The phone you carry says a lot about you, but you shouldn't choose it on looks alone. PC Advisor considers the latest mobile operating systems.

Keeping in touch is important, but it's no longer enough to opt for a GSM, triband or quad-band phone.

These days, you need to match your mobile communication options to your colleagues', as well as your own lifestyle – which is why many businesses elect to dole out the same make and model of mobile phone handset to each employee.

For the rest of us, for whom an all-Palm, all-Windows or all-BlackBerry environment isn't a given, choosing a mobile phone is more complex. We're less bothered about which network operator to choose, and more concerned with funky add-ons such as a decent camera, voice-activated dialling, GPS satnav capability, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

We may not be as fickle with hefty tariff smartphones as we'd be with a voice- and music-focused handset, but there is sufficient change in this arena to give pause for thought.

Palm has dumped its own operating system in favour of Linux and launched yet more Windows Mobile devices. The Apple iPhone is available in the US and will hit our shores soon. You can run BlackBerry applications on Windows Mobile devices and the Windows Mobile operating system has recently reached version 6.0. Add to some significant innovations on the Symbian front, and it's harder than ever to know which mobile phone will best suit your purposes.

Add your own apps

Most of us give as little thought for the operating software that will drive our new smartphone or mobile device as we do the OS (operating system) on our PC. But the software has a major impact on how you use your device. The Linux-powered Nokia N800 internet tablet, for example, shows how an OS can have strong pros and cons.

This internet tablet runs customised Linux software, Maemo, which has been developed from the Debian and Gnome technologies. It can browse the web, read RSS feeds, send and receive email, play music and videos and make VoIP phone calls using Google Talk. It can transmit live video during phone calls via a built-in camera. And a web connection can be established via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or by using a broadband-capable mobile phone as a modem.

However, while the N800 might initially seem feature-rich, you can't take photos or capture videos with the built-in camera because imaging software isn't included with the device. The same applies to personal information management. Calendar, notes and document-viewing applications are missing. Such omissions are quite a drawback for the N800.

Because the device is based on open-source software, you can find and install those capabilities for free. But this type of flexibility won't suit everybody. Many people will prefer the familiarity of Windows Mobile – which looks a bit like its desktop PC counterpart – or easier to use less-open platforms such as the Symbian OS.

Let's look at how Linux – as deployed on the N800 – compares in functionality with the Symbian OS and Windows Mobile.

Linux, you say?


For the N800 user, the place to start shoring up the device is maemo.org.

The site hosts downloadable apps that open-source developers have made available for free. You can grab a digital photo and video-capture application, multimedia player, calendar, spreadsheet, office document viewers, instant-messaging clients and games. It takes only a single click (and a few security confirmations) to download and install an application to the Nokia N800.

Smartphones built on Linux are available from many phone companies, including Motorola, NEC, Panasonic and Samsung. Most current products target Asian markets, but the situation is changing. Apple's iPhone will run on Mac OS X, which is derived from Unix software. And Palm is switching from Palm OS to Linux this year.

Building up a system configuration from free software components won't be new if you use Linux rather than Windows on your PC. However, most of us are unlikely to want to stump up for a handset knowing we'd then have to find, download and install an imaging application on the device before being able to take photos with its camera.

While Maemo is used as the model of the Linux culture, Windows Mobile and Symbian have different origins and objectives. Both operating systems are licensed as traditional software products, provide tools for programmers to create applications and are controlled by commercial enterprises.

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

Almost everyone who has used a desktop PC has used Windows software. That knowledge doesn't necessarily translate to Windows Mobile, which is a separate piece of Microsoft software designed for smartphones and PDAs. Lately, devices such as the Orange SPV C500 and HTC S310 have made the smartphone edition familiar to business people and consumers.

When you take a Windows Mobile smartphone out of the box and charge it, you're ready to roll. You can make calls straight away and, if yours is a contract phone, messaging and internet access settings are in place. Everything you need for managing your schedule, contacts, notes, to-do lists and messages is installed in the device. If you want to synchronise information with a PC, plug in a cable between the devices and use Windows
XP's ActiveSync or Vista's Windows Mobile Device Center to update the information.

Multimedia is another area where integration between a Windows Mobile device and a PC works well. Streaming and downloading video or audio to a Windows Mobile device from the internet doesn't require additional software or settings. Windows Mobile can also play the widely supported Windows Media Audio and Windows Media Video formats.

Unlike Linux-based phones, Windows Mobile comes as ready-to-run software. You can enhance the software by downloading additional software into the device, but you can't (or don't have to) tweak the OS.

We took a look at the handsets already running Windows Mobile 6.0 and found it faster and sleeker, but similar to its predecessor – itself an impressive and robust mobile OS. Where Mobile 6.0 differs from 5.0 is that it makes no distinction between what's included in the smartphone and the PDA version. This means that, unlike WM5.0, smartphone users aren't left without Mobile Office. Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents can be tinkered with. Whether most users want to do so on a typically teeny handset screen is debatable.

