mobilePHONE By Alan Kraemer
Today’s mobile phones are
much more than just
a communication device…
HOW DOES THIS PHONE SOUND?
“How does this phone sound?”, the The phones we have today OK, so now that we are over that, what
opening line of many a phone call go way beyond Captain Kirk’s should you consider when choosing
from my brother over the years. When communicator from Star your next mobile companion? First
I heard that, I knew he had some Trek™, and that was 200 you need to decide whether you
new whizz-bang “cordless”, and later, years in the future! are looking for a personal phone
mobile phone that he just had to check or a business phone. For a business
out as soon as possible. The other day So how do you decide which of that phone, for example, you may really
though I got an SMS from him that vast array of mobile-do-everything- want “Active Sync” to keep everything
read “How does this iPhone sound?”, devices available is right for you? on your phone in lockstep with your
hmmm, things have changed. Well…you could just buy an iPhone. company’s Exchange Server, but for a
Apparently, with 17% market share personal phone, simple POP3 email,
There was a time when you just talked the standard protocol for directly
on a telephone to someone at a remote (in Smartphones) and growing, many
people are doing just that. They are accessing email from a server rather
location. It could be next door or than syncing, may be just fine. Then
halfway around the world, but WOW cool, the touch interface is really slick,
they store a reasonable amount of you need to think about what’s
that was amazing! Also the phone was important to you and your lifestyle.
wired to the wall, stationary, while the music, and now they sync directly with
Microsoft Exchange Server so you can Do you care about music playback, do
TV was wireless. Now the opposite is you want/need to surf the web, do you
true, the TV is wired, either to cable or always be up to date on your email,
contacts and calendar. On the other travel a lot internationally? This guide
a satellite dish, while the phone has will cover some of the key selection
sprung free and become mobile. hand, you can’t replace the battery,
there is no voice or “one button” criteria so you can determine how they
Not only that, but those little devices that dialing so making a call is a ritual, they apply to your situation.
we carry around in our pockets are now can’t send or receive MMS (Multimedia
entertainment centers (music players, Messaging Service), the camera is only
TVs, game players, web surfers, etc.), 2 mega-pixel (and can’t record video)
communications hubs (email, text, MMS, and there have been many reports of
the web), general purpose computers poor call quality and slow response from
(calculators, organizers, spreadsheets, AT&T’s 3G network. But man is it cool, I
etc.), and, oh yes, mobile phones. think I want one…be right back.
ACRONYM DECODER RING The mobile phone industry is rife
with acronyms. Here is a key to
some of the most common.
CDMA Code Division Multiple Access
EDGE Enhanced Data Rates
for GSM Evolution
EV-DO Evolution Data Optimized
GPRS General Packet Radio Service
GSM Global System for Mobile
HSPDA High Speed Downlink
MMS Multi-media Messaging Service
SMS Small Message Service
TDMA Time Division Multiple Access
UMTS Universal Mobile
WCDMA Wideband CDMA
Carrier/Air Protocol bands used in the Americas do not speakers that are near the phones.
