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TMC Labs
March 2000


pdQ smartphone

Qualcomm, Inc. 
5775 Morehouse Drive 
San Diego, CA 92121
P: (800) 349-4188 
F: (858) 658-2100
Web Site: www.qualcomm.com 

Price: $750�$800, depending on retailer, plus telephony and data service charges

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Installation: 4.75
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 4.75
Interface: 5
Operational Testing: 5.
Overall: A

Qualcomm�s new pdQ smartphone mobile phone/PDA hybrid is the first device in its class that the public should take seriously, in our humble opinion. There have been incremental steps: the $900 Nokia 9000i Communicator debuted about a year ago, but it was too big and too proprietary, and the $400 Neopoint phone is now available, but it has a questionable learning curve and limited Internet functions. The pdQ, priced at about $800, integrates a real, licensed Palm III with a real, already ubiquitous Qualcomm telephone. From Bond to Gates, everyone seems to agree that this class of device is our near future. We in TMC Labs concur, and we add: the pdQ is the first one that�s done right.

Our pdQ was a 1900 model, which is the digital version � the pdQ is also available in a dual-band version, called the 800. Either way, the basic setup tasks include choosing your service plan, configuring your voice mail, and programming your e-mail settings. Fortunately, your vendor configures network settings for Web browsing, so it �just works� when you turn it on. Beyond this, the only setup task is configuring the screen, but that�s a standard (and very simple) part of using any Palm device for the first time.

We had some initial difficulty configuring the e-mail settings. The applications handbook was informative (see the documentation section below), but the specific parts related to configuring e-mail could stand some improvement. What pdQ users need to understand is that, unlike the Palm.Net service used with the Palm VII, the pdQ�s e-mail settings rely on your own ISP, not on the product manufacturer or the wireless provider � in other words, Qualcomm and Sprint just make the phone and provide wireless calling � e-mail is your own responsibility.

But that�s good news! You can use any POP3/SMTP provider, or even an IMAP provider, if you obtain shareware to do that. Plus, unlike the Palm VII where mail is delivered as being from [email protected], the pdQ method allows you to send mail from a �real� account, which can be your own company or almost any ISP. The bad news � and the reason we mention e-mail at all in this section � is that the provided instructions aren�t very good. For our version of better directions on configuring your pdQ�s e-mail account, see the sidebar.

The pdQ includes an Applications Handbook, a Basics Handbook, a Graffiti wallet card, two Graffiti reference stickers (one of which goes on the inside of the pdQ�s dialpad), and a Quick Start Card. There is also a help file within the pdQ itself, plus Web-based documents, including five FAQs at www.qualcomm.com/pdQ/faq. These cover the product itself, specific features, the Palm functions, accessories, and technical support issues. Except for the e-mail configuration mentioned above, the manuals are quite good, and we like that they tend to focus on the features that are pdQ-specific (as opposed to the standard telephony and Palm feature sets).

The most exciting features of the pdQ are the integrated address book and the Internet functions. The address book makes good use of screen pops and �true� CTI. If a call arrives and the caller�s phone number matches a number in your address book, then the associated name will display. It works in the other direction, too: you enter a telephone number using either the Palm�s �Dialer� application or the traditional method, and the associated address book name will display before you press the physical call button (or before you tap the Palm �Talk� button).

And, because the address book is a standard Palm application, you can use the included Palm Desktop software (Figure 1) (or your choice of third-party software) to synchronize (HotSync) the pdQ with Exchange, Outlook, GoldMine, ACT!, etc. We offer a tip: by synchronizing the entire contents of your traditional Palm device with your PC and resynchronizing the PC with your pdQ, you can essentially back-up all of your old data to the new device.

