Holiday gift ideas: cell phones, smartphones and accessories

Going mobile? Check out a bunch of phones, smart or otherwise, plus other tools.

By , Network World |  Personal Tech, cell phone, gift ideas

One of the most popular categories of device over the past few years has been the cell phone and smart phone. This year, in particular, saw an explosion of smartphone devices, with every major carrier having at least one, if not many, smartphone offering. Likewise, cell phones continue to churn out, and accessories for phones (Bluetooth headsets and earphones) are doing well also. Here's a list of some of our favorite gift ideas in this category:

[ 7 keys to the ultimate smartphone ]

Motorola Droid (Verizon Wireless service)

Ever since the iPhone debuted from Apple and AT&T in June 2007, every other carrier and handset maker have tried to make an "iPhone killer" or at least try to clone what has made the iPhone so successful. This means adding features such as multi-touch displays, the inclusion of an App Store, and a good user experience. In a majority of the cases, these iPhone clones have been like the photocopy of a photocopy – it looks a lot like the original, but the user can tell that you're looking at a clone.

So what of the latest entry, the Motorola Droid? Will it join the pile of iPhone killers that have fallen short, or do we finally have a contender against the mighty iPhone? After trying the Droid for a few weeks, I can say that Verizon has a phone that can truly go up against the iPhone in terms of likability, ease of use, features and yes, even price. I don't think it will be an iPhone killer, but it can go toe-to-toe with the device on many stages.

Running on Google's Android operating system, the Droid can access the Android Market of open-source applications to create more things to do on the device. Granted, the numbers on the Android Market are far fewer than what's available on the App Store, but for the longest time there was only one phone available on Android (T-Mobile's G1). Now that multiple Android phones are out there, the market for the market will only grow. From what I saw on the Market, there are a lot of commercial developers making apps for Android, so you won't have to worry about finding an app – you may not have a specific one that is on the iPhone, but you should be able to find something that gets the job done – for example, you might find a tip calculator if the specific one you like on the iPhone (CheckPlease) isn't available.

The other major difference with Droid vs. the iPhone is the Droid's slide-out QWERTY keypad. This puts it more in line with other texting-type phones, or even the BlackBerry. I gotta admit, I'm not a fan of the keypad, its buttons are too small for me. In addition, I have smaller hands, and the design of the keyboard on the right side of the device makes it harder for me to touch type with my right hand.

Other notable features: a 3.7-inch touch screen (480x584), Bluetooth with headset, hands-free and stereo audio profiles, MP3 player (along with the ability to download from the Amazon Music Store), and specialized Gmail access (after all, it's running Google Android). The phone comes with a pre-installed 16GB microSD card, which should be enough memory for all your photo, video, music and other data storage needs (for now).

Oh yeah, it's got Wi-Fi! That's a big deal when you consider this is running on Verizon Wireless' network, which in the past has poo-poohed Wi-Fi in favor of having customers access its 3G network. One of the reasons I despised the BlackBerry Storm last year was because of its lack of Wi-Fi.

Exchange e-mail support is an area I'm concerned about. The ease of use of connecting to Exchange on the iPhone is a real selling point. On the Droid, Exchange access is clunky, and will most likely require IT support – depending on whether your IT group is open to this means that it's tougher to just do it yourself (and always runs the risk of them saying "No").

I'm also concerned about the "5 megapixel digital camera" that is being touted on the Droid. It didn't seem to take great photos when I tried it (unlike the Palm Pre, which has an awesome digital camera), but this could be associated with the Facebook app, and not the digital camera. I uploaded a photo that I had taken with the Droid to my Facebook page, and it uploaded a really small (and dark) image.

In the end, your decision on the Droid vs. iPhone debate could come down to philosophical positions on your thoughts of Verizon vs. AT&T and its coverage (among other carrier-specific issues). Will I switch from my iPhone? Not yet – I have another seven or so months on my iPhone 3G. But all bets are off after that contract expires.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars
Price: $200 (with two-year contract and after rebates, plus about $70 monthly for voice and data plans).
Product Web site.
Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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