14 September 2005

The Web

The smart phones market

The smartphones/communicators market (these are equal terms in this article) has been taking shape, but already now we can understand that it is the future of the PDA and cell phones market. The PDA market is getting thinner by losing in the competition with smartphones. It's a matter of time, after which the PDA market will fade away. The companies traditionally engaged in producing handhelds do not want to miss the moment, and step by step they are looking for a new place under the sun (i.e. on the smartphone market). Some companies have already solved the problem and release their devices one after another - Nokia, Sony Ericsson, HTC.
Other companies faced some difficulties in the new market - trials and failures, recalls of announced products, constant release delays. Let's have examples with companies:
• Palm (now palmOne). The first attempt with the keyboard communicator Palm Tungsten W, which turned to be a failure. The company acquired Handspring and continued the release of successful Treo models.
• HP. The first timid attempt, which is almost forgotten, is HP Jornada 928. After the merge with Compaq, HP has been planning to release communicators. For a long time the company had been preparing the release of the HP iPaq 5600 series, but eventually it cancelled the release. HP takes up WANDA reference design from Texas Instruments (TI) and works on HP iPaq h6000. After 2 years (!) following TI's announcement on the readiness of WANDA, HP releases its communicator. We see, the release has been thoroughly thought out.
Not everything goes off smoothly by traditional makers of mobile terminals:
• Samsung. There is a great variety of interesting models that are roaming from exhibition to exhibition. Many models are simply cancelled, nobody remembers them, and if a mass production takes place, by that time the models get outdated.
• Motorola. After the release of the successful Motorola MPx200 the black bar follows. The MPx100 has been cancelled, a failure-model MPx220, constant delays and unclear situation with the release of Motorola The MPx.
• We can recall such long-produced smartphones as Siemens SX1, BenQ P30, Neonode N1.
In general, the smartphone market is the field for experiments for many companies. Among the largest PDA makers only Dell, Fujitsu Siemens and Asus currently have no smartphones in the model line. Dell announces its communicator in 2005 (it seems to be another hit on prices), Fujitsu Siemens doesn't need a smartphone in the model line, it's senseless to make competition with its German member of the concern (I mean smartphones produced by Siemens). And if we talk about Asus, this company is about to release its first smartphone - Asus p505, which also belongs to the team of the long-produced and long-awaited models. Well, let's draw the common trend before we start our review. All traditional PDA makers reserve their place on the smartphone market, as they understand the days of the PDA market are numbered. The same way follow traditional mobile phone makers. The newcomers have the tradition to cancel models or suspend the release. The competition will get tougher, and more interesting models will show up.
For a long time this model has been called Asus A8100, the first info on the device dates back to the late 2003. In 2004 the model appeared in a changed design and under the name of Asus p505. Now the model got certified by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), i.e. it should very soon
Well, what is Asus p505?
It's a tiny communicator equipped with a touch screen and a flipping digital keyboard and powered by Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition. The closest rival is HTC Magician, the indirect rival is Sony Ericsson p900. Each of them has its weak and strong points, pluses and minuses.
The dimensions of the smartphone can't be considered the smallest among the analogs, Asus p505 is smaller than Sony Ericsson p900, but bigger than HTC Magician. The model is noticeably smaller than traditional PDAs.
As for the appearance of Asus p505, it has a good and original design. One of the reprimands towards HTC Magician was its too simple design, and that's not the case with Asus p505. However it carries an external antenna - a definite remnant from the past (the only shortcoming with design). The shell is made of silver plastic, it doesn't feel metallic. It fits the hand mostly due to its rounded edges. The assembly quality is high, if you squeeze the device in your hand, it won't creak, and the details fit each other.
Let's speak about the work with the flip closed. The flip is neatly fixed when open or closed, it isn't loose. Nothing creaks. When you press digital keys, the keys are pressed exactly and not the touch screen under them. Well, when you close the flip, you automatically launch an alternative user's interface (UI) specially designed for this particular model. For the first time the manufacturer applied this approach (special interface written) with a Pocket PC model. The fact facilitates the handling of Asus p505 as a phone, allowing it to carry out basic functions.
At the start up screen you see the battery charge level, the signal power, the profile icon, current time (the upper icon line), the name of the operator, the date (below the upper line). You can set any picture or gif animation as a screensaver.
Gradually the screen with a 2.8" diagonal (transflective, 65K, 320x240 pixels) becomes a norm for Pocket PC communicators, a de-facto standard. Asus p505 is equipped with a screen comparable in size and quality with HTC Magician, it's better if compared to Motorola MPx and Rover S2 (color rendering, viewing angles, the lowest backlight level). In general, this screen is the best in its class.
The 5D-joystick (an interesting peculiarity of the smartphone) is located at the left side. It works in two modes (adjust the mode in the settings). In the first mode it works as the joystick (four directions and one press). In the second mode Left and Right buttons stand for the volume control. Below the joystick you find a camera and voice recorder buttons. Let's speak about the camera. The CMOS matrix has a 1.3 megapixel resolution. The built-in flash as usual is almost useless in the dark, the effective light distance makes up 20-30 cm. When you press the camera button, you automatically launch a camera application. The screen serves as a viewfinder. The picture displayed has a 240x180 pixels resolution
Camera modes available:
• Single Shot. An ordinary shot. There are several variants of resolution from 80x60 to 1280x960 pixels; 4x zoom; shutter sound on/off (in all modes).
• MMS. A shot for multimedia messages. Resolution varies from 160x180 to 320x240 pixels.
• Burst. A series of shots, up to 10 frames running. Resolution: from 80x60 to 640x480 pixels.
• Composition. Composed shots in different frames. Resolution: from 160x120 to 1280x960 pixels.
• Video. ASF, MP4 and 3GP formats available. Resolution: 320x240 or 80x60 pixels.
• Caller ID. You can attach a photo to a contact, choose among the following resolutions: from 80x60 to 160x120 pixels.
At the right side of Asus p505 you see a button, which enables voice commands (during communication via Bluetooth headset by pressing the button you launch voice commands). This program is notable for you shouldn't train it, just call commands and names from the address book with your own voice. We'd mark the high recognition quality, to say the truth I didn't expect it. Should the recognition quality be not satisfactory enough, you can train the program adjusting it to your voice, just dictate voice marks (Motorola MPx has a similar system, but without a training capability).
On the top end there is a SD/MMC slot, an infrared port and a 2.5 mm audio jack. The back panel hides a camera, a self-portrait mirror, a flash, a hole for the strap and a battery compartment. At the bottom you find a synchronization connector and a silo. Like in case with Asus A730 the silo is located at the bottom. It's original, but with the flip open it won't be comfortable to eject the stylus.