coincide with those used in Europe There really is no good solution to
This choice relates to where you will and the rest of the world. While “Tri- this problem, so if you need a GSM
use the phone. Band” phones do have one overlapping phone for international use, you will
For international use, band between the Americas and the have to put up with it. However, the
there is really only one rest of the world, it is possible that the problem should be reduced once the
choice: GSM. band that overlaps is not in use in a transition to full 3G (see next topic)
particular region. is complete since 3G uses WCDMA
Virtually every country in the world, transmissions, which, as explained
except Korea and Japan, has GSM For reference, the GSM bands in the
below, operate continuously and
based networks. Newer GSM phones Americas are 850 MHz and 1900Mhz,
distribute energy in a way that
also support HSDPA/UMTS networks while the world bands are 900Mhz and
which do exist in Korea and Japan, 1800Mhz. This is not because of some
however you have to be very careful spirit of American individuality; it is The other air protocol in use in the
to ensure that the phone supports the simply because the 900 and 1800 MHz US is CDMA . CDMA is actually a more
radio bands used in those countries, bands had previously been allocated. advanced system than GSM and it
which requires “Tri Band” HSDPA In the US, the GSM service providers does not cause the “buzz” mentioned
support. If not, you may find yourself or carriers are AT&T and T-Mobile. above. Verizon and Sprint provide
landing at Japan’s Narita Airport with CDMA service in the US, but their
GSM has one major dis- phones will not work internationally,
a useless phone (like I did once). Ask advantage, however. That’s
your carrier specifically about support unless you select one of the few
the unpleasant “GSM Buzz”. models that support both CDMA and
for Korea and Japan if you plan on
spending any time there. GSM phones switch their transmitters GSM. Verizon currently offers one
on and off at 214Hz which causes very from Motorola and two from RIM
Even if you plan to roam only on GSM high energy pulses. These pulses can (Blackberry). As of this writing, Sprint
networks, you must ensure that the induce noise into audio systems or does not offer a global phone.
phone is “Quad Band” because the
This is simple: if you are buying a GSM phone, don’t bother
with one that does not support 3G/UMTS and, if you are
buying a CDMA phone, forget it if it does not support
EV-DO. Anything else is just not fast enough, unless you
have a lot of time on your hands. On the GSM side, you may
want to verify that the phone also supports HSDPA. That
will let you go WAY fast as the data networks are built out
in Europe and the US. Even on a 3G GSM phone, however, Texting
you may sometimes see a “G” or “E” designator rather than
“3G”. This indicates that the phone has fallen back to the Among some age groups and in many parts of the world,
earlier GPRS or EDGE data protocols. Both of these are people almost never talk on their phones and, instead,
slower, but then again nothing is perfect. prefer to “text”. SMS or Short Message Service evolved as a
way for carriers to get revenue for the spare time on their
It is pointless to talk about absolute data rates, since digital networks and has recently become hugely popular.
all kinds of numbers are bandied about by the handset
providers and carriers, and transmission rate is really If you plan (or your kids plan) to do a lot of texting, make
dependent upon the instantaneous signal quality in your sure you get a flat rate data plan.
area. So, even though UMTS and EV-DO are both capable of
Many parents have been shocked by
high transmission speeds, your mileage may vary.
the phone bill when their kids start
Another aspect of data transmission is cost. sending and receiving more text per
Make sure you are very clear on the terms of month than is contained in Webster’s
your carrier’s data plans. Unabridged Dictionary!
The best bet is always a flat rate package. You will always Of course, the other key consideration is the keyboard.
use more data than you expect, especially if you are Some people (read kids) can text like a banshee on a
syncing over the air with something like Active Sync, and standard telephone keypad. For the rest of us (read not
you don’t want to get a big (sometimes very big) surprise kids) a QWERTY keyboard is a very good idea. Either way,
in your bill. Also, be careful about international roaming you will develop very fast thumbs.
as, generally, most flat rate plans do not cover roaming in The next step up from SMS is MMS or Multimedia Messaging
other countries and the costs can mount up very quickly. Service. This is basically SMS with pictures or video and is
Recently, however, some carriers have added international supported by most phones these days. As mentioned before,
data “add-ons” for domestic flat rate plans. a notable exception is the iPhone 3G, which does not
support MMS. MMS is not too useful if the phone doesn’t
have a camera, for obvious reasons.
Back in the days of mainframe computers, one of the most popular, the IBM 360,
took an entire room, ran at 16.7Mhz (model 91) and typically had about 7.2 Mbytes
of storage on washing machine size disc drives. The 2 year old, semi-outdated
smartphone sitting on my desk as I write this has a processor running at 240Mhz,
more than 100Mbytes of internal memory and 2Gbytes of removable storage on a
MicroSD card the size of my fingernail. The whole thing, of course, fits in my pocket
or the palm of my hand. Oh and it’s a bit less expensive than the old 360.
