Earlier this year, Audiovox’s tiny ScoblePhone had the geeks and early adopters frothing, making it perhaps the first must have Windows Mobile phone. Now I expect a repeat performance from the XDA and its many variants that have a nice slider keyboard, and all sorts of networking options. Why do I feel this could be the next hot one? Because I got a chance to play around with one of the variants – the Sprint Audiovox 6601 Pocket PC phone, and walked away impressed. It is a very pricey phone: $699 with service. It has a very cool slider keyboard which hides behind the screen, giving the phone a very clean look. Sure the phone is a little bigger and heavier than Treo 650, but it has a certain minimalist appeal. It has overcome all the chunkiness normally associated with Pocket PC phones. I personally feel that Microsoft should stop trying to get into all general purpose phones and instead focus on these high end devices which make life easier for the “enterprise user.”
It has a total of eight buttons on the front of the device: one each for calendar, contacts, phone connect, phone disconnect, email, web, start and stop button. There is a two-way navigator, but I found that I rarely needed to use it. In head-to-head comparison with other phones, I found that I could use Sprint’s device more easily with one hand, especially when strap hanging my way around San Francisco on a bus. Now, I think people will find the Verizon EV-DO version of the device more brisk and perhaps more responsive. (Andy loves his!) Since we don’t have EV-DO in San Francisco, I would not know. (I deplore the idea of disabling WiFi on this superlative device, even though Sprint and other wireless companies are rolling out their WiFi hotspot networks. Bluetooth is brilliant though and I was able to pair the phone with all sorts of headsets, computers and other PDAs. ActiveSync is a breeze even over bluetooth, normally a problem in Pocket PC devices.)
Turning to the keyboard, I found it a lot more comfortable, though it can’t hold a candle to the comfort of using a Blackberry keyboard. Sprint Audiovox’s keyboard, which glows in the dark, is more spacious and is easier to use because it actually mimics the keyboard of a laptop. PC users will find that integration with Outlook via ActiveSync is flawless. (Mac users can sync the device with their desktop using a special software, Pocket Mac, that is available for download on the website, PocketMac.Net.) The email client is a bit weak, but it’s worth the price: it’s free. Browsing experience however is deplorable on Audiovox, and you can blame Microsoft for that. There are GSM/GPRS versions available from Cingular, though the EDGE, a faster sibling of the technology is no where to be found.