applications that use a full screen; with the flip up, it is more like a conventional mobile, but even here, there is access to some applications (including agenda and contacts) using the part of the screen left uncovered by the flipped-up number pad. It is light and comfortable to hold.

The h6340 in comparison is something of a breeze block. Worse than that, it has a large protruding antenna, which adds considerably to the length. It is lighter than it looks (only 190g against the P900’s 150g), but it is a still a handful. It is too large and heavy to use as your ordinary phone, but if you are the sort of person that reads articles like this, you have probably already got a Bluetooth headset anyway, so size and weight are not important. And anyway, you will look ridiculous talking into a Pocket PC.

HP did not know what to do with all this connectivity: the h6340 started life as a super all-in-one device with digital camera thrown in. Some companies disapprove of employees having cameras in the office, so the camera was taken out for this model, and models with the camera are hard to find[3]. This device is aimed fairly and squarely at the corporate market – and the place where the lens should be is simply covered by a rather ugly piece of plastic, which is not aesthetically pleasing.

P900 – 9

h6340 – 3

Going Deeper: Usability

I quickly became irritated by the P900 – you can turn the keyboard sounds off, but the OK button you cannot (apparently) silence. If you put it in your pocket, or carry it on a belt strap, you will repeatedly press the OK button by accident, which will therefore beep at you as you walk along, making you sound somewhat like a bionic man. It sounds minor, but it became very annoying and must have irritated the testers while it was still in prototype.

While large, the h6340 fits in a shirt breast pocket, or in a suit pocket – depending on how crumpled you like your suits to get. Putting it in a horizontal belt holster (supplied), you soon cease to notice it.

The wonder of the P900 is the jog wheel: this wheel sits on the side of the device, and goes up and down like a wheel (to move the screen cursor), can be pressed in (which means “Enter”) and – here’s the clever part – can be pushed forwards (like “Alt” to open a drop-down menu) and back (which means “Esc”). You quickly get used to it, and soon learn that you can miraculously access just about all the P900’s functions with one hand. It is as close to genius as you can imagine.

The h6340 is a typical Pocket PC – a minimalist approach to buttons, so you will have to use the pointer and the touch sensitive screen to use it properly. It is accordingly far less convenient and most operations normally require two hands. The h6340 comes with a clip-on thumb keyboard[4] which clips on the bottom, but this is large and heavy, has no backlight, and like all thumb keyboards, is difficult to use. There was criticism of the h6340’s slow 200 mHz processor – but using it for normal office work (not games) proved perfectly acceptable, and the slower processor does wonders for battery life.

P900 – 8

h6340 – 5

In-built Apps

The P900 is based on the Symbian operating system, which was developed from the late lamented Psion range of handhelds. The Psion apps were marvellous – almost complete office applications. I expected to see old friends, but instead the P900 has a strangely trimmed down assortment: where is the old week-at-a-glance agenda view for example?

The h6340 has the apps you would expect on a Pocket PC, but they are toys compared to a proper PC. Worse than that, if you transfer complex formatted documents to your Pocket PC,[5] the conversion program will automatically strip them – permanently – of their formatting, so when you have edited them and transferred them back to the desktop, the complex formatting will have disappeared.

Both devices therefore need some help: there is a goodly market now in Symbian shareware, some of it Symbian versions of Pocket PC or Palm apps. The Pocket PC is served by a huge market of shareware, so this is not a problem either. However, if you want to make serious use of either of these devices, you will need to spend more money to do so.

P900 – 5

h6340 – 5

Working Away from the Office

The P900 has good battery life – Sony Ericsson claims 16 hours talktime and 480 hours standby. Pocket PCs, when they first appeared, had terrible battery life. You could get a few hours out of them, then they had to be returned to their charging cradle sharpish, or you could lose data. The h6340 is a miracle: while HP does not publish talk time or standby figures, claiming that individual usage is too diverse, using the device as a smartphone seemed to me to allow relatively lengthy usage between charges (for a Pocket PC). Still, it’s not so good as the P900: my impression was that if the P900 would get you from Monday to Friday without charging, the h6340 would probably have given up by the end of Wednesday.

Bear in mind, however, that the P900’s adapter is dinky and light, the h6340’s is larger and heavier. Things like that make a big difference in a pilot case full of documents.