These things are really computers with a telephone function and pretty powerful
ones at that! As such, they all need operating systems but, unlike PCs with two
major operating systems to contend with, there are at least six (with variants used
on mobile phones). Each, as you would expect, has advantages and disadvantages
which will briefly be discussed below.
The most basic phones run on
embedded operating systems.
These are proprietary systems
either developed by the handset
manufacturer or based on a common
third party core system like Nucleus
from Mentor Graphics. While these
phones may provide functions like
music playback and rudimentary
web browsing, they are the least
flexible and are pretty much designed
mainly to be just telephones (what
a concept). If you are mainly
interested in making phone calls,
phones with embedded operating
These things are really systems can be cheap, small, power
computers with a telephone efficient and reliable. The best selling
function and pretty powerful Motorola RAZR is a classic example of
ones at that! this type of phone.
How many Microsoft employees does
it take to change a light bulb? The
answer? None, they just change the
standard to darkness! Windows®
Mobile, however, is not darkness. It is
really quite a good operating system
for smartphones. Its advantages
include familiarity, since it resembles
Windows enough that anyone that
uses a Windows based PC will feel at
home, and, its ability to seamlessly
OPERATING SYSTEMS continued
integrate with other Windows parallel with the acquisition, the
systems via USB, Bluetooth, or Symbian Foundation was created
over the air can prove to be a major to continue the propagation of the
advantage. If you are selecting a Symbian OS among multiple handset
business phone, Windows Mobile will makers. The members of the Symbian
keep your email, contacts, calendar Foundation are handset makers, Nokia,
and tasks in sync either with a direct LG Electronics Inc., Sony Ericsson,
connection to your PC or over the Motorola and Samsung, and operators
air. The synchronization becomes and wireless chipmakers AT&T, NTT
even easier if your business is running DoCoMo, Texas Instruments, Vodafone
Exchange Server. Group and STMicroelectronics NV.
A few years ago, Symbian Windows Mobile comes in either touch A few years ago, Symbian licensed
licensed ActiveSync screen or non-touch screen versions, ActiveSync from Microsoft so any
from Microsoft so any supports multimedia playback via the Symbian based phone can synchronize
Symbian based phone can Windows Media Player and can run the with Microsoft Exchange Server. Like
synchronize with Microsoft mobile versions of Word, Excel and Windows Mobile, the Symbian OS is
Exchange Server. Power Point. available in either a touch screen or
non-touch screen version. Symbian
Symbian supports multimedia playback through
The Symbian operating system was third party applications like Packet
originally formed as a partnership Video. Microsoft Office document
between mobile handset companies editing is available on Symbian
to develop a smartphone OS. As with through third party applications like
many partnerships, however, there those available from DataViz.
was a dominant partner and that The Symbian OS is used widely in
partner, Nokia, has recently acquired Europe and other parts of the world,
100% ownership of Symbian. In but is not as popular in the US market.
OPERATING SYSTEMS continued
Linux Blackberry iPhone
Linux is a bit complicated since it The Blackberry OS is proprietary to When I started working on this guide,
is an open platform and there are RIM (Research in Motion) who basically the iPhone 3G was about a 400 pound
many different version provided by popularized the “business phone”. As gorilla. Now it is about an 800 pound
companies and organizations such everyone knows, it came to be called Gorilla and growing, and I haven’t
as MonteVista, Access Linux Platform “Crackberry” because the OS was so been working on this that long! At
(ALP) and LiMo. In addition, Android, good that people became addicted this point, the iPhone 3G and its
the new Google open mobile platform to it. The Blackberry OS is the only descendants appear to be poised to
is based on the Linux kernel. smartphone OS that is proprietary to become the dominant smartphone
a single handset vendor and you can’t platform on the planet earth.