There are many other address book features. For example, you can create 99 speed-dial entries, and changing a phone number in the address book automatically changes the number in the associated speed-dial entry as well. You can make conference calls by pressing the flash key, or by tapping the flash button if the dialpad is open. There is a keyguard feature to prevent accidental dialing, plus a restrict option that requires a passcode to use the device at all. We�re also fond of the �pdQalert� feature which performs screen pop duties when pages or SMS (text) messages arrive, or when you have voice mail. Senders can include hyperlinks, which open the pdQ�s Web browser when you tap them.

We have mixed feelings about the pdQmail application. As we have mentioned, we love that the ISP (and thus the e-mail address) is yours to choose, rather than being supplied exclusively by Qualcomm or by your wireless provider, and we like that the application can display rich text format. Messages with attachments are indicated as such, but the actual attachments cannot be displayed. The ability to do so, we think, will be one advantage of similar devices that are based on Windows CE.

We had mixed feelings about other areas as well: pdQmail offers impressive message filtering and mailbox options, but messages cannot be beamed using the IR port. Furthermore, you can configure pdQmail to remember your account password or to require you to enter it manually, but you cannot mark e-mail as private when you send it. (If Bill Gates is truly smart, he�d port Outlook to the Palm OS, just as many other Microsoft applications are ported to Apple operating systems.)

The pdQbrowser also has a split personality. Unlike the browsers found in other mobile telephones and hybrid devices, which only let you browse HDML sites, the pdQbrowser lets you go to any site. Some of its features include: bookmarks that can be organized into categories, the ability to launch mailto: and application-specific URLs, text that you can copy and paste into other applications, and a �Details� screen for every site visited. However, like most of the Web appliance browsers, the pdQbrowser does not support any kind of Java, so sites that feature applets like e-mail, product ordering, special effects, and related elements will not display correctly.

One other comment: the five shortcut icons on the screen�s right side adjust the contrast, power the phone on and off, open the call history application, open pdQmail, and start HotSync. This is a nice touch, but unfortunately, it makes the screen slightly narrower than that of a standalone Palm device. As a result, some third-party applications and even some Palm-optimized Web sites may not display correctly. A Qualcomm executive who we interviewed denies this.

The remainder of the pdQ�s feature set consists of standard mobile phone and Palm III features. Because these features are not new, we won�t cover them here (if you�ve never used a Palm III, please see our October 1998 review at www.tmcnet.com/articles/ctimag/1098/palm.htm). Meanwhile, to provide your bulleted-list fix, here are some other pdQ features:

  • Owner�s Club�.
  • Palm applications: calculator, date book, expense tracking, HackMaster, PalmMail, memopad.
  • Modem emulator software.
  • Standard Palm physical scroll buttons.
  • Included hands-free headset.
  • Training software on CD-ROM.
  • Includes three extra styluses and charging cradle.
  • CDMA technology.

For the ultimate real-world test, a TMC Labs engineer agreed to use the pdQ for a week in place of his personal mobile telephone. Actually, �agreed� is not the right word � he drooled over it and threw a tantrum when it was time to return the device to Sprint. But we didn�t mind: we figured that if the pdQ could so enthrall one of our own, imagine how much it would impress the readers! (Editor�s note: that engineer has since taped a paper cup to his cubicle wall with the text �Please help � pdQ fund� scrawled on the side in block letters.)

Other than this temporary setback in our engineer�s happiness, we were very impressed with the pdQ�s operation. Anyone who�s used a late-model mobile telephone and a Palm device will find the pdQ extremely easy to learn. You probably wouldn�t use the Web browser for long-term surfing or late-night �just browsing� sessions, but for on-the-fly needs like driving directions, stock quotes, news, and sports scores, the browser is perfectly suitable.

More importantly, as VARs and developers make custom sites designed for applications like sales force automation, remote diagnostics, database queries, and more, the pdQ will become increasingly useful. True, you can use the browser to order a book from Amazon.com, but if the pdQ ever gets Java or multimedia, then a creative programmer can turn it into a remote call center tool or a unified messaging client. (In theory, an HTML version of a unified messaging client could be done today by using off-the-shelf SDKs. If you develop one, let us know.)

