Easily the most frequently asked question on the Brighthand Forums is, "What handheld/smartphone should I buy?"
A good number of these are from people who want a slim and small smartphone with a touchscreen. Unfortunately, "slim" and "touchscreen" don’t often come in the same package. This is because the touchscreen itself adds to thickness to the device. It’s an extra layer that sits on top of the screen, and there has to be a gap between the two.
There are a few slim devices with touchscreens, like the forthcoming Samsung i760, but in order to get the thin design, sacrifices have to be made, generally in the area of battery capacity.
So people generally have to choose what they want most — a thin device or one with a touchscreen — and far too many people decide to give up on getting a slim smartphone and go with a much bigger one designed around touchscreen.
I say "far too many" because I think many of these people would be happy with a slim device if they could lose some of their pre-conceived ideas.
"I Have to Have a Touchscreen"
I know that someone who has had a touchscreen-based handheld for a few years might be nervous about switching to a smartphone primarily controlled through a directional pad (D-Pad). I can understand because that used to be me.
And I’ll admit, making the change was an adjustment. But I quickly came to realize the advantages.
Do something for me. Pick up your handheld or smartphone and have it look up a name in your address book. I’ll bet the first thing you did was reach for the stylus. That’s the first step in doing anything. If you use your device a lot you probably pull that stylus out dozens of times a day. The more you think about it, the more you realize how much a hassle that is.
Also, I can divide those with a touchscreen-based device into two groups: those who have lost a stylus, and those who haven’t yet.
My smartphone doesn’t need a stylus, so I don’t have to put up with any of this inconvenience. If I want to look something up in my address book, I can do so with just one hand. Really I just need one finger. I don’t have to have both my hands free to use my smartphone, which is often really nice, especially when I’m carrying something, driving, etc.
Many long-time touchscreen users seem to believe that using a stylus is inherently easier than a D-Pad. This isn’t true, as long as the software you’re using has been designed for use with a D-Pad. Yes, taking an application written from the beginning to be controlled by a stylus and trying to use it with only a D-Pad is an exercise in frustration. But smartphones and their associated software have been designed to be used with a D-Pad. They are just as easy to use as their stylus-driven counterparts. Maybe even easier.
And a couple more things to think about:
Because my device doesn’t have the extra bulk of the touchscreen, it can be almost as slim as a RAZR while still offering good battery capacity.
Did you know the touchscreen is one of the most fragile parts of the device? And I’m not talking about the LCD. Often when people say they’ve broken their screen what they really mean is they’ve busted the touchscreen; frequently the display itself is fine. That makes devices without this delicate piece of hardware inherently more rugged.
"Only Touchscreen-Based Devices Offer Professional Features"
The other pre-conceived idea that hampers some people from getting the slim smartphone they want is the belief that devices without touchscreens are only for casual users. Serious users need applications only available with touchscreen-driven models.
Let me use myself as an example of why there’s just no basis for this idea. I regularly:
- Use TeleNav to get directions in real time,
- Connect to a Bluetooth GPS to give TeleNav my location,
- Listen to an MP3 podcast, and
- Connect to a Bluetooth headset for the audio from both the podcast and TeleNav.
I do all of this simultaneously on a Windows Mobile Smartphone that runs on a 200 MHz processor and doesn’t need a touchscreen.
I also frequently watch TV shows streamed from a SlingBox. And I write articles for Brighthand with PhatNotes on a Brando Mini Bluetooth Keyboard.
Naturally, I do all the standard tasks too, like make phone calls, exchange emails, access the Web, and so on.
You wouldn’t call me a casual user, would you? And I don’t need no stinkin’ touchscreen.
Just Think About It
I’m not trying to convince everyone and their brother to run out and buy a slim smartphone that doesn’t depend on a touchscreen.
What I’m hoping is that after reading this more people will stop automatically dismissing a whole class of devices the next time they are shopping for an upgrade, especially if "slim and light" is at the top of their wish list.