At the moment, Linux based phones find it on any other manufacturer’s
are a bit like embedded phones handsets. As a side note, while the
Apple licensed ActiveSync from
in that their features may vary Blackberry OS is superb, RIM phones do
Microsoft so the iPhone can sync
significantly based on the handset not enjoy the same stellar reputation
email, contacts, and calendars with
manufacturers design. They are, for voice quality.
Exchange Server, but currently cannot
however, smartphones, but, currently, sync tasks. Office document editing
ActiveSync is not supported on the Natively, Blackberry phones is available from a number of third
Linux platform so, if you need to synchronize to BES (Blackberry parties. Multimedia playback goes
sync to an Exchange Server or to a Enterprise Server) and not directly to without saying since the iPhone
PC (or Mac), a Linux based phone Microsoft Exchange Server. However, is essentially an iPod® Touch with
may not be the best choice. third party applications are now phone capabilities.
available that make this possible.
Android Unfortunately many of these have By opening the iPhone
These days, anything that Google monthly charges associated with them. platform to application
does is important. Therefore, Android
developers Apple may well
is important and this open platform
Blackberry based phones have good have created the “Windows”
being propagated by Google is starting
multimedia support courtesy of Roxio of the mobile phone world.
(people who know something about
to see adoption by major handset media). All standard music and video In November 2008, the iPhone apps
makers. Much remains to be seen formats are supported. store’s product offering passed the
however, so try out an Android based 10,000 point with a few hundred
phone at this point only if you are a being added each week. What can’t
tech freak and an early adopter. you do with an iPhone (I for one can’t
seem to type on it)?
Virtually every phone these days, except the most basic, has
multimedia playback capability and almost all offer some
gaming and web browsing capabilities. There are some
things to consider, however, if you plan to use your mobile
device for entertainment.
Screen Size and Type Headphones
Obviously, the bigger and brighter the better. If you are going In my humble opinion, the first thing you should check is
to watch video or surf the web, you need to be able to see the headphone jack. The only acceptable configuration
what you are looking at and not just under low ambient light is the standard 3.5mm mini jack. Anything else is beyond
conditions. It can be a real struggle to see some screens even inconvenient, either tying you to the headphones that came
in direct sunlight. If you can, take your prospective phone with the phone (almost universally bad) or making you use
outside and see what you can or can’t see. easy-to-lose adaptors to attach standard headphones. The
iPhone 3G definitely got it right!
Screen size is matter of preference. Some people would
rather have a smaller screen and a physical, traditionally Next, check what kind of signal processing is available
layed out keyboard. Others prefer the largest screen possible for headphone listening. Processes like WOW HD™ or CS
and a soft keyboard (like the one iPhone provides). Slider Headphone™ from SRS Labs can significantly enhance
type phones can offer both a large screen and a keyboard, the listening experience from a portable device. WOW
but they can be a bit bulky. HD takes the sound out of your head and significantly
improves the perception of bass, while CS Headphone
Regarding web surfing, many sites have now developed
can render an entire surround sound experience through
mobile versions that work very well on small screens.
headphones including earbuds. This is great for watching
Examples are American Airlines, American Express, Bank of
videos, movies and sports.
America, CNN, and many more, so if you are going to use
the mobile web mainly for information and transactions, a Voice
smaller screen may be just fine.
Apparently, some people actually still talk on their mobile
Sound phones. When they do, they are frequently in noisy or very
noise environments and even the most powerful earpiece/
The quality of the “sound” of a phone speaker in a phone can’t overcome the noise. Once again,
is critical for enjoyment of video, signal processing comes to the rescue. SRS TruVoice™
music and gaming. processes the voice to optimize intelligibility given the
A few considerations are outlined below. available power in the phone and it automatically adjusts
to ambient noise level, so there is always just the right
Speakers amount of processing applied.