Email is also handled better in WM6.0. As well as search being added, you can reply to all via a shortcut, read HTML mail and review email, phone calls and text messages you've exchanged with someone in a more logical, centralised manner.

A Pro version of Windows Mobile 6.0 is offered for PDA fans, but the distinction is in its support for touchscreens and styli, rather than in the operating system's applications.

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

BlackBerry RIM OS

Everyone's heard of the BlackBerry – it's the smartphone that makes accessing email on the move a cinch. It was one of the first phones to make use of GPRS (general packet radio service), a web technology that doesn't require the user to be within reach of a Wi-Fi network or to use WAP. Another element of the BlackBerry's success was the scrollwheel it sported on one side, allowing people on the move to scroll through emails.

Manufacturer RIM (Research in Motion) is now pushing its 'business handset' in a markedly less corporate direction.

Last year's sleek, BlackBerry Pearl added a camera and media player. GPS and other consumer add-ons are also available, while Yahoo instant messaging, Google Earth and games such as Texas Hold ‘Em poker surely weren't aimed solely at business people. RIM has begun an extending its sphere of influence in other ways too. For the past three years it's been licensing BlackBerry Connect – a version of its email client that can be used on non-BlackBerry handsets.

As any successful product does, the BlackBerry has spawned a lengthy list of software add-ons that owners can download and install. And those with a boring Windows Mobile device will soon be able to join the party via a ‘virtual' BlackBerry. In April, RIM announced that a number of third-party apps written for the BlackBerry would be usable on Windows Mobile 6.0 devices.

For companies that require the reassurance of managed access to the Microsoft Enterprise Server, the corporate version of the BlackBerry still exists but, as with other smartphone makers, it seems RIM is pitching at a wider audience. May's launch of the BlackBerry Curve – a slim but not at all curvy version of the original palm-width handset – forfeits 3G web access in favour of a camera, media manager, ringtones, expandable memory and BlackBerry Maps.

Symbian OS and S60

Symbian is owned by a consortium of mobile phone manufacturers that has specifically targeted the platform for smartphones. Products running on the Symbian OS include the forthcoming Motorola Motorizr Z8, Nokia E- and Nseries products, and the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900 series devices. Symbian is, by far, the most widely used platform for smartphones worldwide.

As with Windows Mobile devices, a Symbian-based device is ready for action as soon as it comes out of the box. Telephone, messaging and internet access features are the key virtues in most Symbian devices. Typically, these have been tightly integrated with relevant applications in the user interface software.

Symbian provides three interfaces, while Windows Mobile limits the choice to one. The user interface – UIQ, S60 or Moap – is customised by the device manufacturer. You can modify the system graphics, colours and sounds, but not the underlying software.

Contacts, calendar, notes, calculator and other applications for managing personal information are included with the interface software. As with Windows Mobile devices, synchronising personal information with a PC via cable or Bluetooth is possible.

The integration of multimedia capabilities in Symbian OS/S60, however, leaves something to be desired. There's nothing wrong with individual components that let you view videos or listen to music, but the lack of integration between the media player and other apps can be painful when trying to stream video or music from the web.

Which platform to choose?

Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile all have their competitive advantages. The former has strong telephone, messaging and browser integration. BlackBerry secures both corporate and casual consumer email and messaging, and there's the design appeal of the Pearl and the Curve. Windows Mobile has stronger synching and media streaming capabilities, however.

Each of these types of device can be enhanced by downloading additional software, typically at a price. However, the underlying premise is the same: what you see is what you get. Linux devices tend to be more barebones out of the box, but you can customise and upgrade them easily and for free. It all comes down to user needs and skills. If you are fairly technologically proficient, enjoy learning how to use new electronic devices, examining their options, looking for support from the internet and customising features, you are a strong candidate for a Linux device.

If you would rather take the dog for a walk in the freezing rain than configure software for a new device, a ready-to-run product built on an established operating system software should be your choice.

However, while that's the situation today, the technology communities aren't sitting still. Palm has announced its intention to migrate its Palm OS-based software assets to Linux, while Apple's iPhone, which will run on OS X, a Unix-based software, is shaking things up in other ways. Both companies have a track record of delighting customers with easy-to-use products that work out of the box without any extra work.

If software makers can marry the customisability of Linux with the ease of setup found with the Symbian OS and Windows Mobile devices, Linux could catch on as a mainstream mobile platform.

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

The handsets

Nokia’s N800 is a bit of a conundrum. It handles a number of mobile tasks well, but misses key capabilities. It won’t replace your smartphone or laptop. It’s quite expensive in comparison with other smartphones. This device is genuinely fun to use, but its hard to justify the purchase.