As much as we like the pdQ, no product is perfect. Beside the Java and multimedia functions, which are probably still at least a year away, several other features would make the pdQ more usable. We�d like to see a full-size Palm display, a folding backside prop (for using the pdQ in an upright position on airplane trays), and a fixed-position antenna (many mobile phones use these in place of extendable antennae). Inconsequential and memory-hogging as it may seem, we�d like to see the inclusion of some simple games, and we�d like to see a feature that lets you answer or hang up the telephone by opening and closing the dialpad (fliplid) � but that one could be difficult, because how would you use the Palm while you�re on a call without hanging up?

Another area where the pdQ could stand improvement is in its HackMaster application. The engineer who tested this product downloaded a few shareware applications (including his personal favorite, TealEcho, which makes Graffiti easier to use by providing visual feedback as the characters are drawn, just like a real pen), but all of these programs only worked for a few minutes and then caused fatal exception errors. Those errors can only be fixed by performing a soft reboot or by removing and reinstalling the lithium ion battery.

Finally, although it is available separately, we feel that the pdQ should include a case with a belt clip, and it should be the kind that doesn�t require removing the case to use the device.

We have one additional note: we�re told by a Qualcomm engineer that a new version of the pdQ will be available for the 2000 holiday season. This version will be based on a Palm V instead of a Palm III. The Palm V is lighter, thinner, and faster than the Palm III, and it has more RAM � so we can expect the next-generation pdQ to also have those attributes. Rumors of a color screen have also crossed the desk of many technology journalists, although that may be more than one generation removed.

Even better news is that rather than costing more, the Christmastime pdQ will maintain the current price point, and today�s pdQ will be discounted. By then, we hope to see Windows CE-based competition and shareware written exclusively for the pdQ. (If you want to enhance this product�s functions but you can�t wait until winter, fear not: Think Outside, which makes the �Stowaway� folding PDA keyboard, might work great with the pdQ. Visit their Web site at www.thinkoutside.com.)

The pdQ smartphone is a hands-down Editors� Choice award winner. We love this thing. If you can afford one, we advise that you buy it. If you can afford one but you already own a Palm VII and a state-of-the-art mobile phone, then stop reading this article, sell your current devices on eBay, and go back to the previous sentence. True, we have a healthy room for improvement list, but we can�t think of any reason (beside the its price) not to buy one.

It�s against our mission as journalists to give financial advice, but if Palm hasn�t done an IPO by the time you read this, brace yourself! We predict that if other platforms in the hybrid �communicator� space do not shape up by the end of the year, then the pdQ and forthcoming versions will enjoy the same success for the next five years as Windows enjoyed for the past five.

Better Instructions For Configuring pdQ E-mail

To make your life easier, here�s our own eight-step version of the instructions for configuring e-mail settings:

  1. Extend the antenna. Turn on the phone by pressing the yellow power button on the dialpad or by tapping the phone icon on the screen�s right side.
  2. From the �All� menu, tap the �Prefs� icon.
  3. By default, the �Service� line will contain the name of your wireless carrier. Highlight the entry, and using either the Graffiti alphabet or the keypad, delete it. Enter the name of your own ISP connection.
  4. Also delete and change the default entries for your ISP user name, password (or use the �Prompt� option), and dial-up phone number.
  5. Tap the �Details� button. The default selections for these four options are PPP, Power off, Query DNS on, and Automatic IP address on. Change them as necessary, and then tap �Okay.�
  6. Tap the main arrow to go back to the main screen (the arrow icon is next to the Graffiti area).
  7. Tap the pdQ Mail icon. When it opens, tap the Palm options icon (this icon is also next to the Graffiti area). Tap the �Options� menu.
  8. Enter your name, mail host, and return address. Your user name should already be there. Tap �Okay.�

If you use these instructions instead of trying to figure it out using the instruction manual, it should be a much easier process.

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