I just got a new cell phone for work. Actually it is a Windows CE device. It is Internet enabled. I can use Internet Explorer to explore the net via my cell connection if no free Wi-Fi site is nearby. The top touch screen slides to the side to reveal a little keyboard with quarter inch sized keys. I can use it to write e-mails. I can launch Excel and do a little figuring on a pocket spreadsheet or whip open Word to get working on that latest novel.
Another menu option turns it into a camera, complete with low voltage flash. The pictures are pretty small – 640 x 480 in size – but it does have a “panorama” function, which allows you to take several pictures in a row and the phone will stitch them all together for you. Another setting allows you to take short silent movies.
Finally, there are the games. There are the classic Windows time-wasters – Minesweeper and Solitaire – along with some online games and a new one called Bubble Breaker. Bubble Breaker fills the small screen with rows of colored dots. The object is to find bubbles of the same color that are grouped together either horizontally or vertically. When you find some, you “pop” them with the stylus (did I mention that? It comes with a stylus built right in). The larger the grouping, the higher the score. My wife loved this game and my new phone kept vanishing from its charging cradle in the middle of the night.
The only complaint I really have with my new cell phone is that with all of the other built in functionality, it really sucks as an actual phone. The phone is thick and heavy – about the size and shape of a deck of cards. My ear and mouth – unfortunately – are not on the same plane, so the phone is awkward to use without a headset. You have to lock the touch screen when you aren’t using the phone, or slipping it into your pocket will inadvertently dial people. Windows CE requires me to navigate through a couple of menus to load the numeric keypad on the touch screen so I can direct dial someone. And the numbers are small; they recommend you use the stylus on the touch screen. This is not real easy to do in the car, for example. Finally, the machine sucks my battery dry in a couple of hours. I find myself walking around with the phone and a charger, so I can plug it in a wall socket anywhere I go; kind of defeats the purpose of a cell phone in my opinion.
The philosophy of design these days seems to be more “quantity versus quality”. That is, there are more functions crammed into my little phone, but none of the new features are really all that well done. The Internet is a good idea in theory, but in practice it is slow and most pages don’t scale. The font is sized somewhere down around .001. The games are okay, but – to be honest – Solitaire and Minesweeper lost their allure somewhere around Windows NT Workstation. I don’t think I will be playing back any phone generated video on my 46” HDTV any time soon, so I don’t really need video capability and except for your MySpace page, how many tiny, crappy looking pictures do you really plan on taking?
Of course I am a Luddite when it comes to this kind of stuff. I don’t even own a personal cell phone (before you ask, yes, we do have indoor plumbing). When I travel for work, I have my work phone with me. When I travel for pleasure, I generally have everyone I want to talk to with me in the car. And when I’m on vacation, I generally want to get away from everything… including talking to people on the phone. I suppose that if I did get a personal cell phone, I would start carrying it around. I suppose I would get used to having it. I suppose I would find that I couldn’t live without it like so many of the people I know.
And that frightens me to no end.