Mobile Computing: BlackBerry Alternatives

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As of this writing, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion's legal troubles had many wondering how they'd exist without their regular CrackBerry fix. Read about the messy patent dispute in "Ease Up on BlackBerry Use, Analysts Advise."

Regardless of how RIM's legal situation works out, it's always a good idea to have a back-up plan. So this week, join me on a tour of two handheld e-mail devices that are worthy BlackBerry alternatives.

The Palm Treo

The Good: Palm's smart phone is a popular choice for many mobile professionals. Unlike the buttoned-down, corporate-feeling BlackBerry, the Treo combines a camera, MP3 player, Web browser, and, of course, top-notch PDA functionality. The Treo 700w is expected in early 2006, with a Windows Mobile operating system instead of a Palm OS. In addition, RIM has announced it is developing BlackBerry push-style e-mail software for the Treo, giving Treo users even more options.

The Bad: I've read complaints that the Treo 650 is prone to crashing. Also, the Treo 650 offers only a meager amount of memory (32MB of RAM, of which only 23MB is usable), and it's chunky and awkward to use as a phone.

Costs: The Treo 650 is available in a GSM version from Cingular and a CDMA version from Sprint/Nextel and Verizon Wireless. Without discounts, a Treo 650 is $450. With a two-year contract, and after rebates, Cingular offers the Treo 650 for $350; Sprint/Nextel, $320; Verizon, $300.

Service Plans: Cingular's Data Connect monthly plans range from $20 for 5MB to $40 for unlimited e-mail, messaging, and Web browsing (in addition to the cost of a voice plan). Sprint PCS Vision Access Pack delivers unlimited e-mail and Web browsing for $10 a month, in addition to a voice plan). Verizon Wireless charges $50 per month for a data-only plan offering unlimited Internet access, which includes its high-speed BroadbandAccess network. The combined cost of unlimited data access combined with a Verizon national calling plan of 450 minutes is $80.

For more on the Treo 650, read "Up Close and Personal With the Treo 650" and Sprint Announces Treo 650 Update."

Hewlett-Packard iPaq hw6515

The Good: Like the BlackBerry and the Treo, HP's Windows Mobile-based Pocket PC smart phone, the iPaq hw6515, has an integrated QWERTY keyboard. It also has a built-in 1.3-megapixel camera, a Global Positioning System receiver, and Microsoft Pocket Streets mapping software. With pocket versions of Microsoft Office programs included, the hw6515 makes it particularly easy to carry, view, and edit Office files on the go. You get 64MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM, too.

The Bad: The handheld's GPS function lets you find your location on a Pocket Streets map; but for driving directions, you need a third-party package costing $130 or more. In addition, its integrated camera interface is awkward to use, says PC World reviewer Grace Aquino. And the iPaq hw6515, which some users may feel is too large for easy phone use, is currently available only from Cingular.

Costs: Without a discount, the iPaq hw6515 currently goes for $500. With a new two-year Cingular contract, it's $450.

Service Plans: Cingular's Data Connect monthly plans range from $20 for 5MB to $40 for unlimited e-mail, messaging, and Web browsing.

Read "Lots of News in Handheld Land" for more info.

What Would Be Your Choice?

If you were forced to live without your BlackBerry, what mobile e-mail device would you rely on instead, and why? Send your what-if scenarios to me via e-mail.

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