Good smartphone on the cheap

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (745 Words)

While I still consider a mobile phone to be an essential accessory to modern life, I hadn’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon yet, for many reasons. Since I work from home most of the time, my need for a mobile is limited to when I’m out, and on occasional business trips and holidays. While I’d quite like an iPhone, I really can’t justify the price, particularly since over here we get totally ripped off on them (£500 handset-only price for the paltry 8Gb version, imported & unlocked since we don’t have O2 over here - and come on, O2 do the same thing for £350). While I could buy it independently unlocked for cheaper, it’s hassle I don’t need and I really cannot justify spending even that much on a phone I’ll only  use sporadically anyway.

All I really wanted was a phone that costs under £100 with a contract that costs £20 per month or less (since most months I won’t need it so much, so I’m not jumping on a £50+ per month contract), and has Wifi, email (not even necessarily push, pull is fine) and GPS, so that when I am away, I can keep in contact with my business without having to always use my laptop (particularly when on holiday), and know where I am. It also has to not be bulky, has to support 3G in as many countries as possible, and preferably have a qwerty keyboard because typing on a regular one totally sucks. Battery life also has to be decent since it’ll be of most use when travelling. I don’t care about screen size or touch screens - in fact for typing email they’re pretty awkward anyway, even on the iPhone, and for other things every other system than the iPhone just feels horribly clunky in comparison; even the very recent Windows Mobile 6.5 looks sluggish and awkward from the videos I’ve seen. I also don’t care about games, camera quality, playing media, storing loads of data, or music playing - this is all about communication features.

Luckily I think I found what I need. The Nokia E71 looks to be precisely what I’m looking for, and it’s had some very good reviews - it’s got a full keyboard which feels really nice to use (definitely much better than a touch screen), but the phone is still very small, in particular it’s really thin and only slightly wider than a regular phone so fits easily in a front trouser pocket, something many smartphones totally fail the test of. The GPS works really well according to the reviews, and it has Wifi, 3G and GSM support and a pretty powerful battery. I’ll be using it via GMail and that seems to be easy to set up and work well. Best of all, I can get it free on a cheap (£12.99 per month) contract by switching providers here, so I don’t have to feel guilty about spending loads on a device that sits around doing nothing a lot of the time, waiting for me to jump on a plane 😀

Other options I considered and ruled out:

  • iPhone - ruled out on grounds of cost (oh, for US iPhone prices here - although it seems that the E71 is more expensive in the US so maybe it’s fair) and that typing emails on it isn’t that easy. Also, using it to its full potential (music, games etc) drains the battery a bit too quick for my liking; I’d rather have a separate iPod that I can use extensively for fun things and not worry that I’ll be out of contact if I drain the battery flat
  • HTC (various) - more expensive, many models are way too bulky, those with a touch screen are inferior to the iPhone for usability
  • Blackberry - the good ones are more expensive, plus minimum monthly cost was double what I’ll be paying because of the Blackberry-specific service. Ok, data is free anywhere in the UK which is good, but when I travel it’s very often outside the UK anyway so that isn’t very useful, especially when data on Wifi is free anyway with any phone
  • N96 et al - more  expensive, features beyond that of the E71 are all things I don’t need, fatter, no keyboard

I didn’t have all the paperwork I needed with me to switch my number over to the new carrier at the weekend, so I’m going to sort this out next week.