There is a SIM lock under the battery compartment. It's original and quite unusual. You should insert it like an SD card by pushing it down. Eject the SIM card by pressing the part sticking out, the card will jump out. Easy and comfortable.
The Li-Ion battery is capacious of 1000 mAh. The manufacturer claims 4 hours of talks and 15 hours in the PDA mode. Our tests revealed that the device wprked for 2 days of moderate use, 15 minutes talks per day (that's standard for such devices). In the reading mode (the lowest backlight, the lowest processor frequency rate, auto scrolling) Asus p505 was good for 13 hours. Under the maximum load the battery was drained out after 2 hours 30 minutes of continuous work. There is an extended battery (3000 mAh) optionally available for the users who need longer performance.

The Bluetooth version is 1.1. Asus installed WIDCOMM (now Broadcom) drivers, which became an industrial standard, that means the functionality of this wireless standard is the highest. There are almost all known profiles preset. Thus Asus p505 has a definite advantage against HTC Magician, which involves drivers built in the OS.

Asus p505 carries standard 64 MB of RAM onboard, 53.49 MB of which are available to the user. This is quite enough for normal operation. There are 18.4 MB of flash RAM available. It's not much, but don't treat it as a shortcoming, remember prices for flash-cards (including SD/MMC) are falling down.
Asus p505 is powered by Intel PXA270 processor, however it's unclear what will be the maximum frequency rate. We tested the sample with 520 MHz, but eventually for sale will be offered a 416 MHz version.
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