Turning to using the device as a PDA, you would not want to review, let alone draft, an outsourcing agreement on either of these devices. In any case, the P900 is so memory strapped[6] that it is unlikely that you could even open a substantial document like an outsourcing agreement just to view it.

If push came to shove, you could do serious work on the larger screen of the h6340, it wouldn’t be pleasant, but you could do it. Certainly for lesser tasks like handling e-mails, the greater size means that performing such tasks is simplicity itself.

One place the h6340 scores is Wifi – something the P900 does not have, although using WiFi will drain the battery pretty quickly. On the other hand, access to the internet via GPRS is slow, but achievable, on both devices.

P900 – 6

h6340 – 8

That Sync-ing Feeling

So you have surfed, done your e-mails, worked up the draft and despatched it to your client while sitting in the train: when you get back to the office, what then?

The h6340 uses Microsoft’s ActiveSync to synchronise more or less whatever you want to – agenda, tasks, contacts, files, inbox. Wonderful. As you sit at your desk with the device connected to the PC, it works in real time, so as you make changes in Outlook to, say, an appointment, as soon as you save it, ActiveSync updates the h6340 immediately.

The P900 uses Sony Ericsson’s PC Suite. This does not work in real time, and you have to remember to sync the P900 with the desktop before disconnecting. I have tried to load this program on several computers and every time I have had problems – especially with a Bluetooth connection. On ringing the help desk, there is a specific number to press for help with connections which rather leads me to suppose that a large number of people have also had problems. It seems to be an updated version of the truly awful and temperamental PsiWin software that was used to link Psion handhelds to PCs, albeit with an new interface.

I don’t know how it does it, but as soon as you start using it, contacts mysteriously start being duplicated, triplicated and worse – once I found that one contact had nine entries in Outlook Contacts. I remember this from my Psion days. When I started to use the h6340, this irritating practice stopped.

The Sony Ericsson software is not clever either. For example, say you meet someone who asks you to ring him on Thursday. You create a task in Outlook on your desktop to remind you to do so. Then you sync with your device. When you call, he is out, so you update the task to remind you to call the following Monday.

The Microsoft software is clever enough to realise that there is now one updated task and synchronises both devices accordingly, so both the desktop and the h6340 end up with one, updated task. If you try to perform the same synchronisation on the Sony Ericsson, the software sees two tasks: one updated task in Outlook, and one original task on the P900. So it copies the original task from the P900 to the desktop, and copies the desktop’s updated task to the P900, thus leaving you with two tasks on two devices. Not very clever.

P900 – 1

h6340 – 9

That’s right, 9 for the h6340 and 1 for P900. I have had nothing but trouble with Sony Ericsson’s PC Suite and, if you are reading this Sony Ericsson, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. In many ways, a PDA is only as good the software that syncs it to the desktop. The h6340 is the hands-down winner here.

Final Thoughts

The final tally is 29 points for the P900 and . 29 points for the h6340. The h6340 is a PDA that can function as a mobile phone whereas the P900 is a mobile phone that can function as a PDA. You pays your money and you takes your choice. There are newer and better devices[7] than the h6340 hitting the market – you might like to check them out, but by no means all of them provide WiFi. For those in the Palm camp, you might like to look at the Treo 650. The P900 is now of course superseded by the P910. I am deeply impressed, however, with the concept of both devices. Either would save you carrying two devices away with you – and that means one less adapter to pack. Deciding between them means deciding what your priorities are.

Richard Stephens operates the Law Office of Richard Stephens and is the SCL Chairman (richard.stephens@lorsonline.com).

[1] Personal Digital Assistant i.e. a handheld device

[2] Wireless Any Network Digital Assistant

[3] I think that it was marketed with camera in the USA, where it is called the h6315.

[4] The P910 has a thumb keyboard on the reverse of the flip-down number pad: I have not tried to use one.

[5] Such as a document with a table in it.

[6] One grouse about the P900 is its tiny memory: 16mb against the P910’s 64mb. Did I hear someone say “planned obsolescence”?

[7] For example, note that the h6340 does not have Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, only the first edition. Also, the provision of only 64 mb of memory looks very mean these days when many Pocket PC’s come with 128 mb.