  • NOKIA N800
  • £269 inc VAT
  • www.nokia.co.uk
  • Web-browsing tablet that gives access to email, RSS feeds and VoIP. 4GB
Nokia n800

Nokia n800

Nokia’s N95 has a rich feature list, with a price tag to match. At £479 it’s unlikely to be a huge seller for Nokia. Its selling point – built-in GPS – is attractive, but it’s buried deep in the phone and slow to get a fix.

  • NOKIA N95
  • £479 inc VAT
  • www.nokia.com
  • ‘Multimedia computer’ with 5Mp camera, MP3 player, built-in GPS, HSDPA and software for posting to blogs and to Flickr.com
Nokia N95

Nokia N95

More mini-laptop than phone, HTC’s Advantage is a strong contender. You get the portability of a smartphone without the fiddliness of handsets that have minuscule keys or drag out keypads. It has Windows Mobile 5.0 and an 8GB hard drive, an SD Card slot and a 5in LCD display.

  • HTC Advantage
  • £624 inc VAT
  • www.clove.co.uk
  • This handset is so well thought out we’ve seen it used to give a PowerPoint presentation. Its 5in display is hardly a compromise. It’s also got 3G, satnav, Wi-Fi and a 3Mp camera
HTC Advantage

HTC Advantage

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

HTC Touch is the closest thing to an iPhone. It uses finger flicks to scroll through menus. With the uncomplicated TouchFlo interface you glide with ease to the detail you want on this Windows Mobile 6.0 device. There are mini-Office apps. IM conversations and contacts are tied in with email, MMS and SMS.

  • HTC Touch
  • £300 inc VAT
  • www.expansys.com
  • If you can’t wait for an iPhone but like the idea of a touchscreen handset, this Windows Mobile 6.0 device is your best bet. The TouchFLO navigation jazzes up a business-like smartphone
HTC Touch

HTC Touch

BlackBerry Pearl is the jewel of RIM’s range. Its candy-bar design has come a long way from RIM’s original. This sleek number can truly be called a phone rather than a PDA, with the bulk the latter term implies

  • BlackBerry Pearl
  • Price depends on tariff
  • www.t-mobile.co.uk
  • The white version of the BlackBerry Pearl boasts email, Bluetooth support and web ‘n’ walk access. And there’s a two qwerty keys per button layout
Blackberry Pearl

Blackberry Pearl

BlackBerry Curve is set apart from other qwerty BlackBerry models by its silver finish and light weight. Like the 8800 and the Pearl, it has a mini trackball. It includes a 2Mp digital camera, can play multimedia files, and supports A2DP/AVRCP Bluetooth. The Curve also sports a microSD expansion slot

  • BlackBerry Curve
  • Price depends on tariff
  • 02.co.uk
  • We don’t find the consumer-focused Curve at all curvy, but it does have a 2Mp camera with a 5x zoom, SD card slot, BlackBerry’s legendary push email and GPRS/Edge (2.5G) support
BlackBerry Curve

BlackBerry Curve

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9

For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.

Palm Treo 680 - Palm has experimented with Windows Mobile, but its own OS is excellent. If you want a quad-band smartphone that does intelligent email, proper web browsing and has a battery that will sit in standby for a week at a time, the huge-screened Treo is hard to beat

  • Palm Treo 680
  • £299 inc VAT
  • www.palm.com/uk
  • Photos and music are also-rans in this dependable web and email-centric GPRS/Edge handset. It’s easier than most for typing, offers great contact management and DocsToGo for simple edits
Palm Treo

Palm Treo

Not yet available in the UK, but a huge hit in the US, Apple iPhone’s intelligent predictive sentence feature requires a leap of faith, but is accurate, while the lauded touch-sensitive navigation has so far gone down well

  • Apple iPhone
  • UK price TBC
  • www.apple.com/iphone
  • It’s a 2.5G Edge device (rather than 3G) but it also has Wi-Fi. The hype may mean it’s a while before it’s available over here, but as a consumer smartphone it’s the one to watch
iPhone

iPhone

Apple iPhone review

Motorola Q9 - A 3G handset with a manageable keyboard, large display, Windows Mobile 6.0 software and a microSD card slot that lets you import up to 2GB of music and video make this a real alternative to the BlackBerry and Treo offerings

  • Motorola Q9
  • Price TBC
  • www.motorola.com
  • With Razr-like styling and a 3in screen on which to view messages and surf the web, this 134g handset is sturdily built and has rock-solid Window Mobile 6.0 email credentials
Motorola Q9

Motorola Q9

Quick links

Add your own applications and Linux in smartphones

Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6.0

BlackBerry RIM & Symbian

Handsets: Nokia N800 & N95; HTC Advantage

Handsets: HTC Touch; BlackBerry Curve & Pearl

Handsets: Palm Treo 680; Apple iPhone; Motorola Q9


For mobile phone reviews, news and tutorials, see our new Mobile Advisor site, brought to you in association with BlackBerry.