If you plan to use the built-in speaker or speakers, make
sure to listen to the quality and check to see where the
speaker is positioned. A speaker positioned on the back of
the phone can make it impossible to hear in even slightly
noisy situations. If the phone has two speakers, make sure
they are worth it by listening for stereo separation. Audio
signal processing like SRS® 3D, TruBass®, TruVoice™ and
TruMedia™ from SRS Labs can significantly improve the
native performance of the tiny speakers in mobile devices.
Look for these features when you make your purchase. Without Processing With SRS TruMedia
ENTERTAINMENT FEATURES continued
There are four ways to get
media into a phone:
1) SIDE LOAD
4) DIRECT BROADCAST
Side loading uses a PC or other
internet device to download the media
which is then transferred to the mobile
phone. iTunes is a good example of
this. Downloading brings the media
directly into the phone either via the Systems Committee) is now involved
cellular network or WiFi. Both side and and a single public standard should
down loading require local storage to emerge based on this work.
hold the media. Streaming uses the
cellular network or WiFi to transfer One last way to get media
information in real time so, only a into a phone is to create it
small buffer is needed in the phone. yourself.
Finally, direct broadcast actually
transmits video information to the Most phones have cameras these days
phone over the air in digital format. and the great thing about having a
Essentially, this is mobile digital TV. camera on a phone is that it is always
This capability is just now being built with you. Cameras in phones range
out and enabled in the United States, from simply awful to pretty good, but
but it already exists and is hugely they are getting better and better
popular in Korea and Japan. with some of the best rivaling stand
alone digital cameras. Look for zoom
In the US, mobile digital broadcast is capability and low light sensitivity.
based on a proprietary standard from Mega pixels are kind of a marketing
Qualcomm called MediaFlo. However, thing, but try to get a camera with at
the ATSC (Advanced Television least two for decent pictures.
Aside from the basic connection to the cellular network, today’s mobile phones
can have many other ways to communicate with the outside world. The most
popular are discussed below.
Bluetooth GPS WiFi
Almost all current phones have What’s cooler than having your Your phone can do everything with
Bluetooth® capability. This is the phone communicate with satellites? WiFi that your PC can such as surfing
wireless connection protocol that We have come a long way from the web, downloading data and media,
enables people to walk around with Sputnik. GPS or Global Positioning emailing and more.
those headsets that make them look System lets your phone know, with
like the Borg from Star Trek and it great accuracy, where it is. With For data transfer, WiFi is
also enables wireless hands free applications like Google Maps, still generally faster than
devices in cars. precise turn-by-turn direction can even the fastest cellular
be supported. GPS can also enable data networks.
Many people don’t realize, so called “location based services”. In addition to these traditional
however, that Bluetooth also Because your phone knows its functions, some carriers are now even
comes in a stereo version location, it can provide information offering services that allow you to
for music listening that can on services available in the local seamlessly transfer to a VoIP (Voice
un-tether you from those area. It can also automatically inform Over IP) call when a WiFi hotspot is
headphone cords. people of your exact location in an available. This is great for those who
(and avoid the problem on non-standard emergency. have issues with cellular coverage in
headphone jacks mentioned above). their homes or offices.
Bluetooth audio transmission is USB 2.0 enables a high speed,
not perfect so, again, audio signal hardwired connection to and from
processing like WOW HD, CS Headphone external device like a PC, enabling
and TruVoice from SRS Labs can synchronization and data transfer. A
significantly improve your experience USB 2.0 connection is also the fastest
with Bluetooth audio. and best way to transfer all those
Bluetooth in a phone can also be pictures you took with your phone’s
used to beam data, such as contact camera to another device short of
information, and pictures from device removing the storage card.
to device, and used to synchronize and
transfer data and media from PCs.
We store a lot of critical data in mobile devices these days. What happens if the phone is lost,
stolen or destroyed? Just the thought of losing all those contacts is horrifying. Upgrading to a
new phone can also be a challenge; your contacts need to go with you.
Fortunately things are getting better these days. If you choose a phone that can synchronize
with a server, all of your information resides on that server and can be instantly restored to a new
phone if the old one accidently drops in the toilet, is lost or stolen or if you are just upgrading.
The great thing is that ActiveSync has become sort of a defacto standard.
So, even if you switch from a Windows Mobile phone to an iPhone, for example, your information
will transfer. If you don’t have a server to sync to, ActiveSync can still sync and backup your data on
a PC with either a hardwired or internet connection.
For those that don’t sync their phones, most carriers now offer an inexpensive service that will
backup your contacts on their system daily. These contact databases can easily be transferred to
other phones as required.
DO YOU KNOW…
…What do you do if your phone drops in water? Do not panic! And, do not
attempt to turn it on as turning it on will almost certainly short circuit
everything inside. Instead, immediately open the battery door and take out
the battery (sorry, iPhone: you have no battery door!) and place the phone
and the battery in a warm, dry place, preferably under the sun, for 48-hours.
Then, reinsert the battery, close the door, and turn it on. 9 out of 10 times,
the phone will be working just fine.
LOCKED VS UNLOCKED
In the US, service providers If you really want flexibility and don’t
(carriers) subsidize phones. want to sign up for a contract, then
So, you can imagine that you can get an “unlocked” phone for
they would not be too a lot more money (no subsidy). The
thrilled if you bought a shiny downside of this, however, is that you
new handset that they paid will have to configure all the data
for and then waltzed off to and voice settings yourself, which is
another provider. not for the faint hearted. Still you
own the phone and you can do with
To prevent this, the phones are it as you please. Some carriers offer
“locked” to the carrier that you bought unlocked phones at higher prices,
them from. Assuming you are happy so one way to go would be to buy
with the carrier and are willing to sign the unlocked handset from your
up to a contract (usually two years), primary carrier. In that case, at least
there is no problem with a locked everything would be set correctly for
phone, the initial settings are all initial use and you will not need to
configured correctly for both voice and spend hours talking to semi-trained
data and you can still roam on other tech support personnel of the phone
carriers overseas. For most people, this maker or the carrier (trust me, that
is the best and easiest choice. could prove frustrating very quickly).
UNIDENTICAL TWINS: One of these
phones is locked, the other is unlocked. Unlocked phones may also be
Can you tell the difference? prone to glitches when upgrading.
As phone makers provide upgrades
to their phones, they are intended
to update specific phones for
specific carriers. As a result, if an
unlocked phone is upgraded running
on a carrier that is not ready for
the upgrade or does not allow the
upgrade, the phone may simply stop
working. In fact, the industry has a
term for the above: Bricking (as in the
phone turning into a brick!)
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The phones we have today would have • With fold up or virtual Bluetooth
been unimaginable only a few years keyboards, it will become even more
ago. What’s next? A few thoughts: practical to email, text, and write
documents on a phone.
• Ultra Wide Band (UWB) will let us
connect and download content and • Going further, it will become possible
data at extremely high speeds over to hook the phone up to a TV or
short range wireless connections. external display and watch high
quality content on a big screen.
• RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) When it arrives, this connection will
will enable us to make purchases with
probably be wireless.
our phones by simply holding them
near a transceiver. In fact, with the growth in storage Ultimately, the phone may
• Phone cameras will get better and
capacity on phones, you may very replace both what we think
better eventually replacing standalone
soon be able to store most of your of today as the PC in most
digital cameras and phones will
media on them. And, one day, you applications and also become
become the essential media storage
may be able to walk into a room and the primary media playback
and playback platforms.
the phone will automatically and device…and we haven’t even
wirelessly connect to any rendering started yet.
• New connectivity methods will device, like a flat panel TV or audio
permit video beaming and projectors system, that exist there in the room.
may even be built-in providing the Then your phone becomes the remote
capability to beam a PowerPoint control and streams the stored
presentation directly to a screen (3M content in it directly to any of the
already has a prototype) from a phone. playback devices in the vicinity.
Likewise, when you take the same
phone into your car, it will find the
screens and audio capabilities there
and connect to them for playback.